How many chickens? Please help solve a marital dispute!


9 Years
Mar 8, 2010
DH and I are planning to go pick up our chicks from a local farmer today. They will be about 5 days old. We're all set up for our little chicks, but we cannot decide upon the right number of chicks to bring home! I'd love your advice.

We have a 3 acre yard in the "country" in Wisconsin and there are no ordinances. We are building a coop that will be about 40 square feet. We plan to let the chickens free range whenever possible, but they will need to be closely watched due to neighborhood dogs. They'll have a nice run, too, of course.

We have never had chickens. We have lots friends with chickens who are excited to help. We have read and read and read a lot about chickens, but I'm nervous about getting in over my head. I'd like to start with 6-8 chicks and maybe add a couple more next year, but never more than 12. DH was originally thinking 20 (What? Is he kidding me?) I put my foot down quickly on that one, but he thinks we should get our dozen right off the bat. His argument is that we might lose some (true) and that it will be easier if the girls all grow up together.

If they are going to have to spend time penned up your coop will hold 10 at the most. If you crowd them too much you can end up with pecking issues and not happy chickens.
Unless they are sex links, you're likely to end up with some roos. Do you want roos? If not, I would take a few more than you want, just in case. Actually, 12 isn't a bad number to start with. Then if you lose some, or have to rehome or eat some roos, it isn't a big deal. Are yours bantams or standards? It makes a difference in the size requirement.

Enjoy your chicks!
20 seems like a lot but it really isn't. I started with four last summer, not I have 27! You can always add to your flock and you may find breeds you are interested in later on. I would start with 6-10 and see where you want to go from there. If you are raising them for eggs for your family I have read 2 per family member should provide a sufficent amount of eggs once they are all laying. If you are getting them that young some could be roos. If you only want girls you may have to rehome some so keep that in mind too. Good luck!
I agree. My DH encouraged me to buy more chicks than I needed the first time, his reasoning was also that I might lose some. I didn't, other than the three extra cockerels I gave away.
The time to add more chickens, if necessary, is after you get your feet wet and have things going well, IMO.
Katy's right -- for now, with that coop, 10 is likely your max.

Looking to the future, ask yourself why you want chickens. Is it just for eggs? Are they pets? Do you want to breed and show them? How about sell eggs?

Depending on your answers to those questions, the "perfect" number will be different. "Yes" to the first two probably means that 10 is more than enough (unless you use an inordinate number of eggs!) "Yes" to the last one, and you want to look more toward hubby's 20+ (but you better build a bigger coop!).

And yes, if you free range you're going to lose some. The trouble with losing some is that it's rarely a matter of "oh, we have 3 more than we need, it's OK if 3 go missing" it's "oh crap -- a dog just killed all 10!" Getting extras is something of a crapshoot. If you're hoping to lose a few to make the living area not crowded, they'll all live; if you get "just enough" something eats 'em. Murphy's law of chicken keeping.

You'll want to cycle in some youngstock every year anyhow to keep enough productive layers, so I personally would start with maybe 6 or 7. Then next year you can cycle in some new ones without being overcrowded (and you probably won't be ready to cull yet); by the second year you can be looking at culling and cycle in yet more youngstock, or you can have had some time to think about expanding your coop area. By then you'll have been through a few cycles and know if you enjoy raising them
I also have 27 chickens at the moment, and it's manageable, but if you are just starting out, 10-12 would be a good number for the space you have available inside. There are bad days when they won't go out much, and so 10-12 in your coop would be ideal. It will also give you a chance to get to know them better as individuals, handle them more, etc. A few extra isn't a bad idea, though, as even "pullets" end up crowing sometimes, and if you are getting them from a local farmer, they will not be sexed. You will have at least half roosters. So my vote is to end up with 10-12 hens for a first time venture - and you'll have a great time! Good luck!
PS: On the other hand, I agree with everything Uzuri said too.
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That sounds like a big coop, and if you add a big covered run so that they will be safe from neighborhood dogs then I say why not start with 20..... probably end up with some extra roos you may not want. That will take the numbers down.
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It depends on whether you are picking up sexed birds or straight run. If you are getting straight run, it is likely you will have 50% roosters, more or less. If this is what you are doing, you will want to downsize the rooster population as they mature, meaning you will wind up with fewer birds, and so should pick up more, initially. If you are picking up sexed birds, the likelihood of roosters is anywhere up to 10% and so you are less likely to need to downsize.
I agree with the previous poster who said that your coop would accomodate 10 birds, max. This is figured by using the 4 square feet indoor space per bird rule. If you have a chicken run at some point, the minimum rule is 10 square feet per bird. You risk causing major behavioral issues if you give them less space per bird.
I am assuming that the birds you are picking up are standard breeds, not bantams. The square footage per bird is smaller for bantams.

You may get quite a few roosters, are you prepared to deal with them? (I have to give mine away, I just can't eat chicken.)

As Katy said, 10 birds would be maximum for a coop that size.

However, my biggest worry is the free ranging- what are you going to do if a neighbor's dog tears into the yard and start killing them? Dogs will kill as many as possible, they don't stop to eat. And you may get bitten in the process, which is a nightmare. Being right there is not going to stop a dog, unless you shoot it.

I'd get a pen of some sort up first, to protect them. Get some chicks today, they will be in a brooder for a while anyway. And spend the next couple of weeks figuring out how to protect them from predators.

Good luck, take care of the basics and you will soon be eating fresh eggs!

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