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Possibly you’ve seen the memes related to backyard chicken owners and the telltale signs of addiction. They’re pretty funny and can be spot on. We were like that in the beginning too: Buying chicks, adolescent hens and roos, and always keeping our eyes open for more. But how do you know when you have too many, or is this something you should figure out in advance?
HOW MANY IS TOO MANY?
Assuming you’re not a commercial chicken keeper or breeder, and if you already have birds, you likely know the legal situation of owning them where you live, whether in the city or suburbs. I live in the country on only an acre, and there are no limits like they have in the cities.
Now if you are interested in getting into this and you live in the city or suburbs, a lot of cities are embracing raising chickens, however they don’t allow roosters for obvious reasons of noise pollution and possible aggression. There are also limitations to how many birds you can keep in your backyard, so that will make it quite simple to know how many birds you can have, but not always easy, because we tend to like our birds and want more.
If you live on some acreage you will have more freedom in the amount of birds you can have and whether or not you will keep roosters, and then you will have to seriously start thinking about how many birds are too many, because space won’t be an issue, not in the beginning.
My 18 year old daughter is at the point where she thinks we have too many birds; the point when she’s tired of taking care of them and cleaning the coop, although if you have a tractor coop and run, cleaning it won’t be as much of an issue, as I bring up here. I have not gotten to the place my daughter is at, but I have agreed not to incubate any more eggs. We have 20 chickens and that’s a good number.
Some people choose the number of birds they want based on egg production. How many eggs do you want a week or a day and then think how many birds you need to accomplish that. Some breeds produce more and some less. I will get to that in another post. The older they get they slow down too. Generally speaking we get a dozen and a half a day, but most of them slow down in winter. There are breeds that do great in winter though.
HOW TO INTRODUCE CHICKS to the FLOCK
When introducing chicks to the flock, they should have their adult feathers, and some people recommend the chicks be adult size before putting them in the general population. We did this with our first incubated chicks and the first, second, and third set of chicks we purchased, however as we got accustomed to raising chickens and our particular birds we stopped waiting till the chicks were full size. I don’t recommend this until you are very familiar with your flock and know their temperament. Some breeds of chickens tend to be more contentious than others, so this will also dictate how and when you introduce new chicks to your existing flock, but the general rule is to wait till they have their adult feathers, because sooner than that they can get hypothermia.
With our second set of incubated chicks we waited till they had their adult feathers and then brought the chicks out, in a pet cage, and put it in the run so that they could see the adults, and the adults could see them. We only had 5 that time so it was big enough to keep them in the pet cage; they were protected from the adults (thus the cage), and they were protected from the elements and predators (thus the run). We did this for a few days before letting the chicks free.
We discovered that the adults didn’t pay any attention to the chicks, because they didn’t deem them a threat to their food or position; they never attacked the chicks. It was only when the chicks got around the same size as the existing birds that the head pecking began. Also those chicks were some of the smartest chicks we ever had. When it was time to be locked up at night I would go out there and call them to me, to follow me, and they followed me to the coop to get locked up.
This past year alone we’ve also seen an extraordinary amount of hens go broody compared to all the years we’ve had chickens; I’m not sure if it was because they sensed their numbers were about to dwindle (we lost 4 of our oldest hens this year). Last year we only had one hen go broody, and the year before that we also only had one go broody, whereas this year we had 4 hens go broody all at the same time.
When our hens go broody we don’t let them have a lot of eggs in their clutch, because unless all of the eggs are going to hatch around the same day, as soon as the chick is up and moving around, the hen will leave the rest of the eggs. We didn’t want that to happen so with every broody hen we’ve had, we’ve only given her 2 or 3 eggs total, and learning our lesson from previous incubations, we didn’t take any eggs from hybrid hens, using only Maran or Ameraucana eggs.
Two hens went broody within 2 weeks of each other; the one who went broody after, stole the first hen’s clutch, so we had to split the eggs; after candling the eggs, we discovered that not all of the eggs were fertilized, so we went back to the drawing board. The egg, which was stolen by the second broody hen, hatched a week later; she’s an Ameraucana-Maran mix, all black.
The first hen stayed in the coop faithfully, waiting to hatch a chick for 6 weeks; she finally hatched a precocious chick, another Ameraucana-Maran mix, also all black. They stayed in the coop for several weeks while the thief and her stolen daughter left long before. In the meantime another hen went broody, so she joined the ranks. By this time it started getting chaotic in the hen house, because all of the hens like to use the same nesting box, and 2 hens were using said boxes for preparing for chicks or having said chicks. It got crowded. Eggs got crushed. This is just one reason why having a separate area for your broody hens is a good idea, however when we’ve tried that in the past, the hen has stopped being broody, and I’m not entirely sure why. I don’t know if it’s the trauma of leaving the coop or the fear of going back in the group and starting from the bottom of the pecking order. I also know they feel safe in the coop.
Not long after another chick presented itself, but its mother abandoned it, so I became its mother. The egg was cracked and my youngest thought it was ready to hatch, so my 18 year old, just woken from bed and not thinking clearly, helped it out. When she saw the chick she realized it wasn’t ready at all to hatch. It was 8 days early, and I was at work that day. There was no information available on whether the chick would live, but she put it under a heat lamp. 4 days early and a chick could live; 10 days and it would die. We were somewhere in between.
By the end of the night the chick was standing up, but it couldn’t eat yet; we used a medicine syringe and gave it water to drink. The next day we got some Gatorade and frequently administered that to it. And then the cheeping started, so I held it. All day. It became my baby. I called it Baby Nay for Not Anything Yet, because we didn’t know if it would live or die or whether it was a boy or a girl.
The next day it was the same thing, but it cried a lot more, so my husband brought home some friends: A guinea pair and a couple of Barred Rocks. Baby Nay was so happy, he immediately laid down the law, letting his new buddies know who was boss. They were all bigger than him; he was a preemie. I thought he was going to be a baby forever, but now several months later, Baby Nay is an adolescent rooster. He has his father’s disposition and his mother’s physical characteristics.
We used the same technique with Baby Nay and his friends as we did with the last incubated chicks: Putting them in a fenced area so the birds could see each other for a few days before letting them loose in the yard. I probably doted on Baby Nay more than any of the other birds I’ve had.
HOW TO INTRODUCE ADULT BIRDS to the FLOCK
When introducing adult birds you need to be careful, not letting the birds around each other until after you’ve quarantined the newest member, to make sure it isn’t sick and is free of parasites, because you want to keep your flock healthy. It’s a good idea to keep it away from your flock for a week, and then once you’re satisfied that it’s healthy, put it somewhere the flock can see it, and it can see the flock, preferably for a few days.
The purpose of the run is a safe place for the birds to be, but they can’t stay in that all day, because it’s too small, and they like to forage; they like their greens. The only times we leave our birds in their coop and run is when the weather is really bad, like whiteout conditions.
I have seen mathematical problems for figuring out how much backyard space a chicken needs, and I personally think it’s silly. We used to have all of our backyard (half an acre) free for the birds to use, however my husband decided to build a fence in the middle of it, to separate their side from our side. We wanted to build a garden, and the times we had in the past, the chickens would get into it and steal the food. That was the purpose of the fence; they would still have 1/4 of an acre to free-range.
Once that fence was fully operational you would think the world was crashing down on them. We’ve never had above 23 chickens, but those birds loved walking all over the yard; it was theirs, and the rooster was especially peeved. One of our hens, Jango, paced the fence relentlessly, wanting to get to the other side. She was kind of like a loner and acted like she especially wanted to get away from the rest of the birds.
In process of time however, that fence wasn’t so much a deterrent as a challenge. Certainly when we’ve had little chicks running around they would find places in the fence they could slip through, but even my roo Megatron overcame the obstacle by flying on top of the wood railing, turning around, and jumping to the ground on the ‘greener’ side. Some of the hens would follow the chicks’ lead and squeeze through to the better side, but some would try, only to fail due to their size.
Occasionally we have allowed a certain number of birds over onto our side to do bug duty, where they hunt and kill the sweet morsels of insects for us. They are now accustomed to their smaller yard and only pace the fence line when I come out with goodies.
SHOULD YOU HAVE a ROOSTER or NOT?
Now what do you do when and if you want to add another rooster? I have read other blogs that are adamantly against it, proposing that it’s impossible, stating and affirming that there will be bloodshed if it’s attempted, however I’m here to refute that, because anything is possible. Take most of my roosters, for example, who have been not only introduced but lived together without actual bloodshed.
No one can actually claim that it’s impossible for roosters to get along no matter the situation; and by the same token I can’t guarantee that all roos will get along. Just anything is possible, but a good rule to follow is to have 8-12 hens per rooster, and that’s not to be nice to the roos; it’s for the health and safety of the girls.
Since I brought it up, introducing a rooster to the flock is similar to bringing in a new hen: Quarantine him for at least a week, then have a physical barrier, like a fence, between the flock and the new roo so they can see each other for a few days before they are thrust together.
Overall, like I said, our roosters got along well, too good in fact. Initially it was the first batch of Casanova’s progeny, all 7 cockerels forcefully “loving” on the established hens, eliciting a similar response in him, but not causing him to reprimand his sons that made us start looking askance at our Cream Legbar roo.
I’ve mentioned in a previous post here how he was good with his girls relationally, but he was a stupid coward; he’d bring danger to them while opposing us, his benefactors, so my girls and I wanted to bring someone else in to teach him some manners. That was a joke.
We traded a couple of Black Sex-Links for a Blue Andalusian adolescent rooster we named Starscream. We had a good number of hens, so the girls would be ok, we reasoned, and we wanted our short, scrawny rooster Casanova to have someone else to attack instead of us, but that didn’t quite work out the way we wanted it to; they became best buds.
We separated Starscream for the requisite amount of time, then we put him in an enclosure so the adults could gawk and get accustomed to him; this was the only time Casanova showed true backbone as he made his rooster noises and did his rooster dances for this newcomer. We weren’t sure if he knew Starscream was a male or a female.
When we let Starscream out with the other birds we thought for sure we would have just recompense on our enemy Casanova; that the Blue Andalusian was going to solve our problems. Boy, were we wrong. Not only did he not solve our original problem, but he created another one.
That he was sexually mature was a fact, but going after the hens was not the issue; we expected that, and once again Casanova proved what a terrible rooster he was, letting this newcomer in and having his way, but I have a feeling it was more about self preservation than anything else. If they got into anything at that point, Casanova might win a fight, because of his spurs, but they were about the same height, however the Blue Andalusian looked weightier than Cass. It would only be a matter of time, I was sure, before Starscream challenged him. We only had to wait, right?
TROUBLES with TOO MANY ROOSTERS
We didn’t realize how bad things were with this new roo until one night my husband and I slept without our fan on. Starscream literally screamed (read crowed) all night long. He barely crowed at all during the day; it was like he was being respectful to Cass during the day, in front of him, while at night he was telling everyone, especially the hens, “I’m the man, I’m the man, I’m the man!” I felt so bad for our neighbors, especially the ones who live closest to the coop.
I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that he crowed all night. All. Night. Long. It kept my husband and me up; I could only imagine the hens couldn’t sleep either. Maybe it was the name we gave him, we were asking for it, right? Most of the time the names we dish out end up not fitting the bird at all, but this one was perfect, unfortunately.
We had Starscream for a month and a half to two months before we heard his ‘all-nighter’; that coupled with the chicks we had brought in over the course of several months-4 introduced as almost adults due to their size (no longer chicks), and 5 new adolescent chickens, including Starscream, started having an effect on our established hens and egg production, which I’ll cover in another post. At this point something needed to be done, because he wasn’t serving a good purpose for my girls; I couldn’t wait for him to challenge Casanova and possibly continue crowing all hours of the night, stressing the hens out.
Any time we’ve had extra roosters that didn’t work out, we’ve always tried rehoming them; unfortunately we are surrounded by people who live on acreage that already have their own roosters and are not looking for any more, or they don’t have any chickens at all, and so are not interested in a rooster. We’re always very affected by the loss of one of our animals, even if it’s for the benefit of the group.
Several times I’ve read about individuals rehoming their recalcitrant roo, often wondering where they live. Do they have special sanctuaries for them in different parts of the U.S. or in major metropolises that I am disadvantaged of due to my location? Curiously enough just today I read about one in Luther, Oklahoma called Oliver and Friends Farm Animal Sanctuary, where they rescue, rehabilitate, and try to place animals in private adoption. Hopefully we won’t have a ‘next time,’ but one never knows. The group of birds we have now is very good, including both roosters, but there will always be chicks, and there’s no guarantee that there won’t be more roosters out of those chicks, though now I know I have some place to call for help.
SO HOW MANY BIRDS?
So how many is too many? If you live in the city or suburbs, check with your municipalities to find out their regulations and that will give you the information you need, although if you live in the country, determining numbers really comes down to how many you can manage. The one hard and fast rule is that there has to be a ratio of no less than 8 hens to every rooster, otherwise your hens will get abused by too much lovin’. I’ve seen it, and it isn’t pretty.
You also need to decide if you will have free-range chickens that go all over your pasture, and if that’s the case, account for predators. Living where we do on only 1 acre, we don’t have that many except for the occasional aerial attacks from hawks, but we have neighbors with 5 acres who suffer coyote attacks as well as other predator depredations to their flocks. My mother-in-law’s birds, in East Texas, have often fallen victim to fox attacks in the Spring; she’s on 40 acres, and her birds have liberty to go all over her ‘backyard.’
Our birds are free-range, even though Paul, my husband, put up the fence a couple to 3 springs ago in the middle of our half-acre backyard. Most of our birds can get over or through the fence, or they jump the chain-link fence to the front yard to forage there instead, which puts them in more danger of dogs than anything else, but they like their freedom no matter how many times we corral them to the right side of the fence.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this post, and as always, I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to leave a comment.