The question I get asked most often is, ‘How many chickens should I get?’ Of course, circumstances differ so there isn’t a universal answer to this, but here are some considerations to help work it out.
The more backyard space you have, the more chooks you can comfortably accommodate. Aim to provide at least 1sq.m per fowl in the poultry run, and 0.5sq.m each in the henhouse. If you plan to free range the girls, remember that a well-established garden with hardy plantings will suffer less wear and tear than one with tender annuals or, horrors, unfenced vegie beds. Bantams are an excellent option for smaller backyards.
Chooks are social creatures that need company, so plan on keeping at least three, then if there’s an unexpected death, you won’t be left with a lonely only. In a breeding flock, a rooster will need four to six hens to share the love. At the other end of the scale, chooks can remember around 100 faces, but prefer to be in smaller groups of less than 20. Overcrowding is a key source of stress for poultry, so it’s always best to err on the lower end of the scale.
You might simply want enough hens to keep the family in eggs. In general, three or four chooks will provide the average family with plenty of butt nuts. However, the number of eggs a chicken lays depends on the season, breed, age, management and diet:
- Most chooks take a break after their annual moult, so expect egg numbers to dwindle in winter, then pick up in spring.
- Red hybrids such as ISAs will lay daily, but tend to burn out more quickly than purebred laying breeds, which will lay steadily over five or six years.
- Dual-purpose, ornamental and meat breeds of fowl lay fewer eggs.
- Younger chooks lay more often, and all fowls will eventually wind down and reach retirement.
- Feeding a balanced layer ration and providing plenty of shell grit and green grass will enable a hen to meet her laying potential.
Don’t forget to check you are within council guidelines. Most urban councils permit up to five chooks, but won’t countenance a rooster, while outer suburban areas may allow up to 10 or 20 hens. Rural limits may vary with the size and location of the block. Your local council website will provide this information.
If you are starting out, three to five chooks is an easy number to manage, and they won’t take up too much time or make serious inroads on the garden. If you love them, you can expand from there. I have!
By: Jessamy Miller
First published: May 2017