Raising Chickens: How Many Do You Need?


ONE OF THE MOST DIFFICULT CHALLENGES I FACE is providing enough soil amendments for my raised beds. I can’t make nearly enough compost, and I really hate to pay for soil amendments.

Farmers have solved this dilemma with livestock since the beginning of time. And chickens are probably the most common animal kept for this purpose. Vegetable gardeners like chickens both for their high-omega-3 eggs as well as their nitrogen-rich manure.

Still a chicken in suburbia is a rare and noteworthy sight. There’s no denying that there’s still a certain stigma attached to small-scale, suburban livestock. As a result, keeping chickens in the suburbs is almost a lost art.

I’m not sure I want to make the significant commitment that comes along with raising chickens, but I know I’d like to know more about what’s involved. To better understand what I would be getting into I’m reading Harvey Ussery’s book called The Small-Scale Poultry Flock*. It focuses on raising chickens and other fowl with an eye on building soil fertility, replacing purchased feed and working with poultry when you have a garden.

How many chickens?

One of the first questions that comes to mind about raising chickens is how many should you keep. Ussery has an easy to understand formula for determining the right number. You start with the average number of eggs your family consumes per day.raising chickens

Let’s say, for example, you have a family of four that consumes on average one egg per day or seven eggs per week. For every three laying hens, you get an average of two eggs per day. So three hens would be enough for 14 eggs per week. But there are a couple of other points to keep in mind:

1. There will be more eggs in the spring and summer and fewer eggs during the rest of the year.

2. Once you start eating great tasting, fresh eggs, your family will likely want more.

So it’s better to estimate for the minimum rather than the average. That way you’ll probably have enough. It’s also important to keep in mind that chickens are social animals and they do better in a flock than solitary.

The other point that Ussery makes is it’s always better to start small and work your way up than to start big and maybe get overwhelmed.

Are you raising chickens in the suburbs? How many do you keep and why? Let us know by commenting below.

Related Articles:

1. Learning from Polyface Farm
2. How to Compost Faster
3. Do Tumbling Compost Bins Work

*If you purchase using this link, I make a small amount of money that helps me continue to keep writing this blog.

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4 Responses to “Raising Chickens: How Many Do You Need?”

  1. December 24, 2011 at 5:01 pm #

    I have not had chickens for a long time now,it is too cold in my area in the Winter time without providing heat.However,if my Winters were a lot warmer i would not hesitate to keep them again because chicken eggs are like vegetables,they are mass produced and you don’t know what you are eating anymore.I worked with chickens for 22 years,15 years were spent working in a egg grading and packing plant.You have so many different kinds of eggs on the market now,Omega,Grain Fed,Free Run,ect.Any regular chicken eggs can be passed off as any one of these eggs and no one would know the difference.They pass off regular eggs as omega and get more money for them.This has nothing to do with the producers,it is the packing plant that does it.One more thing that i will pass on to you.Big chicken farms that produce Omega eggs use an Omega chicken feed.When the chickens have been eating this feed for about 3 months some of them start to die.The feed affects their liver,it is called An Omega liver,and they lose 10 to 15% of their flock with this.The problem i have is what it may do to the people that eat the eggs.If you have a chance to raise your own chickens,do it,they are easy to take care of.They are also like fresh veg,the more you have the more you will eat,so always add a few extra birds.Oh,i must add that i live in Canada,not the USA,it may be different there.

    • December 26, 2011 at 8:59 am #

      Bob — You make a good point about buying eggs from the grocery store. You don’t really know what you are getting. Unfortunately, there are probably many situations where eggs passed off as something they are not. The only way to be sure is to produce your own eggs.

  2. Joel Mazza
    December 27, 2011 at 10:13 pm #

    Bill,

    This is a great and interesting blog. You cover a number of topics that I have been interested in for a while. The topic of raising chickens as well as gutter sisterns and water walls for tomatoes have been enlightening. I have not gotten to the point of starting a garden, but will try to build a small raised bed early this spring if the weather cooperates. I have been reading your posts pretty regularly, but hadn’t seen any for quite a while until this one. I’m not sure if my reader app was not picking up feed, but in any case, I hope your doing well and keep up the posts. Your blog is a great reference point for a novice or wanna-be suburban farmer.
    Joel

    • December 27, 2011 at 11:06 pm #

      Thanks Joel. I appreciate the feedback. I’ve been too busy to post for a while, but have had some free time lately and will be posting more often.

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