Would you like to know how to raise chickens on the cheap (without breaking the bank)? Well, it is possible! Fresh chicken eggs don’t have to cost you an arm and leg! Many people mistakenly think raising chickens will help them save money on groceries. They don’t realize how expensive it can be. But there are ways to save money and make raising chickens on the cheap a much more affordable project.
Here are 20 tips to help you save money. Not all of them will work for you, and some of them you might not want to do at all. But, everything you do to save money will bring down the cost of your fresh backyard eggs and make chicken keeping more affordable and practical for you.
Get Creative with the Coop
The biggest upfront expense in raising chickens is the coop and run. There are ways to save money, however (and even have something you really like in the end).
- Use recycled materials.
Instead of investing in tons of new supplies, used recycled and re-purposed materials whenever possible. Yes, this MIGHT mean you can’t build a coop exactly like you planned, but it gives you a chance to be creative as you build around the supplies you have or acquire. For example. The first coop I built, I started with one old used window (I was saving for an art project). I bought a used play structure off Craigslist and even scored some old used shutters from a neighbor who was remodeling his house. I found some great ‘coop red’ paint in the mis-mixed section at the local paint store for $5 and I was ready to go. Yes, I had to make adjustments based on the supplies I had on hand, but in the end, the coop turned out perfect for me and was made from nearly 90% used and re-purposed supplies (and was even featured in a backyard coop calendar one year).
- You don’t have to build a work of art
Downsize your expectations. A coop needs to be big enough for your flock, with enough roost space and nesting boxes. It should be wind and water proof and have ventilation. Beyond that, it’s all fluff.
Of course there are things that you will probably end up having to purchase, and maybe even new supplies at that. But with a bit of effort and creativity, you can build a functional coop for a fraction of the cost of building it with new supplies or buying a new pre-made coop (which is the most expensive option of all).
- Search for Used Coops (for Cheap or even FREE)
You might not think they exist, but they do. My 2nd coop, I found on Craigslist. It was $40 and didn’t need any repairs. And that first coop I talked about above? When I moved, I offered it for free and someone came, took it apart, and dragged it home. You never know what you can find if you look.
- Re-purpose something you already have
I’ve had a great coop (for a small city backyard flock) made from a large dog house. My third (and current) coop started out as a child’s playhouse before we modified it to be a chicken coop. Look around and see what you’ve already got on hand that you can use or modify to make a coop on the cheap. You might have to think outside the box a bit, but you could end up with a great (cheap or free) coop in the process.
Share Your Food
After housing expenses, feed comes next. There are things you can do to save money on feed.
- Share your table scraps
If you get into the habit of sharing your table scraps and other food with your hens, it will save you from having to feed them as much chicken feed. My chickens love leftovers (and so do I, so I just give them the ones I’m about to throw out). That questionable kale that’s getting a bit stinky? The chickens will LOVE it. I keep two containers in the kitchen. One for compost (the stuff to nasty to feed to the chickens, or containing things they shouldn’t eat) and one for the chickens. Here’s a list if you’re wondering what you should AVOID feeding your flock.
- Feed them egg shells
In addition to feeding your chickens table scraps, you can also feed them egg shells. This is a great way to boost the calcium in their diet without having to buy calcium. Added bonus, they’ll love the egg shells more than the calcium you have to pay for. If you want to know how to prepare your shells for them to eat, here’s how.
Let Them Feed Themselves
Here are some additional ways to save on feed costs.
- Let them free range
I understand that this is a topic up for debate in the chicken world, but I’m a believer in free ranging. If you have a place to free range your flock and you’re comfortable doing it, DO IT! The chickens will love it and they will forage around and find their own food. When they feed themselves, they will have to rely less on you to feed them. (Yes, I still feed my hens layer feed, even in the summer, but I cut down the amounts drastically when they have the ability to find food on their own).
If you don’t feel comfortable allowing your hens to roam around on their own, even letting them out for ‘recess’ when you can be there to monitor them will allow them to do some of their own grazing.
- Let them dig in the garden or compost
I don’t let my hens in the garden during the growing season, but before and after is a great time to let them in. They help me aerate the soil, get rid of bugs, and clean up scraps. They also help turn compost into dirt faster if you let them have at it. And in the process, they’ll help you cut down on their feed bill by all the things they’re eating.
- Plant a chicken garden
I do this every year and my hens LOVE it. Essentially, plant a garden full of plants and grains that chickens like to eat. Just like a garden for humans saves us money on fresh vegetables, a garden for chickens will save you money on feed. If you’re interested in growing a chicken garden, here’s more information.
- Give them bugs
Okay, I’m not a big bug fan, but the chickens are. And, I help them collect bugs. Around here we have issues with stink bugs. Ugh. But, thankfully, stink bugs are big, awkward and slow (in both speed and brains), so they’re easy to catch. I collect them in a jar and take them out to feed to the chickens. If we’re having an especially horrible time with them (ie they’re EVERYWHERE), the chickens and I circle the house daily. I flick the bugs off the walls with a stick and they fight over who gets to eat them. I get less bugs and they get a belly full of good protein. Win/win.
Change How You Feed Them
- Feed them just enough
I used to have this VERY COOL big self feeding chicken feeder that I could fill up every other week. The problem was, the hens wasted a ton of food and then the rats discovered it, too. So, I switched to feeding my flock the old fashioned way by spreading feed out in the run and letting them gobble it up until it’s gone. Just enough food for the day. It saves money on feed by avoiding the waste that comes with feeding in a feeder. It also saves money because the only animals I’m feeding are my chickens.
Before I started the ‘scatter’ method, there was always wasted pellets everywhere. Now, however, they find every little piece and eat it up. (No, my birds are NOT suffering. They get plenty to eat every day.)
- Use chicken pellets
With my first flock, I switched from chick starter to layer crumble and didn’t realize how much waste was happening that I could have avoided. Then one day when I went to buy more chicken feed, the feed store was out of crumble. I was forced to buy pellets. It took me about ONE DAY to realize that there was a TON less waste with pellets than with crumble. And I haven’t looked back since. (Of course now that I scatter their food instead of put it in a feeder, this wouldn’t be a problem anymore, but I still use pellets anyway).
Don’t Buy Chicks
Okay, that seems almost mean, doesn’t it? I LOVE chicks! But buying them at the feed store or via a mail order house is not the best way to SAVE MONEY.
- Let your hens hatch out their own chicks
There are so many good reasons to do this, not just for savings. First, it’s a wonderful experience to watch a mama with her baby chicks. Second, you don’t have to integrate them into the flock, mama will do it for you. And yes, third, you will save money. You won’t have to buy chicks. You won’t have to set up a brooder. Mama makes life much easier. And, you get new chickens added to your flock for pretty much free.
If you don’t have a rooster, check at your local feed store for local chicken people that will sell you some fertilized eggs. Usually locally, you can get fertilized eggs just for the regular cost of a dozen eggs (unlike buying them mail order and having them cost a TON).
- Buy pullets
While I love starting with chicks, buying older, teenage chickens is a better use of time and money. They will cost a bit more than a baby chick, but for the difference in how much you have to feed them to get them to this nearly grown state, you’ll save money. Plus, pullets are almost to egg laying age, so you will be saving your feed costs for animals that are laying or are nearly laying, instead of spending 6 months feeding and raising chicks. You’ll also save money on brooder costs and other costs related to having babies around (heat lamps, little waterers, their own feed, etc.)
- Watch for free hens
There are always free hens to be had if you pay attention. Check Craigslist or other online local market places. People have to move or get sick or get tired of having chickens and want to get rid of them. I have a friend who exclusively collects free hens for her flock and never buys any at all.
Keep Them Healthy
Healthy chickens lay more eggs, take less time and require less money. Being proactive with chicken health is a much better option than trying to deal with a sick chicken.
- Use apple cider vinegar in their water (and change water daily)
This is good for overall health and aids in keeping the flock healthy (and the chickens like it). You just need a bit–around a tablespoon per gallon of water added to the waterer 1-2 times per week (or one straight week in a row once per month). ACV also cuts down on the bacteria and other nasty stuff that wants to grow in the waterer.
- Use essential oils (with caution and in small doses) as needed for health
Using natural solutions to help in situations where they’re needed is less toxic and cheaper than other alternatives. Here’s a place to start if you haven’t used essential oils with your flock.
- Use food grade Diatomaceous Earth
Diatomaceous Earth (DE) is a natural product made up of crushed up fossils (find out more about it here including seven ways to use it). It kills bugs and parasites and is even known to increase egg production.
Change How You Clean the Coop
Another big cost with chickens is the bedding they need for their coop and nest boxes. But there are ways to save here, too.
- Use Deep Litter Method
You can save a ton of money (and time) on coop bedding if you use the deep litter method. If you’re not familiar with this method, it works like this: Spread a thin layer of bedding on the coop floor (4-5 inches) and every week or so, add another thin layer over the soiled parts (especially under the roost). Let it build up (hence the DEEP litter). What happens as you do this is that you’re starting your own compost of sorts in your coop. If you do it right (add a fresh thin layer of bedding regularly), is shouldn’t smell bad (unless you don’t have enough ventilation).
Besides saving money, there’s other good reasons for this method. In the coop composting environment, good bacteria builds up and bad bacteria is better kept under control. Also, as the hens peck around in the litter, it increases the vitamin B-12 levels and is anticoccidial.
AND! You have to buy a lot less bedding in the long run (as you’re not completely cleaning out and refilling your coop with bedding on a regular basis).
- Make your own DIY coop cleaning supplies
Don’t buy cleaning supplies for the coop (or even for your chickens!) Make your own natural solutions at a fraction of the cost (and with no toxicity)! Basic products like white vinegar and essential oils can make excellent cleaning alternatives (and are even good for things like fly control and other things)!
Anyone who has eaten a fresh backyard egg knows that the store bought alternative isn’t even close. As a result, fresh backyard eggs are in demand. During the summer, when my flock is heavy into their laying season, I make more money from those eggs than the hens cost me to take care of. If I had a bigger flock, I could sell even more. Everyone wants my eggs. The same is probably true EVERYWHERE. Even if you only have a small flock, chances are, you have a surplus of eggs and can sell them to family, friends and neighbors as a way to off-set chicken raising costs.
Rotate the Flock
If you’re serious about saving money, know that the first 2 years are the optimum years for a hen to lay eggs. After that, their production goes down some every year until it stops all together. What this means is that you’re feeding a hen $6-12 worth of food per month for little to no eggs in return.
So, what do you do with hens that are past their prime? If you’re like me, you let them retire and live the good life of a freeloader out in the coop. But this is NOT a cost effective way to run a flock.
The money saving solution is to remove them from the flock when their egg production slows down. To do this, you can cull them, eat them, sell them or give them away, but keeping them isn’t a way to save money.
With over 20 ideas on how to raise chickens without breaking the bank, you’re sure to find at least some solutions that work for you. In the end, you have to balance your money saving practices with who you are, how you tick and what you want in having a backyard flock. But with some simple tweaks, you can easily make those backyard eggs less expensive.