How Many Chickens Do I Need?
If you have some land or even a backyard and dream of dabbling in farming, an easy first step is to try raising chickens. Chickens offer an ideal way for you to learn the ropes of basic livestock care without it becoming overwhelming. Make sure you ask yourself, "How many chickens do I need?" It's a great question, and the answer will partly depend on your plans and purpose for your chickens.
Let's say you're trying to supply all of your egg needs with your own chickens—a fun and useful goal. The first step is to tally up the eggs you use in an average week (make sure you consider your lifestyle):
- Are you and your family heavy egg eaters? For example, just two eggs for breakfast, for three or four people, twice a week, is more than a dozen eggs a week.
- Baking needs—how often do you bake, and how many eggs might you use weekly?
- Excess—would you like to have plenty of eggs to share with friends and family?
Next, multiply the target number of eggs per week by 52 to find your eggs per year. We'll need that number in a minute.
Once you've determined how many eggs you need per year, you can narrow down how many chickens you need.
How many eggs do chickens lay in a day?
Many chickens begin laying a few eggs at about 18 weeks of age, and become more prolific until they reach full egg production at about 25 weeks old. At this point, a healthy young hen of a "layer" breed might produce almost an egg a day. Humans have noticed and benefited from the chicken egg for thousands of years. 1
But even the most prolific laying breeds won't produce 365 eggs a year, and there a couple of reasons for this. For one, a hen's reproductive cycle is about 24 to 26 hours long. So she lays an egg later and later each day until her time for laying eggs drifts too close to evening. Because light also plays a role in egg production, the hen will then hold off laying an egg until the next day (or two), ending the possibility of an egg every day.
Additionally, there are seasonal changes in a hen's egg production that occur due to varying light levels during the shortening and lengthening of days.2 Egg production is usually higher in the summer, then begins to slow down towards fall and into winter. Some hens may stop producing eggs for about two to three months at this time, putting their energy instead into molting and growing new feathers. Winter might be an excellent time to try a heated pad for your chickens.
Let's do a little math.
You might expect something in the range of 200 to 250 eggs per year from a "layer" chicken breed (e.g., White Leghorn, Rhode Island Red, Australorp, Plymouth Barred Rock, etc.).3 From this range, you can figure out how many eggs flocks of different sizes might produce:
- 4 hens x 200 eggs per year = 800 eggs per year, or 15+ eggs per week.
- 6 hens x 200 eggs per year = 1,200 eggs per year, or 23+ eggs per week.
- 8 hens x 200 eggs per year = 1,600 eggs per year, or 30+ eggs per week.
The number of eggs may decrease over time.
Remember that as your hens age, they will begin laying fewer eggs per year, and this may affect how many chickens you keep in your flock. By the time a hen is a few years old, she may produce only two-thirds of the eggs she did in her first year. By age five, her production could drop to 50 percent. You might need to add younger birds into the mix to compensate. And remember, eggs are approximately 74 percent water, so keep those hens hydrated!
Is it okay to have just one chicken?
A single "pet" chicken isn't a wise plan. Chickens are social creatures; they don't call it a "flock" for nothing. They depend on the presence of other chickens for their physiological well-being.4 Even two chickens might not be enough since flocks have a fairly elaborate hierarchy or "pecking order." You'll probably want a minimum of four chickens.
There's something special about keeping a small flock of chickens and using your own home-grown eggs. Enjoy the moment and don't take it for granted.
- "Eggcyclopedia." The Incredible Egg, https://www.incredibleegg.org/eggcyclopedia/h/history/
- Jacob, Dr. Jacquie. "Raising Chickens for Egg Production." The Poultry Extension. https://poultry.extension.org/articles/poultry-management/raising-chickens-for-egg-production/
- Munniksma, Lisa. "The Best Chicken Breeds for Laying Farm-Fresh Eggs." Hobby Farms, 2015, https://www.hobbyfarms.com/best-egg-laying-chickens/
- Anger, Rachel Hurd. "Can Chickens Get Lonely?" Hobby Farms, 2015, https://www.hobbyfarms.com/can-chickens-get-lonely/