Leg bands are essential if you plan to breed your birds, or just to keep track of who is who in the coop. They’re good for marking clans, generations, new arrivals… and for separating the sheep from the goats, as it were.
While the spiral leg bands you can get from the feed store work fine, you still have to refit your chicks with larger sizes as they grow. A cheaper option, requiring only nominally more maintenance, is to use colored wire ties, a.k.a. zip ties. They can be had in bulk online at sites like eBay and Amazon. My local Harbor Freight store had some heavy duty ones, and it’s quite possible your local hardware store has some, too.
The only real difference we’ve found is that since the spiral leg bands do have a little room to expand as the bird’s leg grows in girth, you have a little more time in which to change the bands as the birds outgrow them – although they will eventually get painfully tight. The zip ties do not stretch or expand at all, and must be clipped off and replaced with a larger size before the bird outgrows them, to avoid ugly, unnecessary, often-bloody injury to the constricted leg. (I figure if I’m not inspecting my birds often enough to notice that a leg band is getting tight, I’ve got bigger problems.)
We have three different breeds of chicken that we have bred or have plans to breed (White Chanteclers, Icelandics, and Blue-Laced Red Wyandottes), and have found it useful to have a large variety of colors and sizes of zip ties.
Amazon currently sells a pack of 500 count 6″ zip ties in eight assorted colors for $9.99, which works out to not quite $0.02 ea.
Even cheaper, on eBay I bought a pack of 500 count 4″ zip ties in five colors for a grand total of under $6.00, including shipping from Hong Kong (didn’t take too long to get here, either, considering the distance – I don’t know how sellers like this do it, but I hope they’re making a profit from the volume if nothing else).
I also got some of these from Harbor Freight. They’re beefy 8″ ties, and “on sale” at $2 for a pack of a hundred, they’re nothing if not cheap:
The tool of choice for removing these, and for clipping off the excess length when applying them, is a pair of side cutters, a.k.a. “dykes”, like this: