How to Raise Chickens Cheaply

Raising chickens is a great pastime — but it can be an expensive one. Starting a chicken flock, whether for food or for fun, comes with start-up and maintenance costs. Chickens, however, are more economical to purchase for pets or as food-producing livestock than most other animals.

It is possible to raise chickens on the cheap, unless you're looking for expensive rare breeds. Most people can start a small flock (4 to 25 chickens) for less than $50. Regardless of whether you're starting with 4 or 25, use the following tips to keep costs down when purchasing your flock:

  • If you’re mail-ordering chicks and need fewer than the minimum number you’re required to order, try to find someone to share an order with you. Some feed stores allow people to order chicks in small numbers, and they combine those orders to meet the minimums.

  • If you want laying hens, order a few pullet chicks and then fill the rest of the box with meat-type chicks to obtain the minimum quantity. Raise all the birds together, butchering the meat birds before they take up too much space in your housing. You’ll want to buy pullets that are a different color than your broiler birds, so you don’t get them confused.

  • For meat birds, many people will order only cockerels because they grow faster and larger than pullets. Cockerels can also be cheaper than pullets in some breeds, but in the broiler strains they often cost more. So when ordering Rock-Cornish hybrid chicks, ordering them “as-hatched,” which means chicks whose sex hasn’t been determined, will generally save you money, and in these chicks, both sexes grow equally well.

  • Although some people still butcher a few chickens at a time as the need arises, it makes better economic sense to butcher chickens in batches. You use the same amount of electricity for the brooder, have to buy bedding and feed and so on, so raising 10 to 25 chicks at a time is not much more expensive than raising 2 or 3 meat birds.

  • When ordering chicks by mail, try to order from a hatchery close to you. The closer the hatchery, the less the shipping costs will be.

  • Day-old chicks are the most economical way to buy chickens. After the expense of purchasing an incubator, running it, and generally only having half of the eggs actually hatch a chick, chicks come out ahead in cost savings.

  • Pay to have chicks vaccinated at the hatchery; it's cheaper for them to do it than for you to buy vaccines or pay a vet.

  • Buy adult birds in the fall because young birds have just finished growing and people are selling their excess young birds. People are also thinking about winter feed costs, so the birds will be less expensive in the fall than in spring when supply is low and demand is high for older birds.

  • When purchasing adult hens for egg-laying, do some cost-comparison shopping and be wary of people selling hens at low prices. Old hens that have quit laying eggs are hard to distinguish from young hens.

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