If you’re anything like us, you got yourself a flock of chickens for the free eggs and then found out you were spending way more money on your chickens than you ever did on store bought eggs.
Welcome to keeping chickens.
Lucky for all of us, there are ways to cut costs and save money when raising chickens.
Years of trial and error and crazy experiments taught us that there are many cheap or free alternatives to common poultry products. Although there are some products we couldn’t live without, we’ve found that most of the costs associated with raising poultry can be cut with some innovation and creativity.
Read on to find out how you, too, can save money raising chickens!
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Building the coop and run
Building a chicken coop is one of the most costly parts of raising chickens. Lumber is expensive, chicken wire is expensive, and hardware cloth? Through the roof! While it’s really tough to eliminate all of these costs of building a coop, there are ways to save.
Avoid Brand New Materials
First off, try to use secondhand materials as much as possible. Ask friends and family, or better yet, your social media network if anyone has supplies such as chicken wire sitting around that they’re looking to get rid of.
Search craigslist for cheap lumber, or keep your eyes peeled for people throwing out lumber from tearing down sheds, barns, or playsets. You can also put an ad up on craigslist offering your help in tearing down structures if you can have your pick of the resulting lumber.
There are also stores and non-profits that specialize in building supplies on the cheap. Check for a local Habitat for Humanity ReStore, this is a great place to get building materials.
Another option for saving money building the coop is to use a pre-existing building for the coop. We turned our pre-existing garden shed into a coop and built a run on to it. The whole project cost us only about $15 total because we managed to get all of the lumber and chicken wire for free by asking around.
I’ve also seen people turn kid’s play houses into coops, use free pallets to build a new coop, some people even turn old swing sets and trampolines into chicken runs! Utilizing what you already have on hand will save you lots of cash.
The Coop and Run Interior
Practically anything can be used for nesting boxes. We hung a couple of wooden milk crates on the inside of the coop and filled them with pine shavings. I’ve seen others use plastic buckets turned on their side, plastic bins with a hole cut out of the front, even setting a couple of old tires in the coop and filling them with straw will work.
Even with our nesting boxes, our chickens still prefer to lay their eggs in the nests they’ve made for themselves on the coop floor. Nesting boxes are more a convenience to you, the egg collector, than they are to the chicken, so you can make do with anything you have lying around the house that a chicken can comfortably fit into.
There are many things that can be used as roosts in the chicken coop. Large dowels and 2x4s are a popular choice for chicken keepers, but roosts don’t need to come from the hardware store.
Look around your home and yard for some items that can be used as roosts. Large branches work well, and can often be found in your own backyard, or on a drive around the neighborhood after a storm. Ladders can be also serve as roosts if you have a small enough flock. As long as two or more chickens can fit on each rung, they’ll be happy!
If you’re clever enough, you don’t have to buy materials for litter in the coop and run. Here in New York, our trees lose their leaves every autumn, and our neighbors conveniently bag them up and leave them by the side of the road for the trash companies to pick up. We grab as many as we can and save them to use in the compost and the chicken run.
They work best when they’re chopped up, because they’re more absorbent and can break down without clumping together.
You can also source other free materials from local companies. If you have a saw mill in your area, you may be able to pick up pine shavings for free or cheap. Look on craigslist and connect with local farmers for a free or cheap source of hay or straw.
The best trick we’ve found is to search the commercial areas in town in the weeks following Halloween. Retailers love to use bales of straw for Halloween and harvest decorations in autumn, and when they toss them out at the end of the season, you can snatch them up for free. Score!
Save Money on Chicken Feed
The more you let your birds out to free range, the less you have to feed them commercial food. While chickens are out scratching and pecking in the yard, they’re eating a whole hodge podge of nutritious foods. Chickens help themselves to grass, weeds, insects, and even small animals like lizards and mice. All of these help to give your chickens a wide range of nutrients, making them healthier, and making it cheaper to raise them.
Instead of throwing kitchen scraps and leftovers into the garbage, toss them to the birds! Feeding healthy kitchen scraps to the chickens helps you to dispose of them and saves you money. Check out our post on chicken treats for a full list of good and bad scraps for the birds.
Another great option to save money on chicken feed is to allow the flock access to your compost bin. It’s full of delicious insects, and they might even help you turn it over with their scratching!
For even more tips, check out our post: 10 Ways to Save Money on Chicken Feed
Keeping the Flock Warm
Heating the coop in winter can not only be dangerous, but extremely expensive. Instead, consider some free alternatives.
Make sure your coop has proper ventilation at the top, where the wall meets the ceiling. Poor ventilation is one of the biggest causes of frostbite in chickens during the winter due to excess moisture in the coop. Fill big gaps or holes in the walls and floor (except ventilation holes) with caulk before winter comes. Also, use the deep litter method to naturally produce heat in the coop and keep your flock healthy.
For more information, check out our post: 6 Tips for keeping chickens warm in winter
Expanding the flock
If you’re already raising chickens, you know how addicting they can be. The temptation to add new and different birds to the flock every year can be hard to resist, but boy can it get expensive!
If you have the option, hatching your own eggs can be a cheap way to add to your flock every year.
Does your flock include a rooster? If so, you have access to fertilized eggs. If one of your hens goes broody, you’re in luck! Just place some eggs under her and you’re on your way to new chicks.
Hens don’t always go broody in a timely manner, so if it’s not happening for you, there are other options. Look on craigslist or ask around in local chicken groups for an incubator to buy or borrow.
When we wanted to hatch some of our eggs, I asked in our local chicken group if anyone had an incubator we could borrow. One of the members gave hers to me for free and we’ve been hatching chicks in it ever since!
One last option is to look on craigslist or facebook groups for people looking to get rid of chickens. Sometimes you can find yourself some free or cheap chickens to add to your flock. Just make sure to properly quarantine them for a few weeks before introducing them to your flock. This will ensure they aren’t bringing in diseases or pests.
Getting rid of pests
Chickens tend to attract a whole myriad of pests. We’ve found several low cost and free ways to get rid of these pests over the years.
A few months after we moved the chickens into their coop, rodents started coming around because of the bounty of free chicken food we were leaving out for them. We were losing money feeding those little monsters and we were losing money buying rat traps to kill them.
Although the traps worked wonders, and we were catching 3-5 per night, more rodents would just replace them in what felt like a never ending cycle. We had the choice to either buy more traps and start an all-out war, or find another solution. Our pocketbooks were happy we went with option two.
We finally realized if we stopped feeding them, they would find somewhere else to go. It was as simple as taking the chicken feeders inside every night before lock up and being adamant about collecting eggs in a timely manner. Just like that, they all disappeared.
If you’re having problems with rodents, you’ll love our post: The definitive guide to getting rid of rats in the chicken coop
Last spring I found a few lice here and there on our chicken’s bums. Hours of research told me the best thing to do was to buy food grade DE and sprinkle it all over the coop, run, and dust every bird with it for several weeks. This stuff is expensive and I would have had to buy several bags of it for this operation.
Instead, I continued my research and found out that wood ash, the simple left overs from a campfire, could be dusted on the birds to kill off the lice. We added (cooled) wood ash to the chickens dust bath spot and dusted them with the ash once every week for a month. By the end of the month the lice were gone and we’d saved $50.
Raising chickens can be expensive, but only if you let it. A little creativity goes a long way, and you can happily raise chickens on the “cheep” all year round!
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