How Many Chickens Should A Beginner Have?


Keeping chickens can be fun and rewarding. There is nothing quite like collecting healthy eggs from your own backyard flock each day, but if you are new to owning poultry, it is best to start with a few chickens until you have established a routine around caring for them. So, how many chickens should a beginner keep?

Beginner chicken owners should start with at least 3 but not more than 6 chickens. Chickens are highly social and should never be kept on their own. Three healthy hens can provide around 18 eggs per week. Novice chicken owners should never get roosters.

Deciding to get chickens can be exciting, and if you start with a manageable number, you will soon get the hang of it. There are some chicken-keeping basics that you need to keep in mind, and you will soon be coping with your backyard flock like a seasoned pro.

A blue chicken coop with three chickens eating out of a bowl
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How Many Chickens Should A Beginner Have?

When making the exciting decision to get your own chickens, starting with a small manageable number is always recommended. Like any pets, chickens can be a lot of extra work, and keeping them healthy and happy can take a bit of getting used to if you are a new chicken owner. 

It is recommended that new chicken owners should start with between three and six chickens. This is a manageable number that will provide you with enough eggs to make keeping hens worth the effort, but it is also few enough to easily track and monitor each bird’s health and activity. You’ll also need to get into a manageable routine for collecting eggs. Check out my article on How Often Should I Collect Chicken Eggs?

Chickens are highly sociable birds, so two is an absolute minimum number. However, three is recommended as it can happen, especially when starting out, that one bird could be taken by a predator or some other unfortunate event. Having a ‘spare’ means that after tightening up on any possible safety or system failure, you will still have two birds, so you won’t immediately need to go and find a replacement if you lose one. 

Although chickens are usually fairly easy animals to keep, there is a lot of getting used to, and like any animals, they can suffer from any number of conditions or pests. By starting with a few chickens, you will essentially be able to train your eye to notice abnormal behavior or sickly birds immediately. Keeping the number of chickens down to less than six birds, you will get to know the individual birds and quickly notice if one becomes less active or needs closer inspection.

Keeping an eye on your chickens physicial health is important prevent disease and illness. Just like humans chickens can be too skinny or too fat and neither one is good for your chickens. Learn more about how to tell if your chickens are a healthy weight in my two articles, What To Do If Your Chickens Are Skinny? and Can Chickens Get Fat? How to Help Them Lose Weight.

As you learn more about keeping poultry, you will find that you can immediately spot an egg-bound hen or see signs of mite infestation. As a beginner, if you own a large flock, it may be difficult to keep track of individuals, and often a bird would have to be seriously ill before you notice. By then, the condition might have become untreatable or could spread through the flock.

Keeping six or fewer birds will ensure that each hen can be accounted for daily, and you will be able to check that each individual is eating, drinking, and behaving normally. It can get pretty confusing when you have a large flock as chickens of the same breed often look pretty similar. You may not be able to identify one individual from the rest, especially when they are all moving about enthusiastically as chickens do!

It is also recommended that novice chicken owners start with between 3 and no more than 6 chickens to become accustomed to chicken behavior. While you might have thought about the amount of space, feed, and suitable coop for your chickens, chickens may start picking on each other if they lack nutrients or stimulation. By starting with a few birds and becoming accustomed to their requirements, you will be able to expand your flock once you have ironed out any initial deficiencies and addressed behavioral issues in your starter group.  If you think your chickens are getting bored check out my article, Chicken Toys: 20 Ways to Keep Your Chickens Entertained.

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As a novice chicken owner, you probably won’t have additional chicken equipment or extra cages lying around, so sticking with a small number also makes sense if you need to isolate any of your birds. The moment you notice that one of your chickens isn’t looking healthy or has any minor wounds, the bird will need to be removed from the group to avoid further injury or spread of disease. If you have a lot of chickens and several are ill or injured, keeping them comfortably isolated might be a challenge, so starting with a manageable number will make treating individuals easier. 

When you initially get chickens for the first time, it is probably during spring or summer, the most favorable seasons of the year. The weather is warm, the grass is abundant, and conditions might be excellent for a thriving flock. Beginners need to guard against the temptation of purchasing more than a maximum of five or six chickens until they have successfully managed an entire year of seasonal changes with their flock.

The various seasons may play havoc with your chickens, and getting a small flock through a 12-month cycle is recommended over starting with dozens and possibly suffering huge losses. Sudden rainstorms could soak your hens if the coop isn’t suitable. Freezing weather or heat waves can also take their toll, so keeping the numbers low means that you could quickly rescue all your hens and bring them inside in the case of any unfavorable weather occurrence if your setup isn’t ideal. 

For more information on keeping chickens in winter, check out my articles 12 Tips to Keep Chickens Warm in Winter and Do Chickens Need An Insulated Coop?

Chickens roost under the protection of a cozy coop. One black hen would rather venture through the snow.
ID 108610156 © Raleigh Killen | Dreamstime.com

Although most beginner chicken owners are very enthusiastic and want to jump right in, one of the reasons to only start with between three and six, to begin with, has to do with hygiene. Dogs and cats are pets that poop infrequently and do so in specific places. Not so with chickens, and this aspect of chicken ownership, although not often spoken about, can take a bit of getting used to. 

Beginner chicken owners need to commit to a schedule of keeping the coop clean. Of course, the more chickens you have in a small area, the more soiled the space will become and the more frequently it will need to be cleaned. Starting with three hens is most certainly more manageable to keep clean than jumping right in and having 30 hens! If you notice your chicken coops smelling funky, you might need to step up your cleaning game. Learn more in my article, Odors in a Chicken Coop: How to Reduce and Prevent

Fowl manure can pile up pretty quickly and attracts pests like rodents and flies. Novice chicken owners should first become accustomed to the work schedule in terms of cleaning and disposing of the manure for a small number of birds as things can quickly get out of hand with more than a handful of birds. Once you have cleaning systems in place, you might want to increase the number of chickens that you keep.

Chickens are a delight, and once you get started on this rewarding hobby, you will probably quickly get hooked. However, while hens are lovely, beginners should never start with any roosters. The minimum number of hens per rooster should never be less than nine, and a rooster can physically injure hens if the ratio is insufficient. A rooster should never be part of any startup group since it is not recommended for beginner chicken owners to keep more than six hens to start with. 

Things To Consider Before Acquiring Chickens

Before acquiring chickens, check the rules and regulations governing keeping poultry in your area. Many bylaws limit the number of chickens you can keep on your property. If you live close to your neighbors, it is advisable to also discuss this with them, especially if the chickens will be free-range.   

Chicken breeds are divided into three categories: 

  • Those that are specifically bred for meat, for example, broilers
  • Those bred for egg-laying, for example, Golden Comets
  • The dual-purpose breeds, for example, Australorps

Most breeds of chickens are suitable if you only want them as pets, although some breeds like Easter Eggers and Buff Orpingtons are naturally more friendly than others. 

Deciding on how many chickens to start with depends on your available space and expectations. However, for novice chicken owners, it is recommended to start with a few chickens and add more over time.

When making the decision to acquire chickens for the first time, these are the things that you need to consider:

  • The age of the chickens when you get them
  • How the prevailing climate may affect your chickens
  • The space and coop requirements for the poultry
  • What to feed your chickens
  • Maintaining overall good health of the flock
  • Introduction of new birds
  • The potential noise made by the chickens
  • Do you need a rooster? 

Once you have moved through this list, you will be ready to start your chicken-ownership journey!

Hen and chickens poultry in a rural yard
ID 180802362 © Eustar | Dreamstime.com

Chicks Vs. Adult Chickens For Beginners

Once you have decided on the chicken breed you would like to keep, the next step will be to decide if you want to start with chicks or adult chickens.

The advantage of starting with adult chickens is that they have passed the most vulnerable early stages, and they are ready to start laying eggs or have already started. 

Beginners should note that starting with tiny chicks, usually sold as day-old chicks, requires additional care for the first few weeks of life. Rearing your own chickens from chicks has the advantage of them growing up with you, so you’ll know their history, age and they will often become very tame. If your chickens are also intended as pets, getting day-old chicks is recommended. 

Things To Consider When Rearing Chicks 

When buying your day-old chicks, always buy from a reputable breeder to avoid unnecessary health problems. Also, if you are raising chickens for eggs, make sure the chicks are sexed to ensure you don’t end up with any roosters. 

Chicks are regularly sold as day-olds. Young chicks can survive up to three days without feeding or drinking as the chick still absorbs some remaining nutrients from within the egg after hatching. Not needing sustenance for the first few days of life is why they’re often shipped by mail to their destination. 

When provided with food and water, the chicks will readily feed and drink within hours of hatching.

Unless chicks are with their mother hen, they must be kept under a heat lamp at 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 deg C). The temperature is reduced gradually over six weeks until they are tolerant of a temperature of around 55 degrees Fahrenheit (13 deg C). At that stage, they will have grown feathers that will keep their temperature constant and artificial heating will no longer be required unless you live in a frigid climate.

It is vital to ensure that enough space is available in the chicks’ enclosure around the heat lamp. Ample space allows the chicks to regulate their body temperature by moving closer to or further from the heated area. The heater lamp should be suspended in the middle of the enclosure to avoid them bunching up in a corner, as weaker chicks can be trampled by stronger chicks.

All poultry should always have access to clean drinking water throughout the day. If you get tiny chicks to start, ensure that the water drinkers are just high enough off the ground so that chicks can reach them, but they won’t be able to climb into the water container. Chicks cant swim and can drown even in very shallow water. Chicks that get wet quickly die of cold and are susceptible to fatal respiratory infections. If you are having issues with your chickens pooping in their water, read my article How To Stop Chickens From Pooping In Their Water.

Feed needs to be constantly available and provided in a suitable chicken feeder. Your local feed supplier can offer advice on the type and availability of feed for the different stages of development. A complete starter mash or crumble is the first type of feed required for young chicks up to eight weeks. From around eight weeks of age, grower feed can be introduced.

Young chicks are astoundingly good at crawling into and getting stuck in tiny spaces. Ensure that the enclosure is baby-proof to minimize unnecessary fatalities. In addition, also make sure that the chickens’ enclosure is predator and pet-proof. Many pet chickens have become victims of a family dog who hasn’t that isn’t yet familiar with poultry. 

Climate Considerations For Beginner Chicken Owners

When thinking about getting chickens for the first time, it is important to consider your climate. Provided they have are healthy and have a sheltered coop, adult chickens are very resilient to cold weather. Freezing temperatures will require chicken enclosures that are weatherproof and warm, but it is not usually necessary to install artificial heating. However, it is vital to ensure that water bowls don’t become frozen. 

The most crucial factor is that chickens remain dry. They can withstand even icy conditions by holding a warm layer of soft feathers against their skin, but they will quickly succumb to the cold if they are wet. Learn more about keeping chickens warm in winter in my article 12 Tips to Keep Chickens Warm in Winter.

Space Requirements For Chickens

Free-range chickens are great roamers and may forage up to 300 feet away from their coop. Supplying adequate feed and space to sand bath and scratch around in the dirt, they won’t stray too far. In general, chickens will stay in an area where they feel safe and return to the coop’s safety early each evening. 

Alternate options such as chicken tractors are handy for areas where free-roaming chickens might be problematic or where there are a lot of predators. The great thing about a well-equipped, spacious chicken tractor is that it can be moved around the yard. 

Chickens enjoy the safety of a protected coop environment while at the same time enjoying the opportunity to forage fresh ground each time the coop is moved. Chicken tractors are available ready-made or can be built as a DIY project in all shapes and sizes. 

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Scratching in the dirt is innate chicken behavior. Newly hatched chickens will scratch around in their feed bowl from day one. 

Chickens love to scratch in the dirt. They also love to dust bath to keep their feathers in good condition. Scratching can play havoc on lawns as the chickens forage and create their dust bath bowls in the dirt. Therefore, it is essential to regularly move the chicken tractor to avoid damage to the lawn.

Although chickens are excellent at locating and destroying any pesky garden snails or bugs, they may also cause a lot of damage to gardens. They love leafy greens, so if you’re new to keeping chickens, it is an excellent idea to fence off your veggie garden to keep it safe. Flower beds and lawns are favorite foraging sites for chickens, so be prepared for this when keeping free-range chickens. This is another good reason to start with a small number of chickens, as a large flock can do a lot more damage to a yard.

The minimum recommended size for a chicken tractor is three square feet per chicken. A chicken tractor usually has a sheltered area on one end containing nesting boxes and includes a perch for the chickens to roost.

What To Feed Chickens

Chicks are tiny, so they need to be provided with age-appropriate chicken food that comes in a mash or crumble form. Chicks should be fed on the starter feed for about the first eight weeks of life. 

The next stage feed is called grower feed. Grower feed comes in mash or crumble and is specifically formulated to support the healthy growth of chickens. . Find out more about feed chicks in my article Why Baby Chickens Need Grit (and How to Provide It).

Scratch chicken feed is available in various textures and can be included in their diet at any stage. 

It usually consists of crushed corn as the primary ingredient, mixed with other seeds such as sunflower, oats, barley, and wheat. The combination of seeds adds interest to a chicken’s diet, but it is not a complete chicken feed and should only be regarded as a supplement.

Chicken feeds are available in many textures, from finely crushed powder to pellet format. Once chickens are used to a specific type of feed, switching to another may take some time. So if your chickens are doing well on a particular texture, try to stick with it and introduce another texture gradually.

Layers will benefit from being fed specially formulated laying feed. Laying feed is available from your local feed store. Laying feed contains high calcium levels, which supports the proper formation of eggshells. 

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Chickens are omnivorous, and free-range birds will eat bugs, worms, and greens. Frogs, small rats, mice, and even small snakes are on the menu for chickens. They also love treats such as diced tomato, lettuce, kale, broccoli, and cabbage. During cold winter snaps, hanging a whole cabbage from a string in their coop will provide nutrition and entertainment. 

If you keep chickens, almost no food ever needs to go to waste. Most kitchen scraps will be enthusiastically received and are fine if provided in moderation with their staple, balanced chicken feed. Kitchen scraps that contain excessive salt or oil should not be fed to chickens.  

To stay healthy, chickens need variety and greens in their diets. They will eat many types of food. A few foods that should be avoided are citrus, raw potatoes, avocados, chocolate, onions, rhubarb, garlic, or uncooked rice and beans. Also, avoid giving them any food that is moldy or rotten. Wondering if chickens need food overnight? To get the answers check out my article, Do Chickens Need Food and Water At Night?

Keeping Your Chickens Healthy

Chickens are relatively easy to keep healthy, so this should not deter the beginner chicken owner from owning them. Regularly cleaning your chicken coop is essential to the good health of your flock. Chicken poop dries out quickly in well-ventilated enclosures, making it easy to rake. It makes excellent garden fertilizer, but be sure to let it compost before adding it to plants, as it will burn them if added raw. 

Most day-old chicks are already inoculated against local diseases by the time you get them, and regular deworming is done by adding a deworming agent to their drinking water. Your local vet or animal supply store will have poultry dewormer solutions to keep your flock healthy.

In terms of predators, beginners should ensure that the chickens are kept safe in a predator-proof enclosure, especially during the night. Predators can include rats and snakes that can get through tiny spaces, so ensure that all openings are sealed with small gauge chicken mesh. 

Chickens roost at night and will go back to their enclosure on their own as the sun sets, so there is no need to be chasing chickens around every night to close them up for the night.  

Providing your chickens with a balanced diet and clean drinking water will go a long way towards keeping them healthy. Allowing them to free range is the best option as it allows for natural foraging behavior and birds receive plenty of stimulation and exercise. They can also be highly entertaining to watch.  

How To Introduce New Chickens To A Flock

Beginner chicken owners do not stay novice for very long, and once you have the basics of chicken care under control, you may want to increase the number of chickens in the flock. 

Keep the new chickens caged in a separate area for at least a week when you receive them. They should be provided with a safe space to observe and interact with the established flock through a wire fence and have a place where they can retreat if they feel overwhelmed. 

Introducing additional chickens to an existing flock can be traumatic to the new chicken and the existing flock. Being able to see and interact with each other allows them to get to know each other and allows the new chickens to integrate into the group. Keeping new chickens caged inside the coop also lets them learn where their roost is so that they return to that area each evening once they are released. 

How Noisy Are Chickens?

Chickens are highly social animals and constantly seem to chat. Only keeping hens reduces the noise levels generated by the chickens. Roosters crow a lot, occasionally even during the night if they are disturbed. They also kick up a fuss when a hen lays an egg, although most hens also loudly announce the successful laying of an egg by cackling.

The noise levels increase with the number of chickens that you keep. Roosters tend to bother the hens and each other a lot if you have more than one. They voice their disapproval fairly loudly, so keep this in mind if you have neighbors that live within earshot.

You may notice your chickens are noisiest in the morning. Learn why in my article Why Are My Chickens So Noisy in the Morning?

An image of a rooster on a small farm crowing : calling to the hens.
ID 14912615 © Ayome Watmough | Dreamstime.com

Should Beginner Chicken Owners Keep A Rooster?

First-time chicken owners should only start with hens, as roosters can be a handful. Roosters crow, which may upset neighbors. In addition, they kick up a fuss when a hen lays an egg, but most of all, they can cause harm to the hens if the ratio of hens per rooster is not carefully monitored. 

The recommended rooster-to-hen ratio is one rooster for nine hens. Hens will lay eggs as usual even if there is no rooster in the flock. You only want a rooster if you need the eggs to be fertilized for breeding purposes.

Remember, if you breed your chickens, roosters will be hatched along with hens which will cause an imbalance of roosters to hens. This is not an issue if you want to raise chickens for meat, but it can be problematic when raising chickens exclusively for eggs.

Final Thoughts

Keeping chickens is easy and rewarding, even for beginners. Essential considerations when acquiring chickens for the first time are the chickens’ purpose and the available space. Start with between three and six chickens to get to know them individually, and you will quickly be able to identify any problems. A lower number will ensure that both the chickens and their owner can ease into the daily routine. 

Dane McManis

Dane started learning about farming while volunteering on a farm. Now he and his wife raise chickens, pigs, and ducks on their small farm with their two little girls.

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