Updated: Jan 15, 2019
In addition to looking forward to scrumptious and beautiful eggs, as backyard chicken keepers, we also hope that our feathered, breakfast-making ladies will be our pets too. As you prepare to get chickens for your coop and backyard, there are a few important things to consider in order to foster a flock that is healthy, happy with each other, and happy with us. (Note: this will certainly make for the-most-delicious-tasting eggs.)
Choose wisely when deciding on the number of chickens you'll get. First, check with your city ordinances to find out if there is a limit to the number of chickens you can keep. Next, determine the maximum number of chickens you can keep based on the size of your chicken coop. Chickens, like most living beings, need personal space and some freedom to move about. If you pack too many hens into a small area, you're asking for heavy cleaning and loads of bickering (or worse), somewhat like taking kids for a long car ride! You can generally assume that about 10 square feet per chicken should be sufficient, less if you plan to free range them outside the coop. Lastly, determine how many eggs your household will reasonably use, sell, barter, or give away. On average, a good laying hen will give you 5 eggs per week.
Keep pullets around the same age or size. We recommend keeping adolescent pullets within a couple months of age of each. If you're starting with baby chicks, keep them all within a few weeks of each other - they will need much different heat requirements if they're too far apart in age. If you're starting with mature hens - they'll all be the same size and the age does not matter. It may seem like a great idea to get some chickens that are ready to lay to appease our excitement to harvest fresh eggs, and some chickens that are small and fluffy that we can bond with. Unfortunately, putting together a group of chickens of wildly different ages can be really tough on the little ones, and its never okay to put baby chicks together with adolescents or adults who are not currently broody and ready to be mothers. Younger chickens in a flock of older birds will often get ostracized from the group, kept away from the food and water, and subjected to a much tougher and lengthy pecking order. Baby chicks will not survive the cold or the pecking order, and getting just one baby chick for your brooder will make it lonely, stressed, and cause other health problems.
Avoid including just one chicken who looks different from the rest. Surely you've heard the saying "Birds of a feather flock together," and it's true: chickens seem to know when they look like each other. They'll pair up or stay in groups that look alike and the one chicken that doesn't look like anyone else will get left out. Our favorite recommendation is to get all different breeds. Chickens become like pets and will probably all get names, and this makes it easy to tell them apart. You could also get all the same breeds, get pairs or multiples of different breeds, or make sure there are at least 2 chickens that look different from the rest.
Integrate chickens as few times as possible. It may seem like a good idea at the time to start with a couple, and get more as you go but the pecking order can be a nasty score to settle for some chickens. This is not to say it isn't possible or it's too hard, but it's not pleasant and it can be quite a bit of work. Unless you're absolutely not prepare to bring your ideal number of chickens in all at once, or your heart is set on breeds who will hatch in different times of the year we recommend getting everyone at once.