So you’re contemplating starting your first flock. AWESOME! Chickens can be a blast to have, scratching around in the backyard for bugs and making eggs. Their antics are fun and at times, borderline hilarious. If you’re fortunate enough to get a few birds with a good temperament, you’ll find their company to be quite therapeutic.
But how many chickens do I need?
The number of chickens that you will need, depends mostly on what your personal needs are. However, when it comes to the needs of the chickens, you should always have at least three birds.
Even freshly hatched chicks will show obvious signs of comfort when in the company of another chick. And that doesn’t lessen as they get older. Our birds are free-range and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to go out and help one of our hens find the rest of the flock as they moved after she went to lay an egg. Those birds will crow and crow in real distress if they can’t find their way back to the flock.
What Is A Flock Of Chickens?
For most people, when you say the word ‘flock’ they’ll picture a large group of birds. And let’s be honest, when you see birds in a flock – especially during migration – you will see birds in very large numbers.
But, if you’re looking for the exact number of chickens it would take to have an official ‘flock’ then that number is anything over one; in other words, two birds is the minimum number to qualify as a flock.
Is It OK To Have Only Two Chickens?
While having two chickens is infinitely better for your flock’s health (think stressed out), having just two is ill-advised. There are two main reasons as to why this is bad; personality and security.
We have found that each of our birds has/had its own unique personality. Yes, some personalities do stand out more than others. And for this reason, some of your birds will get along better than others. But, some birds will NOT get along well…if at all.
To make this a little more relate-able, imagine that you found yourself in a tragic sort of situation, let’s say an airplane crashed on a deserted island. Would you appreciate having someone there you could talk to? Probably, yes. But what if this other person just annoyed you to the edge of sanity, how would you like their company then? Would you feel free to be yourself or would you be in a constant state of agitation?
The larger the flock, the better your chances of compatibility between birds.
Raise chickens for any length of time and you’ll soon understand – implicitly – that there are many dangers for your flock. Virtually every meat eater out there will go out of its way to try and get one of your birds. And predators are only part of the problem. Injury and sickness will also claim a birds life. Having an ‘extra’ chicken will help ensure that you aren’t in a situation of a single stressed-out bird.
To some people this might not be worth the additional cost/labor of an extra chicken (which honestly, would be negligible at best). But try thinking of it this way.
Let’s say you’ve got enough gas in your car to drive 18 miles. Suddenly, you realize that you need something from the grocery store which is 15 miles round trip. Would you make the trip knowing that you had enough fuel for your needs, or would you add fuel to give yourself the ability to deal with any unknowns?
How Many Chickens Should I Start With?
Deciding on what size your first flock should be depends on a few variables. For example;
- How much space do you have? Are you in town with a small backyard or do you have lots of room?
- What kind of chickens are you getting? Some chickens really need space while others are perfectly content with small pens. Some chickens are prone to flying over fences (don’t get one of those if you’re in town). And some birds just make a lot of noise, an attribute that could be quite annoying to a neighbor that lives close by.
- What do you want the chickens to accomplish? Are you building a flock just as a hobby or do you want stop buying eggs from the store? Do you want enough birds to fill the freezer for a year?
Once you’ve worked through the specifics, it’s a lot easier to build a game plan for starting your first flock.
How Many Chickens Do You Need For A Dozen Eggs A Week?
If you’re looking to eliminate eggs from your grocery bill, then you should consider the breed and the age of the chicken when doing the math for a dozen eggs.
For those of you looking for a quick answer, three Barred Rock hens, in their first season of laying, should be enough for a dozen eggs a week. However, those same three birds will probably not be enough to fill a carton a few years down the road as a hen’s egg production slows with age.
What Kind Of Chicken Should I Get?
If you’ve worked through all of the details, such as available space and purpose, then figuring out the breed of chicken to start with gets a lot easier. The following are a few suggestions.
Beginners looking for egg production.
For those of you just starting out, who want reliable egg production then I would suggest you consider the Buff Orpington or the Plymouth Barred Rock. By no means are these the only two breeds that will work for you, but they are a really great place to start for those with little to no experience.
Generally speaking, their dispositions are friendly towards people. They’re great egg producers and usually don’t require a lot of maintenance. As a whole, they’re quiet and well mannered – perfect for beginners.
And for those of you living in colder regions, they’re also able to tolerate the winter weather fairly well.
Beginners looking for fun & eggs.
For those of you who aren’t all about production, I would recommend the Easter Egger breed. These birds are a little smaller than your standard chicken, but absolutely full of life and color. Unlike the Orpington and Barred Rock mentioned above, there is no standard coloring for the Easter Egger. Each bird will be a little different, somewhat like a snowflake.
Also, unlike the standard brown egg laid by the Orpington and Barred Rock, the Easter Egger lays eggs in a variety of colors. Shell color can range from green to blue and even red!
These birds generally tend to be a little more active, providing your backyard with life and activity.
Beginners looking for class.
If you really want to stand out, then consider a breed like the Blue Copper Maran. While these birds are more expensive than the ones mentioned above, they are beautiful to behold. Their plumage is absolutely captivating and the birds are not so ‘demanding’ in their behavior. A first-timer shouldn’t have too many issues with this breed.
Beginners looking for meat.
If you’re the kind of person who has concerns regarding the risks involved with industrial food or just want to be able to provide for your family in a much more personal way, then I would recommend the Ranger for filling the freezer.
Sometimes called the Freedom Ranger and sometimes called the Rainbow Ranger, this breed is a good meat bird that generally has little health issues. I have found their behavior to be very similar to their egg-producing cousins, while having enormous legs and breasts – perfect for putting food in the freezer.
You can’t talk about meat birds, though, without mentioning the Cornish Cross.
Also known as the Cornish Rock or just Cornish X, this is the most common meat chicken on the market. EVERYONE is growing these birds because of their capacity to put on the most amount of weight in the shortest amount of time.
However, this capacity does require some knowledge on the part of the individual raising them.
- A strict feeding regimen. The Cornish Cross likes to eat…a LOT! Any quality hatchery will have a spreadsheet of sorts detailing a healthy feed schedule. Beginners should pay very close attention to how much their Cornish Cross are eating as they will have health issues if you give them too much food. This is very different from say my Easter Eggers where I just fill the feeder and don’t bother with it again until it looks low.
- Keep them on the ground. Because of their excessive weight, the Cornish Cross are prone to broken legs. It is advised that you keep them on the ground at all times. This is completely opposite of the Orpington or Barred Rock, where you want them roosting off of the ground at night.
- They can look funny. The Cornish Cross breed doesn’t always feather completely, meaning you can quite often see a lot of pink skin. It’s not uncommon for first-time observers to think that there is something wrong your chicken. Admittedly, in my case, I did wonder if my birds were suffering from some horrible disease. They are NOT pretty to look at.
- They can act funny. Normal chickens (meaning almost every other breed except the Cornish Cross) love to scratch and peck at the ground. They will occasionally blast around here and there in a flurry of squawks and feathers. In other words, they’re active. This does not apply to the Cornish Cross.
If I were describe the behavior or these ‘chickens’ in two words, I’d say feathered pigs. They eat and they laze around…and that’s about it.
Beginners looking for birds that want to be left alone.
It might be hard for someone who has raised ‘friendly’ birds to understand the behavior of the Buckeye. I know it has been for me. Try as I have, I have never gotten any more of a response out of these birds than for them to run away. They don’t come when I call, nor do they even respond to treats. Point of fact, all that I’ve ever seen them do is hide under a tree next to the coop. This is not the behavior that most chickens display.
While it is quite possible that I just got a bad batch of birds, my experience with the breed shows a chicken that requires/wants very little from me.
This would be ideal for any individual who has little time to spare, but still desires fresh wholesome eggs. Just understand that the breed is very skittish and could spend most of its time avoiding you.
Important Tip About Chickens!
It’s important to note that while chicken breeds have general physical and behavioral attributes, every now and then you get one bird that just doesn’t want to conform. So if you’re the kind of person who never plays the lottery because you already know what kind of luck you have, then be warned – you might just get a wild card!
One of our favorite hens was a Black Australorp we named ‘Bitch’n Betty’. Australorps are not known to be overly vocal, at least not like Guineas. But if we were outside, that old girl would follow us everywhere went went, grumbling the whole time – hence the nickname.
But what made ol’Betty the best was just how much she loved being with us. She was forever, running a little ways in front of us and scrunching down to be petted. And if we were doing something outside, whether it was digging in the garden or working on a project, she was always there offering her advice. That girl set the standard for being social.
So keep this in mind when researching what breed of chicken to get first. While a breed might have really great traits that meet your needs, just remember, no purchase is guarunteeed. Each bird will be unique.
But for the record, it’s been the ‘unique’ birds that have made the best and longest lasting memories for us.