As covered in a previous post, several methodologies were established to get more food to market as efficiently and cheaply as possible. Thus, chicken farms consisting of big barns full of chickens was was developed.
Ultimately, land is the biggest driving factor in why pastured eggs are so expensive. Chickens create a very high nitrogen manure. While nitrogen is essential to healthy development of pasture, too much can actually kill a pasture. Because of that, pasture must be closely monitored for sustainable usage to ensure that they soil is able to process the amount of nitrogen being deposited.
The commonly held wisdom passed down for well over a hundred years (but probably longer) regarding egg producing chickens is that your average soil can process the nitrogen level coming from about 50 chickens per acre. Now that's assuming that the chicken manure being removed from their coop is spread onto the soil as fertilizer. If you are using the manure to make compost in another area, you might be able to fit closer to 65-70(ish) chickens per acre.
Now lets assume we're looking at a 10 acre tract of land where chickens are being pastured. With the numbers above, the absolute most chickens you'd want to keep pastured on that 10 acres would be 700. A good rule of thumb is that a chicken will average 5 eggs per week. That leaves us with 3,500 eggs per week, or about 292 dozen eggs from that 10 acres.
Now let's take that same 10 acres and build 4 large barns on it that hold about 10,000 chickens each. 40,000 chickens at 5 eggs per week equals 200,000 eggs per week, or about 16,667 dozen eggs off the same 10 acres of land.
So let's do some math with our two different 10 acre options:
292 dozen pastured eggs @ $5/doz equals $1,460 in revenue per week before expenses.
16,667 dozen conventional eggs @ $2/doz equals $33,334 in revenue per week before expenses.
One of these numbers is not like the other. While the upfront costs of building the barns/infrastructure, chickens, and feed are substantially more in the large operation, the productive capacity allows a much more rapid payback period.
The farther you go out into the sticks, the cheaper land gets, but around here, farmland can range between $1,000 per acre up to $2,500 or more per acre depending on variables such as access to running or percolating water. So with that in mind, your 10 acre tract is going to cost you between $10,000 and $25,000 dollars. A pastured operation of 40,000 chickens would need at least 570 acres to process as many eggs as the 10 acre barn-based operation; or $570,000 to $1,425,000 just to get the land.
In my humble and massively biased opinion, the option of pasturing fewer chickens who can live life they way they were designed to is a much better option. You can see and taste a huge difference in the eggs that come from pastured chickens. And, again, in my humble and massively biased opinion, the pastured eggs are so much better for your family. But with land prices, its very hard to make money on giving people the option of what they feel is a healthier alternative for their family.
Ultimately, we all decide which of the two options above we're going to have the resources to support, but I hope this post helps to put into perspective why there is so much difference in price for pastured eggs.