When I stopped keeping track of my chicken-related expenses, which was before I built a $900 8’x8’ coop, my small premade coop, run, incubator, brooder, hatching eggs, and extras had cost me $1,203.93. I think I stopped keeping track because I was going over the $2K mark and hadn’t actually gotten an egg yet.
Fast forward to a year later. In my chickens’ second summer, I fed 12 chickens on just two 50-pound bags of feed for about three and a half months. I was getting about seven eggs a day for under a pound of organic feed, or about $0.53, per day. Chickens usually eat about a quarter pound of feed per day, but instead of needing 6.3 50-pound bags of feed that summer, I needed only two because they ranged in forest and field scratching up a remarkable 68.25% of their food.
I have no idea what I’ve spent on my chickens at this point. I am positive that it has been a losing venture, but I undertook chicken-tending as a hobby and not a business. However, I am soon moving, and my chicken infrastructure will begin again from scratch. It is an opportunity to rethink my approach to chicken husbandry and learn to spend my money only where it counts. Here are some of the things I plan to do that you can try too:
- I am lucky to have people who can build my coop for me. We’ve been studying different “green” methods such as straw bale and cordwood construction. My next coop will most likely be cordwood. The wood will come from trees we need to clear on our land.
- I’ll be scouring the papers for free windows and doors. I have some like those you see on my current coop, but I would like even more old windows to build a greenhouse at some point.
- The main costs of the coop will be metal roofing, hardware such as latches and hinges, and concrete for the foundation and mortar.
- Instead of buying feeders and waterers, I’ll reuse plastic containers or buy containers at thrift shops or garage sales which can be easily adapted to my purposes. I like dish pans because they are great trays for almost any kind of wet feed and they can do double duty as chicken baths (not something I’ve undertaken as of yet, but still) or nest boxes.
- I use a deep litter system because it requires less upkeep, generates some heat in the winter, and provides some nutrients to the flock, mostly B vitamins from beneficial microorganisms. The additional heat and nutrition for free are the money-saving benefits. I have a raised floor which is sealed with porch floor paint and has held up just fine under the deep litter. However, I would like to have a dirt floor in my next coop to make better use of my deep litter by providing drainage and contact with the dirt microorganisms. (Read more about deep litter here; also explains nutritional benefits which are notable.)
- I am going to try vermicomposting á la my favorite poultry man Harvey Ussery. I may even try raising black soldier fly larvae in this chicken feeder set-up.
- I will continue to ferment feed and hopefully do a better and more consistent job of it. Fermentation allows the chicken’s digestive system to utilize more of the nutrients in feed and also increases the protein content very slightly, among other benefits.
- I will also continue to pasture my chickens. The food savings are huge. Right now, I free range them completely and have been (knock on wood) extraordinarily lucky not to have a single bird taken over the past couple of years, even when we literally had foxes denning 25 feet from the coop. (This is the Appalachian Mountains. We have bears, coyotes, foxes, bobcats, skunks, raccoons, opossums, hawks, and black snakes literally in the yard, but mostly at night when the chickens are locked up tight.) If we are not able to do this at our new property, then I will probably invest in solar-powered electric fencing, although I won’t be happy about it.
- I want to grow more food specifically for my chickens and perhaps use a rotating pasture system to make sure areas are not overgrazed. Again, I’ll be returning to Ussery for ideas on what to grow. I don’t want to use a lot of room growing grain, so my chickens might be returning to a more meat-and-greens based diet with seeds and grains as much smaller percentage of their feed.
- I don’t like using artificial things in general, for myself or my chickens. I rely mostly on things like vinegar, diatomaceous earth, lime, molasses, and egg shells, but I do occasionally buy medicines, vitamin powders, and other inputs. I could save money by committing to using natural remedies when needed and using home-grown treats instead of purchased ones.
- One of the best ways to eliminate the need for remedies at all is to breed my flock to flourish under my local conditions. This means not only selecting chickens who lay well and remain healthy but probably also allowing chickens who get sick when everyone else is healthy to pass. I’m not sure I’m ready for this, but it is the pragmatic route.
- Another pragmatic, frugal tip I’ll need to accept is – I have to eat my extra cockerels. Right now, I hold on to them, and feed them, until I can find a home for them. I spend a ridiculous amount of money feeding cockerels, and then I go down to Polyface Farm and spend $9 on a processed, pastured chicken to eat. It’s bad economics, but I do like those little guys.
- A third pragmatic practice I need to undertake is reducing the size of my flock in the fall and only overwintering pullets and cocks and hens which will be used for breeding or brooding. I love my older ladies, but it would be more economical to eat them.
- Artificial brooding and incubation has figured considerably into my chicken-keeping costs. Although I love them dearly and haven’t quite been able to make myself part from them, my two incubators and EcoGlows were not cheap and consume resources whenever in use. (The EcoGlows are far more economical than heat lamps, and safer, too. I will probably never part with mine. They are too good in a pinch.) I am gearing myself up to go full-broody: hatching and brooding by broody hen only. My Welsummer did a fantastic job with her brood, but I may decide to get some Silkie crosses at some point. (So far, I have resisted crossing the line into fluffy chickens, but they are broody machines!)
This is not even remotely an exhaustive list of things you can do to raise chickens frugally, and I am sure that you have many ideas of your own! Please leave a comment and share. Your experience and innovation can benefit us all! Please also feel free to leave links to pictures or write-ups of your ideas.