Updated: Sep 14, 2020
Hello! Today, I have a great article to share about raising backyard chickens for eggs, and how much it will cost you to raise chickens. I have several different family members who raise chickens for eggs, so I am familiar with the topic. When Chris approached me with the guest post idea, I had to say yes because I thought it would be interesting to learn more about the money side of it. Enjoy!
I had just returned from visiting my parents’ new retirement project, a hobby farm in northern Vermont that was bustling with chickens and ducks and all sorts of wonderful, useful livestock I had never considered keeping for myself until that moment.
After all, I grew up in the suburbs, full of cats, dogs, and the snake the “weird kid” in middle school loved to talk about, and the only “livestock” were the cows that were shipped in every summer to picturesquely dot the fields behind the local ice cream place – carefully kept too far away from customers to smell.
I was thinking about delicious, farm-fresh eggs; endless access to high-quality fertilizer and pest controls; taking control of where my food came from and developing a healthier, organic diet; and of course, just the joys of animal ownership.
Waking up to the delightful chattering of chickens in the yard, getting to hang out with feathery friends on the weekend – spending time with the animals we love can be so intoxicating, you can read more about my story here.
However, starting a chicken coop is an economic venture, even for chicken owners who don’t intend to make a profit off of their eggs.
For a chicken coop to be sustainable, owners have to take into account all of their costs – from starting costs like building a coop and buying chicks, to the regular maintenance costs of feed and supplements, to the unexpected expenses like repairs and vet bills – to figure out how much they’ll need to plan to spend every year on keeping their animals happy and healthy.
Here is a picture of my chickens.
Start-Up Costs Of Raising Chickens For Eggs
The costs and logistics of starting your first chicken coop can be daunting, and this is the point where a lot of people who had romantic ideas of homesteading with a few picturesque white chickens beside the red wheelbarrow in the garden give up.
I know I almost quit after I spent more than an hour on the town website, looking for a simple list of the steps I needed to take to keep chickens in my backyard –
Was there paperwork?
What about noise regulations?
Did I need a permit?
-and ended up wading through 100-page food regulations, months’ worth of senior center lunch menus, and Board of Health meeting minutes, only to finally show up to the town hall to ask in person and find out there were no paperwork requirements.
That saved cost on my part, because there were no filing fees in order to get a permit, but every locality is different. And every prospective chicken owner should do their own research on their town or district’s regulations before moving ahead with their planning.
The most obvious start-up cost in chicken keeping is, of course, the cost of the chickens themselves. This can vary, depending on what kind of chickens you get and how old they are.
On paper, the cheapest option might seem to be to buy eggs and hatch them yourself. For common breeds like the Rhode Island Red or Plymouth Rock, hatching eggs can cost less than $5 each. However, you should know that chicken eggs do not have a 100 percent hatch rate – for a shipment of eggs, the hatch rate actually averages around 50 percent.
Additionally, hatching eggs can be difficult, and comes with extra costs, most notably an incubator for the eggs, which usually run about $100, plus all the extra equipment needed to raise chicks, which can be another $100.
On the plus side, as kindergarten classes around the country learn every spring, watching eggs hatch and caring for adorable baby chicks can be one of the most exciting and rewarding experiences in the chicken-keeping world.
In total, starting a flock of five hens from eggs will probably run you about $250.
On the other hand, one of the most common ways to start a flock is to bypass eggs entirely and buy live chicks.
This has several advantages over hatching eggs, including saving incubator costs and having to pay for eggs that ultimately won’t hatch.
As with eggs, chick costs vary depending on the breed, but common breeds average about $5 per chick, unless you want a purebred or particularly exotic bird, in which case each chick can cost up to $100!
However, raising chicks will also require additional costs in purchasing the equipment necessary to replace their mothers – things like a brood box to keep them warm while they grow their feathers and prevent them from running off and a specialized chick feeder, which will need to be replaced with a traditional feeder as they get older.
Most of those expenses will add up to about $100 – although the handier amongst us can try to save costs by building their own brooder box, for example.
There are also still the costs of setting them up to thrive as adults, which we’ll get to in just a minute. Just getting set up for the chicks, though, will come out to about $125.
The other option when starting a flock is to acquire adult chickens – either pullets, young adults around 4-16 weeks old, which run around $25 a bird, or rescue hens, fully grown adults who have been “spent” in the industrial poultry world, but will still produce good eggs regularly enough for backyard purposes.
For folks who really want to bond with their chickens and have them be pets as well as livestock, adults probably aren’t the way to go, as chicks that have bonded with you from the beginning will be much friendlier and more trusting than older birds. The main advantage to starting with pullets is the cost savings, since you’ll only have to outfit them once, with the same coop, feeder, and other supplies that they’ll use their whole lives.
How much does a chicken coop cost?
Coop costs is the big expense many prospective chicken owners worry about the most, and they’re not wrong to do so – it’s going to be your biggest expense!
And it should be, because having a sturdy, healthy place to live is crucial to your birds’ overall health and well-being.
Trying to cut costs on the coop, by going smaller than you need or buying second-hand, will almost always end up costing you more in the long run, either in medical care or replacement costs for sick birds or in finally ponying up for the more expensive coop you should have gotten in the first place.
While local regulations vary, the rule of thumb for coop size is four square feet per bird if they have an attached run or free range, and 10 square feet per bird if they don’t, which is enough space to allow them to be comfortable, exercise, and gives them enough fresh air to prevent respiratory illnesses, assuming the coop is well-ventilated.
For our hypothetical five-bird starter flock, that’s a 20 square foot coop, five feet by four, plus a run.
This is another area where you can cut costs by building your own, and there are lots of do-it-yourself chicken coop guides and blueprints available online. Just make sure the material you’re using is chicken-friendly and non-toxic, as well as being sturdy enough to last through years of chicken poop and bad weather.
For those who aren’t thrilled about their next home carpentry project, ready-made coops or some assembly required coop kits are easy to find and easy to build.
Small wooden coops start at about $160, though some will tell you you’ll have to spend more if you want to get a really high-quality one, while a plastic coop will usually run about $700.
Which one will work better for you and your flock will depend on a number of factors, but both materials have their devotees. Plastic coops are easier to clean and dry much faster, which will be a huge boon to anyone raising chickens in an area with harsh winters.
As a New Englander, this was a big consideration for me when choosing my first coop. I ultimately went with wood, though, because wooden coops come in a much wider variety of designs and are much easier to repair – another consideration in a region prone to nasty blizzards.
As for run costs, here again you can build your own – which usually costs about $1 per meter – or buy a kit for about $150.
You might also be able to roll your run costs into your coop costs by buying one of the many coops with a run attachment included. As for size, you’ll want to plan for approximately 15 square feet per chicken, though this can vary by breed. As an example, bantam chickens usually need less space than their larger cousins, so they’re absolutely an option to look into if you’re strapped for space in your backyard.
A 15 square foot requirement, though, means our starter flock of five will need 75 square feet total, maybe 7.5 by 10 feet, which is only about $11 worth of fencing. All of this brings our coop and run costs anywhere from $171 to $850.
Unfortunately, we aren’t done with start-up costs yet, as we also need to outfit our chicken coop, with things like a feeder, a waterer, perches, and nesting boxes. Luckily, our five-hen flock will only need one feeder and one waterer, though costs can vary widely depending on what kind you decide is best for your flock.
Owners planning for bigger flocks should aim to have one feeder and one waterer for every eight birds. Waterers can be plastic or metal, with metal being the more durable but also more expensive option of the two. Depending on material and size, a waterer will usually run between $6-$30.
For feeders, chicken owners have more choices. A wall-mounted feeder can cost as little as $3, and hanging feeders are only slightly more expensive at $7. Trough feeders, which are ideal for chicks and smaller bantam birds, average $15, so whichever one you go with, it’s unlikely your feeder cost will break the bank.
Nesting boxes and perches are also relatively inexpensive; many will often come with the coop. If your coop doesn’t come with nesting boxes, you can get your own for about $10 a pop for the most basic model, which is likely all you need. You’ll want to plan for one nesting box for every three hens. The cost for perches, on the other hand, is essentially just the cost of a 2×4 and a handful of nails at your local hardware store – probably about $5. You’ll want a long enough perch for each of your hens to get about 10 inches of space.
So, when all is said and done, where does that leave the total cost for setting up a flock of five hens?
$125-250 for chickens and the equipment to raise them to adulthood
$171-850 for a coop and a run
$34-70 to outfit the coop
For a grand total of between $330 and $1,170. Ouch.
Maintenance Costs Of Raising Chickens For Eggs
Of course, we’re just getting started on our expenses.
Now that you have your chickens, you still need to buy feed, supplements, bedding, and other crucial supplies for your birds. These are recurring expenses, so what seem like small savings on one bag of feed or bale of hay will add up in the long run.
For feed, there’s no need to get caught up in the many, many different types of feed you might see on the shelves – for the most part, your small backyard flock of layers will only need a basic layer feed once they reach adulthood, which usually runs about $15-25 per 50 pound bag.
A good starter rate is to feed six ounces of feed per chicken per day, which means that 50-pound bag will last our hypothetical five hens a little less than a month. Those raising their flocks from eggs or chicks will have to feed them on starter feed or starter crumbles to make sure they get enough protein and don’t overdose on calcium, transitioning to layer feed at around 18 weeks old.
Chickens also need several supplements in their diets, the most important of these being calcium carbonate and insoluble grit. Calcium carbonate helps laying chickens get the calcium they need to put strong, healthy shells on their eggs; it can be introduced to their diet through ground up oyster shells, which usually cost about $3 for a month’s supply. Insoluble grit helps the birds digest their food, basically serving the same purpose as teeth do for people, and costs about $15 a bag.
Free range chickens will need less grit than their confined counterparts, because they pick it up while foraging, but they should still have grit available to them to supplement that.
Another potential maintenance cost is bedding. Here again, chicken owners have a lot of different options, including some that can be basically free, like wood shavings or shredded newspapers. The classic straw is also an option, as are hemp and sand. All of these beddings have their potential upsides and downsides, and chicken owners may have to experiment a bit before they find an option that makes both their chickens and their bottom lines happy. A good number to expect for your bedding costs would be about $5 a month.
Other chicken maintenance costs are harder to quantify – how much they’ll add to your water and electricity bills, for example, or time and labor costs.
You might also run up against unexpected one-time expenses, like vet bills or repairs to your coop or your run. These things can be difficult to plan for, so make sure to keep a cushion in your chicken budget so you can comfortably cover any surprises that might come up.
Based on these numbers, though, our hypothetical starter flock of five hens will cost about $45 a month in maintenance and upkeep, for a yearly total of about $516.
Are backyard chickens worth it?
Of course, keeping chickens isn’t all about the bottom line.
It’s almost impossible to put a monetary value on most of the benefits we reap from our feathery friends, including the joys of their company and the myriad mental and physical health benefits of keeping a backyard barnyard.
For my part, watching my five-year-old niece absolutely glow when she finally got a hen to hop into her lap after months of trying was worth, conservatively, about $1 million in oyster shells and layer feed.
And many others have written more eloquently than I about the joys and sorrows of chicken keeping.
Suffice it to say that a single number cannot possibly sum up all the costs and benefits of chicken keeping.
For those obsessed with the numbers, though, we can come up with a rough per-egg cost of keeping hens. Your average hen produces about 200 eggs per year, though, again, this varies widely by breed and also depends on the health and age of your chickens. That means our five-hen flock will produce about 1000 eggs per year, for a first-year cost of between 84 cents and $1.69 per egg.
Every year after that, though, will yield a per egg cost of about 52 cents. I don’t know about you, but I think it’s worth it.
Author bio: Chris Lesley has been Raising Chickens for over 20 years and today keeps 11 chickens. She can remember being a young child when her grandad first taught her how to hold and care for chickens. She also holds a certificate in Animal Behavior and Welfare and are interested in backyard chicken health and care. Her work has been shared on HuffPost, Mother Nature Network, Community Chickens, Mother Earth News and many more outlets. You can find Chris at Chickens and More.
Are you interested in raising backyard chickens for eggs? Have you ever thought about the money side of it all?