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Raising Chickens on a Shoestring

Raising chickens can be an expensive Hobby. But we've got some really great information on how to lower your expenses.
  1. silkeysandra
    Raising Chickens on a Shoestring
    By Sandra Higgins Hanna

    Whether you’ve received a couple chickens as a ‘gift’ or just couldn’t resist baby chicks, you now need housing for the little sweeties. What can you do if you hadn’t budgeted for new pets? Join many of us and ‘shoestring’ it! My white Silkie pullets were a Christmas gift. Best Christmas ever! These bantam chickens lay small eggs sometimes. For consistent egg-layers, research hen breeds before buying or taking home free hens.
    Here's what I saw that Christmas morning.

    Hens, Chicks. Either, Or. Buy pullets (teenager hens) or mature hens or buy chicks—not both. Pullets are the best first start because they are still small and cuddly, but hearty enough to endure petting. Pullets, hens ready to lay, or retired hens past their egg-laying days make the ideal first flock. Hens make eggs as part of their nature. (Roosters aren’t needed unless you want baby chicks or fertile eggs.) Baby chicks take special care. Putting younger chickens into an older flock is traumatic to both sets of chickens and not recommended. Starting off with baby chicks takes lots of time and effort to get the right balance of heat, housing, and feed for them to survive into healthy hen-hood.

    Starting With Hens.

    1. Pick a breed best for your area and your family. If you have a dog or cat, choose 6 of the biggest breed hens you can buy and introduce the hens to the leashed pet.
    2. Little children need a friendly, gentle, sturdy breed.
    3. Buy from a respected breeder or farmer, who's flock looks healthy and clean. Poultry hatcheries will participate in the NPIP program.
    4. Check with the local SPCA. They sometimes acquire poultry needing a home.
    5. Put up a “Hens Wanted” sign at the feed store. Someone may have hens they’d like to sell or give away.

    Starting With Baby Chicks! If you have young children, (or you’re a kid at heart) baby chicks may come home with you from the feed store. I couldn’t resist either. Here’s what’s essential for good baby chick care. (Check out Chick Care advice in the BYC Learning Center.)


    1. Draft free plastic bin, cardboard box, purchased brooder, etc.
    2. Light/heat bulb and metal hooded receptacle
    3.Thermometer to check floor temperature
    4.Wire hardware cloth top
    5.Chicken waterers/feeders
    6.Chick Starter feed
    7.Fresh water and bedding when needed
    8.Careful handling and love, free

    The Chicken Coop. You can use found items or clean out a corner of your storeroom or garage to provide weather tight quarters. Any safe, dry place will do. If you store your feed in the coop, use metal containers with tight-fitting lids set where they won’t rust. Here’s some ideas, I’ve seen used to house hens.
    1. Children’s abandoned playhouse. Add wire to windows to varmit-proof.
    2. Old rabbit cages in storeroom/garage.
    3. Craigslist or Freecycle websites for low cost or free coops—you pick up.

    Photos of playhouse and dryer repurposed by Dan Probst of www.polishfarm.com, Poetry, Texas.


    My storeroom coop cages.

    Now that they have a dry and safe coop, what about a safe place for them to run and play in the sunshine, safe from predators.

    A Chicken Run. You can make a chicken run at the back of their property by fencing that portion with wire and shade cloth cover to protect from hawks. Some chicken owners fence in around a tree to ‘hawk proof’ their chicken area. Provide weather proof housing. We put our chicken run against the side or our storeroom.

    Our wood and chicken wire run with shade cloth roof. The hens stay here while we’re at work, then play in our backyard until night. Dog house in run is for bad weather protection.
    See the egg inside? See my hen, Millie?

    Here’s what’s needed for a safe chicken run.
    1.Wire thick enough to withstand attack by large dogs. Chicken wire is not recommended. Chain link works great.
    2.Posts that won’t pull out of the ground if wire is pulled by an animal. Sink most poles (metal or wood) at least a foot into concrete or hard dirt.
    3.Overhead cover to protect from hawks or animals climbing the wire.
    4.Rain proof shelter for bad weather. Even an old dog house will do.
    5.Ventilation in summer and heating if building will get below freezing.
    Weather help “on a shoestring”.
    1.For temps below freezing, fill coop with straw for hens to burrow into.
    2.Put up incandescent lights or electric heater to warm a small coop.
    3.Rain-proof openings with plastic sheets or tarp material.
    4.Screened ventilation windows, or a rotating passive exhaust unit.
    5.Fill shallow plant saucers with cool water for summer chicken wading and splashing.
    6.Freeze liter water bottles for hens to sit next to on extremely hot days
    If you can spend a little.
    1. Thermostat controlled fan to exhaust hot coop air.
    2.Misting unit for part of chicken run in extreme heat
    3.Add cracked corn, crimped oats to feed and vitamins supplements to water.

    Chicken Run Flooring. You need flooring to absorb and help the poo dry. Straw, pine shavings or sawdust is good to use. These materials keep flies and disease away when it is replaced when needed. Some flooring is done by the ‘deep litter’ method, whereby you lay down a 4-6 inch layer of straw, pine shavings or sawdust, turning it when the top layer gets soiled. I heard it can last for around 6 months. I use sand and bagged leaves we collect from our trees to use in our outdoor run. Rake your material each week, removing the most soiled areas. When flooring needs replacing, dump the used stuff in your compost pile and give it a good tossing. Most “shoestring budgeters” find free straw or sawdust on local Craigslist or Freecycle sites, wood working shops or even the local high school if they have a wood shop. Compost that contains chicken poo is perfect for veggie or flower gardens.

    Chicken Poo is great fertilizer the hens give you free! It can be used by itself, when dried, on veggie or ornamental gardens. My hens sleep in old rabbit cages with trays underneath. Their poo goes through the wire bottoms where it dries. I collect the dried poo once a week for a neighbor. He and I share the dried poo as well as the eggs. Don’t allow poo to get moldy or cause flies to congregate, bringing disease to your coop. Remove poo at least once a week. I make sure no poo stays on the bottom wire to keep chicken feet clean. I disinfect the bottom trays with 1/2 cup bleach to a gallon of water once a month.

    Here's what they look like. The trays are easy to tip into a bucket each week.

    A Chicken Tractor. If you have an acre or more, you can make an inexpensive “chicken tractor” from PVC pipe or wood and hardware cloth to safely put your hens outside. It looks like a wire box turned upside down. These materials can be leftovers from other projects, but aren’t expensive to buy. For every hen, give them 3 or 4 square feet play room. This means if you have 6 hens, make your chicken tractor 2 feet tall (so they can stretch and flap), 4 feet wide and 6 feet long. Include shade and rain protection, food and water. Move the tractor to fresh ground each evening making sure you don’t trap a slow-moving hen. If you attach a small coop to the tractor, the hens will go inside and lessen the risk of hurting a hen. Put wheels on the coop or tractor using repurposed children’s wagon wheels. It is the recommended ideal to have enough land so your chicken tractor doesn’t return to the original spot for a year. For small farms, just use a tiller on the used spots so you can return there when the grass matures.

    Tractor examples built by BYC members. Search “chicken tractor” or “duck mobile” in BYC.


    Predators. Typical suburban predators are hawks, dogs, cats and maybe even a possum or raccoon. Shoestring protection can simply be a piece of plywood secured against the coop opening or pegs holding down your chicken tractor. My storeroom can be latched and the repurposed rabbit cages also have latches so even if a predator hides in the storeroom, the locked cages protect them. I sprung for an inexpensive baby monitor (try garage sales, thrift stores, or ask a friend with kids.) so I could hear my hens at night.
    If the hens get alarmed, I can hear and go check. It gives me peace of mind and only cost me $20 new. There are wireless models that take batteries and some that transmit long distances, good for those folks with coops on acreage. Rural homes sometimes have predators like coyotes, wolves, or even wandering dogs. You can anchor your chicken tractor to the ground with wooden stakes driven through the wire into the ground. If you can spend a little, I have heard some folks successfully use those auger style pet stakes. Your hen’s night quarters need to be secured so that a smart predator cannot open it. If the coop door is held shut by a simple swivel latch, make a hole in the latch and through the wood door frame. Push a big nail into the drilled hole so that the latch can’t swivel. Just that can predator proof a simple coop.

    Joy is Free. The joy you and your family receive watching your hens and collecting their eggs is the best free thing about raising chickens. Since the Christmas of ’06, I and my husband have shared our suburban backyard with our flock of hens. Our rescue dog, Reggie, has been trained to be respectful of the hens. Even on a ‘shoestring’, we’ve been able to provide our hens a happy and healthy life. We enjoy chickens on our shoestring budget! I can’t imagine my life without my sweet and amusing hens.

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  1. Sharon Barrett
    My husband got a wired door from a friend that had it on a dog run, we had some wire and used some plywood left over from other projects and enclosed a horse stall in the barn put in a dog box and some laying boxes so we paid nothing for our coop. A friend of our's gave us six sheets of plywood he had left over we made a area for geese by using an old steel frame cut it welded it into a square up next to the barn. then we used some wire fencing we had and made a goose pen. My thought is what ever you have around the house or farm can be put to good use for making safe runs and pens for your birds.
  2. Ursuline Chick
    We live in an area where the houses are raised, ours is 5 feet off the ground, and we placed our nesting boxes under the house. Enclosed of course, this offers some protection from the elements, but does add some additional work in keeping everything a little cleaner than might be necessary if the boxes were out in the middle of the yard. We also repurposed old milk crates as nesting boxes, they work great with a lip on the edge of the shelf. Our area went through a lot of rebuilding 12 years ago, lots of good lumber scrapes being thrown away. Check construction sites, most are glad to give you leftover lumber they can't use.
  3. SpeckledHills
    Cheap ventilation coverings for windows: old wire shelves from an old frig or oven. You can get them cheap of free from some used appliance stores. Very sturdy! And much cheaper than hardware cloth / wire. :)
      garagegirl likes this.
  4. Beer can
    Mangel Beets.
  5. Lynn-n-JimsVT
    I live in a winter climate on a mountain with very clay soil and also bedrock underneath in random patterns lol (just start a digging project, you'll find some soon enough). Anyway for my chicken run I needed a cheap quick way to build a winter cover shelter that would survive snow, wind, frost heaves etc etc. Digging 4 feet past the frost line is kinda tough here in some places so I went with 5 gal buckets setting the 4x4 posts inside the buckets. The buckets sit on top of the ground so I avoid the whole heave dig issue. The most expensive part was the 4x4 posts (PT). The roof was made of lumber from the mill, rough pine which was treated with 2 diff kinds of stain (and colors lol) left over from my woodshed project I think the lumber cost was $20 bucks maybe for the roof minus the posts. I call it "Rustic Roost Ranch"
      pginsber and Magepalm like this.
  6. IdyllwildAcres
    Heating if building will go below freezing?
  7. FlyWheel
    Please, please, PLEASE, people, please stop suggesting heat lamps for raising anything! They are dangerous and unhealthy for the chicks to boot! I almost killed my first flock and nearly burned down my garage when the heat lamp I was using fell into their brooder! Fortunately I came home soon enough so the worst I had was a garage full of smoke, a smoldering brooder with seven terrified chicks huddled in the far corner of it! There is a much safer (and healthier) method available, and costa no more than a heat lamp. Probably less when you figure in the electric bill.
    1. Beer can
      I don't recommend them, and your right, but.... Heat lamps have been used for decades by thousands, millions? of people with no problems. I use one cause I already have it, used it for hundreds of chicks. If I could afford a alternative I would get one. My chicks are usually in the house, when they are in the garage I use some pretty stiff wire to hang the heat, take a elephant to mess it up.
      Sharon Barrett, nagope and Magepalm like this.
  8. Petra Pancake
    Not sure if I should admit to it... but it's really on a shoestring. I cobbled my chicken coop together using 1) an old large garden table, 2) an old plastic tool storage chest 3) an old filing cabinet 4) the railings of an old baby bed. I got all that stuff for free, then tied it together, closed the open spaces with plastic grid and put a makeshift roof on the parts that needed one. It's got the shape of the letter "L" seen from above. Super cheap method and so far, no predator problems. Disadvantages: it doesn't look very nice - think of a pile of old furniture - which is why I don't really want to include a photo. Difficult to reach inside and to clean. Also, during winter rain storms it is not entirely water proof - the floor gets swampy. And the roof flew off once during the first winter storm, but after weighting it down and tying it on with a rope it's been holding ever since. The chickens made it through the winter alright with all that. They are just getting back to laying after their winter break.
      Magepalm likes this.
    1. Magepalm
      I'm building a frankencoop with an old crib and old cabinets and head/foot boards lmao I feel your pain!!!!!
      garagegirl likes this.
  9. CrazyPetunias
    Glad to know I am not the only one. I have an old playhouse similar to the picture above. I have already covered the openings with hardwire fencing and plan on using it to house my cornish rock hens this summer. I also use an old dryer drum to keep my baby chicks in for the first 2 weeks. Its 2 1/2' tall and made out of metal - works great to keep heat in for the babies.
  10. Betsy57
    Well, I've seen washers and dryers on porches in some rural areas but never one made into a nest! Another good use for an old appliance.

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