Recently one of our readers asked what’s the up-front cost on keeping chickens. Excellent question. Without further ado, here’s the answer.
Let’s start with the fun part. Chicks at our Farm & Garden Center are $5/ each. Portland allows you to keep up to 3 chickens without a permit; Beaverton, 4. So, think $15 to $20.
Chicks start small, but they grow… fast. So the brooder, their first home, needs to be quite big.
But you’ve got some options. On a shoe-string budget, you could just tape a couple boxes together, removing the inner wall to create one large area inside for your chicks. Or you could rent a stock tank. (We charge $25/ month, which is super-cheap: stock tank rentals are usually more like $10/ day.) If you go the rental route, you’ll be looking at 2 months or so, as chicks aren’t ready to face the world until they’re 6 to 8 weeks old.
So, budget $0 to $50 for a brooder.
HEAT LAMP & BROODER CLAMP
A chick raised by its mother has her feathers to keep it warm, but (unless you plan to carry them on your person at all times) your chicks will need a different source of heat. The lamp itself runs $6.99 at our store; the clamp that holds it securely where you want it is $12.99. So, for warmth in the brooder box, budget another $20.
There are a lot of options for what kind of litter you line your brooder with. Note: cedar shavings is not one of them. Pine shavings, on the other hand, is a solid choice.
Our “animal bedding pack” of pine shavings costs $10 or $20, depending on the size you get. You’ll want to layer it a couple inches deep and change it once a week, so consider what’s most convenient for you when you’re making the initial purchase.
FOOD, VITAMINS, VINEGAR & GRIT
The food, chick starter, costs $3.99 (5 lb.), $19.99 (25 lb.) and $26.99 (40 lb.). You can figure most chicks will eat 2 lb.s/ week for the first 6 weeks of life; so again, pick the quantity that’s right for you.
Since our feed isn’t medicated, you’ll also need a blend of vitamins and electrolytes to protect your chicks’ health. That’s $6.29 in the store.
One other “vitamin” your chicks will need is apple cider vinegar. Added to their water (1 tbsp./ gallon), it prevents worms and keeps algae from propagating. We don’t currently sell it, but if you don’t have some in the home, you can find it in the grocery store for under $5.
Grit, which chicks need in order to digest their food, costs $5.99 for a 5 lb. bag. Added to the cost of some vitamins, some vinegar and a 40 lb. bag of chick starter, altogether that’s about $45.
FEEDER & WATERER
Depending on which kind of feeder you choose, you can expect to pay $3.79 to $21.99 at our store. Our waterers range from $1.79 to $7.19. To make it simple, let’s call the combined cost $20.
This is your one big-ticket item, and well worth the cost. A secure, well designed coop is essential for your chickens’ well being.
Again, you have a couple options. Our coops cost $325 to $399. Alternatively, you can build your own coop; there are plenty of plans online. If you use new lumber, expect to spend $200 to $300, plus a weekend of your time (or several). On the other hand, if you get your materials from the ReBuilding Center, or a free scrap pile, you can reduce those costs. If you choose a different material, like straw bale or cob, you’re looking at the price of straw, or dirt, plus a good roof.
Generally speaking, though, $300 is a safe bet.
$0 Cardboard Box Brooder
$20 Lamp & Clamp
$45 Food, Vitamins, Vinegar, Grit
$20 Feeder, Waterer
…makes roughly $420.
Emphasis on “roughly.” As mentioned, there are quite a few options along the way, each of which can drive up the cost, or bring it a long ways down. But $400 is a pretty safe ballpark figure.
AND AFTER THAT?
Since we’re already talking costs, we might as well cover the price of maintenance, too.
Once you’re through the startup, your chicken-related expenses will be whittled down to two things: feed and bedding. Those are the only things you need to continue spending money on throughout your hens’ lives. Averaged out, it comes to about $30/ month for a flock of three.
Hopefully this gives you the information you need to get started. Note: if $400 seems too steep for your budget, please call, email (firstname.lastname@example.org), or post a comment. We have a lot of ideas on how to make chicken keeping doable for just about anyone.
It’s worth it! Keeping hens is rewarding in a lot of ways. They’re funny, peculiar and elegant. It’s fun to name them, and it’s surprisingly easy to get attached to them. Kids think they’re great. They lay extremely healthy eggs, more nutrient-dense than anything you can find in the store. And they reinforce the all-too-invisible connection between what we eat and where it comes from, the connection we have to the world that nourishes us.
Have fun with your laying hens, and let us know how it goes!