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How much does it cost to raise backyard chickens?

So your kids (or spouse) talked you into chickens. Now, one of the first questions that came up was probably: "How much is this going to cost?" The good news is chickens are really not that expensive to keep and there are lots of ways to cut costs and save money. This article will give you an idea of how much you can expect to fork out for the chickens and their basic needs, as well as some ongoing costs. Let's say your starting small, with only three hens. 


The approximate costs to raise 3 hens would be:
 

  • Chickens: $3 - $30 per chicken depending on age, breed etc.
  • Coop: Free (recycled materials) to $2,000 & up (new & fancy). Average is usually around $500
  • Feed approximately $15.00 per month.
  • Miscellaneous $10.00 per month.

 

**Please note: that all prices listed here are very general estimates only and can vary greatly from state to state, between cities and towns etc. So shop around for the best prices before buying, especially with ongoing expenses such as feed. All prices listed are US$.

 

BUYING CHICKENS

 

**Tip: Starting with small chicks instead of buying mature chickens can save you quite a bit of money, though the downside is you will have to wait 5-6 months for eggs. I once calculated that if I bought day-old chicks instead of POL hens from a breeder, I would've spent half the money I paid for those pullets! 

 

If you decide to raise your own chicks you can expect to pay $3.00 and $5.00 per chick (day-old) for popular breeds and for rare breeds you can expect to pay up to $50.00 or more per chick.

 

Older chicks and mature chickens' prices vary greatly between breeds, age of the chickens etc. Expect to pay $20.00 and $50.00 for a pullet and $5.00 to $15.00 per rooster. **Tip: Unwanted roosters are often offered "free to good homes", so if you're not fussy about the breed/quality and want to get a rooster for your flock, keep an eye out for Free Re-Homing adverts.

 

HOUSING YOUR FLOCK

 

If you decide to raise chicks you will need a brooder for them. A basic pre-made brooder will cost you between $75.00 and $100.00. Most chicken owners build their own or improvise brooders out of a large range of items. Old rubber maid tubs, crates, packing cases etc will serve you well for a small number of chicks. (Make sure you allow enough space - ideally at least 1 sq foot per chick - for the little guys as they will need to stay in there for around 6 weeks, unless the weather is really mild and you can move them to the coop sooner.) You can also build your brooder out of recycled materials. See here for designs and ideas.

 

 

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Pic by Wolfscout

 

You will need to keep the chicks warm for the first few weeks while they are feathering out. A heat lamp and bulb will cost between $20.00 and $28.00.

 

Feeders and waterers for the brooder (and later the coop) cost between $8.00 and $40.00, depending on size and design. You can save money by making your own waterers and feeders. **Tip: Egg boxes make excellent "feeders" in the brooder and most shallow, clean, dishes can work quite well for water while the chicks are small.

 

Older chicks and mature chickens will need a coop to sleep and lay their eggs in. A pre-made coop can cost you anywhere from $50.00 for a small, secondhand coop to $4000.00+ for a brand new, made-to-order chicken mansion. You can save a LOT of money building your own coop, see here for coop designs.

 

Sally Sunshine's "Hinkel Haus" made of recycled materials  

 

FEEDING AND BEDDING

 

A 50 lbs bag of chick starter crumbles will cost you around $15.00- $18.00. Prices differ quite a bit between medicated, non-medicated, organic and regular feed and of course between different brands. **Tip: you will pay less per pound if you buy feed in large amounts.

 

Grower and "all flock" feed for older chickens will cost around $17.00 per 50 lbs bag and layer pellets between $15.00 and $30.00 per 50 lbs bag, depending again on brand and whether you buy organic/regular. Scratch grains cost around $10.00 per 50 lbs bag, between depending on availability and quality.

 

Wood shavings cost around $6.00 (.276 cubic meter loose and .092 cubic meters compressed). Straw will cost you between $3.00 and $12.00 per bale, depending on availability, quality and size of order. Sawdust pellets will cost around $4.00 per 40 lbs bag.

 

How much a chicken will eat is near impossible to say. Certain breeds, Leghorns for example, are not big eaters. It also depends on the size of the chickens are they bantams or large fowl? The time of year (chickens eat more in winter and less when it's hot) and whether they free range or not. A free ranging chicken can find a lot of food in plant materials, bugs, etc and will eat less than a chicken that is kept confined in a coop and run. As a rough guide:

 

-A chick will eat roughly 9-10 lbs of feed in it's first 10 weeks. 

-A mature, standard size chicken will eat approximately 5 lbs of feed per month, if allowed to free range, and an active laying hen, if confined to the coop, will need around 6 lbs of feed per month. 

 

In addition to feed and bedding materials, add roughly $10.00 per month for miscellaneous extras, such as medicine, pest control, egg boxes etc.

 

 

Another question that gets asked frequently is: will keeping my own hens work out cheaper in the long run than buying eggs from the shop? That very much depends on your financial input. You can save quite a bit of money by starting up and raising your chickens on a shoestring and you can save by shopping around for the best deals on feed. Here is a good discussion with tips on how to save money on chicken feed. Also check if you are allowed to sell any extra eggs in your state as that can help you recoup some money, or at the very least cover some of the feeding costs.

 

For more money saving tips visit the Coop & Run and the Feeding & Watering Your Flock forum sections.

 

We'd love to get your thoughts, comments, and experiences on the costs of raising chickens, so we started a thread to get your feedback here:

http://www.backyardchickens.com/t/862774/costs-of-raising-backyard-chickens-how-much-is-it-to-raise-chickens

Comments (70)

Great article, puts into perspective the start up cost of having poultry which most no nothing about. 
Nice article- thanks!
My costs thus far: (AND I HAVENT EVEN GOTTEN THE CHICKS YET)
5 chicks from chickensforbackyards.com = $64 (5 female chicks & shipping)
pine bedding from feed store (2@$7 a bag) = $14
Chick starter feed (2 @ 10lbs each@ $5 a bag)= $10
small waterer and feeder= $10
medium/large waterer and feeder= $20
Chick supplements & grogel= $11
Heat lamp w/clamp and heat bulb= $10
Brooder (Costco 27 gallon tote)= $7
Thermometer=$7
Making my own roost out of my kids lincon logs = FREE
Bought a NEW chicken coop from ebay= $227.50
 
BRINGS MY TOTAL SO FAR TO: $380.50
After it's all said and done, I believe it to be true that the first egg costs about $700. lol
I have had chickens for 2 years now and i find them extremly cheap.  I did buy an "A" frame coop for about $400  i think i paid. And after  dealing with algea in the plastic waterers, I upgraded to the metal (2) water containers. But food is cheap. I d0 free range them 2-4 days a week (especially in summer) and I keep  between 2-5 hens, no roosters. I have paid around $7 - $12 for each hen, R.I.Reds (fully feathered  but not yet  laying, I don't have heat lamps)....But again, for 2 or 3 hens, very cheap and eggs for the family and then some...btw, I haven't ever used (or needed??) medicine and wood shavings last a while...I did buy a bag of crushed oyster shells, but it has lasted months...
The average chicken eats approximated 6 ounces a day.  That can be a combination of different feed types.  6 ounces does not include any feed that ends up on the ground :)  so I would allow for about 10 pounds of feed per month per bird.
 
Now having said that, I have seen my crew empty a 12 pound handing feeder in one day, granted most of that was in a pile under the feeder, LOL.  Needless to say we do not use hanging feeders anymore.......  We use the homemade tube feeders, they work out a bit better.  The chickens can not empty them as easily as the hanging feeders.  Good Luck!
Oh, I just wanted to add one more thing, the cost of raising your own eggs verses store bought eggs is uncomparable.  Eggs that you raise yourself are far better for your family than eggs you will buy at the supermarket!  You will know what goes into your chickens, and in turn you will know what your family is eating, something you will never know with supermarket eggs.............And if you did know you wouldn't eat them.............
This article WAYYYYYY undershoots the total. If you want GOOD chicks, chickens, or eggs, be prepared to pay a lot more than 3-30.  If you want hatchery then yeah maybe those prices are accurate.
 
If you feed organic (which you should) its WAY more than that, even non organic is not that cheap.
 
The coop, getting a used one is NOT a good idea, it can have mites or lice that will infect your flock and be very hard to get rid of. A nice coop that is predator proof will run you a decent amount. My 4x8 coops was $1000.  But my girls are allowed to free range.
 
Chickens also seem to get sick or hurt themselves more than other pets, so be prepared for vet bills or learn how to treat them yourself.  
 
I have had chickens 2 yrs and I am probably up over $3000. I also bought an incubator recently.  
 
Dont forgot about CHICK MATH. It means if you only want a certain number of birds, multiply it by at least 2. Chickens are VERY addicting. Once you start you just keep adding more coops, and more chickens!
 
But good luck just please don't think it is as cheap as this article says.
 
​Also if you want more convinces like not having to change your chickens water everyday, a great investment is The Chicken Fountain for near $100.  Also if you don't want to have to worry about opening and closing the coop twice daily to protect them from predators then the ADOR is a must investment at a little over $200. I highly recommend those 2 items, they have made my life MUCH easier when it comes to my chickens.
I'm no business expert and I can't say for sure whether raising your own poultry will profit you economically, but if done right you will certainly derive a great deal of pleasure from it and certainly better-tasting food products than anything store-bought, at least from any major supermarket. I've always started with day-old chicks, either from a hatchery or from a feed store that bought them from a hatchery for resale. Most hatcheries do a lot of testing to ensure as much as possible that the chicks are disease-free, so I think that's the best way to go. And nowadays small chick orders are possible (though expensive) thanks to the popularity of the hobby. Formerly the minimum order size was 25 or some cases 15.  Also hatched my own chicks but you get a lot of roosters, and I personally don't think most breeds other than broilers are worth raising for meat, they just don't have the meat in the right places. The old hens are good, in fact excellent, for stewing or chicken and dumplings. If meat production were my main goal, I'd either raise broilers or another species entirely like ducks. Ducks are easy to raise and you get attractive carcasses out of large to medium breeds like Rouens, Swedes, and Muscovies, plus they are self-perpetuating and breed true. Broiler chicks are hybrids and an average backyard flock raiser couldn't duplicate the breeding process.  
Good article, but I didn't see any mention that you can save on feed significantly by feeding your kitchen scraps and leftovers to your chickens. That's a no-brainer. If you have an orchard or a garden they can eat fallen fruit or garden gleanings (and you can use the manure to fertilize, another savings you can add to your budget). Anyone can grow Azolla in a tub of water or a pond, to supplement protein. Consider the possibility of getting stale bread from a grocer or baker if you know one. Such inputs can easily halve your feed costs, or better (as we have done on our farm). You can also just buy layer feed (or whatever) and mix it half-and-half with cracked corn without suffering any extra effort whatsoever (and saving about 25%, depending on prices in you area). Or you can do what millions of families all around the world do and choose street-smart landrace breeds that you can just turn loose to run around the neighborhood to forage for themselves and roost in trees--no one in rural Thailand, for example, spends $25 dollars a month on feed and miscellaneous expenses.
 
Don't scrimp on buying Organic feed just to save money--feeding your chickens GMO garbage defeats much of the purpose of keeping your own chickens. Instead, buy the good stuff if you can, and look for creative ways to use less of it while simultaneously providing a more diverse, interesting ration.
 
And I agree, if you are going to raise only for meat, and have some space for free-ranging, get ducks instead. Muscovy ducks (my specialty) can forage a lot of their own food (way better than broilers) and are healthier and tastier as well. Keep a duck or three and one drake and if you set them up properly you can breed all the happy, free-range ducks you want to eat, ready for slaughter in 3 months. If you don't have space for ranging, raise rabbits.
There are a couple of points in the OP that I have to disagree with. First, raising chickens not only does not cost anything, but shows a profit.
 
Certainly, there are some start-up costs, but you should recoup that within about 6 months by selling the excess eggs if you pick a good laying breed, and start out with adolescent hens. I like Red Sex Links. They are about half the cost (at least around here) of other breeds and are prolific layers.
 
While many will disagree, if you reside in a warmer climate like we have here in Central Texas you don't really need a coop. A three sided, roofed and floored shelter with the open side facing the wind will suffice. Hint: hinge the roof at the open side to facilitate collecting your eggs and changing the litter (we use pine shavings).
 
My biggest expense, mostly due to having to experiment was fencing. If I had it to do over I would just bite the bullet and use Cyclone Fencing. In the long run it would have been cheaper. With luck, you might find some used.
Well , if you live in Fairbanks, Alaska, the cost of keeping chickens can cost quite a bit.  Feed runs $22.99 for Nutrena in the local feed store, scratch blend $15.99, straw $13.99 per bale, this doesn't include any housing which is definitely more than $50 or electricity which is crazy high up here.  Then the water dishes can be $13 or more, wood shavings aren't too bad.  This month isn't over yet but I have already spent $300 just in food for my crew, which include geese and ducks, and too many chickens I'm afraid.  I'm trying to down size.  I guess that's the hazard of being able to incubate your own, but I really enjoy my birds.  They cost me way more than what I would pay for good home grown eggs, but sometimes the therapeutic benefits out way the cost at least for me.
  I wanted chickens for 30 years. Many of those years I lived in locations where it wasn't possible to keep a flock. Whenever I did live somewhere that I could have chickens, I was discouraged by people telling me the eggs cost much more than if I had just bought them in the store. Well, finally, when I again got a chance, I threw the negative comments out the window; I'm glad I did. We've kept chickens six years now, and have found them to be worth every penny we spent.
 
  The main reason we keep chickens: our chickens are drug-free. Secondary, but just as important, our chickens free-range; the yolks of their eggs are a rich, dark yellow. Clean and healthy food. This is very important to us--good health is priceless; bad health is costly.
 
  But if you want an idea of cost, large brown eggs of the same quality as ours sell at our local market for 5.79 per dozen (two local men have a small farm together, and a lot of chickens).  A bag of laying feed is $20. We have four laying hens, four old biddies from our first flock and two roosters who get along beautifully (one belongs to my granddaughter). We buy a bag of feed every 3 months, which isn't much, but they do free-range. (If you can't free-range, you can grow grains in flats for your chickens--they love it.) So, except for during molt, we have enough eggs for the 3 of us year round. I fall back on buying from the guys a couple of times a year, but usually, if I don't have eggs, neither do they.
 
  Of course there is the initial set-up cost. For the chicks (plastic, washable, all reusable items) and sturdier aluminum models for the hens. Lights for chicks, also reusable. Bedding, which is fairly cheap. Fencing, if needed (we didn't need much). And a coop is a must-have.
 
  We built our first coop for less than $200 out of new materials. It's portable, yet roomy enough for up to 8 large breed  birds. Our second coop built five years later was less than $100, but it only holds 6 large chickens. We still have our original coop--right now it's the Biddy Retirement Home. We just can't part with those gentle, old girls.
 
  We bought chickens in bulk. Our first hatchery purchase was 20 hens and 5 roosters for $54. We culled, shared, and kept some for ourselves. Beautiful Buff Orpingtons that didn't disappoint. Our second purchase was last Spring and I think about the same dollar amount, but we only bought a few laying hens and roosters to replace the hens lost to predators and the rest were meat birds. We culled 1 rooster--gave him to the little boy who lives down the lane, killed the meat birds, kept the hens and two roosters.
 
  So, we've spent around $600 in six years, not counting feed and bedding. In return, we get eggs, meat, fertilizer and pest control. We're happy with the deal, but we are thinking of giving the chickens a raise due to inflation.
 
  I could add it all up, but I fail in math. Really, I believe you shouldn't decide whether or not to keep laying hens based on the...
  Oops. Don't know what happened there.
  Anyway, I believe you shouldn't decide whether or not to keep laying hens based on the cost of eggs from your chickens versus the cost of commercial eggs, which contain bad things for you and yours (see second paragraph--now in my first post, which I can't edit :/ ). Your eggs will be superior in many ways! If you're a resourceful do-it-yourself type of person, you'll save hundreds of dollars on set-up and upkeep. If you don't mind work--your time is also money, and it is time well spent-- you won't mind keeping chickens.
There is one drawback to raising your own chickens. It spoils going out for breakfast for you. Omelets just don't taste as good with store bought eggs.
New coops that are predator resistant (and the hardware such as hasps/locks that you will need to add) are a bit more expensive here in the northeastern USA than the article mentions.  In Amish counties in Pennsylvania coops start at around $500 and go to several thousand.  A predator resistant run will add considerably to the price.
 
Feeding scraps can help with the food budget but all chickens need a good chicken feed to prosper.  Supplements such as calcium are not expensive.  Personally, I feed green/red leaf lettuce in the winter when there is no grazing.  This adds to the expenses but keeps the hens' digestive tracts in good shape.
 
Around our hen house, my spouse often mentions "that first $500 egg" with a wry smile and a deep appreciation for the taste and nutrition of the home grown eggs.
 
I started with a used coop found on Craigslist for $25 then added a large 4 x 12 ft permanent run and a larger 28 x 14 ft portable run.  We have resident hawks so my girls only free range when I can be there to offer some protection. 
 
As wonderful as the eggs are, the entertainment value of our 5 hens is beyond price.  Their antics as they free range or scratch around in the runs make life a continual wonder.  Who needs television?
I live in HI and pay 35-40 dollars for a bag of feed, and straw is about 20 dollars a big bale. We save by using less of the purchased stuff and more of the homegrown--see my earlier comment for more detail. We also buy less fertilizer because we keep our own animals, which means less inputs for the farming overall (to buy a bag of dried poultry manure here costs almost twice as much as a bag of feed, and it doesn't--how shall I say--come from healthy animals). If I couldn't afford straw anymore, I would use leaf litter, sawdust, woodchips, or something else. If I couldn't afford feed anymore I would let the chickens roam freely and feed what I could, but I would still keep at least some chickens. I've been to many countries around the world and seen families who probably live on $5 dollars a day or less keeping chickens. It can be as expensive, or as cheap as you want to make it. 
 
Anyway, we happen to place a lot of value on providing good food for our family, and the way I look at it, even if it costs as much or more to buy eggs and meat as raise chickens (which it doesn't, actually, because food is so expensive here--we sell eggs for $7 a dozen to grateful customers) it would still be worth it because we're getting something of better quality, fresher, safer, with less environmental impact, and humanely produced with respect for life. Since we could not BUY food of this quality where I live, its value to us is essentially priceless. "Cost" and "profit" can be very relative concepts.
 
And besides, as others have pointed out, chickens are just fun to have around...
I live in northern Nigeria let me share with the family how it cost me to rise my own flock of 100 pullets, I bought a one week old chick @ N280.00 per chick, the cost of constructing the coop is around N5600.00 I use to buy chick starter 1bag of 25kg @ N2500, 1bag of 25kg of growers mash @ N2200 and 1bag of 25kg of layers mash @ N2400 vaccination and other expenditures N25000 they are now 5 months 3 weeks and almost 58-60% are laying eggs daily.
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