Getting Started: How Many Hens Are Right for You

| 7/11/2018 9:30:00 AM

Tags: chickens, hatchery, Heritage Harvest Farm, Corinne Gompf, Ohio,


Elizabeth B. writes: I have always wanted backyard chickens after having a favorite hen as a child. How much space do you think I need minimum and what’s a good number to start with if I just want eggs and companionship? How can I be sure to get hens and where do you get them? Do you order them?

Great questions, Elizabeth! It’s great to hear of your interest in starting a backyard flock. I completely understand your attachment to your favorite hen. We feel the same way about our rooster, Big Papa. He’s four years old, and we hope he lives forever! I asked my daughter, Emery, how many she thought you should start out with, and her response was 50! Keep in mind, she’s six years old, and at the most, we had 250 layers for egg sales at farmers’ markets. So, 50 hens wouldn’t be that many for us.

Seriously, whenever someone asks me about getting started, I always recommend one hen per person in your family, or two per person if you want to buy heritage or fancy breeds that may not lay every day, or you want to share or sell a few dozens to friends, family, or neighbors. We are a family of four, and we currently have nine laying hens and a rooster. I have enough eggs for us to use (I bake a lot), and my friend Julie trades meat for our eggs. If you are single, I would still recommend a minimum of three hens for your starter flock because of their social nature and they like to roost at night in a group.

As for space, chickens really do not need a lot of space, nor do they need a fancy-pantsy coop. There are small garden sheds or large dog kennels that could be converted into a coop and would comfortably house a small flock. I’ve even seen wooden swingsets that crafty homesteaders have turned into chicken coops. A simple online search will help you determine what will work for you. All your layers will need is protection from predators and weather, a roosting bar, a few nesting boxes, and access to water and feed. Whether or not you allow them to free range is up to you. Honestly, it is not necessary to allow layers outside, and they will lay eggs while kept in their coops, but confinement is not ideal for small flocks.

And I purchase my chicks from a number of places, including: online hatcheries, local hatcheries, and farm-supply stores. I’m not that picky as to where I purchase my chicks. However, when I buy online, my hatchery of choice is not more than an hour away. This is important because of shipping time. I know that once my order is hatched,  I will need to pick up my chicks at the post office the next day. So, I don’t want to recommend an online hatchery for you, but instead, search for hatcheries close to where you live. Most likely, the hatchery will deliever to your local post office, so once you get a notification that your order is on its way, give them a holler to let them know. The guys in the mail room (especially Jeff) are always happy to give me a call when my peepers are there.

mother earth news fair 2018 schedule


Next: August 4-5, 2018
Albany, OR

Whether you want to learn how to grow and raise your own food, build your own root cellar, or create a green dream home, come out and learn everything you need to know — and then some!