Once upon a time, keeping chickens was much more common than it is now. Back when most families owned a horse and perhaps a dairy cow or two, it wasn't unusual to have a small flock of chickens as well. Because of this, a basic knowledge of chicken care was woven into the fabric of American life. Today, there is renewed interest in keeping chickens, but you might have questions about the basics that you didn't learn from your parents or grandparents: How much work are chickens? What might it cost to get into keeping chickens?

Chickens roaming chicken coop.

Let's take a look.

The cost of keeping chickens

The first question—what is this going to cost?—has no single answer. It will depend much on your location and the scope of your chicken-raising plans. But in general, some of the costs will include:

  • Permits—You may need to pay for a chicken permit (similar to a dog license) before bringing your new flock home. Be sure to check the laws and ordinances in your city or township before establishing your chicken flock.1 You may also need a building permit for the coop and/or certain types of fencing.
  • Chickens—Buying chicks and raising them can be fairly economical. You might be able to locate chicks of common breeds from a hatchery for only a few dollars per chick. You can save some money by purchasing unsexed chicks and taking your chances at receiving a mixture of hens and roosters, or you can pay just a little more per chick to receive all females. A somewhat more expensive option is to purchase pullets—young hens that are just about ready to begin laying eggs. These may cost somewhere between twenty to thirty dollars or more per bird, but you'll be that much closer to getting eggs.
  • Accessories—Your chickens will also need some gear: feeders, waterers, roosts or perches. If you're raising chicks, you'll also need to invest in a bit of chick infrastructure like brooders and chick-safe waterers.2
  • Shelter—Chickens require protection from the weather and predators, and this is one of the reasons why your coop is so important. Coops can be fancy or simple, but in general, you can expect to pay somewhere between a few hundred and a few thousand dollars for a coop. Building your own coop is another option and can save you money but requires additional skill and time.3
  • Fencing—Your hens will need to get outside to exercise, graze/peck, and just have time to "be chickens." A safe run (often attached to the coop) is essential but is another added cost.
  • Ongoing expenses—Feed, bedding, replacement chickens (egg production starts to drop off once the hen is a few years old) will all require that you maintain a monthly chicken-care budget.

Time and effort

It can be difficult to judge the amount of time and effort required to keep chickens. For one thing, if the idea of small-scale farming and livestock husbandry is appealing to you (as it probably is), then the very act of caring for your chickens—spending time in the coop, gathering eggs, putting your chickens out for grazing and back in at night—is time that you're enjoying. You may view the effort as hardly any effort at all, similar to someone who hikes, bikes, or does some other form of physical activity for recreation. The same goes for the time involved; if you're truly enjoying yourself, then spending an hour with the chickens is probably more fun than an hour in front of the television. So time and effort are relative, especially when you raise chickens at strictly the hobby or pet level.

With all that said, there is no question that chicken chores do require regular commitment. So how much work are chickens? As far as livestock goes, the work isn't terribly difficult or physical. Instead, it's more of a daily requirement—meaning you won't be able to drop everything and take off for the weekend on a whim without first arranging for someone to fill in for you. This can be viewed as one of the disadvantages of keeping chickens.

Besides simply keeping an eye on the chickens and checking their general health and well-being, day-to-day chicken care includes filling feeders, checking, refilling, and washing water containers, possibly turning the chickens out for grazing in their run, and of course, cleaning the coop. Oh—and egg collecting! Other weekly or monthly chores will include deep cleaning the coop, cleaning the outdoor run, replacing dust-bathing areas, and fixing anything that needs fixing, which, as any chicken keeper can tell you, happens frequently!4 5

For a minimum, figure on at least half-an-hour of chore time twice a day—and more if you're spending quality time observing and checking your chickens thoroughly. More complex non-daily chores, like deep cleaning the coop, will require more time.6

All in all, chickens are one of the most inexpensive and easiest types of livestock to try, so they make an excellent choice for the beginner. Plus—they're fun! You can't do better that!

  1. Josephson, Amelia. "The Economics of Raising Chickens." SmartAsset. https://smartasset.com/personal-finance/the-economics-of-raising-chickens
  2. Hershberger, Cory. "15 Accessories For Your Chicken Coop." Hobby Farms. https://www.hobbyfarms.com/15-accessories-for-your-chicken-coop-4/
  3. "How Much Do Chickens Cost?" The Happy Chicken Coop. https://www.thehappychickencoop.com/how-much-do-chickens-cost/
  4. Anger, Rachel Hurd. "Your Easy-To-Follow Guide To Chicken Chores." Hobby Farms. https://www.hobbyfarms.com/your-easy-to-follow-guide-to-chicken-chores/
  5. Arcuri, Lauren. "Daily and Monthly Chicken Care Tasks." The Spruce. https://www.thespruce.com/daily-and-monthly-chicken-care-tasks-3016823
  6. Counting My Chickens. "Caring for Your Suburban Chickens: How Much Time Does It Really Take?" http://www.countingmychickens.com/caring-for-your-suburban-chickens/