Feeding Freecycle Managing Your Flock

The Cost Of Keeping Chickens

Most of us have had cats or dogs and have a pretty good idea what it costs to keep them. If you’re new to chickens you might be wondering how much you might need to spend for your initial set up and then, annually. I am one of those meticulous record keepers who takes note of all my expenses throughout the year to give me a true picture of what my birds cost.

If you are just setting up you will need a coop. My friend, Tracy, and I worked on a freecycled project; we renovated a never used 4’x8’ rabbit hutch that I was given for free. We set a goal of spending as little as possible by sourcing salvaged materials. Our total cost was $40. My main coop, which is 8’x13’ has all the bells and whistles: concrete foundation, metal roof, insulation, electricity, automatic door, cedar siding. I paid two guys to construct it and it cost more than I care to admit.

Count on spending several hundred dollars for a decent coop. There are pros and cons to free-ranging birds: if you don’t have a pen then your cost is free; if you need to construct a pen add a few hundred dollars. My birds are penned, including overhead netting and my predator losses are minimal.

When I added my second coop I situated it behind my main pen and used the back 30’ fence as an adjoining side of the new pen (30’x15’). I already had some salvaged wire and metal T-posts and picked up a gate at our local recycling centre for $5. I hired a young man to dig the holes and set up the posts ($25/hr). I worked alongside him to install the fencing. I had to purchase concrete, three 10’x4”x4” cedar posts, one 50’ roll of fencing wire and some fencing staples. I was quite surprised that the total cost was @$500 – far more than my coop!

The cost of birds varies depending on breed, age and source. You can pick up day old chicks for under $5 or spend $75+ on a fancy purebred. If you’re lucky you can take in some free/inexpensive birds needing a good home. Be careful when introducing new birds to practice biosecurity and a quarantine period.

You can pick up supplies (feeders, waterers, dog crates, fencing) at yard sales or through online classifieds. There are lots of DIY ideas using salvaged materials, as well. These are my PVC feeders, milk crate and freecycled nest boxes and roost bars – all free.

What are the on-going supplies required for keeping chickens? Manufactured feed, bedding, first aid supplies.

So how big is my flock? It’s hard to say as my numbers fluctuated quite a bit. In January 2019, I started off with 44 adults and grow-outs. I lost one to a raccoon in the spring and was given three hens in the fall. Between April-August I hatched @75 chicks; roughly half were re-homed by the time they were 6 weeks old, while the other half didn’t leave the flock until they were 4-5 months old. By the end of the year my flock sat at 15 adults, six point-of-lay pullets and seven teenagers (one is a cockerel who will be re-homed shortly).

Here’s what I spent in 2019:

64 Bags Manufactured Feed (Starter, Grower, Layer)  $1058

I have a well-stocked first aid kit, but this year I experienced a number of health issues and had to buy more supplies: Tums, polysporin, Prid (drawing salve), Canesten (candida), spray oil (scaly leg mites), baby aspirins, Corid (Coccidiosis), mineral oil  $120

I had several unexpected deaths and illnesses and sent 4 birds off for necropsy at the Animal Health Centre (fees/courier)   $213

Misc. Supplies: 18’x24’ Industrial Tarp, Small Coop (yard sale), hardware, fecal float supplies  $174

Total Expenses: $1565

Does nearly $1600 sound like a lot for a small flock? My costs would be even higher if I didn’t source as much as I do freecycling. Notice I didn’t have any expenses for bedding? That’s because last year I was given 57 large bags of shavings from local woodworkers. I also sourced 46 buckets of wood ashes for their dust baths, loads of egg shells and cartons and shredded paper (lining transport crates) –  all for free.

One of the things that offsets my main expenditure – feed – is participating in our local food recovery program. Between the one on-island and donations from a small grocery store in the town I work in I picked up: 436 boxes of produce, 41 loaves of multigrain bread, 44 containers of yoghurt, 34 veggie burgers, 27 packages of organic tofu, 13 cans of salmon and tuna. My local veterinarian gave me 72 cans and 26 bags of pet food that reached their best before date. If you’re wondering how my birds ate all of that, they didn’t. Much of it was shared with other chicken keepers, but my birds always have a source of fresh fruits and veggies.

One of the ways that I offset my expenses, and actually make some money, is to sell eggs and birds. In my area, farm stand eggs sell for $4-7/dozen – mine are $5, and I have some regular customers I deliver to for free. I also sell hatching eggs ($20/dozen); chicks, point-of-lay pullet and hens (cockerels are free); chicken equipment (spare waterers, feeders, crates) and first aid supplies. I don’t raise meat birds (either for myself or for sale), but for some folks that can be both a source of income and a way to save on their own food bills.

My gross income for each of the last four years has ranged from $1500 to just over $4000. Of course, making money takes time and doesn’t include any of my labour. Even freecycling can be work. It’s a case of juggling time and money: if you’ve got plenty of the former and not so much of the latter, start sourcing what you can for free.

If budget is important, than start modestly – get a second-hand coop or build your own from salvaged materials. Don’t go crazy with the number of birds you get. Hatch your own chicks. Sell your eggs. Raise meat birds. Trade with other chicken keepers. Start assembling a first aid kit from things you already have. If you have to buy more expensive medications or large quantities of things that might expire, split your costs with friends.

If you really want to know what it costs to keep your flock keep an accurate list of all your income and expenditures. Chicken keeping should be fun and not a financial burden. Figure out what you can afford (both in terms of time and money) and don’t stretch yourself beyond what you can manage.

This article is about the financial costs of keeping chickens, but there are certainly emotional ones as well. I love my birds and have struggled with illness, injury, predators and the workload. If you are interested in the downside of having birds check out these posts:

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