Hey Folks! Its Time for another installment of “The Cost Of:” series.
Today’s topic- egg laying hens.
Ive been working on this blog for awhile- its a lot of variables involved and it is NOT exact. Everything differs by region and personal reality.
BUT with the uptick in popularity of all things homestead – especially chickens – I figured now would be as good a time as any to finally publish.
We are in our 7th year of raising our own birds for eggs. We’ve invested a lot of both time and money into our birds, and I’ll forewarn you, this is another long blog with a lot of variable costs.
Here’s a look at the potential cost for those of you looking to start your own flock.
We built our own chicken coop. We chose to build a 8×4 foot floor plan, with enough head room to stand to make cleaning easier. We insulated the floor with a single sheet of blue foam insulation. We also installed two (homemade) human sized doors, one chicken door and a single old window. The roofing is second hand tin, and we also used second hand vinyl siding for weather proofing. The walls are made of a single sheet of plywood, the floor is two sheets to encapsulate the insulation. We used 2×3 boards for framing the whole deal up. Even with our thrifty ways and use our “hoardsteading” we spent $400 on the brand new material. If we had to purchase everything it would have cost closer to $650. This coop was fine for 18 or so year round residents.
Now,you can buy a prefab coop for less money and work, but it won’t be as large, customizable or sturdy as one you build yourself.
We’ve seen people spend upwards of $300 dollars for a coop to fit 6 hens. And the coop and run system were fine for say, the south where temps don’t fall to -35 with wind gusts of 40mph and snow loads up to a foot deep, that translates into a huge weight load on a thin roof.
Please shelter your birds accordingly for your climate, people.
Total Cost: $400
We have spent a lot of money on fencing over the years. The first chicken fence we put up was with chicken wire left over from another project. This didn’t even last the first summer, as we had predator problems (with no losses but STILL) and then one of our orpingtons ripped the hell out of her comb, leading to a permanent flop. So that was a waste of effort, as we immediately went to the nearest farm store and bought a 100 foot roll of 5 foot hardwire cloth fencing and the appropriate poles to set it with. That fence lasted until we moved the girls in with the alpacas in the fall of 2017. We’ve spent a lot more in fencing since then. So, take my advice and buy the good stuff from the get go.
But for a decent run, a hundred foot roll of fence, some t posts and a good bird netting for the top will generally run you about $150 so that is the cost estimate we will go with.
Total Cost: $150
Chicks & Raising them–
We really like the idea of ordering thru hatcheries and having them mailed to us. We can choose from a large variety, have them sexed pretty reliably and they are fairly cost effective, especially if you can find places that offer free shipping. Depending on breed, you can pay anywhere from $2.50 to upwards of $100 or more for rare birds of show quality. We stick to the heritage breeds for egg laying that go from around $3.50 to $6 chick, and we always pay the little bit extra for sexing, because we already have a rooster thankyouverymuch. Most of these places will only ship 15 or more birds, for their health and safety. So for just chicks you are looking at spending around $40 to $60.
We’ve ordered all our meat birds successfully thru the mail- the eggs layers….. not so much. We’ve only had one arrival where ANY survived. The other 3 times we’ve ordered, they’ve been DOA.
For this reason, we tend to pick up from farm stores. We like just picking them up from a farm store – its a lot cheaper and you can get reliable breeds as long as you don’t mind less choice. This can be as low as 6 chicks for $25. Sometimes even lower if they’re not selling well that week. Once we went into the TSC and they had 3 week old chicks for a buck each. I doubt that happens this year really, but it does happen.
PLUS they tend to be heartier as the weak ones already either passed or got better.
As with every multiple choice situation, there are pros and cons to each side- you just have to decide what works best for you.
To raise them, you will need a brooder. More on that here.
But a quick overview-
- Chick crumbles
- Chick grit if you plan on any treats
- paper towels
- Heat lamp with red bulb or a chick warmer
- Brooder box
- We’ve had good luck with red bulbs, but this year I was able to snag a brinsea chick warmer on extreme clearance at TSC(yea!).
For a starter flock and brooder setup for a clutch of 6-8 chicks we will put this cost estimate at $150. Thankfully, most of the more expensive of the supplies have a several year lifespan, but you will need to replace your heating bulbs every year.
Total – $150
First Aid Kit Supplies-
I have an entire blog outlining what I believe chicken tenders should keep on hand just in case of emergency. These are of course suggestions- we live 45 miles from the nearest city so we have to keep a lot on hand in case of emergencies. But at the very minimum you should have the ability to clean up & treat superficial wounds and stuff like heat stress. It’s a part of being a good chicken tender.
An adult chicken needs approximately 3/4 cup of food per day, can have up to 10% of its diet in treats and needs upwards of 2 cups of water per day.
18 adult chickens go thru about 1 – 50lb bag of feed every two weeks – more in the winter, less in the summer when they can better forage. For the benefit of this blog, instead of adding in the reoccurring cost of feed, I will keep it to just the one time cost of feeders.
For our flock, we always have food supplied through out the entire day in a big bowl that cost 9 or 10 bucks.
We also have 4 – 6 different water stations that we keep fresh every single day, especially in the summer. You’ll want to skip the cheap water fountains and go straight to the heavier duty ones. I know the price tag can be daunting ($25 for a waterer whaaaaaaaa?) but you’ll spend more if you keep buying cheap and having to replace every year or so.
So, in conclusion, set aside an additional $50 for good feed and water dishes for your ADULT chickens. They will destroy anything designed for chicks anyway.
Miscellaneous Supplies –
oyster shells, grit, straw for nesting boxes… These are kind of like food and are reoccurring costs.
Just know, the more chickens you buy, the steeper these costs will run.
This list could really go on for as long as I could keep talking about chickens, which is an uncomfortably (for others) long time.
In order to start an egg laying operation in your backyard, even for a smallish flock (4-6 birds) will run you an initial investment of $650 or MORE. All before you ever get a single egg.
Have people done it for less? Sure.
But are they possibly taking shortcuts that may cost them more down the line? Like a cheap fence, that offers no predator protection? or a scrap food diet that doesn’t give the birds the nutrition they need & so they have slowed production?
I don’t write these things lightly- I believe that everyone should have access to affordable, fresh eggs, but not at the expense of the chicken’s health or wellbeing. Call me a treehuggin hippie or whatever, but I’ll just triple down.
Also, as a last bit of advice, if you are hoping to get a bunch of chickens to make money off their eggs like rightaway, consider a different avenue. We’ve been raising our girls and selling eggs for nigh 7 years and they’ve only recently started paying for themselves.. and in the winter? Forget about it.
Get them for a lot of other reasons – companionship, entertainment, education, fertilizer and yes… delicious fresh eggs.
Until next time, have a wicked good day!