If you want to get started raising backyard chickens for eggs, one of the first questions I get asked the most is how many chickens should I get? While there is no perfect answer, these are some things to consider so that you can decide how many baby chicks to buy.
How Many Chickens Will Your City Allow?
The very first consideration will be how many chickens your city will allow you to have. Unfortunately, some don’t allow any, so before you ever buy those baby chicks, do your research to be sure you can even have a flock.
If your city doesn’t allow chickens, decide whether you wish to fight the ordinance or forget about raising chickens. There are several websites that have some great information on how to go about changing the zoning laws. This article from Grist has some really good information.
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How Many Chickens Will Your Neighborhood Allow?
Secondly, if you live in a neighborhood, you need to see if your neighborhood homeowners association allows chickens. Many do, but plenty don’t either. Better to find out BEFORE you purchase your flock rather than have to try to re-home your feathered friends.
How Much Yard Do You Have Available For Chickens?
The size of your backyard will also determine the number of birds you can keep. It is a good idea to decide how much space you can devote to your flock.
Chickens need room to roam and peck and if you only have a concrete patio, your chickens will not be happy.
Likewise, if your yard is entirely covered in garden areas, you may not have room for a small flock unless you plan on repurposing some of that area. And the more chickens you have, the more room you need for your flock to free range.
Don’t forget – chickens will poop everywhere they go so you may want to confine them to one small area of your yard. Otherwise, you will end up with poop on your porches, your walkways, your outdoor lawn furniture, and anything else they can get to.
However, most people, with even a very small backyard can keep a few hens. This brings me to my next point…
How Big of A Coop & Run Do You Plan On Getting?
You need to decide how large of a coop and run you plan on purchasing or building. Most chickens need at least 4 square feet of floor space per bird inside the coop, so a 4-foot by 6-foot coop will adequately accommodate 6 birds.
For an enclosed run, you should provide at least 10 square feet per bird. Using the example above, for 6 birds, your run should be 60 square feet.
If at all possible, build your coop and run larger than you think you need. Extra space won’t harm your birds, it will give them more room to roam and play.
A larger area will also help prevent fighting (Pecking order is real, y’all.) and your flock will be less likely to pick up diseases. And healthy chickens naturally lay more eggs.
Finally, chicken keeping tends to become an addiction. Once you have a few birds, you often want more. If you have a larger coop, you can add more birds to your backyard flock.
If you only have the bare minimum of space, adding more will lead to overcrowding and possibly behavioral problems in your chickens. But remember, your flock size will largely be dependent on what your city ordinances allow and the available space in your yard.
How Many Eggs Do You Eat?
Of course, how many chickens you need also depends on how many eggs your family eats. It is best to determine this on a weekly average.
Do you regularly eat eggs for breakfast? What about breakfast for dinner? Do you do a lot of baking?
Keep a tally of how many dozen eggs you buy at the store each week for at least a month so that you have an idea of how many you currently use.
I will say, however, that once you have your own chickens, you will probably eat eggs a bit more often than you currently do. The fresh eggs taste so much better, it may be difficult to eat store-bought eggs again.
Do You Want Extra Eggs To Sell Or Give Away?
A final consideration is do you plan to sell extra eggs or give them away? If you have the room in your coop, it is perfectly fine to get a few extra hens. However, if your coop will be full, don’t plan to get extra chickens.
Crowded conditions will likely lead to more stress among your flock and stressed hens lay fewer eggs. They are also more prone to sickness and disease so don’t get more birds than you have room for.
How To Use This Information To Determine The Number Of Chicks You Should Buy
Once you have compiled your answers to the questions above, you can then determine the number of chicks to buy.
Many experts say that a chicken will lay approximately 270 eggs over the course of a year. I feel this number is a bit high.
Obviously, the number of eggs a chicken lays will vary some from breed to breed also. For instance, White Leghorns are said to lay between 280 and 320 eggs a year, while Rhode Island Red chickens lay about 260. But using an average of 270 eggs per hen works out to about 5 eggs a week per chicken.
I generally expect 4 eggs per week from each chicken. I like to be conservative with my numbers as I would rather have too many eggs than not enough eggs. (I can always find someone to take the extras off my hands.)
During the spring and summer (peak laying season) your chickens may lay an egg every single day, especially in their first year. But during the winter they will lay fewer eggs. A hen needs about 14 hours of daylight to create an egg.
What’s the Minimum Number of Chickens I Can Raise?
The absolute minimum number of chickens you can keep for a happy flock is 3. Chickens are social animals and need the company of others.
However, when purchasing baby chicks, I personally recommend buying at least 4. Occasionally, a baby chick will die or you will get a rooster, so to keep a minimum of 3, it’s best to purchase 4 unless your space will not allow it.
Many local feed stores and hatcheries will also have a minimum number of chickens you can purchase so that they will stay warm while being shipped or transported home.
How Many Chickens Do I Need for a Family of 4?
For a family of 4 – 5 people, I recommend 4 – 6 chickens. Our very first flock of 5 hens, kept my family of 5, plus my Mom, Dad, and sister in eggs for most of the year.
Keep in mind, as a chicken ages, her egg production will slow down. She will lay fewer and fewer eggs each year. So after 2 or 3 years, you may wish to add more hens to your flock if space allows. (Read How to Integrate Two Flocks of Chickens for more information.)
Raising chickens in your backyard is a great family activity. You will quickly develop relationships with your hens if you interact with them every day.
But the number of hens you keep will vary based on your family’s individual needs. Keep in mind, that adding extra chickens to your flock will also increase your cost of feed so it may not be advisable to raise more chickens than you really need.
Hopefully, this post has helped you decide how many chickens you need in your flock so you can enjoy fresh eggs for years to come.
For more information on raising backyard chickens, start here. I’ve got lots of posts that will walk you through the entire process, from setting up your brooder to choosing the friendliest chicken breeds.