How to Save Money When Keeping Chickens

Try these tips for maintaining a frugal flock.
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Photo By: Photo by Mick Telkamp

Photo By: Image courtesy of the Wicked Chicken Auction.

Photo By: Photo by Mick Telkamp

Photo By: Image courtesy of Blackberry Farm ©2013, HGTV/Scripps Networks, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Photo by Mick Telkamp

Photo By: Photo by Mick Telkamp

Photo By: Photo by Jason Travis

Photo By: Photo by Mick Telkamp

The Cost of Fresh Eggs

For those considering raising backyard chickens, the idea of “free” farm fresh eggs holds a lot of appeal, but the reality may be a little less appealing. Housing, feed costs, bedding, supplements and other coop expenses can add up quickly and suddenly those free eggs may not seem like such a bargain. Still, the eggs your backyard birds provide will be the best you’ve ever had and your cheerful workforce will pay off in ways that go beyond breakfast. Will you be adding a coop to your urban or suburban homestead this year? Consider these tips for saving money when maintaining backyard chickens.

Build Your Own Coop

Buying a chicken coop is usually the largest expense when starting a backyard flock, with costs ranging from a few hundred dollars into the thousands or even tens of thousands. Backyard chicken coops can be fashioned through simple construction using inexpensive materials or by recycling unconventional structures like playhouses, doghouses or even disused garden sheds. Depending on flock size and location, cheap or even free chicken coops can make a huge dent in startup costs.

Raise Your Own Chicks

Purchasing juvenile or adult chickens can be expensive, especially for exotic breeds. Instead of spending as much as fifty dollars for a single bird, consider buying day-old chicks or hatching your own from purchased eggs for a tenth the cost. Hatching chicks isn’t just economical, it’s a fun and educational way populate a backyard coop.

Visit Livestock Auctions

Livestock auctions can be an inexpensive way to add a few birds to the backyard. While it can be challenging to find specific types this way, if you haven’t settled on a breed, auctions can be a fun way to discover interesting chickens at bargain prices.

Make Your Own Feed

On average, it’ll cost about twenty dollars a month to keep six chickens fed using commercial feed. Commercial feed is usually the cost of doing business, but for the DIY chicken owner, mixing feed at home using grains and protein-rich ingredients can reduce this ongoing expense considerably. For those new to chickens or managing a smaller flock, it may not be worth the hassle, but homemade feed can be worth the effort if monthly feed costs become a burden. Before switching to homemade feed, make sure your recipe meets all dietary requirements.

Free Ranging

As good as that feed is, nothing beats the protein chickens will find when scratching in the backyard. Allowing the flock to forage for seeds, grubs, worms, insects and other pests doesn’t just keep the tick population down, it can considerably reduce the amount of feed required. If free-ranging isn’t an option, a movable coop canned a chicken tractor will allow birds to scratch for fresh food without exposing them to predators.

Save Kitchen Scraps

Chickens are omnivores and will happily supplement their diet with kitchen scraps and leftovers. Some foods like green potato skins and cry beans should be avoided and strongly-flavored foods like onions or garlic may affect the flavor of eggs, but many kitchen scraps may be earmarked for the coop instead of the compost pile.

Recycle Eggshells

Calcium is important for chickens diet and egg shells make a great nutritional supplement to their diet. Instead of spending money on oyster shells, Bake shells in a low temperature oven to kill any bacteria and crush thoroughly before mixing into feed. Make sure shells are thoroughly unrecognizable to the chickens before using to avoid giving chickens any ideas about eating eggs in the nesting boxes.

Make Fertilizer

While shoveling out the coop may be a chore, that nitrogen-rich manure can yield huge savings in the garden. Instead of spending money on fertilizer, compost chicken manure to produce a nutrient-rich garden fertilizer that doesn’t cost a dime.

Sell Eggs

In a productive coop, egg surpluses are not uncommon. Most states have permissive laws when it comes to selling eggs. Selling just a few dozen eggs a month can cover feed costs and turns your hobby into a self-sustaining enterprise. Research the rules regarding volume and labels before setting up shop.

Start a Backyard Cooperative

If you have like-minded neighbors or a permissive community garden, sharing the work and expense of maintaining a coop is an economical way to enjoy raising chickens and the copious eggs they provide.

Recycle Egg Cartons

Make sure your friends and neighbors know you’ve got eggs to wrangle. Before long, they will be happy to collect their used cartons to be recycled (especially if you’re willing to return them full of fresh eggs). Although egg cartons are not expensive, the cost of this often overlooked expense can add up.

Encourage Egg Production

In winter months, fewer daylight hours can drastically reduce egg production. Adding a light inside the coop to artificially extend shorter days will help keep the eggs during times when production is usually low.

Get New Chickens

Chickens will continue to lay eggs into old age, but after the first few years, production will begin to decrease. For many of us, chickens are part of the family and will remain in the coop long after their prime laying years. If you are strictly in it for the eggs, though, replacing the flock every two to three years will ensure maximum production and keep your feed to egg ratio in line.