Last week I wrote a post about how raising chickens isn’t as easy as we thought it would be. In the comments, a few of you asked if I could talk about how much it costs to raise chickens. In my experience, you can make choices that make it either relatively cheap, or really expensive; I’ll talk about all these options.
Just to get organized, I’ll go over the few main expenses of raising backyard chickens first, and then I’ll expand on them in a moment:
- The chicken coop and accessories: This is the home where your chickens will live. It needs to provide a safe place for them to stay at night, and a comfortable place to lay their eggs. You will also need a container for their food and a container for their water.
- Food: Chickens eat a lot. They eat chicken feed and pretty much any scraps you give them.
- Chickens: Of course, you need to buy some chickens. Otherwise the other stuff is pretty pointless.
Okay, now let’s talk a little bit more about our options.
The Chicken Coop
When we got our first two chickens, Y and I bought a pre-made coop from a local feed store. At the time, we thought we’d only have two chickens, so it was a good size. We also thought it was a good deal. As it turns out, this was an expensive route to take. Chickens need a coop and an enclosed area on the ground, so they can peck at the ground and not get picked off by an eagle. This coop and run are sold separately. Total, they came to about $350-$400 with tax, and we only had enough room for 2 chickens.
After we realized that we wanted more than 2 chickens, Y decided to build a new coop himself (I just realized that I never posted about this specifically, and I really should!). This new coop is really high quality, big enough for six chickens, and materials cost about $200-250.
Some people aren’t as handy as Y is, or don’t feel like investing the time. If you buy your own coop, you’re looking at probably $400 (but you might luck out if you look on Craigslist, as the woman who bought our first coop did!). As backyard chickenry gets more and more hip, you’ll find a lot of options for pre-made coops. For example, at around $500, I think the Eglu (pictured below, photo source here) is really cool, but you’ll probably want more than 2 chickens, so you’re looking at the big one, which is more like $1000 with the run.
If you’re thinking about going the DIY route (or you’re just interested in learning about the different types of coops), Backyard Chickens is a great resource for the different types of coops, and they have a lot of examples of homemade coops. People are pretty creative!
As for the accessories–that’s another one-time investment. I’d recommend getting the largest food containers you can so you don’t have to refill it all the time, and figure out how to hang them–otherwise you end up with a lot of chicken crap in the food, which is totally nasty. We bought large metal water and food feeders at the feed store, which probably cost about $50 total. The photo below is Tulip with the water feeder.
Another expense we have is bark chips. While at the Sunset Festival this summer, I checked out Sunset’s chicken coop and was very impressed. They used bark chips on the ground (in fact, they just recently wrote a post about their coop flooring), and it cut down on the smell and the need to clean the ground every week (the coop itself still needs to be cleaned, though). I came home and told Y, and we recently got a bunch of bark nuggets (around $50) to cover the ground. The results have been miraculous. The poop falls between the chips, and it doesn’t smell at all. I’d even venture to say that it smells good. So if you aren’t planning on getting the type of coop that you can move all around the yard (a tractor coop), I highly recommend the bark.
Chicken feed is pretty cheap. We feed all organic pellets, which we get from a local feed store. We get a big 50 pound bag for $35, and it usually lasts about 6-8 weeks (for 5-6 chickens). You’ll also need oyster shells as a calcium supplement, which keeps the eggshells thick. They hardly eat any of these, and they’re only 55¢ per pound.
Another cool thing about chickens is that they love scraps and will eat almost anything; here’s a list of all the things a chicken can and cannot eat. Chickens eating spaghetti? Pretty hilarious.
Chickens vary in price. You can get them as chicks and pay about $2 per chick, but then you have to go through the trouble (and heartbreak) of raising them. There are also upfront costs for that, like heat lamps, etc. We found grown chickens in our area on Craigslist, and paid about $25/chicken. One thing to note: chickens don’t start laying until they’re about 6-7 months old, and after a certain age, they lay less. So if you’re buying a “used” chicken, do your research.
The fun part about choosing your own chickens (as opposed to getting a kit with chickens included) is that you can choose what breeds you get. And different breeds of chicken lay different colored eggs. We get white eggs, light brown eggs, dark brown eggs with spots, and olive green eggs. It’s really cool.
As you can see, the cost depends a lot on how much you choose to spend. How much are you willing to do yourself? We’ve spent more than we probably should have because we bought a crappy coop and didn’t plan ahead (although, we’ve been able to recoup (haha) some of our costs by selling stuff on Craigslist, so it’s not a total loss.
All in all, I’d say that unless you are super frugal and eat a lot of eggs, I wouldn’t do this to save money on eggs (at least not initially). We get about 2 dozen or so eggs per week for five chickens (when they’re all laying). However, for us it’s worth it not to support egg farms, and for the fun of it. It is really cool to have all these different colored eggs, and as I’ve said before: chickens are awesome!Comment
A couple of weeks ago, my friend N over at Two Chicks Nest sent me an article she found in the NY Times about backyard chickens. You don’t have to read it. Instead, the article can pretty much be summarized with the following:
The Bay Area is unmatched in its embrace of the urban backyard chicken trend. But raising chickens, which promises delicious, untainted eggs and instant membership in the local food movement, isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Chickens, it turns out, have issues.
They get diseases with odd names, like pasty butt and the fowl plague. Rats and raccoons appear out of nowhere. Hens suddenly stop laying eggs or never produce them at all. Crowing roosters disturb neighbors.
The problems get worse. Unwanted urban chickens are showing up at local animal shelters. Even in the best of circumstances, chickens die at alarming rates.
This, without a doubt, has been our EXACT experience raising chickens. See the two lovely ladies in the photo above? That’s Buttercup and Dahlia. Dahlia, the chicken on the right, died last month. She was one of my very favorite chickens, and she died out of the middle of nowhere. And she’s not the only one.
You may recall that I’ve shared the deaths of a couple of chickens with you guys; after that, it might seem like everything’s been peachy. But the sad truth is this: since we started this endeavor, we’ve had ten chickens. And we only have five left. Yes, that’s right. We’ve lost half of our flock. Rest in peace, Lily, Petunia, Marigold, Daisy, and Dahlia.
The truth is, there’s really no way to tell if a chicken is sick before it’s too late. We’ve rushed 3 of 5 chickens to the vet, only to be told that nothing can be done. Right now, out of our five chickens, only one is laying us eggs. Two chickens are molting (and we’re unclear when they’ll start laying us eggs again), one of them randomly stopped laying, and the other one has never laid an egg in her entire chicken life.
So yes, we are having problems, and there have been times when I think to myself, “this is too hard. I don’t want to do this again.” But those are usually times right after a chicken has died, or when one chicken (::cough cough:: Rosarita ::cough cough::) is squawking louder than I’ve ever heard anything squawk before.
This is not to say that we regret raising chickens–not by any means.
Raising chickens has been incredibly rewarding. I have a whole new respect for birds now, and an even more heightened awareness of the suffering chickens experience while being raised for meat and eggs. Each one of these chickens has a personality–they’re cute, they’re funny and they’re totally sweet. And as Y said, I’d rather live 6 months in our backyard than a lifetime in a factory farm, that’s for sure.
A few things we have decided on:
- We think raising chicks is a really educational experience that would be great for kids. However, if we need more chickens before we have kids, we will not be raising them from chicks. When you raise them from little bitty babies and then they die, it’s that much harder.
- Five chickens are enough for us. There’s really no need to have more than that.
- The eggs are absolutely, 100% worth it. First off, we know that we aren’t contributing to the horrors of animal torture (and seriously, that’s what it is), and secondly, fresh eggs are delicious. I shared some with my friend Cara, and she said she couldn’t believe what a difference they made. Y made us Crème brûlée over the weekend, and it was amazing.
I’m definitely not saying that backyard chickenry sucks, and I’m not warning against it. However, we were under the impression that raising chickens was “easy” and “impossible to screw up.” And to some extent, that’s true: after all, none of our chickens have died as a result of our screwing up. But really, when you have to bury half of your backyard chickens, you’re probably not going to be using the word “easy,” whether it was your fault or not.Comment
p>Many things have been happening with our chicken coop over the past few months, and I’ve barely mentioned any of it! So here we go: the State of the Coop.
Exciting thing #1 is that we had a structure built to enclose the chickens. The structure isn’t raccoon proof (yet), so we still have to put the chickens up in their coop at night, but it looks pretty sweet:
The eventual plan for this structure is for Y to build a new coop so there’s more space on the ground for the chickens to run around. Then we’ll put a bench in there, so we can go in and hang out with the chickens.
A few weeks ago, I went to the Sunset Celebration with my friend Sarah and saw Sunset Magazine’s awesome chicken coop. I was totally inspired by their coop, which used bark on the ground instead of dirt, hay or gravel. According to the girl manning the coop, the bark chips work really well to control odor and only have to be replaced a couple of times a year. Sounds good to me! So bark is on the horizon, too. :)
How about some chicken pix?!
This lovely lady is Violet:
What? You don’t think she’s pretty?
How about now?
Yeah, that’s better. :)
Exciting thing #2 is that Violet laid her first egg a couple of weeks ago. We were so thrilled!! Rosarita has been laying for a couple of months now, but she was the only one. Then, yesterday, Rosebud laid HER first egg! And it was green!
Here’s Rosebud and I:
Rosebud has really funny sideburns.
Right now the big chickens (ie, Rosebud, Violet and Rosarita) are all living in our old coop, and the four little chickens (Dahlia, Buttercup, Tulip and Daisy) are living in the big coop/new structure. We tried to introduce them, but the big chickens picked on the little guys too much. We decided to wait until the little chickens are bigger before introducing them again.
Here they are the first day we introduced everyone:
It’s important that the little chickens establish their place in the coop at night before we put the big chickens back in. Unfortunately, the little chickens are kind of stupid–they don’t go up in the coop by themselves at night. We’ve tried putting a light up there to lure them up the ramp, but nada. I think we’re going to try bribing them with melon. As it is, we have to put each little chicken in the coop by hand every night, then lock up their coop. It’s kind of annoying. :-/
The little guys sure are cute, though! They grow every day. Here’s Dahlia:
And her sister, Buttercup. Buttercup sits like this a lot. We call her “little turkey vulture.”
We obviously have a lot of fun with our chickens:
Things we have learned about chickens:
- The term “chicken” is totally accurate. That is, chickens are totally afraid of everything. They run like the wind everytime they think something is scary. And for them, many things are scary.
- Chickens like to pace when they’re getting ready to lay an egg. Luckily, our chickens have plenty of room to walk around, but it makes me really sad to think about the chickens in factory farms who can’t walk around. Our ladies seem kind of uncomfortable around egg time, and walking seems to help.
- Chickens are GREEDY. They’ll be best friends, but the second you give somebody a treat, they all try to steal it. Once a chicken gets control of a treat, she will take off running, being chased by everyone else. It’s really funny, but it takes forever for someone to actually EAT anything!
- Each chicken has a personality, and for the most part, their personalities have been there since they were little chicks. For example, Dahlia is a total loudmouth, and she has been since the day we brought her home from the feed store.
That’s all, folks!Comment
My head is seriously all over the place right now. Last night, I got THREE hours of sleep. Yes, three. I was up at 4am watching Oprah and wondering why I couldn’t fall asleep. Although I feel horrible, I’m actually wide awake right now. Is it the weather? The stress? I have no idea.
In any case, I have been working my butt off. I have a lot of cool things to share with you guys, but I don’t want to overload you, so I’m going to go a little bit at a time.
Today I’m going to give you guys a chick update, since they’re so cute I can’t resist! Check out these ladies:
Left to right: Daisy, Tulip, Dahlia (with the big booty!) and Buttercup.
They look like miniature chickens! I can barely call them chicks anymore!
They’re really sweet. I’ve been handling them every day since we got them, and as a result, they’re very used to humans. Because it’s been so hot recently, we decided to take the girls on a field trip outside. They had a great time pecking at various things and exploring outside of their metal bucket.
This is seriously such a fun project, I can’t get over it.
The only problem is that we now have seven chickens. Our coop is supposed to hold 5-6 chickens, and we have seven. Originally, we were planning to sell a few of them. But after three chickens died, we’re (read =
I’m) feeling super close to these little guys. I don’t want to give them up! I’m trying to convince Y to build an “add on” to the coop. We’ll see how that goes.
It might actually be kind of convenient if one turned out to be a rooster, since we definitely can’t keep a rooster. It would at least make the decision making process easier! Just don’t let it be Daisy. She’s my favorite. Or Dahlia. I like her a lot too, because she’s a loudmouth.
On another (completely unrelated) note, I created a Facebook page for Stinkerpants Designs the other day. I’m not entirely sure what the point is, but I’m having a lot of fun with it anyway! So if you’re on Facebook, become a fan! I’d really love your support. :)Comment
Hi Everybody–thanks so much for your support about Petunia. I really, really appreciate all of your kind words.
Y and I were both feeling pretty depressed yesterday. Mostly we were sad that Petunia had died, and had likely suffered. But we were also really worried that whatever she had was contagious. I absolutely adore Violet and Rosebud, and if anything happened to them (or Rosarita), I would be heartbroken.
Luckily, we have an awesome vet who offered to do an autopsy on Petunia for free. As it turns out, she had a tumor in her intestinal tract. This is probably why she never laid any eggs, even though Rosa’s been laying for almost a month. So, like Lily, this definitely wasn’t our fault, and there was nothing we could have done about it. Pretty sad though. These were our first two chickens, and within two months, they’ve both died.
I was further discouraged this morning when I went to check on the chicks and noticed three problems:
- One chick was standing on the counter, cheeping bloody murder.
- Inside their metal bucket, there was blood everywhere.
- Our little runt chick was looking kind of crippled.
The first problem was obviously easy to fix. Pick up Tulip and put her back in the bucket, then put a lid on the bucket.
The second problem was the blood, which admittedly totally freaked me out. Dahlia was the chicken bleeding. As it turns out, she had a cut on her butt, and her bloodthirsty friends were pecking at her! I separated her, wiped her tuchas and quarantined her.
Marigold, the our little crippled chicken, has always been small. This morning, though, she looked like she was doing the horizontal splits, and she couldn’t walk. Great. After much googling and a visit to Backyard Chickens, I realized that she has “spraddle” or splayed legs. Basically, it looks like she’s doing the splits and can’t stand up.
I used this guide and taped her legs together with a band-aid (photo at the top). Unfortunately she won’t even attempt to walk. I’m hoping that she’ll give it a try later this afternoon, or maybe her legs will start to “stick” in the right position and I can take the band-aid off. Sigh.
I’ve been intending to draw a family portrait, with me, Y, the dog, the four cats and all the chickens. Unfortunately the chickens are dropping like flies (I’m beginning to think this phrase should be “dropping like chickens,” as flies never seem to die), and having to delete them out of our drawing would be really depressing.
Anyway, we’re still trucking. We’re hoping it’s a case of bad beginner’s luck and that things will not always be like this!Comment
Got a burning question? Ask it here!