Another reader asks for a post on the economics of keeping chickens, or a goat; and/or having a vegetable garden.

Hmm. Well, the most valuable concept you need here is that of opportunity cost. The opportunity cost is the next best alternative use of an asset--in this case, your time. Say you are offered two jobs, one that pays $100,000 and one that pays $60,000. That $60,000 is the opportunity cost of taking the higher paid job.

So if you're going to have a vegetable garden or stock, you want to carefully consider the opportunity cost of your time. You could be taking on extra work to pay for food. Unless you make a very low wage indeed, you will probably spend less time earning the money to buy the food than you would growing it yourself.

Yes, you may say, but I can't find a decent job for only a few hours a week at my convenience. But wait! Don't forget that your leisure is also an important opportunity cost. After all, if you didn't value it pretty highly, you'd already have another job. If you wouldn't trade that hour of leisure for fresh vegetables in a straight-up barter deal, you probably shouldn't garden. And critters are even more demanding. Also, they smell quite a bit, so if you don't like farm smells (it happens I do), you should never keep stock.

Did I mention that if you get chickens/goats/pigs, the neighbors will almost certainly complain?

On the other hand, animals are a lot of fun to watch, and pretty rewarding to feed. And lots of people, through some sort of tragic congenital failure, actually enjoy gardening. And unless you live in farm country, your own tomatoes will be vastly superior to anything you can buy--they are literally priceless.

Carefully weigh all those considerations, and then decide what's right for you. Me, I've got a dog and a window box, and that's about enough.

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