Did you ever have a parent say, “Why don’t you try one first and then see if you like it?” I’m referring to that young impulsive logic where if one puppy makes you feel good then obviously ten puppies would make you feel ten times happier. So why bother with just one if you can skip to the maximum happiness level?
The realities of responsibility are something that you generally have to learn the hard way. For those of us who have been exposed to this, we automatically know that while ten puppies may offer a lot of enjoyment, they are guaranteed to be ten times the work than if you had brought home just one.
So it’s understandable why an adult would want to buy just one chicken – especially if you have no experience in raising chickens.
However, with chickens having the flock mentality hard-wired into them, it is absolutely crucial that they have the company and companionship of another chicken: and this means 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for their entire lives.
A chicken that is alone is certain to be in distress. And as these birds are already justifiably nervous, adding more stress to them is certain to cause health issues.
### Important Note ###
It’s been my experience that the level of effort required to care for five chickens versus one chicken is pretty much the same. Aside from providing extra food, I have the same daily routine regardless of the number in the flock.
So if you are considering a small flock, say two to five birds, then you can anticipate a fairly minimal amount of effort on your part (barring injury or sickness). Personally, I really don’t notice the work load until the flock gets larger than 15. With 15 birds, the amount of food and water is significant, consequently, I begin notice how ‘heavy’ things are when I’m carrying them.
Can A Rooster Live Alone?
To be honest, there are days where I am tempted to label roosters as their own species. When it comes to my hens, the girls generally get along. Yes, there definitely is a pecking order and there are also days where somebody gets ‘catty’. However, as long as they have adequate space and stimulation, life is pretty much OK for the flock.
Roosters, on the other hand, have the philosophy of, ‘I am king… all others will submit!’.
Hens seem to tolerate this nonsense for reasons I have yet to understand. But the problem with kings is that there can only be one. And if you have two male birds intent on making the other submit, then you have the potential for one rooster killing the other.
With this knowledge, it’s easy to assume that roosters should be kept by themselves. But that assumption would be incorrect.
While roosters have the innate drive to dominate, they can not dominate if they are living alone. A single rooster is sure to be a stressed and frustrated bird as they are unable to perform the role they were born into: the caring and protecting of a group of hens.
But while the rooster’s optimum environment needs hens for him to play king, there will be times where your rooster should be isolated from the rest of the flock. In other words, allowing him to live with the girls is detrimental to a hen’s health.
This is fairly common when introducing a new young hen to the flock.
Hens don’t reach maturity until around six months of age. For us, we always try to introduce new birds to the flock around the two month mark (eight weeks). This is well before the hens are ready to lay eggs.
With the roosters being the way that they are, they will immediately act to dominate any new member of the flock. And with the new hens not yet mature, they will not have any idea of what is happening. They will see the rooster’s behavior as an attack and will try to escape.
This, in turn, fuels the rooster to keep trying – more and more aggressively.
If left unchecked, this behavior will most likely result in an injured hen, as roosters are generally much larger than hens – especially at two months of age.
Can A Chicken Die Of Loneliness?
As mentioned above, chickens are a flock animal, and as such do better when surrounded by other chickens. But what if unforeseen circumstances leave a chicken alone. Will it die from loneliness?
While isolation in and of itself is unlikely to cause death, the long term physical side effects from isolation can be fatal.
A fairly common indicator that your chicken is having difficulties being alone is feather pulling. A chicken under stress will pluck its own feathers. This is not good for your bird and as their caretaker, you should find a way to address this.
Other signs of stress are the lack of eating or drinking. Should your chicken decide to stop eating, then you can expect the health of the bird to degrade quickly – leaving it lethargic and susceptible to sickness. In this type of situation, it’s easy to understand how loneliness, while not directly the cause, certainly played a role in your bird’s death.
What To Do When You Only Have 1 Chicken Left?
As chickens are living breathing creatures, each with their own personality, it is unlikely that all of the members of your flock will expire at the same time (predators not withstanding). This can leave you in a situation where you only have one chicken left. And knowing that this will most likely be detrimental for the sole survivor, action must be taken to resolve this singularity.
For a flock of only one, there are just two options: adding a new bird or ending the flock completely.
Adding a new bird is the easy part. Pullets, a hen generally between six months to a year old, can be purchased and added to the flock. While there will be a little time required for the new birds to get acquainted with each other, this is generally a fairly easy process.
Ending the flock is another option – one that doesn’t necessarily mean putting a chicken in the freezer. There are many groups of chickens fans to be found online. A picture and a post might be all that is necessary to find your lonely bird a new home. And while it may be difficult to let go of your feathered friend, you run the risk of your bird not enjoying a full and happy life.
When people ask me how many chickens they should get, there is a range of questions I will try and follow-up with, but my final answer is always this, ‘no less than three.’ Personally, I never buy less than five chicks at a time, but three is my bottom line.
The reason behind three chickens as opposed to two, lies in the possibility of something happening to the one of the birds. With three chickens, you have a level of redundancy. With two chickens, you have a bad situation just waiting to happen.
However, if you can swing it, I recommend a flock of five. As mentioned before, the work level for five birds is negligible and having more, allows the chickens to interact a little better.
Of course if you’ve got the room and the passion, bigger flocks of 12 or more can be a lot of fun as well. Just be prepared for a LOT of eggs!