Owning Chickens: Are They Really Worth It?

We bought 90 laying hens and 150 meat birds at the beginning of the pandemic. Owning chickens has been a learning experience. This post weighs the good and the bad of owning chickens. My hope is that it will help you decide if chickens are the right animal for you.

Chickens cost between $3-$5 if you get them as baby chicks. There are infrastructure costs and ongoing feed costs involved (both of which vary), but they can be minimized. The benefits of owning chickens are numerus. They give you eggs, they help with soil health, they are fantastic nitrogen fixers, and they are a great protein source. Chickens are also fairly easy to take care of. Chickens are also messy, stubborn, and sometimes aren’t the brightest. My overall experience with chickens has led me to believe that they are worth it. As someone who is looking for ways to be self reliant, chickens have been very valuable.

The Cost Of Owning Chickens

Baby chicks are what most people start with. You can buy baby chicks for $3-$5. Equipment and necessities like feeders, waterers, coop, brooder, food, water, and grit varies greatly, but the cost can add up fast. If you are trying to raise your birds organic, your feed prices raise substantially. Depending on if you’re buying a brooder and coop or making one can change your cost, as can deciding how high tech you want your feeding and watering system to be.

There will always be a significant upfront cost to owning chickens. To a certain extent, you can control that cost. There are a lot of ways you can make owning chickens cheaper. Some include:

  1. Feeding them off the land, food scrap, and/or feed you grow yourself.
  2. Using cheap (and already owned) materials to build your own brooder and coop.
  3. CLOSING THE LOOPS! Only buy chickens once and breed your own from then on.
  4. Having your chickens work for you by letting them take care of pests and prepare soil to be planted in.
  5. Selling any extra eggs or feeding them back to your chickens to offset feed costs.
  6. Harvesting Your own grit
  7. If you have cows, let your chickens eat the undigested grains from the manure.
  8. Filter pond water and let your chickens drink for free.
  9. Doing your research! Is there another option for ____ that’s cheaper than what your doing right now? Always question the conventional.

Feed and water cost can be completely eliminated. Your coop and brooder can be built for a lot cheaper if you get creative about materials (and if you build it, it will function exactly the way you want it to). Chickens are not picky. Our chickens even prefer dirty puddle water to the clean water I give them. You can save thousands of dollars, both upfront and over time by making these changes to the conventional method of raising chickens.

The Workload Chickens Require

The Workload chickens require also depends on how you raise them. Letting your chickens come along after your cows to eat and spread their manure will save you time, but harvesting grit yourself is not faster than buying a big bag at the store.

Regardless of how you raise them, the upfront workload will always be more intense than the maintenance they require. You will have to either purchase or build a brooder, a coop, a chicken run (if you’re not letting them free range) and set up waterers and feeders. If you are planning on growing food for your chickens, you will have to start those crops prior to buying your chicken (if you are growing your food, I highly recommend including Jerusalem artichoke and duckweed. Those are very easy to grow, prolific producers, and high in nutrients). This work will only last a month maximum. After that you can get started with the much simpler maintenance.

We use a 100 gallon bucket to water our hens. we drilled holes in the bottom and attached little cups to them. The chickens drink out of the cups. This method lets us go days in between watering the chickens. However, the cups cannot be reached by baby chicks. We currently have smaller, 3 gallon waterers for the chicks. Those usually need to be refiled once a day, depending on how many chicks we have.

Cornish Cross require a little more work than the hens because they need to be on a feeding schedule (or else they will eat themselves to death). We still only go out to the farm 3 times a day at most to check on them. Each visit takes no longer than 20 minutes. This is how it is for my chickens. If you have a different process the workload and time requirements will be different.

How Much Will You Enjoy Owning Chickens?

Owning chickens has been an overall pleasant experience for everyone involved. Even some of the other residents in our small town have given us waterers, egg cartons, and food scrap. The way we care for the chickens limits the amount of time we spend doing chores. Watching the chickens be chickens has been quite entertaining at times. They also produce pretty reliably for multiple years. No matter how you raise your birds, they’re very easy birds to take care of. There’s a reason most homesteaders start with chickens.

On the flip side, chickens can be stubborn, aggressive, flighty, not affectionate, messy, and die for seemingly no reason at all. Some of these attributes are affected by breed. For instance, Barred Rocks are known for being more aggressive, and Araucana chickens die during incubation more often than other breeds because of the gene that creates their iconic tufts. All chickens are messy. There isn’t a way around that. They can be frustrating. If you start to look at your chickens as nuisances, you will start to hate any work you have to do related to them.

For those of you who have not been around chickens, you might consider going to a farm that has chickens. Ask if you can help with the chicken chores for a couple days. This will give you sort of a free trial on what it would be like owning chickens. It will also help you figure out if you actually like chickens. A crucial thing to know before you become a chicken owner.

One thing is for sure, you will need to be able to handle chicken death. Even if you were the best chicken parent, some of your chickens will still die. Predators, illness, egg bound, pasty butt, stress induced heart attacks, etc. are all common causes of chicken death. You may wake up one morning and they’re all gone due to predators. I started with 90 hens and I now have between 60 and 70. Most death occurs when they are baby chicks. If a chicken does die for seemingly no reason, you probably didn’t want that bird in your flock anyway. You really only want strong birds with good instincts.

Why Chickens Instead Of Other Birds?

Over the course of our research, we have considered owning other birds to raise either with or instead of chickens. Many people choose to raise quail, ducks, and/or turkeys.

For meat, quails are very small. They will not provide as much meat as a chicken. It will also taste gamier. However, they are much cleaner, they eat considerably less, and they are friendlier. They also take much less time to get to a harvestable weight for quail meat birds than meat chickens. Egg laying quail also lay much earlier than meat chickens. Quail eggs also have greater nutrient density than chicken eggs. However quail eggs do taste a little different than chicken eggs. Quails are more picky than chickens when it comes to food. While they are both omnivores, quails prefer grains and protein. Veggies aren’t their favorite thing.

Ducks also have more nutrient dense eggs than chickens. Duck eggs are 30% larger than chicken eggs and ducks will out lay chickens. Ducks are often less aggressive and cleaner than chickens. However, ducks are more susceptible to predators. They cannot run away quite as well. Ducks need a body of water in order to survive. Chickens are perfectly fine living the entirety of life on dry ground. Ducks aren’t very picky in their diet and will eat bugs you don’t want around, but they don’t aerate the soil like chickens do.

Related Posts:

How To Tell If You’re Raising Happy Chickens

Building A Chicken Run: The Best, Cheapest Way To Build

What To Do With Spent Hens: How To Repurpose Them

Turkeys are bigger than meat chickens. Some turkeys are more aggressive than chickens and will even attack you. While turkey eggs and chicken are similar in taste, turkeys aren’t very good layers. Turkeys lay about 1/3 of the eggs chickens do per year.

Chickens ended up winning out against ducks, quails, and turkeys for us. We knew we really liked the taste of chicken and chicken eggs and we also wanted the birds to work for us in specific ways. We also found that closing the loops was pretty easy with chickens. It is possible with the other birds as well and we are still considering raising ducks alongside our chickens. There is a possibility one of these other birds might work better for you and the land that you have. For us, we found chickens to be the best jumping off point.

Our Experience Owning Chickens

My family and I did a lot of research before deciding whether or not we wanted to own chickens and if so what breed. We ended up getting Black Astralorps as our egg layers and Cornish cross as our meat birds. After making the mistake of ordering baby Cornish Cross from out of state (we ordered 60 and only received 11 alive), we ran to Atwood’s to buy 40 more Cornish Cross. While we was there, we bought 25 assorted laying hens. While we had ordered the laying hens from a company in my state, we didn’t want to take any chances.

Those hens ended up being mostly Barred Rocks and Rhode island reds. We also received 2 Black Copper Marans (one of whom died a month later). Our Black Astralorp hens (and one surprise rooster) arrived a few weeks later…all of whom survived. We had over ordered by 10 expecting some death but over the first few days I had them, only a couple died. So now, we had about 90 layers (when we had originally wanted 50) and around 50 Cornish Cross.

We raise our chickens in a pretty automated way. We free range our laying hens, so we just let them out of the coop in the morning and close them up at night. They are fed mostly off the land, but we add some supplemental feed. Black Solider Fly larvae, food scrap, and extra eggs ensures that we don’t have to buy bag feed. We haven’t even really had to grow food. The closest we came to growing our own food was sprinkling some cover crop seeds over the ground for fun to see what came up. The only time we use bag feed is when we go out of town and they have to stay inside the coop.

What makes owning chickens worth it for my family and I is how we raise them. Chickens have actually made our lives easier in several ways. Chickens make great employees. Once you know how they work, you can put them to work. They can do a lot of soil prep for gardens, create compost, and eat insects. We like to run them around our greenhouses to help with pest pressure.


In the right environment, with the right infrastructure, and the right schedule, I do believe chickens are worth it. They don’t require a huge amount of time or money. There are things you can do to limit the time and money you spend on them even further. This may require straying a little from the conventional way of thinking, but if you are trying to be self reliant, you’re no stranger to the unconventional.

My hens have worked out great. Even though having so many hens was an accident, I would highly recommend overbuying chickens. I could do a whole blog post on this, but a few the benefits I’ve noticed are less stress around egg production, less fear around losing a hen, and they make very quick work of any land I want them to prepare for crops.

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