How many chickens should I get?

My flock of Light Sussex chickens with my pied guinea fowl

You will need to get at least three chickens for your flock. Beyond this the number of hens you get will depend on how many eggs you need and how much space you have to keep them. 

When I first started keeping chickens I ended up not getting enough hens.

This was for two reasons, the first was that chickens never lay quite as many eggs as you are told they do and the second is that once you start using your own fresh eggs you tend to use more.

I originally got 5 and should have got 7. That was many years ago and I now have over 300 hens from 22 different breeds.

All the chickens in these pictures are my eggs from my own birds. The header image above is my flock of Light Sussex mixed with my guinea fowl.

How many chickens do I need?

Working out how many chickens you need to buy is not always the easiest thing to do but you can get a good idea with a bit of planning.

Being Social creatures that like the company of other chickens you really need to get a minimum of three chickens for your backyard flock. You should also as a general rule go for one more than you think you need.

Chickens do not produce the same number of eggs every day of the year. In late fall or Autumn they change their feathers and generally stop laying for a few weeks and lay fewer eggs in winter than in spring and summer.

Below: a selection of eggs from my egg flock.

Calculating the number of chickens you need for a successful flock depend on the breed you intend to keep and the number of eggs you want as a family.

How many eggs you get depends on the breed you choose:

Modern commercial hybrids like Golden Comets or white stars will give you the most number of eggs per bird and more often than not produce around 300 eggs per bird per year. Remember that white egg layers are more productive that coloured egg layers so Leghorns produce more eggs than Marans for example.

If you live where there are harsh, dark or cold winters then you will get fewer eggs at this time of year as well.

Below: Winter light levels effect laying and eggs.

On the other hand if you prefer heritage breeds they tens to only lay 220 to 240 eggs per year and tend to be more seasonal layers than hybrids.

If you choose to keep bantams then you will need to get a few more chickens as they lay smaller eggs. If you get Silkies they are poor layers and you will need twice as many hens as if you went for hybrids.

Sometimes there are order minimums as well so you may end up having to order 12 chicks from a hatchery.

How many eggs does your family need?

Lots of people tell me they forgot to include home baking in their calculations for how many eggs they needed. Run a little experiment and keep tally of how many eggs you eat in a week or month and compare to the table below.
How many chickens do I need for a family of 4?

If you as a family of 4 eat 30 eggs a week then you need 7 chickens so it is about 2 chickens per person.

This table assumes 10 eggs per person per week and numbers are rounded.

Family sizeEggs /weekNumber of chickens

These numbers are based on the productivity of my mixed flock at 0.63 eggs per chicken per day.

Is there a minimum number of chickens for a backyard flock?

Chickens are social birds and they do not fare well on their own, so you should have a minimum of three. Anything less than 3 can cause stress in chickens.

Can you estimate the number of chickens you need?

Yes you can. The chickens in my flock lay an average of 0.63 eggs per day or 4.4 eggs per week. I have a mixture of hybrids and heritage breeds and my birds are of various ages.

Based on this figure if you need 30 eggs per week then 30/7 gives you 4.3 eggs a week rounding up slightly. 4.3 divided by the daily average of 0.63 gives you 6.82 chickens or 7.

So 7 birds will give you an average of 30 eggs per week if you have a mixed flock like mine.

How many chickens do you need for a dozen eggs a day?

To guarantee a dozen eggs a day with the average numbers from my mixed flock I would need 19 hens.

The formula would be eggs needed/ average number of egg = number of hens you need which in this case would be 12/0.63=19.04

This correlates quite well with what I see in my flock although I get a surplus in spring and a shortage in winter.

How many chickens do you need to make a living?

I worked out that I make about £6 or $9 per year per chicken from my flock. I am a small producer so there are few economies of scale I can use to increase my margins.

The average 2017 median US wage was about $59K so you would need about 6555 chickens to make approximately that much.

I don't sell chickens for meat so I'm not able to speak to that side of the business.

How many chickens will pay for themselves?

How many chickens do you need to make enough profit to pay for all their own feed and upkeep. Assuming you are making $2 on a dozen eggs you will need 52 chickens to pay back the cost of the coop and feed over the lifetime of the birds. This does not include the cost of any permits you need to allow you to keep chickens.

The reality of the example above is that it is a perfect case assuming a regular supply of eggs with no birds getting sick or dying young and no increase in feed prices.

Is raising chickens for eggs worth it?

I think so. I now rather go without eggs than get store bought ones. You might think it odd that I sometimes go without eggs having over 300 chickens but I breed lots of heritage varieties that don't always lay lots of eggs and I sell those eggs through the post as well as raise my own.

Below: A selection of the eggs from my rare breed hens.

So yes even with loads of hens I still suffer the odd shortage. Last year we had a very bad winter and had frozen conditions and deep snow for months and that effect egg production quite badly.