The hens themselves are cheap, their food is cheap, straw/woodchips/water is cheap. The coop is ususally, decidedly not cheap.
And why is that? As long as our chickens have a dry, draft-free, safe place to sleep and a box to lay their eggs in (more for our convenience than theirs), they're fine.
We humans are the ones who insist on aesthetics. And the cost curve for aesthetics is steep as soon as you move away from the "homely, but it'll do" point and toward the "I'd be proud to show this off on a coop tour" end of the spectrum. So why bother?
The clue to this answer comes courtesy a blog post by Seth Godin (author of Linchpin, Tribes and the Dip, among others) where he revisits the notion of conspicuous consumption:
The reason you have a front lawn? It's a tradition. Lawns were invented as a way for the landed gentry to demonstrate that they could afford to waste land. By taking the land away from the grazing sheep, they were sending a message to their neighbors. We're rich, we can happily waste the opportunity to make a few bucks from our front lawn.Which got me thinking about all the money I've spent over the years on landscaping for our homes as we've moved from one place to the next. I bought into the "tradition" each and every time by spending thousands to get a nice lawn and stately trees and perfect shrubbery.
Heck, when we first got into urban chickens, we bought an Eglu, which was definitely not the cheapest coop on the market (but I'd argue has been a great investment in terms of ease-of-cleaning).
But now that we have our chickens... I find I'm seeing the backyard lawn as the more wasteful use of money (ongoing thanks to watering, mowing, feeding, etc). And maybe that's the right way to be looking at things again.
How has owning chickens gotten you to re-evaluate your landscaping?
Photo credit: thomaspix on Fickr