The best number of chickens for your backyard flock relates to both your goal in having chickens and the type of environment you can provide. Here are four ways to determine the best number of chickens for your flock.
First find out how many chickens you can legally have. Local regulations, such as zoning laws and homeowner regulations, may specify the maximum number of chickens you can have.
You may learn that you need a permit. Or you may find out you can’t legally have any chickens at all. In that case, you might want to initiate action to legalize chickens in your area.
Determine how much space you have available for keeping chickens. You need space for both a coop and an outdoor pen or run.
Indoors, each full grown chicken of a heavy breed should have at least 4 square feet of living space. Each light breed needs 3 square feet, and each bantam needs 2 square feet to live comfortably.
For the run, provide at least 10 square feet per chicken if the coop is stationary. A portable coop you would periodically move around inside the yard requires much more space.
Do you want chickens for homegrown eggs? Or are you seeking pets? As pets, a flock size of three chickens would be perfectly adequate.
For eggs, check the average rate of lay for your chosen breed. The best laying breeds average 280 to 300 eggs per year. So a family of four, each using one egg a day, would need at least 6 of these hens. Factor in more if you do a lot of baking or otherwise would need more than one egg per person per day.
But sometimes you may get more eggs than you can use while other times you won’t get any. That’s okay, because you can save extra eggs during times of plenty to tide you over during times of dearth.
The most expensive part of starting a flock is not the price of the chickens themselves, but the cost of providing housing. Compare costs of a ready made coop with building your own or repurposing an existing structure.
Fencing is another expense. The type of fence you can have (and therefore its cost) may be specified by local regulations.
The most expensive ongoing part of keeping chickens is feeding them. And the price of feed keeps going up. For starters, check locally to find out how much poultry ration currently costs. Then calculate how much feed your chickens will eat based on the flock size you have thus far estimated using the above criteria.
Other expenses include feeders, drinkers, and nests (if they aren’t built into the coop). Also coop bedding and nest liners (both of which require periodic replacement). If you travel much, you may also need to factor in the cost of a chicken sitter to care for your flock while you’re away.
So, the best number of chickens for your flock is not a one-size-fits-all. You’ll have to calculate it based on your local regulations, your available space, your purpose in having chickens, and how much money you can or want to spend. Once you take time to examine these four factors, you’ll easily determine the best flock size to suit your particular situation.
And that’s today’s news from the Cackle Coop.
Gail Damerow is the author of Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens.