Updated August 3, 2020
Although it may seem like a daunting task, and predicting any individual’s lifetime needs certainly isn’t an exact science, estimating an average lifetime cost for your residents can ultimately help you build a sustainable future for your sanctuary. This kind of budgetary planning typically comes into play when considering your organization’s capacity for responsible care. Could you responsibly provide lifelong sanctuary for those three goats you were contacted about? How about that pregnant donkey, or twenty large breed chicken hens? How different are the care costs of each species?
Determining Your Current Costs
The first step towards estimating lifetime care cost comes from having a strong understanding of what you are currently spending on average for the care of your residents. For this reason among many others, it’s crucial to maintain a detailed budget of your organization’s expenses.
Unfortunately, the cost of food, bedding, and veterinary care varies greatly by region, so we cannot provide an easy estimate per individual that would serve the whole community. For instance, in some regions, hay and straw might be abundant and affordable, but in others it could become an organization’s biggest expense due to a bad drought or other unforeseen circumstances. And as an animal ages, they may incur higher costs in categories like supportive care for arthritis, more expensive food and supplementation, and more frequent veterinary visits.
Although this resource doesn’t provide a magic formula that can allow you to pinpoint the exact lifetime cost of each resident in your care, it does provide a useful framework for estimating these costs.
10 Steps To Estimating Lifetime Care Costs
Step 1: Gather your financial information from the previous year, either in the form of an accurate budget, or from receipts and invoices if necessary.
Step 2: If it isn’t already categorized, break down your budget, creating separate categories for the following:
- Food– including minerals and supplementation if applicable
- Bedding Materials– like straw or wood shavings
- Enrichment Expenses– anything used to improve a resident’s quality of life, like pinwheels for chickens, wall-mounted brushes for While "cows" can be defined to refer exclusively to female cattle, at The Open Sanctuary Project we refer to domesticated cattle of all ages and sexes as "cows.", or goat play structures
- Veterinary Costs– in the form of medical supplies, routine healthcare, and emergencies
- Miscellaneous & Tools– like grooming brushes, fly masks, and hoof trimmers
Step 3: Categorize your budget further by assigning a species for each item listed in your budget, such as categorizing salt licks for cows, grit for chickens, fly masks for horses, and so on. If, for instance, a vet visit was for an individual Unless explicitly mentioned, we are referring to domesticated duck breeds, not wild ducks, who may have unique needs not covered by this resource., categorize that entire expense as a duck expense. If an expense is shared between two or more species (like straw), do your best to estimate a proportional amount of that cost by species use.
Step 4: Tally up the individual expense categories by species for a total cost for each species.*
Step 5: Divide the total cost determined in Step 4 by the number of residents of that species you cared for in the past year. This will give you a rough annual estimate of the cost of caring for an individual of that species.
Step 6: Determine the average lifespan of each species. For the purposes of the ‘Preset Average Lifespan Figures‘ calculator tool provided below, the calculator automatically utilizes the following average lifespans (calculated by taking the average between reported low and high ranges of lifespans for each species), with the understanding that these are only reported averages and individual animals can live a wide array of ages based on health and circumstance:
- Chickens (A domesticated animal breed that has not been specifically engineered to grow as quickly as possible for the purpose of human consumption. In resources at The Open Sanctuary Project, "Heritage" breeds of turkeys, for instance, are "non-large breed", even if they are physically quite big.): 8 Years
- Chickens (Domesticated animal breeds that have been specifically engineered by humans to grow as large as possible, as quickly as possible, to the detriment of their health.): 5 Years
- Unless explicitly mentioned, we are referring to domesticated turkey breeds, not wild turkeys, who may have unique needs not covered by this resource. (Non-Large Breed): 11 Years
- Turkeys (Large Breed): 4 Years
- Unless explicitly mentioned, we are referring to domesticated duck breeds, not wild ducks, who may have unique needs not covered by this resource.: 7 Years
- Unless explicitly mentioned, we are referring to domesticated goose breeds, not wild geese, who may have unique needs not covered by this resource.: 21 Years
- Cows: 19 Years
- Pigs (Potbellied): 17 Years
- Pigs (Large Breed): 8 Years
- Goats: 13 Years
- Sheep: 11 Years
- Horses: 30 Years
- Donkeys: 27 Years
- Llamas: 20 Years
- Alpacas: 20 Years
- Unless explicitly mentioned, we are referring to domesticated rabbit breeds, not wild rabbits, who may have unique needs not covered by this resource.: 10 Years
If you would like to supply your own age estimate for a species, or calculate costs for a species not represented above, please utilize the second calculator (labeled ‘User-Supplied Average Lifespan Figures‘) at the base of this resource.
Step 7: Calculate the average age of the residents you care for by species. (Add up the combined age in years of all residents of that species and divide by population size.)
Step 8: Subtract the average age of resident species you care for from the average lifespan of that species. This number is important!
Step 9: Take the result of Step 8 and multiply it by the total average annual cost spent on providing care for this species. Do this for each species.
Step 10: Add the total estimated lifetime costs of caring for each species at your organization in order to create an estimated cost of providing lifetime care for every resident currently living at your organization.
Review And Revise Each Year
Take note of the cost figures that you generate for each species in your care, and consider re-estimating lifetime care costs of residents at the end of each fiscal year using that current year’s completed budget. By averaging out an increasing set of generated lifetime cost of care figures, there will be a higher likelihood of determining both a more accurate figure to plan with, and in addition, you’ll be able to see whether the cost of care per species is trending lower, higher, or stable between years.
Lifetime Cost Of Care Estimation Calculators
Click on the name of each calculator below to access them. The first calculator utilizes the preset average lifespans for various species as listed in Step 6 of the above guide. If you wish to supply your own average lifespan figure, or calculate an animal’s estimated cost of care not represented in the choices presented by the first calculator, use the second calculator.