A common misconception about raising chickens is that it costs a lot of money. While you can surely buy a luxurious coop and high-end chicken feed, the chickens can still be productive and happy no matter how much you spend. Chickens are successfully raised in some of the poorest countries on Earth, so you can do it too.
Coop: First off, you’re going to need a coop. The ones you find at the big-box stores cost upwards of $300 and are usually, if not always, major pieces of junk. They look nice but quickly deteriorate. Your best option is to reuse an old shed, camper, truck topper, or some other enclosure. You can repurpose nearly anything into a coop if you use your imagination. I am no carpenter, but I was able to build a small coop out of old plywood and scraps of lumber. The main things you need to keep in mind are having a secure door, a way for YOU to enter as a human and clean it, and finally some sort of airflow for hot summer days.
Roosting: Chickens roost at night. That is, they perch atop small rods about 2-3 feet above the ground to sleep. You can build a roost using an old ladder hung from the ceiling, or even limbs from a tree. Just be sure the limbs are free of pests and the roosts are even horizontally (or as much as you can). Chickens like to all be at the same level.
Litter and Nesting Boxes: Next, you are going to need to cover the ground with wood shavings, leaves, or some other litter. You can easily get old sawdust from some construction companies, or use dry leaves in the fall. Ripped up newspaper works, but only for a very short time before it gets damp. Chickens will also need nesting boxes. Do not buy the $30 ones from the store; chickens can roost in old cardboard boxes, sideways buckets or other similar receptacles. Once you start raising chickens you’ll find that they will find a spot they like, which you’ll never expect. I had a chicken lay eggs in an abandoned, open refrigerator once.
Feeders/Waterers: You can build waterers out of old jars and milk jugs. There are many ideas online. And a feeder can be made from just about anything. We use old PVC pipe that pours into an old pie pan. We fill it up at the top and it takes days for them to eat it all. A rain barrel with a small spigot at the bottom is great too, as chickens can drink rainwater.
Feed: Chicken feed is not very expensive. Usually, $12 for a 50-pound bag. It will take a small flock (under 10) about a month to eat it all, so you can splurge on food. However, this is assuming you are letting the chickens free range during the day to eat bugs and worms and weeds. Chickens also love table scraps.
Chickens: Now that you are set, you need some birds! The cheapest can be found from neighbors or people on Craigslist. You can also buy them online for about $1-2 if you get popular breeds straight-run (which means they do not sex the birds, so you might get roosters). Sexed chicks are about $2 and they are mailed to you at one-day old. The big box stores often have chicks in the Spring, but they are about $3-4 each.
As always, these have been my experiences. If you have more to add, please reply and share your knowledge.
Ben North lives and writes from a homestead in Iowa.