How many backyard chickens should I keep?

I started keeping chickens without a plan.  My mum gave us 2 hens and a cockerel for processing as meat for the children. We decided to keep them in the dog kennel. We had just let go of Sparky, our old dog, who used to get sick now and then, due to diseases spread by the many ticks in the neighborhood. 

Soon, the eggs started coming and we started enjoying them. The kids woke up every morning asking us to go check for eggs. If we found only one egg, they would start fighting who would carry the eggs. We had to develop an egg carry schedule to stop these wars. We did not use that for long. The chickens started laying more frequently and everyone had an egg to carry. 

We got more chickens leading to a constant supply of eggs. We converted the area around the kennel to a chicken run by fencing it. 

One of the many questions asked by backyard chicken keepers is the number of chickens they should keep. Actually, the first one is if they should keep chicken at all. 

If you love fresh eggs and chicken meat you have raised by yourself, letting chickens run free in the backyard might be the perfect solution.  Now, how many chickens should you have? That depends on how much space you have, what you’re willing to do to care for them, and how many eggs you want to harvest per day. The number of chickens you can keep depends on many factors, including your goals and a multitude of other factors that might be out of our control, for example, local laws and regulations. 

In this article, we look at these factors, and at the end, we will help you calculate how many meat and egg chickens you can keep in order to meet your goals. 

Goals – Why do you want to keep chickens in your backyard? 

When you set out to start keeping chickens in your backyard, you have a goal in mind. Why do you want chickens? Why not dogs or cats? Let us look at some of the reasons most people keep chickens in their backyard

  1. Eggs

There is no egg on earth that tastes better than fresh eggs from your backyard chickens. Once you start keeping chickens, you will notice that backyard eggs are rich in flavor and color,  compared to store-bought eggs. You will get to decide how nutritious your eggs are by letting them feed on greens and bugs in your backyard. 

  1. Meat

By keeping meat chickens in your backyard, your family can enjoy tasty meat from your backyard chickens. Some backyard keepers raise meat birds for one year, process them, and keep them in the freezer. The family gets to enjoy chicken meat once or twice every week. 

  1. Pets

Most chicken breeds make good companions. They will let you carry them and cuddle them. Chicken pets can be either large breeds of bantams, which are smaller versions of the large breeds.

  1. Manure

Chickens produce excellent manure that is rich in nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus. It provides balanced nutrition for the plants in your garden. 

  1. Extra Cash

When you start keeping chickens, you will more or less likely have a surplus of eggs and meat. You can sell this to friends and neighbors, making extra cash.  This cash can be used to buy feeds and treats for your excellent chickens or maintenance activities in the chicken coop. 

  1. Family Pass Time

This seems to be the favorite goal for my kids. They love playing with chickens. Every evening after school they open the coop, let the chickens run around, as they run after them. Of late they have been asking me to catch the chickens so that they can carry them around.

How much space do chickens need?

One of the restrictions on the number of chickens you can keep is the space available in your backyard. While space might not be a restriction to homesteaders and farms, you have limited space available in your backyard.

When you set it to keep chickens, you will need to know how much space your flock will need. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) recommends having at least 1.8 square feet per bird of indoor floor space.  This is the least amount of space required to keep your chickens happy. And happy chickens produce a good number of eggs. It is recommended to allow them to go out to outdoor spaces. This allows them to do what chickens do best – scratching for bugs, flapping their wings, and running around. The minimum recommended outdoor space is 4 square feet per bird. 

Remember satisfied, happy chicken will keep on giving. 

How much will it cost to keep a chicken?

When you’re ready to get chickens, it helps to know how much it’ll cost.

The cost of keeping chickens in your backyard is not a one-time expense: you’ll need to buy or build a coop and a run, plus some food and supplies to help them thrive. But even when you’re aware of the costs, it can be hard to determine how much chickens cost in the long run.

Let us look at the major costs of keeping chickens. 

  1. Backyard Chicken Coop and Run

The first item you will need to consider is the coop and run. 

You can either decide to build your own, convert an old shed into a coop or buy a new one. Whichever option you decide you will need to place a cost on it. Depending on the number of chickens, ready-made coops cost between $150 to $2000 on Amazon. These will hold 2 to 20 chickens respectively. 

You can decide to start with the smaller coop and as your flock grows you invest in the larger one. I started keeping mine in a small dog kennel. I have now built a big coop that can house 50 chickens. 

  1. Cost of Backyard Chickens – Day old, point-of-lay, broiler chicks

The second major item to look at when determining the cost of keeping chickens is the chickens themselves. If you are doing chickens for eggs, you can choose to start with day-old chicks or point-of-lay hens. 

Point-of-Lay hens will be a couple of weeks from laying, meaning you will get your eggs faster. Chickens take about 6 months to reach laying maturity. 

Day old chickens will be cheaper, but you will have to wait for 6 months for eggs. 

Most people keeping broilers for meat go for day old chicks and keep them until the time for processing at 6 to 8  weeks.

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About James Polystead

I grew up on a small farm. My parents used to grow food and keep animals for our sustenance. They would sell the surplus to make an extra coin to supplement the income from their jobs. I am taking the same path. I have over 40 chickens for eggs and meat. I also grow vegetables in my backyard. follow me on Twitter

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