Are Backyard Chickens Worth It? The True Cost of Backyard Chickens
Many extol the virtues of keeping backyard chickens for eggs and meat. Beyond that, chickens provide companionship, compost, feathers, bones for soup stock, pest control, food waste disposal, and much more. However, backyard chickens don’t come cheap, and they certainly won’t pay for themselves unless you put in a good amount of work.
That being said, how much do chickens cost, really? The true cost of chickens depends on the size of your operation and what you do with it. If you turn your chickens into a full-time business that you pour hours of your day into, you can definitely break even on costs – and you may even turn a profit. But for the vast majority of us, that isn’t possible, and chickens end up becoming a (very fun and addicting) money sink instead.
In this post, we’ll go over all of the things you should keep in mind when considering the true cost of backyard chickens. This isn’t going to be a numbers-heavy cost breakdown – it’s more of an overview of what to expect, plus cost-recouping strategies to consider.
Upfront and Recurring Costs
The largest money sink of owning chickens – the coop itself – is a one-time expense (barring repairs and the like). Most of your smaller costs will reoccur weekly or monthly.
Reducing and minimizing your coop costs is definitely possible, and quite easy – it can be as simple as getting creative with your building materials. But still, in virtually every case, your coop with be your largest single expense. Runs can get expensive, too, if you choose to build a large one. However, the real question to ask here is, how much do chickens cost on a recurring basis.
The recurring costs of food, bedding, water, and other miscellaneous supplies each month are what will really get you, since you need to exceed that benchmark each month before you can start to make a profit. You can help lower your recurring monthly costs by doing the following:
- Buying food in bulk, especially from a local grain mill instead of a big box store
- Supplementing your birds’ food by free-ranging or pasture-ranging them, raising fly larve or worms, feeding them your leftovers, etc.
- Changing to a coop design that uses less bedding (such as a chicken tractor)
- Using a bedding that’s cheap(er) or free, such as grass clippings, wood chips from an arborist in your area, shredded paper, sand, etc.
Miscellaneous and unexpected expenses can become a problem, too. For example, if your chickens fall ill and need a vet visit, you might need to pay for it out of pocket. Medications to treat diseases can get expensive, too, especially as your flock grows larger. If the worst happens and you lose your chickens to a predator attack or disease outbreak, you’ll need to budget for new chickens. This may sound harsh, but if you own chickens for long enough, you will eventually experience one or both of these scenarios – it’s just a matter of when.
Finally, if you want to hatch chicks from fertilized eggs, you’ll need to acquire an incubator. A cheap incubator from a big box store works fine for those who just want to experiment. These usually cost around one hundred dollars, give or take, depending on the model you choose. You’ll want to invest in something better if you plan to hatch consistently, though.
Of course, you always have the option of using a broody hen if you’d rather not buy an incubator. However, this method is inaccessible to newbie chicken owners who haven’t established a flock yet.
As you can see, backyard chicken keeping certainly isn’t free, and breaking even on costs is rarely as easy as just selling your extra eggs. However, we hope reading this hasn’t discouraged you too much, because there are certainly other creative ways to help offset the costs of chicken keeping. In the sections below, we’ll dive into all the methods that you can use to subsidize your chicken keeping hobby. If you have any good ones that we haven’t listed here, feel free to send us an email at email@example.com and tell us about it!
Raising Chickens for Fresh Eggs
Fresh eggs are one of the most touted benefits of owning backyard chickens. Here at Little Onion Farm, we absolutely agree – fresh eggs directly from the coop are phenomenal!
How much do chickens cost compared to buying eggs from the store? Unless you know something we don’t, the answer is obvious: it’s a lot cheaper to just buy your eggs. However, if you do own chickens, you can sell your extra eggs to help offset some of their costs.
Unless you plan to set up a real business selling fresh eggs, though – complete with hundreds or even thousands of laying hens – you shouldn’t expect to recoup all of your chicken keeping costs that way.
Even if you have a good-sized flock of hens that lay extra-large eggs every day, you probably won’t make much (or any) profit without an excellent niche or market angle. You’ll definitely be able to offset some costs, though, such as the cost of chicken feed.
Speaking of niche markets, one of the best ways to help your egg business bring in more money is by diversifying. There’s a reason why diversification is so important in building wealth and equity. It doesn’t just make your operation more secure – it opens you to a wider market of potential customers, too.
Exotic eggs, such as duck eggs and quail eggs, can command a much higher price per egg or by weight than chicken eggs, and caring for these other species isn’t too different. If you have the time and space to build a coop for another poultry species (yes, you can technically house ducks and quail with chickens, but it’s not a good idea for many reasons), we’d urge you to consider doing so. Quail, in particular, need very little space to thrive, and their eggs are delicious and often easy to sell.
Alternatively, you might consider looking into branding that might allow you to charge more for your eggs, such as all-organic, free range, pasture-raised, small farm, etc. While it costs money to put special branding on your eggs – for example, you’ll need to invest in more expensive organic feed if you want to market your eggs as “organic” – you can sell them for more in exchange.
Raising Chickens for Meat
Farm-raised chicken is both a delicacy and a staple, in our opinion. However, we will preface this by saying that financing meat birds is much different than eggs. Eggs are a by-product of owning chickens, which might come from birds that you consider to be pets, but selling meat involves raising chickens specifically to slaughter them later.
How much do chickens cost to raise for meat, compared to buying it from the store? Well, it depends on a lot of factors. It’s definitely possible to raise your own meat birds for cheaper than you’d pay for them at the store, especially if you choose to go the non-GMO and organic route. Plus, you can raise a few extra meat birds with each batch and sell the extras to offset your costs.
However, raising chickens for meat requires a mindset that many beginner chicken owners do not yet have. Beyond that, even many veteran chicken keepers choose not to slaughter their own chickens. We think that raising and processing your own animals is a sort of rite of passage, especially for those interested in sustainability, self-sufficiency, or homesteading in general, but it’s by no means something you should force yourself to do if you don’t feel comfortable.
We’re not going to dive too deeply into meat chickens in this post, simply because it doesn’t really overlap with casual backyard chicken keeping. That doesn’t mean you can’t process your extra roosters or retired hens for meat later on – many people do – but that’s not the same as running a business selling meat chickens.
That being said, if you do decide to deep dive into backyard chicken keeping – especially in large numbers – we encourage you to learn about processing your own chickens. If you ever plan to hatch your own eggs, buy chicks consistently, or just own chickens in any large quantity, there will come a time when you’ll have an injured or sick chicken with bleak prospects, a bird with a bad temper, or a batch of extra roosters you don’t need. (Some backyard chicken owners, especially those who sell eggs, also process their older hens after they exceed their optimal laying age.)
Whether you end up rehoming these extra chickens or putting them on your dinner table is up to you, but we strongly encourage any chicken owner to at least consider processing them as an option. In many cases, it’s the most humane choice, especially if the bird is suffering or too dangerous to rehome. You’re welcome to dismiss the idea if it’s one you fundamentally object to, but in the greater poultry world, it’s an undeniable part of owning and raising them. You could even consider it part of the true cost of backyard chickens, though it’s more of an emotional cost than a physical one.
Selling Fertile Eggs
If you have enough purebred chickens, especially rare breeds, you might want to consider selling purebred eggs. Fertile eggs can (literally) be a mixed bag, depending on what you have access to, but if you hit the right market, selling them can be lucrative – especially when you compare them to the price of “eating” eggs.
Fertile eggs are perfectly edible, but in this instance, we mean selling eggs with the intention of eating them versus selling them with the intention of hatching them. Hatching eggs need to be stored differently than eating eggs to keep the embryo inside healthy, so they aren’t always interchangeable.
How much do chickens cost when hatched from fertile eggs? It all depends on where you buy them. We buy a lot of our eggs from fellow breeders and from eBay. If you buy fertile eggs from a hatchery, they’ll likely cost more, but it’ll still be cheaper than buying mail-order chicks.
However, the cheapest way to acquire chickens is usually by finding a local farm who sells day-old chicks. You’ll only pay a few dollars per chick. They may or may not be sexed, so that adds another factor to consider.
The reason for the above is because, with hatching eggs, you have to factor in the cost of the incubator, which’ll usually set you back about $100. You do have the option of sourcing fertilized eggs from a local farm or nearby chicken owner, though, which can reduce the cost even more.
Once you have your own flock established and laying, you can sell your own eggs to help offset your chicken-keeping costs. If you don’t have a rooster, you can sell fresh eggs for eating. If you do have a rooster, you can sell eating eggs or hatching eggs.
Since eBay and other platforms allow you to buy and sell eggs online, finding a customer base nowadays is easier than ever. However, you need to have something that customers want to buy first. Purebred chickens, especially show-quality purebreds, can be a fantastic source of in-demand fertile eggs. One of the best real-world examples of this is Greenfire Farms, a business that specializes in conserving ultra-rare breeds. However, most backyard chicken owners don’t start with rare or show-quality birds, and many keep lots of different breeds or don’t have a rooster for breeding at all.
If you have at least one rooster and one hen of the same breed, you can sell purebred eggs. However, don’t try to sell “show-quality” eggs unless you’re experienced with show chickens. Even if your hen and rooster both come from a show-quality breeder, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they or their progeny will also be “show quality.”
On the other hand, you can always sell mixed-breed eggs, right? Unfortunately, “barnyard mix” eggs don’t usually sell for much (if they sell at all). However, if you breed a hybrid chicken for a specific purpose – such as a colored layer or high-quantity egg layer – you’ll have much more luck. In fact, that’s the very niche we recommend that newbie chicken breeders take (and the niche we sell in here at the Farm, too.)
Different backyard chicken keepers prioritize different things in their flocks, but in our experience, egg laying ability and variety are the two most popular. People want rare chickens that they don’t already have, or they want chickens guaranteed to lay a lot of eggs (or both). If you can promise either of those things – or even another in-demand niche, such as a good dressing weight for roosters, disease-hardiness, rare egg colors, auto-sexing characteristics, etc. – you will eventually find customers who want what you have.
Colored layers are an excellent example. Most backyard chicken keepers want a colorful egg basket, so if you can provide that, they’ll flock to you! Chicken egg genetics are simple to memorize, so anyone can breed a hybrid colored layer with a bit of research.
Below is a simplified explanation of how egg colors work in chickens. Chickens generally carry genes to lay white or brown eggs, but other egg colors exist, too. One chicken will lay just one egg color for its entire life. By breeding chickens with different egg-color genes, you can get different results:
- White + brown = tan
- White + blue = light blue
- Brown + blue = green
- Brown + green = olive*
- Brown + brown = chocolate*
- Blue + blue = deep blue*
*Note: you can deepen or intensify some egg colors over time by breeding one color back to the same color, but this can take many generations of breeding. If you’re looking for deep colors, like chocolate or olive, you may want to consider starting with a breed that already lays a dark color instead of trying to breed one yourself. If you’ve ever heard the term “F1 Olive Egger” or any variation thereof, the “F” followed by a number refers to the generation of breeding that that chicken came from; for example, F1 is the first offspring of a chocolate and a blue (or green) egg layer, while F2 is a child of those children, and so on. With each generation, the color will get deeper with careful egg color selection. Breeding your own special colored layer is a fun and rewarding project if you have the patience to breed through several generations!
Don’t forget that you can also sell fertile eggs from other poultry species, such as ducks, turkey, geese, or quail, to appeal to a wider customer base. While some poultry (especially waterfowl) have mating seasons that you’ll need to follow, quail and sometimes ducks will lay fertile eggs all year round, and they often sell for more than fertile chicken eggs.
Selling Live Birds
As a chicken owner, you always have the option of selling your chickens or their progeny. In our experience, the most popular live birds to sell are laying-age hens – that is, pullets that are around four to six months of age. Different breeds reach their laying age at different times, though. For example, large breeds like Brahmas, Cochins, and Jersey Giants can sometimes take up to or over a year to start laying eggs. Even considering that, four to six months tends to be the most common “point-of-lay” in the chicken world.
How much do chickens cost when you buy them at point-of-lay? It depends on the breed and quality of the bird. Show-quality birds are always expensive, though roosters may be cheaper than hens. Non-show-quality birds are much more affordable. For normal, run-of-the-mill laying hens, you can expect to pay around $20-$60 per bird. That price may vary somewhat if you live in an area with high or low demand.
Why do juvenile and adult chickens cost so much? It’s because they’re a high investment – you have to feed and shelter them for several months before you can sell them. Because of that, point-of-lay hens can command a high price, especially when they’re uncommon breeds.
If you plan to hatch and raise chickens to sell, you’ll need to figure out what to do with the extra roosters you get, too. Processing the roosters for meat for yourself and your family is a great way to turn this drawback into a benefit.
You also have the option of selling juvenile birds or even freshly-hatched chicks. We’ve found that many people like juvenile birds that no longer need a heat lamp, especially if they already live outdoors. While this makes it a lot easier for the customer, freshly-hatched chicks are a nice low-effort alternative since you can hatch them and sell them right away.
The problem with selling live birds, though, is biosecurity – something that, if you’ve read any of our other posts, we mention often. We’ve been burned by receiving sick birds from other people before, and it can be devastating if a disease spreads from a new bird to your own flock. Do not sell birds unless you’re 100% certain they don’t carry any communicable diseases, and be very careful about introducing foreign birds to your own flock if you plan to run a business.
That being said, as long as you’re very careful about bringing outside birds in, it’s safe enough to send your healthy birds out. However, be aware of anyone who wants to return birds to you after they purchase them, as this reintroduction can also bring disease back around to your flock. Don’t be afraid to adopt a “no returns” policy for the health and safety of your own birds (or some other rule that keeps foreign birds from coming into contact with your flock).
If you’re interested in diving into the world of backyard chicken keeping and want to eventually monetize your flock, I highly recommend taking a look at the coops that Over EZ has to offer. While I usually recommend Omlet coops to new backyard chicken owners, Over EZ has a much wider (and larger) line of coop models that are more appropriate for veteran chicken owners.
Over EZ’s chicken coops are serious business! These are real-wood, Amish-made chicken coops that come prefinished and in a variety of sizes. Their XL Chicken Coop, for example, can hold up to 20 full-sized chickens. While it’s not cheap, it has plenty of room for anyone looking to get a chicken business off the ground. They also carry several other sizes for larger or smaller flocks.
You can purchase Over EZ’s coops and products both on Amazon and on their own website, and they offer payment plans through Shop Pay to help break up the cost of your new coop, too. Plus, shipping on their coops is always free. Please note that I don’t recommend purchasing Over EZ’s coops unless you plan to either free range your birds or build a large run for them. These coops (and all coops built in the shed style) are not appropriate for full-time indoor living for your chickens.
Alternate Profit Models
There are plenty of other ways to earn money with chickens than those we’ve mentioned in this post. We certainly don’t know all of them, and you’ll have every opportunity to come up with new and exciting ways to monetize your chickens, too.
One of the most reliable alternative monetizations for your chickens (and one of our personal favorites) is, believe it or not, their poo! Chicken manure makes a fantastic fertilizer, and if you don’t use all of your manure in your own garden, selling the excess is a great, low-effort way to bring in some extra cash. Raw manure doesn’t sell for that much, but if you’re not planning to do anything else with it, what better way to get it off your property and put it to good use?
Obviously, the more chickens you have, the more money you can make by selling manure. With manure, though, you’ll also need a coop with a floor to collect it effectively. As much as we tout chicken tractors as our favorite chicken coop type, they’re not the best if you plan to collect and utilize your chicken manure, since it’ll just fall down into the dirt.
While we’ve always sold chicken manure in its raw form since it’s quicker and easier, you might also consider turning your chicken manure into compost. While raw chicken manure can be used in the garden in small quantities, it’s too strong to use in excess – unless you compost it first. You can earn even more revenue by handling this extra step for your customers and composting it before you sell it.
Another way you can bring in some extra money from your birds is by collecting and selling feathers. Some chicken owners take this a step further by breeding special “Genetic Hackle” chickens, which have long, colorful feathers that work fantastically for fly-tying. These feathers command premium prices, but normal chicken feathers sell much more modestly.
Chicken feathers work great for crafts. While they’re not something that you’ll get rich from, they make a nice, low-effort side benefit to owning chickens if you take the time to collect them, just like manure. However, before you sell or use your feathers for crafts, you’ll need to sanitize them (in case of bugs or parasites) and clean of them of any dirt and dust. We do this by freezing them to kill any nasties, then running them through the washer and dryer in a pillowcase, but there are plenty of other ways to do it that you can find online.
One of the most creative methods we’ve seen to make money with your chickens is a small business called Rent the Chicken. They “rent” chickens and supplies to people who are interested in owning chickens, but who haven’t quite made up their minds on whether they want them long-term. The customer keeps two laying hens and a small coop for a short rental period, at the end of which they have the opportunity to either return the hens and supplies or adopt them outright.
Non-Cost Factors to Consider
This kind of goes without saying, but your ultimate decision on the true cost of backyard chickens doesn’t have to come down to money. It’s true that you might not be able to turn them into profit, but it’s certainly possible to reduce those costs and make backyard chickens more attenable. Plus, backyard chickens provide a whole host of benefits that have nothing to do with money.
The first and arguably best-known of these benefits is survival. While a small flock of chickens alone is unlikely to keep you alive in the event of a real catastrophe, they can certainly assist during food shortages. Eggs are a fantastic protein, and they provide important nutrients and energy as fats, too.
Another much-loved benefit of owning chickens is their companionship. While chickens may not be as sociable as a dog or cat, they do have their own unique personalities, and they’re very capable of interacting with their human caretakers. Chickens can cuddle, they can talk to you, and the most intelligent chickens can even learn to do tricks for treats.
Companionship goes hand-in-hand with entertainment value. Many chicken owners enjoy spending time just watching their chickens’ antics as they run around the yard. Chickens are fascinating and goofy!
Finally, we think that one of the biggest benefits of owning chickens – one that not enough people talk about – is that they’re amazing little recycling machines. Not only do they eat weeds, bugs, garden pests, and even vermin, but they will also dispose of spoiled or stale food waste from your own kitchen. They’ll turn your food waste into nutrient-rich fertilizer and keep it out of landfills at the same time. While we love giving leftovers to our flock, our favorite perk of these less-than-picky eaters is that they will happily eat ticks, ants, and even wasps that come too close too the coop! We’ve also heard stories of them eating larger creatures like frogs, mice, and even snakes.
What are your thoughts on owning chickens? As we write this guide, the USA is going through a shortage of chicken eggs, and prices have doubled or more in some areas. This change has made many consider owning chickens when they might not have before.
We think jumping into chicken ownership just for eggs – without thinking about all of the other costs and responsibilities, such as how much chickens cost overall – is a bad idea. Keeping backyard chickens is incredibly rewarding and we urge everyone to give it some consideration, but it’s not something to rush into, either.
We hope this guide answered some of your questions about how much chickens really cost! Do you own backyard chickens? If so, what made you decide to get them? Do you enjoy any other benefits that we forgot to mention in this guide? If so, feel free to send us an email with your thoughts!
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