5 ways to save money on chickens March 22, 2013

Can you save money on chickens? You bet! Keeping chickens is inexpensive and rewarding… and everyone seems to want to keep chickens these days.

save money on chickens and get beautiful eggs like these

Who wouldn’t want a big, beautiful basket of fresh backyard eggs like these?

After all, chicken feed is synonymous with cheap, and you also get the benefit of beautiful, healthy eggs and fun pets. There is an upfront cost to get started, though, and that cost scares some people away from pursuing the hobby. It shouldn’t! The truth is that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to get started with chickens. If you’re one of the people who hasn’t started because you’re worried about the upfront cost, let me ease your mind and share some ways you can start the hobby for next to nothing.

5 ways to save money on chickens

1. Save money on chickens when creating your brooder.

You can purchase an easy brooder kit from My Pet Chicken, another hatchery, or often even your local feed store for a reasonable price… but again, if every cent counts, you don’t even need to spend that much. The only really essential piece of equipment you need to purchase is a heat source. (Your chicks must be kept warm in their brooder or they will die!) Usually, the most inexpensive way to provide heat for your chicks is a heat lamp.

Healthy chick

You know you want to provide the best care for your babies! But you can save money on chickens; you don’t need to spend a fortune.

You may also want to purchase chick feeders and waterers–they are usually only a few dollars each–for the same reason you normally want to purchase feeders and waterers for your adult chickens: it saves a lot of work cleaning. A lot. Hopper style chick feeders will also save you some in feed costs, because you won’t have to discard so much food that gets soiled or scattered from scratching. But if you don’t mind the extra work, and if you can find something to use as a feeder that won’t waste too much starter–and if you can find something to use as a waterer that won’t get knocked and soak your brooder bedding, you don’t have to have anything special there, either. Because chicks can drown, even in small pools of water, we’d recommend that if you DO choose to use your own container for water, you also fill it with clean stones or marbles so the chicks can drink from between them without the danger of getting submerged.

But the brooder enclosure itself? You really don’t  need anything special or expensive. It just needs to keep out drafts and keep your birds enclosed with enough space for everyone. At my house, we only raise a few at a time, so we use a large plastic storage tub with a screen set securely over top. Others save money on chickens by using kiddie pools, old sandboxes or even large cardboard boxes, such as appliance boxes. You don’t need to spend lots of money on a brooder!

2. Save money on chickens when getting your coop.

Granted, it’s not unusual to spend a few hundred dollars–or more–on a coop. the coop is usually your biggest expense. But spending that money is not necessary. You can also build your own. For instance, you might save money on chickens by making a coop entirely out of recycled materials, like wooden pallets. Even if you decide you want to purchase  lumber rather than use recycled materials, a coop you build yourself for $300 might have been $1200 or more if you had purchased a similar model already built.

If you’re not up to building your own, you can convert something.  You can convert an old storage shed, a doghouse, a play house or any number of things into chicken-coop-hood and save money on chickens that way. For instance, I ended up converting an old building for use as a coop. That cost us no more than the cost of hardware for the pophole door, and a few hours of time. We are not an especially handy family, but even so most people have skills enough to  add hinges and a lock to a door.

Welsummer hen in front of coop

We converted our coop from the building in the background, behind this welsummer hen

 

3. Save money on chickens when outfitting your coop.

Chickens don’t need much equipment, really.  You don’t  need anything special. Really. In fact, even if you purchase fancy nests, you may find your chickens prefer the corner of the coop on the floor. (They can be perverse that way.)  One popular, inexpensive solution for nests is to recycle/upcycle plastic buckets, laid on their side. You might use an old drawer or a fruit crate. Or save money on chickens by simply building your own wooden nest from scrap. The cost of nests can be negligible.

When it comes to roosts, the same thing goes: it doesn’t have to be anything fancy. In my coop, we use 2 x 4s, with the 4 inch side up, laid on top of cinder blocks. You can also use fallen tree branches (make sure the branches are wide and thick). You’ll want to stay away from metal–metal pipe roosts are uncomfortable for chickens and can cause frostbite in cold weather–but you don’t have to spend money constructing something special or expensive. Even if you don’t have scrap wood lying around, you may be able to get off-square 2 x 4s at your local lumber yard for next to nothing.

It’s often a good idea to purchase feeders and waterers, simply because if you use an open, makeshift pan to feed and water your birds, it tends to be a lot of work keeping them clean, and feed can be wasted. They’re not terribly expensive, either. But  if every penny counts, and if you’re handy and enterprising, you can save money on chickens by even building your own feeders and waterers.

4. Save money on chickens when constructing your run.

Your chickens will need a secure place to forage, because so many predators like a chicken dinner if they can get it! Be sure to think about how you want to manage your flock, and choose the best method for your circumstances. If your yard is not already fenced, for example, enclosing your whole yard with a fence secure enough to keep your chickens inside, safe from predators, can be quite expensive. Even just creating a small run–say, 10 or 12 square feet per chicken–can present a significant cost.

You might decide to build a small, secure run, and let your chickens out into a less secure area when you are around to supervise and make sure they’re safe. Or you might reduce your cost by building a tractor-style coop with a run built in. Or for that matter, you can purchase a tractor style coop for a big savings over having to had a run, too.

Save money on chickens with a tractor style coop

This small, attractive tractor style coop is called the Briar, and it’s a great way to save money on chickens.

Tractor style coops require only a small run, because they are mobile so your chickens are moved to fresh ground every day. They can have a smaller run than a permanently sited coop, because the run will not get eaten and scratched to dirt as it would if the chickens were on the same spot day after day.

5. Save money on chickens when acquiring your flock.

Chickens are not expensive to begin with: baby chicks normally cost only a few dollars each, and can be delivered to your local post office. Even rare breeds don’t usually cost an arm and a leg. One pitfall to avoid when you’re looking for ways to save money on chickens: hatching eggs. Yes, you *might* save money by hatching eggs rather than buying chicks… but it’s usually the case that starting with chicks will be less expensive than starting with eggs when you figure everything together.

You don't normally save money getting started with chickens by hatching your own

Of course you do miss this excitement when you don’t hatch your own!.

Still, if you’re not particular about the breed you want, you can often save money while doing a good deed at the same time. Have you considered rescuing a factory farm hen? You can often directly contact a local factory farm in your area to find out when they expect to “retire” their hens. By adopting factory farm hens, you would be saving them from slaughter–and the retired hens will normally still be laying quite well, and will do for many years. If there is no direct factory farm adoption near you, you can also contact your local humane society or check Petfinder online to see if any adult hens are available for adoption. Consider also that rescued hens, whether from a factory farm or a shelter, will probably be laying right from the start… whereas baby chicks, on average, will take about 6 months to get to laying age–that’s another cost saving!

If you do choose to adopt adult chickens, be sure you get them from an NPIP facility, or alternatively be sure that they have been given a clean bill of health by an avian veteriarian before you bring them home.

And once you’ve gotten started with chickens, you may find it interesting to keep track of how much money you can save by keeping chickens and a garden, like Shannon did in a recent blog post.

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Tell us: how did you save money when you got started keeping chickens? Did you rescue hens? Did you build your own coop or reuse another structure? Did you find a cool way to reuse or recycle materials?

 

19 Comments
Stephanie March 22nd, 2013

rabbit waterer for baby chicks – the water never gets dirty, the chicks don’t drown, and I don’t have to constantly change the bedding! When they got older they were ready for chicken nipples on a bucket outside. Best thing I ever did.

Also look around on Freecycle for rabbit hutches/cages to use as brooders.

Jody March 22nd, 2013

Chicken feed is no longer synonymous with Cheap, I hate to inform you. Nearly $20 a bag these days.

Lissa March 22nd, 2013

Even if you’re paying $20/bag, it’s still pretty inexpensive considering how little chickens eat. It depends on what breeds you keep of course (and whether or not they have access to pasture to supplement their diets, whether or not you share food scraps with them, etc). Some breeds are more economical eaters than others, meaning some chickens eat a lot to produce each egg, while others eat very little per egg. As much as I love my Marans, for instance, they are little piggies. If you’re interested in economical eaters, you can see my recommendations here.

Leslie March 22nd, 2013

I purchased 3 pullet chicks from the local feed store. bought a heat lamp, feeder and waterer. Brooded them in a big cardboard box.. We built a house and run out of recycled lumber from our kids outgrown playset.. We bought 2 x 2 wire for our run.. biggest expense, I think. They lay in a plastic tote box with a hole cut from the side. Later I bought a big hanging feeder and waterer.. Thinking about making my own from PVC.. I can free up some floor space that way.. I still don’t have the house exactly like I want it, but I will keep working at it until I do!

Terri March 22nd, 2013

I agree with Jody no such word as Cheap chicken food. I suggest free range if possible to cut down on feed. If you can find local farmers who grow grain it would also help to buy from them instead of your local feed store.

Peg March 22nd, 2013

A couple other ways to cut costs is to turn kitty litter buckets into nesting boxes. Cut off the big flap on the top so the small part remains and screw the bottom to the wall. Also check with your local feed store if they carry a homemade laying mash in 100 lb sacks, sometimes it’s cheaper than the 50 lb bags of the brand mash.

david spiher March 22nd, 2013

I am selling 4 doz eggs a week to coworkers for $2 a doz ($32) plus the eggs we eat – which pays for about a bag and a half of feed per month- the math works for me. We have a lot lot of weed grass and let nasturtiums grow wild at the edges of yard so that 2 or 3 times a week the chickens have fresh greens – which they love, as well as produce scraps.

De Anna March 22nd, 2013

We let our chickens roam around all day… They help w/ bug population! The cost of chicken feed for us goes up in the winter and down in spring & summer….

Jayzandra March 22nd, 2013

We just expanded our coop so we could get some chicks. We converted an 8×4 old shed into a closed coop. We butted the side up against our actual shed (8×8) next to the back fence. There was a 4×8 space in between the coop and fence that we put a sloped roof on, creating and half closed/half open coop (8×8 total coop space – we are in AZ). We used all recycled materials and added on a 12×8 run. The nest boxes are in the open part of the coop against the back wall. This has stopped them from sleeping in them, which they did all winter before we expanded it. The total cost was VERY minimal as we used all recycled materials and the girls love it!
As far as feed goes, we can get a 50lb bag for $17 at the feed store 2 blocks away.

LynnyHen March 22nd, 2013

We piled the coop a foot deep in wood chips last year. This gave us a really nice (free) supply of fertilized mulch for the garden to use this spring.

Caroline March 22nd, 2013

Thank You very much! And a cheap way for feed is if you have chickens already sell your eggs from them it makes the feed cheaper 🙂

Rachelle March 23rd, 2013

The kitty litter buckets mentioned by Peg are so helpful. You can easily make them into feeders as well. I have stocked up on those buckets, so I had several which had been cleaned and reused many times. At the base of the buckets, I cut a couple of square holes on each side. I placed the buckets on some tote lids, which I already had hanging around, but really anything could be your bottom platform. When you fill them with 25 lbs of feed each, the feed pours out onto your platform and the chickens eat it. When they realize that is where the food is, they will just keep eating it straight from the holes and the platform becomes less important, I guess it just keeps the bedding out of the way. I do this for meat birds and very young birds, because once a bird is big enough to join the flock she free ranges and picks from the slop pile. I save money because I free range my birds (I only buy feed for meat birds and chicks/growers) and yes we go without eggs for a few weeks in the winter, but they are all healthy with wonderful shiny feathers and tasty eggs. And the eggs store well enough that our family still has plenty in the fridge (except years when our laying flock is small). Another way I save money is that I don’t provide water and feed in the coop (except for the meat bird coop), just bedding as they are only in there overnight while they sleep. No food and water means I have to buy bedding less often. I do the deep litter method and add new bedding every now and again. On the very rare occasions that I have been away for a couple of days, I provided fresh bedding, feed, and water in the coop but otherwise eating in the coop is off limits. And yes my lovely little feathered ladies love me even though I don’t spend money on them. They certainly know that I give them treats, that is why they come running to greet me when I exit the house or my car! They eagerly go to their coop at night long before we close the door and are roosting happily when we come open the door in the morning, so I can assume they are okay with no food and water being in there overnight or they would protest going in. For our nesting boxes we used milk crates which we already owned.

Mary March 23rd, 2013

Your savings hints seem to focus on starting up a chicken project; that’s good, because many people will be deterred by the potential expense. My greatest savings has probably been in the garden area. No, I don’t let the chickens roam the garden, I fenced it off. But I let them roam in the gardens in the “off” season and I have had far fewer bug infestations (I garden organically, so will not use pesticides anyway). Also, that seasoned chicken poop composted with the bedding material (pine chips) makes the most awesome compost ever, for increasing production in my gardens and orchards. I’m not sure there’s even a way to calculate the benefits of having chickens. Mine also free-range (not my choice, but they are resourceful!) and so I feed them very little chicken feed.

Lissa March 23rd, 2013

Agreed, Mary–the chicken poo + bedding compost is fabulous! I keep a big garden, so I’ve mentioned it before. Maybe next week I’ll write a post about ways to save on chickens after you’ve gotten started. I always hear so many good ideas from readers.

Kim March 23rd, 2013

Wait a minute!! Is that the end of the Hildy stories!!?? They were my favorite!! Did she ever find out how to free-range?! Can she get in the coop by her-self!?

Lissa March 23rd, 2013

No, I will write more Hildy stories–don’t worry!

Kim March 24th, 2013

Whew! Okay; no worries, now!

Beth K April 29th, 2013

We got our first chicks last spring. My husband works at a print shop. He brought home a couple of pallets and cardboard. He used 1×2’s on each corner on the pallot and than wrapped the cardboard around those. Then he stapled the cardboard to the 1×2’s. We started them in our basement and since we have a cat who roams the whole house we made a cover with the half inch hardware cloth. That also was a good place to set the lamp. Plus as they got bigger it kept the chicks in. We also bought a wooden dowel and poked holes.in the sides of the box to form a roost. You could also use sticks from your yard if you have any trees. It took us a while to get our outside coop ready as my husband works 6 days a week. So they ended up inside the brooder a bit lon ger than we wante d. So we ended up making an addition with another pallet. All in all it worked very well. We plan to do the same this year as we will be adding 10 more chicks which are scheduled to arrive the end of July….which is much too long to wait but was the earliest I could get my black copper marans. July, please hurry up!!

Diane March 22nd, 2014

Could I purchase a copy of the beautiful photo of the colored eggs in the wire basket with black background?

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