How much do chickens cost? The economics of keeping chickens

Do chickens save you money?

With rising petrol prices and a soaring cost of living, it is no wonder that many Australians are looking to reduce their living costs by producing more of their own food. COVID-19 also saw unprecedented interest in gardening and chickens as a result of the supply chain issues and food shortages.

A great way to decrease the cost of living is to produce more of your own food. This may mean pots of herbs or a vegetable patch, but what about backyard chickens? After all, eggs are a staple food. 

But how much does it cost to have chickens Australia? Do backyard chickens really save you money? Economically, are chickens a worthwhile investment?

The question "Do chickens save you money?" is complicated. The answer depends a lot on your choices as a chicken keeper.

We have used 2022 prices and considering the diverse circumstances of backyard chicken keepers in Australia in constructing this article.

Table of Contents:

  1. The cost of setting up a chicken coop
  2. How much chickens cost to buy at different ages 
  3. The cost of keeping chickens healthy and fed on a day-to-day basis
  4. A cost-benefit analysis of backyard chickens to look at profits and savings
  5. How to make sure your flock earns its keep

How much does it cost to get backyard chickens

New hobbies can be expensive. And especially if you are tempted to provide your potential flock with a palatial coop modelled on a French chalet and all of the cutest accessories. But  cute coops are often poorly built and most feeders and drinkers will only last a few years at best. 

The good news is, if you want to save money, chickens can cost as little as the price of the birds themselves. Even if you need to buy a coop, feeder and drinker, there is no reason why setting up a chicken coop needs to cost more than a few hundred dollars.

The cost of setting up a backyard chicken coop

To set up a backyard chicken coop, there are a bunch of one-off purchases that need to be made (or built for the DIY-ers out there). But initial costs are not as straight forward as they sound - a cheap feeder that wastes feed or only lasts a year will be more expensive than a hardy, well-designed feeder with a higher initial cost. As with everything, cheap options often cost you more in the long run. We have compared the options so that you can ensure your one-off start up costs are just that, one-offs. 

What do you need to get chickens?

At a bare minimum, to keep chickens you need a chicken coop. But we would recommend that all new chicken keepers start out with:

  • predator-proof chicken coop that has nest boxes, roosts and enough space for your chickens
  • A chicken feeder
  • A chicken waterer
  • And chickens, of course!

Depending on your circumstances, you may also need fencing or a chicken run.

However, if you invest wisely, all of these things are one-off costs and shouldn’t require replacement or repairs for a good many years, if ever!

Chicken coop costs

The cost of setting up a new chicken coop will vary greatly depending on your circumstances (Do you have a building you can repurpose?), your practical skills (Can you build a coop yourself?) and the materials you have access to (What is lying around or can be had for free?).

The cost of a chicken coop will also depend on how big it is and if you include any special features such as nesting boxes accessible from the outside or an automatic door.

The average costs of a chicken coop

DIY from repurposed or scavenged materials: $0-200

DIY with new materials: $250-500

Pre-made coops: $60-3000

Ways to make sure it's a one-time purchase

Ensure your coop is predator- and rodent-proof from the outset, so you don’t have to retro-fit it after losing your chickens to a predator. 

Buy or build a slightly larger pen than you think you need, as flocks have a tendency to expand. You can  read our article about Chicken Coop Size here.

Cheapest isn’t necessarily best, particularly with pre-made coops. If buying a coop choose  good quality metal or hardwood. Many of the pretty coops sold online and in pet stores are made of softwoods, like treated pine or cedar, which rot within a year or so and have to be replaced. 

Budget options

Chicken coops can be free if you have the skills to make one yourself from repurposed, recycled or donated materials. 

Some great DIY chicken coop hacks include:

  • Repurposing dog houses, cubbies, garden sheds and bird cages
  • Using old pallets, which can be had for free, as building material
  • Making a coop out of a table, if you only have a few chooks and don't have the skills to build a frame
  • Combing road-side throw outs and salvage yards for materials

My current chicken coop cost $20 to build because I had to buy roofing screws. Everything else I either had (e.g. left over roofing, ply and screws), could scrounge (timber pallets, melamine siding and exterior paint) or repurposed (beams from a greenhouse and part of a sliding glass door). It's not my forever coop, but it is cosy and predator-proof.

Free chicken coops are often advertised online, if you can remove them. These coops tend to be poorly made and in need of repairs, but you can't beat the price. Second-hand coops should always be  disinfected to avoid spreading disease to your flock.

Chicken Feeder costs

When buying a chicken feeder, reducing feed waste and choosing something that will last are the most important considerations. 

Average cost of a Chicken Feeder

Between $10 and $220.

Ways to make sure it's a one-time purchase

Chicken feeders can be had for as little as $10. But the cost of wasted chicken feed from a poorly-made feeder will quickly overtake any savings.

Buy a  feeder that is designed to reduce food waste and prevent raking or scratching.

Cheap plastic that hasn't been UV treated will disintegrate in a year or two. Metal feeders with moving parts will eventually seize up and rust in our climate. 

Choose a feeder with a long-term warranty that is made of UV treated, high-quality materials and has minimal moving parts. We're biased, but we don't think you can beat a  Dine a Chook! Our original model Feeders are still going after 20 years in the chicken coop!

Budget options

The cheapest feeder options are recycled ice cream containers (plastic ones) or no feeder at all (throwing feed out on the grass or coop floor). But both of these choices actually cost you more money in the long run.

Feeding chickens on the floor is a problem because:

  • Chickens pick up parasites and diseases more easily, leading to vet bills and decreased egg production
  • Birds don't have free access to food, which means those lower-down in the pecking order will not get enough for optimum health or productivity
  • Feed will become contaminated with droppings
  • Left over feed will attract rodents and pest birds, which also bring disease

Using a dish to feed chickens may save money on a feeder, but chickens will scratch feed onto the flood resulting in wasted feed and wasted money, not to mention contamination, disease and pests.

Chicken Waterer Costs

Similar to feeders, the cheapest chicken waterers can often end up costing more in the long-run.

Average cost of a Chicken Waterer

Between $5 and $180.

Ways to make sure it's a one-time purchase

Choose a drinker made of high-quality materials that is built to last. Avoid metal (it rusts) and ensure plastic drinkers are UV treated. 

Avoid clear or transparent drinker materials as sunlight encourages algae and mould growth, which cause health issues and can ruin a chicken drinker.

Cup and Nipple drinker outlets should be cleaned thoroughly, as per the manufacturers instructions, 4 times a year at least and more often if you are using hard water or water with a lot of sediment.

We recommend a  Dine a Chook.

Budget options

The cheapest option for a chicken drinker is an ice cream container or bucket cut in half. But there are hidden costs caused by damp litter and contaminated water, including more time spent cleaning and chicken health issues. 

Fencing and chicken runs

The only other start-up cost that you need to consider for keeping chickens is fencing. You may need to fence your yard or you might need a chicken run, which is a fenced outdoor area for your chickens to roam freely.

Do I need a chicken run or yard?

Whether you need a run or yard depends on your circumstances. Chickens shouldn't be kept just in a coop, even with lots of attention, so you will either need to let them free-range, or you will need some sort of fence or run.

In areas with close neighbours, you will probably need a fence or run, unless your neighbours are happy to have chickens roaming their yard. 

And even without neighbours, you may wish to confine your chickens some or all of the time. They can make a real mess of gardens and yards, so it is often good to fence them into one area or out of others.

If you have yard that is already fenced, you may not need any fencing. Or perhaps you will just need to chicken-proof your existing fence.

How much does a run or fence cost?

Chicken-proofing an existing fence is cheaper than building a new one. And, of course, you can always cut costs with posts from salvage yards etc.

Basic fence costs are:

  • Chicken wire - $2.50-5 per metre
  • Posts (star pickets) - $7-18 each

Electric poultry fencing is a great option if you want to move your fence around or are renting. A complete set-up with fencing and a solar energiser is around $600, which is a massive increase to costs but may be worthwhile in some circumstances.

How much do chickens cost?

Like everything, the choices you make as a chicken keeper are going to have a massive impact on the cost of establishing a flock. 

If you are really interested in savings, when considering the cost of chickens, you need to consider:

  • The initial price
  • Any special needs (e.g. a brooder)
  • Long-term egg production
  • The cost of raising the chickens to point-of-lay (egg production)

The cost of different age chickens

When considering  what age chicken to buy, it is important to look at your circumstances. 

Sometimes the cheapest option isn't the most suitable or it may have hidden costs due to the special requirements of the age group.

Readily available breeds are much cheaper than rare breeds. Cost also varies with age, due to the time and money invested in raising them. The  quality of hatchery or breeder may also influence price and long-term productivity.

Hybrids and common breeds Heritage and rare breeds Special requirements Productivity
Eggs
Depending on the source, a hatch rate of 35-50% is not uncommon. Half will be roosters.
$1-5 per egg $3-15 per egg Incubator> (upwards of $100) or broody hen (free)
Brooder for new chicks (see below).
Good lifetime of laying from 18-24 weeks
Day-old chicks
Price may be influenced by whether chicks are vaccinated or sexed.
$4-35 per chick $4-50 per chick Brooder ($0-500, depending on your set-up) Good lifetime of laying from 18-24 weeks
Pullets
12-16 weeks old.
$9-30 per bird $10-40 per bird Separate cage, if adding to an established flock ($0-300, depending) Good lifetime of laying from 18-24 weeks
Point-of-lay
Price varies widely depending on vaccination status and source.
$30-85 per hen $40-100 per hen None Good lifetime of laying starting within a few weeks of purchase
Adult birds
Price varies significantly depending on age. Some people give away chickens, whereas productive adults from a breeder will cost a premium.
$0-70 per hen $25-100+ per hen None Usually laying on purchase but long-term productivity depends on age and past treatment.
Adoption
Laying hens culled from commercial operations, usually hybrid laying breeds (e.g. ISA Brown) around 2 years old
Pastured and free-range hens are healthier than ex-battery hens.
Around $20 NA Many hens from commercial operations also have health issues, which may require veterinary care. Healthy hens will usually continue to lay for several more years. Productivity is less than in similar-aged birds from most backyard flocks. Peak productivity and fertility (1-2 years) is past.
Sexed and unsexed chickens

Chickens are available sexed, which means you know whether they are male or female, or unsexed. There is a small margin of error with sexed chicks, but breeders will often replace "mistakes" free-of-charge.

Eggs are always unsexed, and adult birds are always sexed. 

Day-old chicks and pullets are available sexed and unsexed. Sexed birds are more expensive because an expert has to sex them and the breeder has to do something with the males. But if you get unsexed birds, you may end up with 50 % roosters, or more! 

If you plan to eat any roosters, unsexed birds are fine. If you will not be eating excess roosters, we recommend sexed birds. The higher initial cost will be more than covered in feed saved by not raising roosters you will eventually have to give away. Almost no one pays for roosters and they can be difficult to rehome.

The cost of raising chickens to point-of-lay: Are chicks or pullets cheaper?

Whether it is more economical to raise your own chickens depends on what you do with roosters and the cost of adult birds of the breed you've chosen. 

The reason older birds cost more is two-fold: first, someone has paid to raise them to that age, including incubation and brooder costs as well as feed; secondly, older birds are sexed, so someone has also dealt with the problem of the roosters.

To reach point-of-lay, a chick will consume $12-25 of feed (7-15 kg of feed, depending on breed, at $1.70/kg of chick starter). 

So a $3 fertilised egg with a 50% hatch rate plus roosters, in a large breed consuming $20 of feed to point-of-lay, is actually more expensive than a $25 point-of-lay hen of the same breed, unless you are also eating the roosters. And that is not including any set-up costs or electricity costs for the incubator and brooder.

There are a lot of reasons to raise your own chickens. But from a purely economic point of view, unless you have the economics of scale on your size, are seeking rare breeds, are already set up or will sell chicks/birds, it is probably more economical to buy older birds than raise them yourself.

The true cost of keeping chickens in Australia

The cost of keeping chickens is something many chicken keepers don’t calculate, because they know that their feathered friends have benefits that money can't buy. 

But if you’re considering chickens for purely economic reasons, you need to know how much chickens cost to keep. It's a complicated calculation because every chicken, and every chicken keeper, is different. And these differences will influence the cost of keeping chooks.

These calculations are based on the day-to-day costs of keeping chooks in an already established coop.

Day-to-day chicken keeping costs

On a daily basis, chickens need feed, water (assumed to be free), bedding and grit. They also need regular deworming and treatment for parasites like lice and mites. Depending on your chicken keeping approach, there may also be incidental costs such as vet fees and treats. 

The cost of chicken feed

Depending on the breed, chickens eat on average 100-120 grams of feed per day. 

This is about 17-20 cents of feed per day or $62-73 per year, based on an average feed cost of $1.70/kg.

Saving money on chicken feed

Chickens should be given free access to feed and layer feed should make up the majority of their diet. 

Providing limited amounts of feed and supplementing feed with scraps or other grains to save money will decrease the productivity of your birds and also tends to lead to deficiencies and health problems, which have their own costs. High-protein forages such as moringa, pigeon pea, lucerne and insects can decrease feed consumption somewhat without detriment to health and productivity, but only when fed in small amounts.

Choosing cheaper feeds like scratch mixes or lower-protein feeds will also increase deficiencies and health problems, and decrease production. Scratch mixes also encourage selective feeding, which increases waste. 

The best way to save money on chicken feed is to prevent feed waste. This means choosing a pellet or mash, ensuring feed is safe from pests like rodents and wild birds, protecting feed from wet weather and stopping chickens from scratching feed onto the floor.

Because of the economies of scale, it is usually cheaper to buy a commercial layer feed than to try to mix your own. There are also  inherent dangers in making your own chicken feed, even if it does turn out cheaper.

The cost of chicken bedding

There are two types of chicken bedding: nesting material and litter for the chicken coop floor. 

Nesting material should be cosy and soft, such as straw, dried grass or shredded paper. Floor litter can be the same material or something coarser, like dried leaves or wood chip.

Chicken bedding can be free, e.g. shredded paper, dry leaves, dry lawn clippings, wood chip. 

Or you can  buy bedding for between $10 and $30 per bale or bag, which may last a long time depending on the size of your coop and how the bedding is used.

Sand can also be used as floor litter and if cleaned regularly a single load can last for many years.

Saving money on chicken bedding

Skimping on cleaning bedding so that it will last longer can have dire health consequences for your chickens, from parasites and disease to respiratory illnesses. Keeping a clean coop makes up for any increased bedding costs in the health and productivity of your chickens. 

Chicken bedding will last longer if you  install a droppings board under your roosts, spot-clean regularly and prevent chickens from sleeping in the nesting boxes.

Grass, dry leaves and lawn clippings are fine to use for bedding, but must be thoroughly dried first. Damp or fresh grass will become mouldy, which can cause health issues. 

Avoid poorly made drinkers, which spill water and lead to wet bedding. 

Some chicken keepers with dirt- or concrete-floored coops don't use litter and just shovel or hose out the coop instead. This is not advised for cool climates and for good hygiene, the coop would have to be cleaned every day or so. This method works best with a small flock that only goes into the coop to roost.

The cost of grit

Grit costs $1-17/kg.

Chickens should be given free access to grit and it should always be separate to feed.

The amount of grit chickens consume will depend on their diet, whether they free range and their level of productivity. A kilo of grit will usually last a year or more in an average-size flock of backyard chickens.

Saving money on grit

Free range chickens will generally get most of the hard grit that they need for digestion from foraging. However, they still need  shell grit to provide additional calcium in their diet. Ground up egg shells are fine as a supplement but are not a sufficient replacement for shell grit. Nor is dairy.

You can save money on grit by keeping it in a hopper where it can't be scratched or raked out, or contaminated with faeces. 

The cost of essential chicken medicines

Dewormer is the only essential chicken medicine for most flocks, although it is also recommended that your treat your chickens and/or the coop for parasites such as lice and mites. 

Dewormers cost 10-30 c per dose, depending on the size of your chickens, and should be used twice per year.

Parasites can be treated with a chicken-specific pesticide such as  David Gray's Poultry Dust, at around $50/kg, with 1 kg treating an average-sized flock and coop multiple times. Some chicken keepers use Diatomaceous Earth, which costs $5-20/kg.

Saving money on chicken medicines

There is no way to avoid deworming your chickens. If your birds forage at all or have any contact with wild birds or rodents, worms are unavoidable. And while intestinal worms rarely cause visible illness, they decrease overall productivity, contribute to disease and decrease feed conversion. Some chicken keepers swear by ACV or pumpkin seeds to keep their flock worm-free, but the only proven way to worm your chickens is with a chemical dewormer.

Incidental chicken keeping costs

Chooks that are healthy, free-range, wormed regularly and are not overstocked or kept in poor conditions, don’t often need medications or a vet visit. This is particularly true of hardy heritage breeds. 

But as a chicken keeper, you need to be prepared to pay for medicines, such as coccidiostats, if needed or risk losing your flock. 

You should also think carefully about whether you are willing to pay for a vet for your chickens. It is irresponsible to withhold medical treatment if a bird is suffering, and home "treatments" can be cruel if unproven or delivered by unskilled hands. If you don't plan to pay for a vet, ensure you have a plan for humane euthanasia. You probably won't need it, but a responsible chicken keeper needs to think about it.

Flock replenishment

Another factor that few new chicken keepers take into account is flock replenishment. 

Chickens only live for 3-10 years and egg productivity declines after 2-5 years, depending on breed and other circumstances. So another chicken keeping cost is replenishing your flock. 

Chicken breed and health, as well as whether you cull old or unproductive birds, will influence how often you need to replenish numbers to maintain the desired level of egg production.

How you choose to replenish your flock will influence how much this costs, but the outlay is the same as for buying chickens (see above). 

Alternatively, if you keep a rooster, you will potentially have self-replenishing flock. However, there are a few factors to keep in mind:

  • If you are breeding, your rooster should be unrelated to your hens
  • Not all chickens or chicken breeds make good sitters or mothers
  • There are some costs involved: if using a hen, you need a separate pen for the mother and babies, or alternatively you will need an incubator and brooder 
  • Allowing hens to set eggs will decrease egg production in your flock as sitting hens do not lay
  • For most breeds, you will be raising 50 % roosters until they are recognisable, so the cost of raising each viable hen is actually double and you need a plan for the excess roosters

A rooster will cost the same as a hen to feed, $62-73 per year.  Roosters do produce benefits beyond chicks, but if you are only hatching one clutch per year it may be more economical to buy fertilised eggs and set them under one of your broodies.

Do chickens save you money? A cost-benefit analysis

Overall, keeping chickens has the potential to save money and decrease the weekly grocery bill. 

However, your choices as a chicken keeper have a big influence on just how profitable chickens might be for you. 

The following factors have a large influence on whether chickens save you money:

  1. How much did you spend setting up your chicken coop and flock?
  2. What type of chickens are you keeping? Rarer breeds are more expensive and some breeds are more productive than others.
  3. How are you raising your flock? Are you incubating eggs, using broody chooks or buying replacement birds, and if so, at what age?
  4. Are you buying organic feed or giving your birds lots of treats?
  5. Are you culling birds after peak production or allowing them to live out their lives naturally?
  6. If you are raising birds from chicks or unsexed day-olds, are you eating the roosters or giving them away?

Costs of chickens

As you have seen, there are many costs to chicken keeping. The highest costs are in setting up your coop, while day-to-day chicken keeping costs are relatively low. Cost varies widely depending on the choices you make as a chicken keeper. 

To summarise, the costs of keeping chickens are:

Budget Average Going all out
Start-up costs Coop $0-50 $250-300 $1000+
Feeder $0 $10-60 $100-200 (automatic dispenser)
Drinker $0 $10-80 $100-200
Flock (6 birds) $0-30 $50-200 $200-500
Fencing $0 $100-200 $500+
Day-to-day costs (flock of 6 birds) Feed (per month) $20 $38 $50+
Bedding (per month) $0 $12 $30+
Grit (per month) $1 $5 $20
Essential medicine (per year) $5 $10 $30
Incidentals $0 $20 $100+
Flock replenishment (at 2.5 years) 4 replacement hens $0 (you have a rooster) $50-150 $200+

So setting up to keep chickens, including a flock, can be free and costs under $500 on average. Set-up costs can be covered by egg production very quickly, if they are minimal.

Day-to-day chicken keeping costs for 6 hens can be as little as $22 per month but are usually in the $40-50 range. For many common chicken breeds, egg production over the first couple of years will easily cover day-to-day costs such as feed.  

Benefits of chickens

Chickens provide their keepers with many benefits in terms of savings in the weekly grocery bill, as well as benefits that don't have a dollar-value but matter just the same. For many chicken keepers, the intangible benefits are so important that economic value is really an afterthought. 

Economic benefits of keeping chickens

There are a few different ways that chickens can provide a calculable profit for chicken keepers:

Potential economic value (at 2022 market prices)
Eggs Free-range eggs = $6/dozen
Pastured eggs = $10/dozen
Organic free-range eggs = $10/dozen
Meat Free-range = $12/bird
Organic, commercial = $31/bird
Pasture-raised, small-scale = $50/bird
Birds Fertilised eggs = $1-15, depending on breed
Chicks = $4-50, depending on breed
Pullets = $9-40, depending on breed
Hens = $30-100, depending on breed

However, economic value produced by chickens varies depending on:

  • Breed and genetics
  • Diet and nutrition
  • Breeder reputation

Egg production is also influenced by the age of the hen and lighting (mostly in areas with dark winters).

Intangible benefits of chickens

When looking at profit and loss, we mostly focus on the economics of chicken keeping. But any chicken keeper will tell you, there are many intangible benefits to keeping chickens too! 

  • Upcycling kitchen and garden waste into fresh food, and keeping it out of landfill
  • The joy and satisfaction that comes from producing your own food
  • Access to food that is more nutritious and delicious than what you can buy
  • Knowing exactly what goes into the food you eat 
  • Not having to worry about the welfare of the animals that produce your food
  • Chemical-free, sustainable fertiliser for the garden
  • Pest-control, soil tillage and weed management
  • Being able to provide your birds with long, happy lives that are not available to 99% of commercially-farmed chickens

Many chicken keepers see their birds as pets. Chickens make great pets - they have their own personalities and can provide hours of amusement. They are more economical than traditional pets like cats and dogs, and they can teach kids all sorts of important life lessons about responsibility and patience.

Studies have also found that chickens strengthen social relationships and build community. Chicken keepers experience many of the benefits associated with pet ownership more generally, including greater happiness and better health.

Cost-benefit analysis: chickens

There are three main factors that influence whether chickens will save you money:

1. What do you do with unproductive or older hens?

Chickens lay the most eggs in their first 12-24 months of laying. After that egg production decreases, although eggs do become bigger. Egg shell quality also decreases in older hens, which may lead to more cracks and breakages.

Commercial egg producers usually cull chickens at 2.5-3 years old. Larger size eggs and poor shell quality cause problems in commercial set-ups that aren't an issue in backyard coops. But the numbers show that for the modern hybrid breeds used in commercial operations, chickens consume more feed than value they produce after 2-3 years. 

Whether you choose to cull unproductive hens, particularly older hens, has a big influence on whether chickens will save you money.

During peak production, most chickens easily earn their keep. But as hens age and lay less, they may no longer cover their feed costs through egg production. So if you plan to keep your chickens into old age, as an exchange for the eggs and other benefits they provide, this will affect your economic bottom line.

However, the breed you choose to keep, as well as living conditions, will influence how productive hens are in old age.

2. What type of chickens do you keep?

Different chicken breeds have different characteristics, including how productively they lay eggs. Egg-laying chicken breeds can generally be divided into two main types: modern hybrids and heritage breeds.

Modern hybrid chicken breeds, such as ISA Browns and Hylines, have been developed specifically for egg production in a commercial setting. They can produce up to 350 eggs per year but need perfect nutrition and often a specialised lighting program to achieve this level of productivity. In backyard settings, they will usually produce 300-350 eggs per year. This intensive level of production depletes the birds' physical resources, so they tend to lay quite poorly after 2-3 years and have more health issues. Their life expectancy is usually between 3 and 5 years.

Heritage breed chickens are traditional breeds like Australorps, Leghorns, Sussex etc. There is wide variation in the number of eggs produced by heritage breeds: some breeds produce as little as an egg a week, while others may lay 250-300 eggs per year. The heritage breeds tend not to lay quite as well as hybrids, but they lay reliably for a much longer period of time, often for 4-5 years. They have a much longer life expectancy than hybrids. 

Another consideration is the size of breed. Many heritage layers are larger-bodied birds than the hybrids, because they originated as egg and table birds. These heavier breeds tend to eat more, but also produce larger eggs. Some heritage breeds are also known as particularly good foragers, which may reduce feed costs a tiny bit if they are allowed to free-range.

Hybrid chickens versus heritage breeds: cost comparison

Specific breeds as well as overall health will influence the productivity of different chickens. But on average, heritage and hybrid chickens perform very differently. Heritage breeds produce less intensively but have a longer laying life than most hybrids. So which is the more economical choice? As always, it depends.


Hybrid layers Heritage breeds
Eggs per year 300-350 150-300, depending on breed
Peak productivity 20-100 weeks 26-150 weeks
Laying life 16-150 weeks 22-260 weeks
Life expectancy 3-4 years 5-10 years
Value of eggs over lifetime
Based on free-range commercial eggs at $6 per dozen
900 eggs = $450 600-1200 eggs = $300-600
Feed costs over lifetime
Based on layer feed at $1.70/kg and feed consumption at 120 g/day
$223-297 $372-744

So once feed costs are covered, an ISA Brown could produce $150-200 value over it's lifetime, while a short-lived but highly productive heritage hen could produce over $200 value.

However a long-lived hybrid layer or a less productive heritage breed, particularly one that is very long-lived, might consume more feed than eggs produced by dollar value.

It is also important to note that not all hybrids or heritage breeds have the same characteristics. There are many factors that influence egg production and feed conversion, from environment and diet through to individual genetics.

3. How much did you spend setting up your chicken coop?

To make a profit from chickens, first you need to cover your set-up costs. If you spend a lot setting up your coop and flock, it can take many years to make up this initial investment on top of covering day-to-day costs.

In terms of set up, there is certainly an economy of scale. A coop and fence will cost a similar amount regardless of size, so if you plan to have a larger flock a greater investment will make more sense and be easier to recoup.

Advice: Do chickens save you money in Australia?

There is definitely the potential to save money by keeping chickens, depending on how you run your set up. At a minimum, you are likely to cover your feed costs in the money saved on eggs.

Our advice for saving money by keeping chickens is:

  • Spend as little as possible on your coop but get something that lasts. If you like keeping chickens, you will probably upgrade later regardless of your initial outlay and the first coop often serves as a suitable quarantine pen or chick brooder.
  • Point-of-lay hens are often the cheapest option for starting a flock.
  • Consider egg production when choosing a chicken breed.
  • Skimping on quality feed and deworming will decrease egg production.
  • If you are not culling birds, stay away from very long-lived breeds (9-10 years)
  • Keeping a rooster may not be the most economical option, depending on how many chicks you raise per year.
  • Hatching eggs may not be economical either, depending on what you do with excess roosters.
  • If buying chicks or pullets, choose sexed birds unless you plan to eat the roosters.

We love our chooks, and know that many of our customers get so much enjoyment from their own flocks. There is so much more to chicken keeping than the bare-bones economics. We may be slightly biased, but we believe that chickens give much more than they cost in a whole range of ways.

Notes:

All pricing is based on 2022 prices from general retailers (local hardwares and produce stores). Obviously second-hand goods, sale items and bulk pricing will differ from the estimates given here.

Information provided and advice given is general in nature. It may not be applicable to your individual circumstances. The choices of the individual chicken keeper will have a larger influence on outcomes than anything discussed here.