I’m quickly becoming a huge advocate for backyard chickens. They’re an amazing pet to have, especially if you have children! We love our feathered girls and my kids enjoy taking care of them. But I think the biggest misconception around getting chickens is how much money it takes to get ready for chickens, and then how expensive they are to take care of. So I thought I’d dispel the misinformation and tell my readers: how much does it cost to have backyard chickens? Really?
I do have affiliate links for the products we’ve bought our feathered girls! I hope my recommendations can help your family, too.
First, the bad news: If you’re only getting chickens for their eggs, they won’t really make you a ton of money. I can get a dozen eggs at my local HEB for less than $2; granted, they’re neither organic nor free range, but you see my point.
If you’re getting meat from your chickens then that might be more worth it to you financially. We personally don’t have the resources to slaughter chickens here, so our girls will never really lower my grocery bill by a whole lot.
Okay, so I’ve got these freeloaders with wings in my backyard. How much are they costing me?! And what exactly do I get in return?!
What You Need In The Beginning
To come home with some adorable puff balls known as chicks, you need to have some stuff set in place already. This is the breakdown of initial cost to have backyard chickens.
Chicks themselves, unless you get some ridiculous show breed or something, will cost you less than $5/each. Our original six chickens were about $2.55 from our local Tractor Supply Co.
Conversely, you can buy pullets (older female chicks), cockerels (older male chicks), or full grown birds; but they will normally run you upwards of $15/each. And if you’re not familiar with all of the chicken-y terms I’m using, check out my quick guide to fowl terminology! Don’t worry, it’s all PG.
A brooder is where chicks will grow for the first weeks of their life. This replaces Mama Hen and her intuition out in the wild. It must be temperature controlled, and provide the chicks with clean food and water around the clock. Most people put brooders inside somewhere, like in a garage. We chose to put it on our windowseat so that our little flock could see the natural cycle of light, and hear birds outside.
We used a large plastic storage bin (think Christmas decorations in your attic) that we already had, an infrared heat lamp with a clip, a heat non-light bulb with a thermometer, pine shavings, a chick waterer and feeder, and paper towels. You will need some kind of lid, as the chicks grow a bit older they’ll want to hop and fly out. We cut the center portion of the lid off and reinforced it with chicken wire – no escapees here!
Total cost of this section: less than $75, and cheaper if you have things already that you can use.
You’ll need “chick starter” feed in the beginning, which has a high amount of protein to help your babies grow. This food will last them at least 8 weeks (depending on how many chicks you have), so it’s ok to buy the big bag. We had six chicks and the bag lasted us over twelve weeks! And these suckers eat all. the. time. Remember that you’ve gotta have it on-demand for them 24/7, just like fresh clean water.
We got ours at good old TSC for about $15. (You can get organic and/or medicated food, but we didn’t feel it was necessary.) We’ve used Dumor and Purina brands without issue. I’m not posting affiliate links here because it’s waaay more expensive than you just going to a local feed store.
There are other things you’ll hear about, like grit and scratch and treats, but you don’t have to buy any of it. We give our grown girls some mealworms occasionally, and they free range so they get bugs and plants to their hearts’ content, but you don’t need to purchase the other stuff.
For the bedding, we lined the bottom of the brooder pen with paper towels first for easy cleanout, then put some pine or shredded paper over it. You never want to give anything long to your birds, like straw or hay; additionally, don’t give them cedar shavings as it’s not safe for them to breathe.
You could use shredded newspaper or recycled paper, too. My husband would bring home huge bags of paper from his office shredders – free poop paper!
As Your Chicks Grow
Once your chickens start to get larger, you can introduce them to the outside world – literally! There are a few optional expenses here, so be sure to check out my YouTube videos about backyard chickens to decide what you really need. You also have a bit more time to save for this kind of cost for backyard chickens; we’re talking three months, at least, from their hatch date.
I know it sounds ridiculous, but you need a small outdoor area to let your chicks explore as they grow. This is a place you can take them to for a few hours every day, assuming the outside temp is above 75F and they’re getting their feathers. They’re still living in the brooder at this point, and they have to be supervised carefully, but it’s a great way to transition them to their permanent home.
You can do something simple like use a kid’s playpen or make one out of stakes and chicken wire like we did. Give your chicks things to climb on and explore, like branches; make sure they have access to food and water; provide places to hide in case of passerby predators; and supervise them carefully! Honestly, you won’t want to look away anyway. They’re so darn cute!
One other option is to let them play in the run, or closed-off “yard”, of your chicken coop, if you already have one. Once we’d bought our coop, which you’ll read about in a second, we let our chicks play in there for a while each day. It made their transition to outdoor living so much easier.
A Chicken Coop
Once your chickens are fully feathered, you can look to moving them outside full time. We bought our coop when our chickies were still very young, so that it could be built and ready ahead of time. We also let them play in it for a few hours a day before they were living outside overnight.
You can make your own coop, buy one custom made, or get a kit like we did. We’re very happy with ours by Innovation Pet; you can read the full review (including video) here.
This is the single most expensive thing you’ll probably ever buy for your chickens; expect it to cost $200+ if you get a kit, or get creative and make one out of existing supplies or a storage shed!
A Dust Bath
Gross, right? (I’m telling you, chicks are more like kids than you may think!) Chickens don’t particularly like to get wet, but they are clean animals. They’ll groom and preen themselves on the regular, and they also love a good dust bath. This is their chance to shake out molting feathers, and even get rid of mites or other pests that are on their skin. Chickens will need access to a dust bath!
My suggestion to you is to get an old tire, or an old bucket with the bottom cut out, and fill it with top soil or sand (not the fine sandbox type, but the cheap stuff). They can also just use a flowerbed, but then your dirt will get kicked and flipped out all over the place. So giving them a designated place with sides will keep the dirt in place so you’re not replacing it all the time. And this bucket must have an open bottom so that rainwater and bugs can trickle out.
Again, this is another cheap expense, but it is something you’ll need set up eventually. As you can see by the photo above, I originally used a ceramic plate (for a flowerpot) when my chickies were babies. They loved playing in it, sunbathing in it, and picking out “grit” to help them digest food.
Optional Coop Accessories
Forgive the silly title, but here are a few things we’ve gotten to make our lives easier. In no way are they a requirement! I wouldn’t calculate all of this cost to have backyard chickens at once, but after you get your flock you may pick and choose a few.
PDZ is sort of like farm litter: it clumps with wetness, and eliminates odor. We use it under our roosts in the coop’s sliding tray and it’s great. It is very fine like sand so I wouldn’t put it all over the ground of your coop’s run. But a sprinkle goes a long way! One bag is about $15 and lasts a really long time. We find it in the horse section of our local feed store.
I got an adjustable rake to help keep the run clean, since the coop is shorter than I am and thus difficult to stand in. The rake is small and lightweight, so even my son can use it.
We also made an auto-feeder and auto-waterer for our girls, for when we go on vacations or have bad weather. That way, even if something happens and we can’t check on them, we can rest easy. The way we built ours, our girls would be ok for at least three days. You can see the full description and breakdown in my video about chicken coop hacks, but it was about $20 worth of various sized PVC. (We used 4” at the top and siphoned it down to 2”.)
A few ceramic eggs in the nesting box will tell your pullets that “Hey, this is where you do your job.” Seriously, if you don’t tell these birds where to lay their eggs, you may find them in the most random places! Our girls have been laying over a month and we just kept the dummy eggs in there, there’s no need to remove them.
Now it should be fairly obvious that while your chickens won’t save you tons of money in groceries, they are totally worth it. I’ve broken down the cost to have backyard chickens, and I’m happy to report that they are an affordable pet.
But what’s more, they have added so much happiness and laughter to our lives.
Our girls are so great with the kids, they literally run to us when we go outside. They’ll follow my son around and they go crazy playing in the sandbox with my children. My kids paint outside with their easel occasionally and the chickens want to be right there, like little art show tourists. (I think that part of this is the brooder was in our living room so they were used to hearing and seeing our kids, and we held the chicks every day to get them used to people.)
Chickens have other practical uses too: they eat kitchen scraps and their poop is fantastic for the yard; they’re mostly quiet and absolutely hilarious to watch. Our girls each have their own personality, and who doesn’t love a pet who poops breakfast?
I hope that I can help inspire you to look into getting a little flock of your own. I’m so glad that we took the plunge with backyard chickens! You can find all of my fowl-related articles here, and you can see my adorable feathered babies on our YouTube channel here.