If you think you’re going to keep chickens for eggs and save loads of money, you’re wrong. There are ongoing costs associated with keeping a flock of hens, whether you’re keeping them for meat or eggs. The benefits of keeping chickens are many and varied, but saving money isn’t one of them.
The benefits of keeping chickens include:
- The freshness of the eggs
- The freshness of the meat
- Greater nutritional value
- Clean, chemical-free natural eggs and meat
- A never-ending supply of fertilizer – chicken poop is awesome in the vegetable garden
- Natural pest control
- Reduce food waste
- Weed control
- Educational value
- Reduce food miles
- Reduce carbon footprint
- Entertainment and good mental health
So, How Much Does It Cost to Keep Chickens?
While the costs aren’t astronomical, you will spend money to keep chickens. There are initial outlay costs, ongoing maintenance costs, and then those unexpected one-offs. You have to take all of these into account if you’re seriously considering keeping chickens.
The Cost of Your Chicken Coop
The chicken coop is going to be your biggest outlay. Now, if you’re particularly handy and really know what you’re doing, you can make an awesome chicken coop from scratch. But remember, your chickens aren’t just your reliable egg-layers – they’re tasty meals for all kinds of predators, from weasels to coyotes, to the bigger raptors. And those predators are sneaky, strong, and ruthless, so your chicken coop needs to be extra-secure. Whatever you do, don’t cut corners. And if you’re a total novice to building coops and keeping chickens, either buy the best-quality coop you can afford, or, if you’re confident in your DIY skills, get a more practiced chicken keeper to go over your plans and the final product before you bring the birds in.
A coop can set you back anywhere from $500 to a couple of thousand dollars. Don’t be tempted by the cheap pet store budget models, as within a couple of months, the wood will start to warp and rot and it’ll essentially be useless.
Whether you decide to build or buy, remember you need at least 4 square feet of space per chicken. If you skimp on space, you’re asking for trouble, from anti-social behavior like pecking and plucking, as well as a significant decrease in egg production as the birds get increasingly stressed.
Essential Accessories for Chickens
Your chickens will need some furnishings for their new digs. You’ll need feeders and waterers, which are fairly inexpensive, starting at under $10 for a simple plastic drinker to a more robust, longer-lasting 5-gallon metal model for $35+. If you want a heated waterer to make life easier throughout the winter months, expect to pay at least $45.
When buying feeders and waterers, consider the size of your flock – you need enough feeders and drinkers to comfortably accommodate your whole flock so the birds don’t fight and so that you don’t need to run outside to top them off four times a day. However, the containers shouldn’t be so big that food gets wasted or goes moldy and makes your flock ill.
Another often-overlooked essential chicken accessory is a feed store. It needs to be rodent-proof and it needs to be watertight and insect-proof so your chicken feed stays dry and free of mold and creepy crawlies. This is another fairly inexpensive accessory, ranging from $15 to $50, depending on material, quality, and size.
Chicken bedding is a regular, recurring expense, and you’ve got plenty to choose from. What you choose should depend on climate and season as much as cost and personal preference. Choose from straw, hay, wood shavings, and similar. You can also supplement straw and hay with pine needles, dry grass and leaves if your climate allows.
Obviously the birds themselves will cost you money, unless you know a generous person who’ll let you have some hens or chicks for free or in exchange for something else. If you’re a beginner, the easiest thing to do is get some point of lay hens. These girls are around a year old and ready to start laying. If you go for chicks, they’ll bond with you more easily and be less afraid of humans in general right from the get-go, but they require more care. With time and patience, point of lay hens can become pet-like, too, but to start with, they’ll be more aloof. It really depends what you want – do you want a solid flock of layers? Or do you want quasi-pets who just happen to lay eggs?
As a beginner chicken keeper, it’s far easier to go for mature hens. You could even contact a chicken rescue – these folks are usually inundated with hens that have been rescued from battery “farms”. Often you’ll get hens who are a couple of years old, so they’ve still got plenty of egg-laying left. They may not look particularly pretty–ex-battery hens are usually at least partially bald, but with care, a good diet, and plenty of space to live and explore, they’ll soon regrow their feathers. And you’ll be doing a kindness, too, as these poor birds have had a brutal, cruel life. And, most often, they’re free.
You can also buy birds for as little as a couple of dollars each for the more common varieties. If, however, you like your chickens a little “different”, you can choose exotic breeds that cost anywhere up to $200 per bird. I, personally, prefer function over form, so I tend to go for run of the mill varieties that are good egg producers, or I rescue ex-battery chickens, although I’ve also taken in a few Pekin Bantams, Easter eggers, and exotic breeds that needed a new home over the years. Also, remember to account for your climate – if you have freezing temperatures in the winter months, you’ll need a breed that’s cold-hardy as well as good for egg laying. In this case, I’d recommend Rhode Island Reds, Golden Comets, or White Leghorns. These are comparatively inexpensive and each bird can lay between 250 and 300 eggs per year, providing you give them the right level of care, a decent habitat, and good nutrition.
Chicken feed is an obvious essential, and prices vary widely, based on quality, brand, medicated, non-medicated, organic, all-natural, and so on. As with most things, the more you buy, the cheaper it is per pound, so, if you’ve got a flock of 6 or more hens and a decent, airtight feed store, I’d recommend buying 50-pound bags to save money per unit. Working out how much food you need isn’t an exact science, but I can give you a rough guide. Assuming that you allow your birds plenty of outdoor room to roam and forage, they’ll supplement the food you provide by eating insects, seeds, and weeds (and, if you’re not careful, your beautiful vegetables, too), so they require a little less food per month than birds confined to a coop and a small run. You also have to take into consideration the size and type of bird, along with the time of year. Bantams will obviously eat less than full-size breeds, and some breeds, like Golden Comets eat more than breeds like the White Leghorn. Chickens also eat less in hot weather and more in winter. But, as a rough guide, based on the assumption that your birds are able to forage and that you provide additional treats in the form of vegetable scraps, allow 5 pounds of feed per month, per bird, and a bag of quality chicken food will set you back between $20 and $40. And there’s scratch grains on top of that, too, but they are inexpensive, and you’ll find a 50-pound bag for under $20.
Veterinary treatment is the first thing that springs to mind. Like all animals, chickens can get sick, and it’s not always something you can remedy at home, so you have to be prepared for unpredictable visits to your veterinarian, which can cost anywhere from a few dollars to a few hundred. Taking extra care and preventative measures can help to avoid these costly excursions, though. Making sure you properly care for your chickens, particularly in winter, reduces the risk of frostbite and other painful afflictions, some of which can pass from bird to bird and decimate your whole flock.
Regular lice and mite treatment for both birds and coop is another ongoing expense. It’ll save you a small fortune in at-home treatments and veterinarian visits, so it’s definitely worth doing on a regular basis.
If You Have Chicks
If you choose to buy chicks and not point of lay hens, there are a few more things you require. Firstly, you’ll need a small, warm area, like a brood box, complete with a high-quality heat lamp and safety bulb to keep your chicks warm and healthy while they “feather up”. Also, you’ll need chick starter food rather than standard chicken feed, which will cost you a few more dollars per bag. And remember, your chicks won’t be laying eggs for at least six months, although you will be getting fertilizer and pest control from them right away.
There are plenty of things to think about when it comes to raising chickens, and cost is a major factor. Will it be cheaper than buying eggs from the grocery store? Almost certainly not, but the taste alone is worth the cost, not to mention the moral and ethical knowledge that you’re not contributing to the horrors of the egg-production industry. Plus, you know exactly what you’re eating. Assuming you feed your birds high-quality, natural food, you know you’re not consuming a nasty chemical cocktail when you eat their eggs. And remember the free fertilizer. And organic pest and parasite control. And the aerating of land where the birds forage. Plus the amusement factor. Yes, raising chickens costs you more per egg than buying the eggs from the grocery store, but it’s definitely worth doing.
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