Despite constantly hearing people say they want to get chickens so they can save money on eggs and meat, the reality is that unless you already have all of the supplies... you've got to be rich to start up in chickens. Even avoiding name brands, pre-made things, and going with local feed store prices. You won't be saving any money having a small backyard flock!
So far I've priced out the cost for just the brooding time, when new chicks are kept indoors under lights until they're big enough to be outside. A big plastic tote, waterer, feeder, chick starter food, a lamp with a red bulb, one bag of pine bedding, and some grit. That alone comes to just over $50. That's not bad, and I can get it all locally. But let's go from there...
A chicken coop, if you buy one pre-made, will run anywhere from $220-$600+ depending on the design you want. So I figured we could make one ourselves to save money right? I looked up the plans to build a chick-shaw style coop (that can be moved for pasture raised birds) last night. The very first material I looked up came to over $100 alone... for just one of the page full of supplies needed to make it! I admit, I didn't look up the rest of the materials after that. I was just too discouraged. I did finish pricing it all out this morning though, and it breaks down like this... I can get most of the supplies at the home improvement store Tony works for, some things are special order, but for the things I can buy locally the total for this project (just the chick-shaw) would be $449.53 (plus tax). In addition, I would have to go online to order the tires ($122.47 with postage), the milk crates ($75.99), and the floor wiring (26.99), and I still can't seem to find anywhere that sells the piece needed for the handle. So that comes to $674.98 before tax and I still would be missing one piece.
This morning I looked up the price for electric poultry netting, which is something you'll need when you're carting your chickens around the property to different areas. That's available from a local hatchery for $157 for 164 feet, but then you also have to buy the $167 "energizer" to power the netting. That's $324 in fencing costs up front. Add in a couple extention cords to be able to reach the furthest portions of the farm (or pay the $335 for the solar net "energizer" instead).
And we haven't even calculated the cost to actually buy any baby chickens yet!! That's right - for just the set up with no animals we're already up to $1048.98 plus taxes and the cost of a handle and some extension cords. Unbelievable!
So the cost of birds you ask? Well, we want a small flock, but hatcheries have a 25 chick minimum, which means ordering more than we actually want... And being beginners, I anticipate a pretty high margin of error, and I don't think all the chicks will make it to adulthood. So just to throw some numbers out there, Buff Orpington hen chicks are $4.45 each, Dominique hen chicks are $4.70 each, Light Brahma chicks are $4.70 for girls and $2.85 for boys if you want a big rooster to defend the flock. Or you could pay the $13.20 for a single Roman Tufted gosling, which are supposed to be excellent chicken protectors. As long as there's a required minimum, we could fill in the gaps with a couple $6.20 guinea keets that will eat bugs and rodents and snakes supposedly, or some assorted runner ducks for $5.70 each since they're supposed to be good at foraging without ruining gardens and lay eggs too. We could round out the order with some White Rock male chicks for $2.95 each for meat production. We could go with the Bantam Silkie assortment for $3.40 per bird and gamble on genders. Oh, but then it turns out the chick minimum is per type... so if you order chickens you have to have at least 25, and if you order goslings, you have to meet the minimum, you can't buy less than 15 ducklings, and want a guinea fowl, there's a minimum for that too... I did email the hatchery to ask if we could just pick up in person (they're only about a 40 minute drive from us). I mean, if the prices include shipping, perhaps we could get a discount and not have a minimum if we came in person? Of course I asked before I calculated the rest of the prices. That means if we skip ducks, geese, and guineas, and just get the chickens... If we went for a dozen hens and a nice big rooster for our flock, and we filled space for the rest of the order with cheap meat roosters, that still puts our total hovering around the $100 mark. (edited to add: The hatchery emailed back, they do not allow people to pick up chicks, they must be shipped).
And if you have to process chickens, you have to have equipment to do that too... A killing cone runs $20 at the local feed store, and it's $489.99 for a plucker. I did find a "processor" listed near the new property, but the address appears to be a home out in the middle of nowhere, so I'm not sure how much I'd trust that... Or how much it would cost to have them kill and process the chickens.
Regular upkeep costs will include the layer feed ($12 per 50# bag), grit ($8 per 50# bag), and regular maintenance costs for repairing and replacing parts when things stop working or get broken. Upkeep isn't bad, but start up is one heck of a mountain to climb!
Now imagine, $1200 in to an experiment we don't even know if we will like... How many years would it take of eating eggs, buying-raising-killing chickens for meat, to make this a cost effective experience? It's not looking promising for us to have chickens at this point.