Owning chickens can be a rewarding experience for any homesteader. You can get farm-fresh eggs and healthy meat for the whole family. But, newcomers to the world of homesteading and having livestock, in general, tend to expect an easier process than it turns out to be.
Beginner homesteaders tend to start with a garden that requires little work, but moving onto chickens can be a giant leap. This article will show you the monetary costs of raising your own flock and some of the hidden costs, like less vacation time and a daily chore list that never quits!
Of course, if we are talking about costs we have to discuss the monetary investment of owning chickens. Owning egg-laying hens and meat chickens may have different needs.
For this article, we’ll be focusing on the monetary costs of laying hens, but there is a lot of overlap for meat chickens as well.
Baby chicks aren’t free. First, you’ll have to make a trip to your local pet or farm-supply store to pick out your chicks. Or, if you want a larger selection, you can go online and pick out your preferred breed of chickens that can ship to your local post office.
Either way, you’ll pay around $3-5 for each of your day-old chicks, and be responsible for their survival from the minute you get them. They’ll probably be cold, hungry, and thirsty while chirping quite loudly.
If you want an average size flock of about 6 hens to lay a half-dozen eggs per day, you should buy 7 just in case one doesn’t make it.
Total Cost: $24 for 6, my flock of 18 cost me $90.
You bring them home and have to have a safe area that provides heat, water, and food. It will also need a layer of bedding.
For the enclosure, you can use a dedicated brooder, or use something like a plastic tote you can pick up at your local big-box store. The heat source will typically be a heat-lamp, hover brooder, or heating pad designed for baby chicks.
The initial feeder and waterer probably won’t last beyond the first couple of weeks as they grow rapidly and need more food and water daily. Once they are ready to move from the brooder, you have quite a few new costs to take care of.
Total Cost: $30-100, can vary widely.
The food cost for your chickens can be as affordable as you want it to be. If you plan on free-ranging your chickens and letting them forage for as much food as possible while feeding them a standard layer feed that isn’t organic or GMO-free, you can save yourself quite a bit of money.
But, if you are like me, you have your chickens in a permanent chicken run and only feed them fresh garden scraps and organic, non-corn, non-soy, layer feed for the most nutritious eggs they can provide for my family.
Each chicken will eat around 1/4 to 1/3 lb of food each day.
Total Cost: $28/50 lbs for my high-quality feed, half or even less for lower-quality feed.
Chickens need a place to sleep and hide from predators and the weather, which typically entails a coop. While I’ve seen 100% free-range birds that don’t even have a coop, they aren’t good egg producers at all!
The coop needs to provide around 2-4 square feet per chicken. There are free plans available online to build your own or you could buy a coop kit. Either way, the cost can be larger than you’d expect!
Total Cost: $80+
The Chicken Run
Free-range chickens may not have a run, but I like the protection and peace of mind I get with my chickens enclosed in their 400+ square feet run.
I have chain link panels and bird netting over the top, as my flock likes to try and fly out without a roof. This cost can be substantial!
Total Cost: free for free-ranging, $100+ for permanent runs
Knock on wood, I haven’t had to deal with a sick chicken ever. But, if your flock gets sick, you may have a vet bill or need to buy specialized medicine for your flock.
Most chicken owners I know tend to cull those in the flock that get ill as a matter of efficiency.
Total Cost: varies dramatically
The Hidden Costs
Sure, you may have read up on owning chickens, and knew about the monetary costs of raising your chickens. But, I’m about to tell you about all the hidden costs of being able to go out and harvest fresh eggs day-in and day-out!
Daily Feeding & Watering
Sure, this process doesn’t take that long. Measure out their daily ration of food, and pour it into the separate feeders every single day.
You can’t just leave as much food as possible in the run and hope they put themselves on a diet. Chickens will overeat and lower their egg production because of it!
The waterer gets dirty all the time, no matter what set up I have. This means cleaning the waterer every day and scrubbing it whenever I see a hint of algae growth.
Chickens drink a lot of water, especially on a hot summer day, so I may make a couple of trips to ensure they have fresh cold water. They are pickier about their water quality than you may think!
Cleaning The Coop & Run
Chicken manure is full of nutrients that can fertilize your garden and fruit trees. But, harvesting it from the chicken run and coop can be a hassle!
First of all, if you wait too long to do it the smell becomes atrocious. If you clean it often, the smell isn’t as bad. But, you’ll probably be cleaning your coop every week or two and your run every month or two.
I’ve learned that cleaning the coop is pointless, so I designed what I like to call my HoverCoop, which has no bottom.
The roosting bars are suspended in the air, and it is covered on all sides and the top. The chickens roost on the beams, and their manure simply falls into the run, which is where I utilize the deep litter method.
Using deep litter means less often cleaning of the run and coop. But, once or twice a year, I have a day-long project of going in and removing the huge amounts of soiled deep litter that will turn into compost in a future garden.
Herding The Chickens
Don’t let your chickens out unless you have them trained like dogs! They are hard to herd around back into their pen, and even harder to catch by hand.
I’ve spent countless hours herding chickens in the past year from fence failures, and a lack of a roof over my chicken run. Now, I finally have the design that hasn’t allowed a chicken to escape for months now!
There is a reason that roosters are banned in many urban areas. They are loud! They don’t just crow at dawn either. They crow all day for all sorts of reasons.
You can cut down on this noise pollution by only having hens in your flock, but they can be loud as well if you have a particularly vocal group.
Some hens even have an egg-laying song where they sing a nice song each time they lay an egg (so, every day basically).
There are tons of predators that would love to turn your flock into an all-you-can-eat chicken buffet! That’s why I don’t free-range my birds, and use a strong fence around my run.
Nothing is worse than having to clean up a mess of dead chicken when something inevitably gets into a weak pen or coop wrapped with chicken wire.
Few Vacation Days
Gardens are awesome because they can be set on a timer to water their plants for days on end. You can take a family vacation for a week, and not worry too much about your garden if you have it set up correctly.
This doesn’t work the same for a flock of chickens! Since we’ve established our flock on the homestead, we haven’t been away from them for more than 3 nights. Even then we had a family member come and check on them daily to ensure they had enough water and food.
The eggs also needed to be collected since they tend to get curious with eggs left around to the point of gobbling them up.
Yes, your precious hens will eat their eggs if you let them! This can cause a habit to form and all-of-a-sudden you have a flock of egg-eaters that give you nothing but empty shells strewed about.
I know this article sounds like a plea to stop you from getting your own chickens. The truth is: they are awesome to have on the homestead, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
You just have to be ready for an adjusted lifestyle if you get a flock of layer hens or meat birds. They will take up a lot of your time if you want those farm-fresh eggs!
Milo Martinovich was born and raised in a small town in Northern California. Throughout his life, he has been involved in agriculture and now lives on a 7-acre homestead raising livestock and growing food for his family. Self-sufficiency is his ultimate goal.