The two main and broad reasons why we keep backyard chickens are economics and simple enjoyment derived from raising an animal. From a purely economic perspective, chickens give us food and in some cases, if you have a surplus of eggs, you may even make a little more money on the side if you choose to sell the eggs your chickens produce. There is also the option of using chickens to fertilize your garden. Economics aside, there is a lot of joy in learning about and caring for other animals. There are many psychological benefits as well, provided of course that the job of caring for chickens isn’t too stressful (and it really shouldn’t be once you understand the basics of chicken keeping).
Perhaps it is all of us trying to stay sane in these crazy times or a movement toward self-sustainability that is driving the backyard chicken keeping trend nowadays. One thing is certain, backyard chicken keeping community is exploding in popularity! Flocks are growing up across towns, the countryside, and everywhere in between—wherever you look, where there is a backyard, there's a chicken! So, how much does it cost to maintain a small scale backyard flock?
Before you do anything else, check with the local authorities and community that you comply with local chicken keeping rules. In majority of cases, you will need to apply for a permit to keep chickens. Usually the permit fees would consist of a one-off fee, followed by annual renewal fees. For reference, initial application to keep chickens in Saint Paul, Minnesota will set you back $26-76 and subsequently $16-28 for renewal (based on the number of chickens). In Grand Rapids, Michigan, you'll have to pay $50. Then, every year, you'll have to pay $10 to renew your permit.
When you have your permit, here’s what else you should be thinking of before becoming a fully fledged chicken keeper:
#1 Chicken Coop
There is a vast difference in the coops available and how much they cost. Those with the DIY gene may want to build their own coop from the ground up. For the rest of us simple mortals, there is a range of prefabricated coops that can house flocks of 1 to 50 birds and more!
So you have two options at this point; you may build your chicken coop or buy a pre-built one. Here are the differences and the advantages and disadvantages between the two:
a) DIY Chicken Coop
If you're very handy, you might be able to build a coop out of recyclable materials for relatively little money. Old wood, sheet metal, and fence all create excellent chicken coop components. You can even use an old washing machine! If you utilize recycled items, be sure they don't contain anything harmful to your hens. Sharp edges, loose wires, and rusted nails are all risks to be aware of while constructing an animal shelter out of repurposed materials.
b) Purchase a completely assembled chicken coop
If you're unsure of your ability to build a coop yourself or lack the necessary time and energy, a prefab chicken coop is definitely the way to go. When buying a chicken coop, look for one made by a business that knows birds and their requirements. Nesting boxes, roosting places above ground, and enough ventilation are all features of a high-quality coop. Keep in mind who the predators in your area may be and ensure that the coop provides protection against those predators. Most chicken coop’s price range is from $249 - $2000 and they are suitable for those with only a few chickens all the way to those with a sizeable backyard flock of up to 40-50 hens or more.
The exact price varies considerably based on the bird's breed and age at purchase. For day-old chicks of common breeds (common in the US at least) like Rhode Island Red, Plymouth Rock, and Australorp, the typical cost is roughly $2.00-$5.00/bird. Chicks of rarer varieties, such as Easter Eggers, may cost up to $30 per bird.
Chickens are frequently sold at four ages: day-old chicks, pullets, point-of-lay birds, and mature hens. If you don't have much experience yet, start with point-of-lay birds. Since starting off may be difficult overall, it's nice that you get a confidence boost at least in terms of eggs being produced almost right away. Later on you can explore getting younger birds, as you become more familiar with the needs of chicks.
Feed is obviously a recurring expense. You can get away with letting your birds free range and rely on kitchen scraps to feed them but it is always a good idea to have a standard layer feed and some treats available just to fill up any nutritional gaps. A 50lb layer feed would cost about $30 and for a 5 bird coop fed only on layer feed, this can last for more than a month. A good estimate is that a chick needs between a half-cup to a full-cup of feed on a daily basis. Our black soldier fly grubs are an excellent choice for extra calcium and protein and you can save by signing up for a monthly delivery of grubs.
This is an additional recurring expense of chicken farming and you are likely to find many arguments for and against each but the options are quite a few, from shavings, sand to straw and others. Straw is often priced between $5 and $10 per bale (14"x18"x36") and other options will set you back for about the same. If you are getting an average size coop, count an additional $20 per month for bedding.
Apart from the primary expenditures associated with backyard chicken farming, there will always be those small extras that tend to pop up from time to time or that are an extension of the most basic setup such as heat lamps, feeders and waterers, electric fence, shade mesh and other items.
To sum up, the costs of chicken keeping vary depending on the equipment, size of the coop and the chickens you will choose. A minimum starting price would be around 700$ for 3 to 7 hens but it can go up to a couple of thousand if you want to splurge. Yes, it may sound a bit pricey, especially if you are on a tight budget but remember that your hens, your chicken coop and many other items can last for years. This also means that you should not rush into starting your chicken coop, since once you have them, your chickens are here to stay. But you will benefit from the fresh supply of eggs, your garden from a natural fertilizer and your family and you from an extra company.