Everyone is looking for a bargain, and raising chickens for eggs is the second rung on the homesteading ladder. The first is growing your own veggies. But how much do chickens cost, and does having your own backyard chickens actually save you any money? Let’s do some chicken math and find out.
DISCLAIMER: Before everyone gets all up in arms about the numbers, let us be clear. I live 45 minutes outside of Cleveland. These are the prices in my area. I will give you the math and you can do the research for how much do chickens cost in your area, and then enter your own numbers into the formulas.
ASSUMPTIONS: When figuring costs to determine how much do chickens cost, you need to make assumptions. I will show you the math for one chicken, even though no one actually raises one chicken. (I don’t think you can even buy just one chicken). That way you can add up how many birds you need to get how many eggs you want. For my bird I selected a heritage variety that will commence laying at 22 weeks. You can get hybrids that start laying at 17 weeks so you can adjust your numbers for them if you’d like. I also rounded my numbers to the nearest 1/10th of a cent.
FURTHER ASSUMPTIONS WHEN DETERMINING HOW MUCH DO CHICKENS COST
- You’re going to take the path of least resistance and get your feed at the most convenient location, which is probably not the grain elevator.
- You do not live on a farm and will not be buying feed or chicks in bulk, forgoing those types of discounts.
- I am using recommendations based on my experience. This is probably not your experience. Neither you nor I are wrong about our experiences.
1. What are you currently spending on eggs?
This varies WIDELY across the country by the current dozen eggs price. If I go to my local grocery store or farmers market and select brown, free-range eggs I will pay about $5/dozen. I realize this might not be what you pay for eggs but we want to compare apples to apples. If you’re going to raise cage free or free range chickens we need to compare prices of eggs with the same credentials.
$0.41 per egg
2. How much does it cost to raise a chicken?
Cost of a heritage breed chick purchased online and shipped to my local post office.
Feed for the first 10 weeks while chick is eating high protein, high cost, chick feed. Consumption for 10 weeks is about 10 pounds. A 50-pound bag of feed at my local feed store is $17.02 including 6.5 percent tax. That’s $0.34 per pound. Multiply by 10.
Feed for the next 12 weeks before the bird starts to lay. At 11 weeks the birds start eating 1.5 pounds per week at the same price per bag. $0.34 per pound times 18 pounds of feed.
Pause: Before my bird starts laying, I have spent $13.12 to procure the chick and feed it for 22 weeks.
Resume: We have eggs!
Cost of feed for the next 30 weeks of the year. Layer feed is less. $13.83 including tax for a 50-pound bag or $0.28 per pound. Layers eat about 1.5 pounds of feed per week. And 1.5 pounds times $0.28 per pound times 30 equals …
On average, a heritage bird will lay five eggs per week. In 30 weeks, that’s 150 eggs, assuming you light the coop to keep up winter production. You’ve spent $25.72 to get and feed your bird for a year. You have charged her an additional $11.82 in birdie rent based on fixed costs (see below).
You’ve officially spent $37.54 on your bird for the year. She’s given you 12.5 dozen eggs. At $0.41 per egg, she has saved you $61.50. A net savings of (drumroll please) … $23.96 annually.
There is an initial infrastructure investment when calculating how much do chickens cost. You need a brooder with lights for the chicks, a coop with perches and nest boxes, waterer (including the possibility of needing a heated chicken waterer if you live in a colder climate), feeder and bedding. These are based on the chicken keeper. You can make a brooder out of a salvaged cardboard box and duct tape and can use a free five-gallon bucket to make a waterer. You can learn how to build a chicken coop from scrap lumber off Craigslist or build the Taj Mahal. I have estimated those costs here because they need to be amortized over the life of the items (how long your coop will last) and the number of all the birds who will ever live inside of it (like birdie rent payments).
Here’s an example so you can figure it out based on your own numbers.
• Cost of 6×6 coop: $500
• 3 brooder lamps and bulbs: $50
• Brooder: Free if you use scrap.
• Bedding: Free if you make your own.
• Waterer: $6 if you use the 5-gallon bucket hack.
• Feeder: $15
• Total cost: $591
Assuming your items will last for 5 years and you do 10 birds a year, the total comes to $591/50 birds = $11.82 per bird in fixed costs (bird rent). You also need to consider how long do chickens live when thinking about a long-term cost benefit to raising your own backyard chickens.
To figure out your own costs, just change out the numbers I have entered and put in your own. I’m interested to hear what other people come up with in other parts of the country! How much do chickens cost where you live?
Originally published in 2013 and regularly vetted for accuracy.