I’ve had backyard chickens for a year and the number one question I’m asked is: how much work are chickens? People want to know if it’s worth it to raise chickens, both financially and considering the time required to keep backyard chickens. So I’ll share my very, very honest answers with you to help you decide!
Are Chickens Worth it Financially?
Are chickens financially worth it? For me, NOPE. Not yet. I am not “saving” any money on eggs yet, nor have I recouped the cost of building a coop, acquiring chick and chicken supplies, and buying the chicks and pullets themselves. Given what I spent (and how I can’t stop buying chicks), it will probably take a long time to recoup what I spent, even if I start selling eggs to family/friends. But this is a highly variable answer and for some people, the answer is YES. Let’s do some math. If we bought eggs once a week, at $4 a dozen, that’s an annual egg expenditure of $576(ish). Seems like a lot, right? Well, we spent hundreds of dollars just on hardware cloth to predator-proof our chicken run.
Brooder, Coop & Run Cost Considerations
Let’s start at the beginning. A brooder is inexpensive enough to set up: you need some kind of brooder box (I prefer a stock tank, which is couple hundred but people use all kinds of cheap/free things), heat lamp or chick heating plate ($65), chick waterer ($10), chick feeder ($10), thermometer ($10) – and a chick stand ($35) is optional but awesome. You’ll likely want some chick grit ($13) and you’ll definitely need chick starter feed, before getting them on to chick grower feed and eventually layer feed. The cost of feed/grit varies for how many chicks you have and increases as they age, obviously. Chicks themselves can be around $10-30 to purchase (but sometimes less or more). To get started with, let’s say 6 chicks, you could definitely spend $200-300, unless you borrow a lot of equipment or DIY things like the brooder box.
Moving on to the coop, we figure our modern DIY chicken coop and run cost at least $2000 because the supplies (lumber, plywood, concrete deck blocks, metal roof, paint, window, hardware cloth, hardware, latches, insulation, vinyl flooring, etc) just kept adding up.
Granted, some of these things were overkill – we didn’t need a metal roof, but it will last longer. We didn’t need to make it so cute, but I wanted too. On top of these building costs were other coop luxuries, like the automatic chicken door, large feeder with weather proof topper ($111), and heated waterer ($86). You can DIY many of these accessories or purchase cheaper options, but ultimately you will need a structure with roosts, feeder, and water dispenser to keep chickens healthy and happy in their “home”.
Now, you can get away with a pre-fab coop which will keep costs from ballooning (like this one, which holds up to four chickens, and this aqua one, also under $400), but those weren’t insulated or predator-proof enough for our purposes. But you can also build a coop for less than we did (ours is kind of fancy), particularly if you use salvaged materials, don’t need so much winterizing, can acquire things secondhand, or skip the metal roof and paint. Maybe your property already has a coop – or a shed you can easily convert. And maybe you’ll free range instead of building a sheltered pen (although even free range chickens appreciate something like that in the winter). In those cases, you can start to see a return on investment much quicker – maybe with a year or so if you get a brooder set up for under $200 and a coop for less than $400 and buy inexpensive chick breeds. But in my totally honest experience, building a coop I liked and a predator-proof run – and winterizing it – was a giant, chicken-occupied money pit.
You might also want to build a chicken tractor/hospital coop like we did. It’s an extra cost, but a great way to isolate a sick chicken or newcomers during their quarantine period:
So unless you’re currently buying more than a carton of eggs per week, and can get set up with chickens really inexpensively, you might not find that it’s worth it financially, because chickens continue to cost money, as they consume feed, medicines, and electricity in some cases – and you’ll want to buy more chicks, you just will. I’ll break some of those costs down too, because they surprised me the most.
Cost to Purchase Chicks and Pullets
I chose many fancy chickens, which cost more per chick. I spent anywhere from $10-30 per chick for my breeds, a cost you can definitely get down. But keep in mind that with any straight run breeds, you’ll also end up “wasting” money on roosters you have to deal with. Plus I bought additional pullets and these chickens cost much more to purchase and ship than chicks (but that’s another cost you can probably skip). So my initial outlay of cash on just the animals was insane. And now I spent another $300 on 16 new chicks, and plan to invest in an incubator as well so I can hatch my own eggs. BUT you can acquire chicks (or chickens) for less money. You can find cheaper chicks from local hatcheries, or buy a few and keep some roos to breed your own. Some people try chicken keeping and hate it, so you can find sometimes full grown hens in the classifieds for free, and give them a good home. Commercial egg producers also kill spent hens after a year or two and some will give those hens away, and those hens are perfectly good hens that will lay for years but not at a rate to make money so if you don’t want to spend money or time on raising chicks, you can adopt spent layer hens for free and save money (and a chicken life) and still get plenty of eggs for your household.
Day to Day Cost of Raising Chickens
Even if I had built a coop for free and acquired chickens for free, day to day my chickens required feed, treats, straw, shavings, and electricity to run the automatic chicken door, heated waterer, and the lights I kept on outside to alert me to any power outages (ie. the Christmas lights I never took down, lol). Our small flock of barely more than half a dozen chickens consumes a bag of feed every 2-3 weeks and that feed is around $17. You can spend more for organic feed. Chicken eat a LOT (and they seem to eat more in the winter)! Plus I replace their shavings once a week in the coop, replace the straw in the barn/run once or twice a month – and shower them with treats, of course. And I’ve also required veterinary medicine (no vet visits, the only farm veterinarian has refused on multiple occasions so I’ve muddled through with internet solutions), and other basics like poultry shampoo, anti-bacterial wound spray, poultry nutri-drench, etc. $10 here, $10 there – it adds up quickly. Also remember that hens will, over the years, slow down production of eggs and, if you are unwilling to eat/cull them (like me), they will remain pets who consume feed and don’t offer as many eggs in return. Plus, in the winter months, when the days are shorter, and in the fall, when they molt, egg production will slow down/stop, so don’t plan on an egg a day per hen the entire year. Some breeds are also less prolific layers than others – choose a breed known for laying a lot (like an Australorp), if earning back your investment is important, but know that even those good layers need a break sometimes.
How to Make Chickens Worth it:
If you can keep coop building costs low, and resist those more rare breeds and fun accoutrements, you could save money on eggs – just tally up what you spend annually on eggs now and make a list to roughly estimate what you will need to get set up with chickens. Try to borrow equipment (like brooder supplies, which you won’t need for long), if you can. Then factor in their daily maintenance costs, and how many eggs you think you could sell (if applicable) to determine if it’s worth it for you. It’s honestly difficult to save money by having laying hens because eggs are cheap to buy. Chickens are typically kept in crappy conditions to maximize production and keep costs low. Knowing the work and cost that goes into chickens, I am floored that eggs are so cheap. If you’re interested, Locally Laid is an amazing book about a couple that started a mid-size, pasture-raised, egg farm outside of Duluth MN. It sheds a lot of light on the egg producing industry.
In a few years, if I can stop buying chickens and chicken stuff, I might start seeing some grocery bill savings. I might even get to a point where I can sell eggs to offset the cost. Our friends who got us into keeping backyard chickens have 12 hens and were getting six eggs a day, more than they could eat. Selling them to family and friends could potentially earn about $44 a month if they kept a dozen a week for themselves. In a year, that’s $528, plus the savings of not having to buy eggs themselves (although don’t forget that they need to factor in maintenance costs, like feed and straw – outlined above – and detract that from any earnings).
But it’s Not All About the Money:
Not everyone is in it for the savings or egg sales. Some people just like having backyard chickens – I do! And there are other benefits beyond grocery bill savings/egg income: you can control the quality of the eggs, and the health of the hens which, to some (like me) is more important than the savings. There’s also some food security and comfort in knowing you always have fresh eggs in the backyard. I quickly became really obsessed with chickens and am raising my second batch of chicks right now. I myself have thought about moving to a different (warmer!) province and opening an egg farm, selling colorful eggs and farm-utainment because chicks and chickens are so much fun. But then I read Locally Laid and decided against that wacky idea (so much work for so little pay, I’ll pass).
The unplanned benefits of chickens have been wonderful. They are fun and sweet and inquisitive animals and raising chicks has quickly become the highlight of my year and an annual tradition I’m looking forward to. I love watching them grow and I wish we had chickens when I was a kid. As much fun as the chicks are, chickens are wonderful too. Last summer I would sit in the coop and just watch them, and it helped clear my mind and cope with the stress in my life. Watching chickens just be chickens is so relaxing. Plus keeping backyard chickens connects me to my food source better and had a domino effect on my life: I became a vegetarian and am planning to start growing my own fruit and vegetables this spring/summer. So the personal transformation, and peace of mind, has been invaluable. Back to their practical purposes, they also eat bugs so I’ve heard they can keep a tick population at bay which might be invaluable to you because bugs are gross.
How Much Work is Building a Coop and Chicken Run:
We spent weeks and week building our chicken coop and run – it was easy to do, just way more work than we anticipated. And we still aren’t done! We had to quickly make adjustments (and additional purchases) for the winter, standing in the blistering cold one evening, screwing on shelter for the run. Now we need to build more nesting boxes, better drainage, and more roosts. You can spend a lot of time tinkering with a coop, and if a predator gets in, a lot of time replacing/repairing it. I think building a coop is like any renovating project: plan on costs being 30-50% more and taking twice as long, lol. Again, if you buy pre-fab you save time and money – but you might find yourself tinkering and making adjustments anyway.
How Much Work is Raising Chicks:
First, you need to do a lot of research about raising chicks because, without their mama hens, they need you to survive! They can die very easily (which is horrifying) and you need to know to look for things like spraddle leg, slipped joints, pasty butt, etc. Yes, you literally need to keep their vent free of poop because pasty butt, the official term, is fatal. You need the right set up (click here to see mine) and supplies. You must monitor their temperature because a too hot or too cold chick will die, and adjust it weekly (or daily, if they seem too hot or cold), and give them fresh water multiple times a day because they make it their mission to dirty it up.
They also need vitamins and special feed and they love a hard boiled egg, so you’ll find the little tasks add up. The more you handle them, the more pleasant and tame they will be as adult chickens, so if you want to get winged in the face less, handle them often and hand feed them treats so they grow to trust you. In the first week, chicks need a lot of care but then the work slows a bit – although then they get stinkier, so you’ll clean the brooder more and more often as they age out of it. I’d say that right now, overall, I probably spend 30 minutes on chick care per day, spread out into little tasks and also including handling them and checking them over. There’s more time involved on days when I clean the brooder and wash out their feeder/waterer. But if you suddenly have a sick chick and are unwilling to cull (kill) it, you may find yourself spending hours nursing a sick chick and fretting about what to do.
Here’s a little schedule so you can see what’s involved with raising chicks.
Multiple times a day: clean waterer, provide fresh water, check heat, clean bums
Daily: top up feeder, handle chicks, provide a treat
Weekly: clean out shavings and replace with fresh, move up heat lamp, provide stimulation (logs, mini DIY roosts, etc)
How Much Work is Raising Teenage Chickens:
Once chicks have outgrown the brooder, they still need help! And some breeds won’t lay for 6 months, so you won’t see a return on investment for some time. When you introduce them to the coop, they might not know to go inside at night or how to roost, so expect to spend some time teaching and guiding them. You’ll want to check every night, in those first few weeks, to make sure they all got inside because it’s important to train them at this stage to get into the coop before dark. That’s where they are safest from predators. So I spent an hour, sometimes two, with my young chickens every day last summer, continuing to socialize them and also showing them the ropes.
Daily: top up water, check to make sure everyone got inside (or open/close door AM and PM, if no automatic door)
Weekly: clean out coop and replace shavings, look for hidden eggs, sprinkle grit
Bi-Weekly: rake poop from run, lay down straw, top up feeder
How Much Work is Raising Chickens:
Once chickens begin to lay eggs, you need to switch them to a layer feed and the also offer oyster shells for added calcium. You need to commit to collecting the eggs regularly (you don’t want them to freeze or rot or get crushed) and they won’t lay in an orderly fashion. I check at least twice a day, morning and night, because they do not all lay in the AM. You may also need to find eggs if they hide them, and help nudge them toward learning where to lay. When things go smoothly, I can spend as little as 15 minutes per day doing chicken things and then clean it weekly which only takes about a half an hour total. But then sometimes, suddenly, when it’s not convenient at all, chickens will become more work. A hen will become sick and need immediate care (which means figuring out what the heck is wrong and quickly treating it because once a hen looks sick, she very rarely has much time at all to waste). Or a chicken will die, requiring a major scrub down to avoid spreading illness. Or a hen will go broody and refuse to go into the coop on the coldest winter nights, so every evening in the pitch black you need to army crawl under the coop to get her (#truestory). Or suddenly a hen will decide not to use the nesting box, so you need to dig through the poop littered straw, on your hands and knees, until you find the clutch of eggs she hid (another #truestory). Introducing new chickens to a flock also requires weeks of effort as you slowly get them used to each other. And then the chickens poop on one another and you need to bathe and blow dry them inside. Responsibly re-homing unwanted roos takes more time as well. The day to day tasks are light, but the overall experience of owning backyard chickens can turn into a bigger project than planned. And the coop/barn gets dusty. After a winter of chickens hanging around inside, our crisp white barn interior is brown with poop dust so I need to empty it all out and give it a good wash when the weather is warmer. I will probably spend a weekend scrubbing the coop, cleaning the run, removing the winterizing we did, and cleaning the brooder equipment before storing it.
Daily: top up water, check to make sure everyone got inside in winter, gather eggs AM and PM
Weekly: clean out coop and replace shavings/bedding, look for hidden eggs, replenish dust bath, provide calcium (oyster shells) and grit
Bi-Weekly: rake poop from run, lay down straw, top up feeder (I have a huge, sheltered feeder)
Seasonally: scrub down coop, replace straw and shavings, clean out feeder and waterer really well, build new things as needed (more nesting boxes, roosts, etc)
The Surprising Rewards of Raising Chickens:
Watching chicks grow is absolutely amazing! You can almost see their feathers grow, it happens so fast. And when hand raised, not in a largely unattended flock of thousands, chickens very clearly have personalities, preferences, and a curiosity that is really remarkable. I mentioned earlier than getting to live with chicks and chickens has been transformative for me and I can see this being a really enriching and rewarding experience for many people, especially families with young kids. There’s a satisfaction in being self reliant, in some small way. With everything happening in the world, it’s a comfort to get a steady supply of fresh eggs. And, of course, they taste better!! So much better! Plus for me there’s the perk of a colorful egg basket, which never gets old. So chickens quickly became a hobby for me, not a cost saving (or revenue earning) venture. Keeping chickens is just something I enjoy, even though it takes time and costs money.
The Surprising Grossness of Chickens:
But on the flip side, I never thought I’d encounter so much poop. Chickens poop for something to do. They poop on each other, requiring a bath, they poop on every single surface – including walls. They themselves are usually clean (they do their best to groom) but they get poop on their feet, no matter how clean you keep things, so if you pick them up expect to get poop on you. The poop turns to dust, coating every surface. No matter how deeply, or how often, you clean the coop and run – there is POOP. Free ranging is much better for this, but I worry about their safety too much for that. On top of the poop, chickens can easily succumb to a number of very gross health problems that you may have to deal with, especially if you do not have a poultry or avian vet nearby (even if you do, a visit fee of $90 may deter you). I’ve been so lucky and haven’t had to deal with too much awfulness but there’s always the fear lurking that a normal Tuesday will turn into a horror movie and suddenly I’ll have to pick maggots from a hen’s vent, or something equally awful. You know these things always happen at the worst time. When Jet, my beloved Ayam Cemani hen, passed away, it was minutes before I had to bring hubby to the airport and it was the dead of winter so I was alone to deal with the aftermath and we weren’t even able to bury her.
I still miss her so be prepared for the heartbreak too!
How to Know if Chickens Are Worth it for You:
My best advice is to find someone with chickens and visit their set up! We visited our friends’ coop before we invested and saw the structure, what was involved, and I got crapped on by the chicken I was holding at the time. My boots got caked with poop. I knew what I was getting into – although I was still surprised by some things. But it’s the best way to prepare because Instagram is full of dreamy photos of chicks in McCoy planters (guilty) and docile hens in tutus, and that’s not the complete picture. Edited from those narratives are gruesome and disgusting health problems, sudden chicken death, having to cull a bird yourself, getting crapped on and cleaning crap endlessly, getting pecked so hard in the face you bleed (another #truestory), and so many other unexpected and unpleasant experiences. In terms of the cost, before you order a chick!, wander around The Home Depot and trawl Amazon and make a list of brooder, coop, and chicken supplies you’ll need to see how much your set up would be, because that’s really different for each chicken keeper as we all have different preferences and climate challenges. Be brutally honest about the cost, add 30%, consider how many eggs you buy and what a tiny bit of food security is worth to your family, and decide for yourself.
The Take Away:
Chickens will cost more than you think to raise, but you’ll find other rewards. You might save money on your grocery bill, but even if you don’t, you’ll love “backyard fresh” eggs. Plus raising chickens can be a lot of fun! Although people have kept chickens for countless generations as a source of food and income, I think these days we’re so fancy with our coops and runs that the costs of keeping them creeps up very quickly. But if you work a 9-5 out of the home, you’ll want peace of mind expenses like an automatic chicken door and sheltered run. I’m a homebody and I work from home, which has made dealing with chickens infinitely easier but lots of people have busy lives and still keep chickens.
I truly think that you need to like chickens, and getting your “own” eggs, for it to be worth it. In terms of time commitment, day to day chickens don’t require much time (15 minutes!) but be prepared for those days when they suddenly require your help urgently. Also be prepared for the added work of learning about these wonderful animals and how to properly care for them – and desperately googling medical problems when they strike. And, last but not least, get ready to handle a LOT of poop. I can’t stress that enough. THE POOP. If you’re curious, you can find all of my posts about chickens and eggs by clicking right here.