Working Chickens, Part 2: Counting Hens



Why Do You Want Chickens?

It’s really important to consider why you want to keep chickens before you talk about how many you need. If your purpose is just for the pleasure of watching their antics, then one or two is more than enough. Pest control? Same. You don’t need many chooks to keep pests at bay; that is, of course, depending on the size of your garden. However, if you want working chickens that provide eggs, compost, and tilling services, you’ll need to figure out what size flock fits your purpose and space.

Numbers Matter

In flock management, numbers really do matter. You need to make sure you have the right number of birds, as well as the correct amount of space per bird. Too many birds in too small of a space means endlessly cleaning poop and a big, muddy, stinky, mess of a chicken run. Too few means you’ll be working more than your chickens.

Counting Hens - The Formulas in Word Form

I am going to share with you my “formulas” for deciding on the correct number of chickens to keep. Now, keep in mind that I am not good at math. I love math and the order that it can bring to my life, nevertheless numbers can sometimes make my head go fuzzy and my eyes go crossed. If you are the same, please don’t stop reading! I'll try my best to make it clear, and there’s a lot of flexibility here. If you love numbers and are good at them, please don’t hesitate to make my formulas more precise. These formulas are meant to be a starting point, and you can take them anywhere you want to go.

You can either start with the number of eggs you consume or the amount of space you have. Space wasn’t a consideration for us, so we started by thinking about how many eggs we eat each week. My family of four goes through about 1-2 dozen eggs per week, though that fluctuates. When choosing a breed (which I won't talk about here) consider how many eggs a week each bird will lay. One of our Black Australorp hens produces about 5-6 eggs per week. By that math, we will need 2 to 4 hens to meet our egg needs. Unfortunately, it’s never really that simple. So, to cover for times when chickens are molting or broody, I recommend doubling that number.

The next thing to think about is how much space you need for your chickens vs. how much space you have to keep them in. They need about 2-4 square feet per hen in the coop if they have plenty of run, or 8-10 square feet if you will be keeping them cooped up a lot. If you ask me, our coop is a little on the small side, but the hens do have plenty of run/paddock, so they do alright.

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