When first deciding whether to turn your life over to keeping chickens there are 4 key things to consider. A key one is the number of eggs they are going to produce. How many eggs can you realistically get through in a week? Some breeds can lay one egg a day, every day. If you have 6 chickens that could mean ½ a dozen a day, for many homes that is a massive amount of eggs. The other 3 things to think about are;
Space, time and cost!
- Do you have a space in the garden that they can take over,
- Are you prepared to give a little time out of your busy life to care for them and
- Have you got the funds to cover the set up costs and pay for their maintenance, food, consumables and treats – oh yes you will!
The space you will need will depend upon how many chickens you want to keep. Remember that egg quantity issue and what you plan to do with them all. For 2 to 4 chickens you will need a minimum of 2 meters square of run plus room for a hen house. If you want to put them on the lawn and still have a lawn, you will need to move the run and house occasionally, so it might be better to have them permanently located in one place. If you have a permanent site for them then mud will eventually become an issue. We are still working on this one! (addendum: since we wrote this article we have discovered that creating a path out of wooden logs to all the vital areas of the run helps wonderously with the mud problem)
Chickens really don’t have to take up much of you time at all. Each day they need feeding and to have fresh water, you need to collect their eggs and it is best to lock them in each night for their safety. They can be left without being cleaned out for some time if you collect their pooh from the hen house daily, otherwise you could face having to clean them out on a weekly basis. The pooh can go in the compost or be scattered around the flower beds and veg patch, it’s fertiliser after all and people do buy it by the bucket load.
If both space and time get the green light you then need to think about cost. Set up is the most expensive time, as it is with the adoption of any animal. The prices given are based upon costs in 2014 and are a guide only.
Set up costs
In a domestic garden, as a minimum, you will need;
- A hen house
- A secure run
- A drinker
- A Feeder
- Oh and chickens
- Worming pellets - these are a consumable item and will need replacing once used up
- Bedding, we use straw and shredded paper - because it's a good way of using up a free commodity!
- Pet disinfectant
- some of you might need Pine bark chippings or similar to help with the mud created when they are permanently sited and you get a wet spell in winter.
A hen house for up to 4 hens with a built in run can cost anywhere between £200 and £600, unless you want the luxury mansion version when you can spend as much as you like. If we assume a mid range house the cost should be in the region of £350. A basic chicken should cost between £20 and £30 although it can get as low as under£10 if you know where to look, with the other start up items and a secure garden you will need to budget for between £400 to £550.
We initially bought a low cost wooden hen house which lasted 4 years and outlived the initial 4 chickens we bought. The house then went into terminal collapse and we choose to go for a better quality house made from recycled plastics. The cost was only marginally higher and we anticipate a much longer life. I have no regrets in taking the initial low cost option as we may not have been successful chicken keepers. Having settled into it and with the intention to continue keeping chickens for a good few years to come, spending a little more the second time will save us in the longer term.
If you want your hens to be able to free range their run becomes your garden. You will need to consider whether they can get out and whether that is a problem. Not all your neighbours will love your chickens, especially if they make their prize carrot patch a dust bath and peck at the lettuces. Remember if your hens can get out other animals can get in, foxes and dogs for example. This will increase your set up costs but is important, so mull it over at this stage and add in fence repairs, gates etc. if necessary.
Regular maintenance costs
On a daily basis your hen’s expenses should work out at less than the cost of buying the eggs they produce when they are all laying every day, that is probably not why you are doing it though. A 25kg bag of layers pellets is currently in the region of £10 and should last 4 chickens at least a month. So if you budget for around £15 - £20 a month you should be in the right ball park.
If you have no showstoppers amongst space, time and cost, the only other thing to consider is do you still want to go for it…….
Yes – well that’s great. Welcome to an ever increasing club!
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