Every time a friend decides to get chickens they ask me the same question. “How many chicks should I get?” Instead of answering the question with a number such as 5, 10, or 15, I ask them a question in return.
How many eggs do you want?
Most good laying breeds will produce around 5 eggs each week. While the eggs are delicious, and I can eat them every day, everyone in my house gets sick and tired of eggs. In my house of 4 people, 24 eggs each week is just right. But before you settle on 5 hens, read on.
Expect the unexpected.
In 2016 I began my journey with my third set of backyard chickens. I live in a rural area on 6 acres of land and am surrounded by woods in the Piedmont of North Carolina. This means critters discover my chickens and want to eat them, especially in the spring time.
Predators love chicken. Left unattended, possums will waltz in during the middle of the night, climb up to their roost, grab a docile chicken and wander back home. Raccoon can tunnel under the walls of the coop. Out roaming around, they are a quick meal for a fox. If they free range, something will eventually go wrong. I have even had normally harmless black snakes, aka rat snakes, slither in and kill my chickens. This year, the snake came 3 times, each time unable to fit the chicken into its mouth, leaving it dead in the coop, its head and neck covered in slime. Thankfully, at 16 weeks of age, my birds are now too large for the snake to make any more attempts.
My 2016 flock, which started as 14, is now a flock of 10 survivors. That may sound rough, but I have owned chickens for over 10 years and believe it or not, I am an overprotective chicken parent. They free range in the day and are locked up at night. They have a WiFi surveillance camera on them. The walls of their coop are 4′ high and then the rest is enclosed with chicken wire. Basically, every precaution possible has been taken and I have learned a lot over the years, but if you live in a heavily wooded area with lots of wildlife and let your chickens out in the day time, you will lose some of the flock. If they are afraid to go into their coop at night or they are up in trees at dusk, you know that there is an issue.
The 10 I have now are happy, fat, healthy birds who are locked up and secured each night. Each morning when I let them out, they run over to me to be pet on their back. They even have names. Life is good.
Do you want a rooster?
I buy my chicks “sexed”, meaning most should be females. This year, they were all females. I personally like to have 1 rooster and I think the chicks do too. He seems to keep them in order and watch over the flock. But, life without a rooster is fine too. A neighbor 200 yards away from me has a rooster, and when I have one, they communicate. At night. At like 3AM. and 3:30. And at 4. And at 4:30. You get the picture.
But in any case, if you buy 10 chicks, you can expect 1 to be a rooster.
If you live in a neighborhood and have very few predators, 3 or 4 hens can be kept in a chicken tractor and will produce for you over a dozen eggs each week. If you’re in the sticks and would like to let them free range, you will have extremely happy chickens with very nutritious eggs but you will lose a chicken here and there, so get extra. Eggs we do not consume are traded with a local meat farmer or donated to family members who don’t throw away their egg cartons.