Chickens are perfect for a sustainable homestead. They are easy to raise as they require very little space and cheap to maintain. Now, how many chickens you need for a homestead do you actually need? It actually depends on a number of factors.
The general rule of thumb is to get 2 chickens per person in your home. However, The number of chickens you need for your homestead can vary based on how much space you can spare for them, how many people you want to feed and how much time you can spend on them. But, based on your needs and the resources you can provide the number can be more or less.
It is quite essential to determine how many chickens you need for your homestead before committing to it. That’s because you need to prepare the coop, brooder, and other things based on that number. I’ll try to explain roughly how many chickens you need for what kind of family or set up, and you can decide for yourself what suits you best.
Decide on the Number of Chickens You Should Get
The first thing you need to know is that chickens need companionship. The more birds are in a flock, the happier they will be and less stressed. So, the bare minimum number of chickens you should keep is at least 2 or 3.
Stress is not the only reason why chickens need company. If there are too few chickens, they cannot regulate body heat enough in the winter. Artificial heat works, but chickens do love to cuddle and will drop in productivity if it’s alone.
Depending on whether you want to raise the chicks for your own family; or to sell the eggs, the number of chickens will vary. It could be anything from 2 to upwards of 100. It all depends on how much time you can spend on them and the size of your coop.
If you are looking to raise them for your family’s consumption, as most homesteaders do, the basic rule of thumb is getting two chickens per person. It could end up being too many if your chickens are an egg-laying breed that produces eggs fast, but that should not be a problem in this day and age.
Another thing to consider is the amount of space you can provide. Chickens need space because if they stay too cramped up with other birds, they start passing diseases. That’s precisely why the commercial chickens are so full of antibiotics. They keep the chickens in a very confined space.
As for how much space a grown chicken needs are roughly 4 square feet in the coop and around 10 square feet outside to roam around. Granted, there’s no hardcore rule about how much space they need outside; or how much time they should spend there. Some people believe just letting them walk around outside the coop is enough, which is fine but not the ideal situation.
If you have a medium or small homestead, try to start with at least 6 chickens to get started. That number is quite manageable and it’s enough to feed a small family well. But keep in mind the amount of space you need to provide in the coop.
How Many Laying Hens Do You Need?
Hens usually tend to lay eggs every day. So, depending on how many people you want the eggs for, it’s a good idea to keep 1 laying hen per person. After that, keep 1 or 2 extra hens with the total. This setup helps ensure that even if one of the hens end up not laying an egg one day, you still have enough.
That being said, you may need to keep 2 hens per person if it’s a fancy looking breed that doesn’t lay eggs every day.
You should also make sure to add a lot of calcium in their diet as they need it for the eggs.
How Many Should You Keep for Meat?
A lot of homesteaders prefer to raise their chickens for meat. Meat-chickens are not the same breed as the egg-laying hens. These are bred specifically for their meat (e.g. Cornish cross). They gain weight a lot faster than others. They eat more food in a shorter period too.
The best thing about raising chickens for meat is that you do not have to care for them all year. Most meat chicks will grow enough to be culled in a few short weeks.
A lot of homesteaders raise about 25-30 chicks at a time for a few weeks and then cull them for the meat, it lasts most people about 4-5 months depending on their eating habits. And when they run out, they can raise another batch.
If you have, let’s say, a family of 4, then about 70-80 chickens should be plenty for a year. So you probably need to raise them in a 30-40 batch every 6 months or so. It’s not a bad deal for getting good chicken that isn’t filled with antibiotics. Though, you do need to get a sizable freezer to store all the meat
Alternately, you could raise them in smaller batches of 5- 8 alongside your regular chickens. You would probably need to feed them a bit more but won’t need a big freezer since you could butcher them when you need to, one at a time, instead of culling them in bulk.
On a side note, I think the females are much better and easier to raise for meat than the males. Then again, it’s merely a personal preference.
Do you Need a Rooster?
Do you need a rooster if you only want to raise chickens for the eggs? The answer is no. I still find it funny that a lot of city folk ask how are my hens laying eggs without a rooster. A lot of people are under the misconception that hens need roosters to lay eggs.
Well they do not, Egg-laying hens will start laying hens after they are old enough on their own. You do not need a rooster. But these eggs will be infertile, meaning, no matter how long you keep it in an incubator, there just won’t be any chicks popping out of it.
- Roosters and egg-laying hens: So if you are raising chickens solely for their egg’s then you do not need a roost. But if you plan on incubating your eggs and get more chicks from them to add to your homestead, then you have to get a rooster.
Although most homesteaders would prefer to just buy the chicks outright as incubating eggs is a whole other ball game.
You’d need about 1 rooster per 10-12 hens. If the flock is large enough multiple roosters can stay without conflicting with one another.
- Meat chickens and roosters: That said, if you plan on raising both meat chickens and egg hens along with a rooster, it is best to keep the roosters separated from the meat chickens regardless of their gender. Roosters have terrible personality problems, and they tend to peck the meat chickens and injure them, often leading to their death.
Number of Chicks and Size of the Brooder
After you decided on roughly how many chickens you want to raise, based on the size of your homestead and the number of people you want to feed, it’s time to get a Brooder. Brooders are warm places where you let baby chicks stay for the first few weeks after they hatch.
It is best to raise chickens right from chicks, even though most modern chicken breeds do not have separation issues and get along fine with others.
The size of a brooder does not need to be big. Even if you have over a hundred baby chicks 5×5 is more than enough to keep all of them in. So, for a small number like 6-10 chicks, a medium-sized storage tote or other similar box is fine.
There are 3 essential things you need for a brooder:
- Heat Lamp: The most important thing to note about a brooder is the heat. You need to put a heat lamp over it at roughly 96 degrees. If it’s too cold, the chicks will huddle in the middle, and if it’s too hot, the chicks will move away from the light. Lower the temperature by around 5-6 degrees each week.
- Feeder: A smaller chicken feeder with a cover. So that only the beak can get to the food, it helps prevent food waste. Some feeders have fancy lids on them that rotate. It prevents the chicks from roosting on top of the feeders and pooping into them.
- Watering system: It is essentially a feeder for holding water. Try to put some pebbles in the water because chicks are very adventurous and will often try to swim in the watering system and drown. Small pebbles help make sure they do not die of pointless curiosity.
Also, when you first get your chicks in the brooder, gently pick one up and dip its beak in the water for a sec. That chick will learn to drink from the watering system, and others will soon follow.
Do keep in mind that you can only transport baby chicks right after they hatch and not much later. So try to get your chicks from a supplier that’s nearby.
If your chicks have a bulge near its neck, that is not something to be afraid of. That’s where their first stomach is located. If it’s bulging that means your chicken is full.
Do not be alarmed if some of your chicks die in the brooder. Chicks are fragile creatures. Sometimes they just do not make it. And that’s ok. It’s perfectly normal for about 1 chick to die in every 10-12 batch. Keep this in mind before ordering your chicks. If you need 6, try ordering a few extra ones to be safe.
Size of the Coop Per Number of Chickens
If you have the chicks in a brooder, it’s time to build a coop. Everyone knows what a coop is but a lot of people, even long-time farmers get the size of a coop wrong, which ends up lowering the productivity of the chickens inside. Also, do not make the coop too big, then chickens cannot regulate body heat properly to keep the whole place warm as the heat would just disperse in the large space.
Chickens get stressed when they stay cramped up, and they spread diseases when they are like that. A lot of farmers do not have any issues with this because they can let the chickens roam freely all year round and they only get into the coop at night. And people started to copy the coop size to chicken’s number ratio based on these sorts of coops.
“Why is it bad?” you may ask. Well, not everyone can let their chickens roam freely all the time, especially in winter countries where the birds are forced to stay in for a long time.
So it’s very important to not build your coop based on the good weather. Try to build it with winter in mind when the chickens will spend most of their time indoors. A 4 sq feet space for each chicken is optimal, but if you live in a place where the winter is relatively mild and chickens can roam outside, you could make the coop a little smaller, but not by much.
Roosts are also important for your chickens, these birds love to roost, so try to add a roosting pole that is at least 3 inches wide, with about 7-8 inches of perching space for each of your chickens.
Also, keep the coop perched up, and not directly on the ground as that becomes prime real estate for rats and mice. You should also put something in the coop to make dry and soft bedding, think wood shavings or straws
Feed You’ll Need Based on The Size of The Flock
How much food each of your chicken consumes depends on the breed. Some breeds tend to eat more than others, and some breeds tend to waste more food than others.
Now the cost of food drops quite a bit if your chickens are a free-range breed and you have a large enough lawn to let them wander around hunting critters. But if they are not free-range then each chicken should concede about 1-2 pounds of feed per week to have healthy growth. You still need to feed the free-range chickens, just less than a non-free-range variant.
So for about 6 chickens, you do not need more than 10 pounds of feed a week, especially if you plan to feed them the household leftovers.
Do keep in mind, you need to add crushed shells or some other calcium-rich mineral to the feed for the laying hens, as they need that to make the eggshells.
Chickens are great for cleaning your garden plot. Roughly 10 chickens will eat all the critters from an 8×10 garden plot in a few days. So it’s a great idea to let them free-range for a while right before you plant your seeds.
Mistakes to Avoid While Raising Chickens
The coop is not as much for keeping your chickens inside. Chickens are fairly low down the food chain, and they have a lot of predators. Foxes, coyotes, raccoons would prey on your chickens if you left them out at night., Even cats can be a threat to your baby chicks if you aren’t careful. Always make sure to put your chickens back in the coop in the evenings.
Have a large removable door for your coop. I see a lot of people make the mistake of designing a coop perfectly but then they add a small door where u can barely get your head in. This is bad because it makes cleaning the coop that much harder.
Not cleaning the coop regularly every week or so can prove to be a health hazard for your chickens. You should try to clean and replace the bedding at least once a month. Chickens like dry resting places. Wet areas will often get them sick very quickly.
With that, I hope you learned everything you needed to know about how many chickens you need for a homestead. They are easy livestock to maintain and they offer so much sustenance to your homestead. No matter how big of a flock you have on your homestead, it should not take too long to take care of them. Roughly a few hours per week is all you need to spend on them.
Chickens are the first livestock most homesteaders add to their list of domestic animals because they are simple and easy things to take care of. But try to avoid adding in too many different types of livestock at once to your homestead. Ideally, you should try to add one type of animal each year so that you can get used to them first. Hope this article was of help to you. Thanks for reading till the end. Best of luck!