No two homesteads are the same, so how many chickens should a homestead have is one of those questions with a range of answers.
Chickens are the perfect choice for rural homesteads, and they make good sense for urban homesteads too.
I’ve raised meat chickens and egg layers for 15 years now and you can’t beat the quality of the eggs you get from a happy, free ranging flock.
As a rough guide, for daily egg consumption, plan for 3 laying chickens per person on your homestead. Each chicken will produce 4 to 6 eggs per week during the laying season, depending on the chicken breed. For meat, anywhere from 8 to 56 meat chickens on the homestead at a time will provide for the needs of most families.
Let’s look at the factors you need to consider to help you figure out the right number of chickens for your homestead.
- Do you want chickens for egg production or for egg and meat production?
- How many people do you need to feed on your homestead?
- Can you free range your chickens?
- How big is your chicken coop or chicken run?
- Are you going to sell eggs from your homestead?
- Will you let broody hens hatch a clutch of eggs?
We started out with 12 dual purpose point of lay hens from the local market and a rooster from a friend. After the hens settled into their new home, they were giving us 10 – 12 eggs a day for that first laying season, which was a useful amount for a family of 5.
The largest flock I’ve managed here on the homestead was 110 birds, which left us with more eggs than we knew what to do with, and lots of birds for the freezer.
Today, we keep a smaller flock of 20 to 40 chickens. Our flock size fluctuates depending on how many chicks the hens have hatched that year.
How Many Chickens Should A Homestead Have For Eggs?
The first question to ask yourself is how many eggs do you need each day?
One great thing about homesteading is the ability to provide your own food; and since eggs are about the easiest complete protein source a homesteader can produce, it makes sense to make eggs a bigger part of your diet than you’re probably used to.
The eggs you’ll get from your homestead chickens are a world apart from the eggs you can buy in the supermarket. The egg whites are firm instead of watery, the yolks are a deep golden orange instead of pale yellow, and they’re full of flavor and high in essential omega-3.
All of that running around in fresh air and sunshine, pecking weeds, scratching up bugs, and gorging on treats from your veggie garden, means your flock will lay the most amazing eggs you’ve ever eaten, and then you’ll be hooked. So you might want to plan for a few extra hens.
A plate of scrambled eggs makes for a quick, easy, filling breakfast, and a hearty omelet served with home-grown potatoes and spinach is perfect for dinner.
So work out how many eggs you want to have on hand every day in your kitchen. How many eggs do you want to use in meals, how many eggs do you want for baking, and how many eggs do you want to share with friends?
Remember, you can always pick up more laying hens later on if you want more eggs, so use these figures as a starting point.
If you plan on eating eggs every day, allow 2 to 3 eggs per person per day. In chicken terms, that works out to 3 to 4 hens per person.
A hen can lay one egg per day, but she won’t lay an egg every day. Hens don’t lay all year round either.
When hens are young, happy, healthy, and at their peak laying capabilities, the most productive laying breeds will usually lay 6 eggs per week as an average. Once hens are at the end of their second year, you can expect them to reliably lay 4 eggs per week.
If you let any of your hens go broody and sit on a clutch of eggs, you’ll lose the production from that hen for several months. She’ll sit on the eggs for 3 weeks until they hatch and during that period she won’t lay any eggs.
And while she’s got chicks to look after, she won’t resume laying.
The table below gives a rough estimate of how many laying hens (Leghorn breed) a homestead needs based on 2 eggs per person per day.
|Homestead Size (persons)||Eggs Required Per Day||Total Eggs Required Each Week||Number Of Laying Hens||Average Eggs Laid Per Week|
|1||2||14||3 – 4||18 – 24|
|2||4||28||5 – 6||30 – 36|
|3||6||42||7 – 8||42 – 48|
|4||8||56||10 -11||60 – 66|
|5||10||70||12 -13||72 – 78|
The numbers in the table above are a rough guide. If you want more eggs each day, you’ll need more chickens; that’s fairly obvious isn’t it! But the chicken breed you raise will also impact the number of eggs you get each day.
That’s because some chickens are bred for egg laying, and those breeds will give you the most eggs.
Other chickens are dual purpose breeds. They’ll give a decent number of eggs, and the hens are large enough to cull for meat once their rate of egg production slows down.
Meat breeds, especially broiler chickens, are ready for the table before they reach egg laying age. For egg production you need layer hens or dual purpose hens.
Another factor that affects egg production is the weather. Spring and summer are the peak egg laying months, then egg production gradually slows down as the hens enter a molting period of 8 to 12 weeks.
During their molt, they drop old feathers and slowly replace them with fresh new ones. Growing new feathers takes a lot of protein and even with a higher protein diet, their laying rate drops and some hens stop laying altogether.
Then, once their new feathers have grown in, it’s usually close to winter. Unless your hens are a winter laying breed like Sussex chickens, Rhode Island Reds, or New Hampshires, egg production usually stops over winter until day length increases again in February or March.
Providing artificial lighting in your coop can increase winter egg production, but it won’t be as high as in the summer months.
Because of the drop off in egg production over the winter months, you might want to keep a bigger flock. Those extra eggs you get in the summer can be preserved by freezing or pickling, or with the water glass method.
Meeting your winter egg needs by preserving summer production is something to think about, but with so much to learn as a new poultry keeper, I wouldn’t focus on that too much in your first few months.
Best Egg Laying Chicken Breeds For The Homestead
If you only want eggs from your chickens, then choose an egg-laying breed. Egg laying hens are smaller than dual purpose chickens, which makes them less expensive to feed.
Egg laying breeds can be a bit high strung and flighty, though. The bigger dual purpose breeds tend to be more relaxed as a rule.
Why does chicken temperament matter? Well, you’re going to interact with your chickens at least twice a day, every day. And if your chickens freak out every time you step in their run or pasture, that’s not a lot of fun. High strung chickens are also noisy birds, they’ll often shriek and flap around over the slightest disturbance.
If you’re free ranging your layers, you’ll have an easier time if the hens run towards you when you want to bring them back to the coop.
It’s much more enjoyable to take care of relaxed chickens, even if that means a slightly lower egg yield. Flighty hens aren’t the best breeds for children to deal with either, so if you’re planning on involving your children with your homestead chores, this is something to keep in mind.
The upside of flighty breeds is they’re always on high alert for predators and they’ll rush to hide in brush or fly up into trees when that’s an option.
The chicken breeds listed below are productive egg layers, perfect for a homestead:
Layer breeds produce white eggs and the pullets start laying when they’re about 20 weeks old.
Good to know: Laying hens in their first year are called pullets.
Hens from these breeds rarely go broody, so you won’t lose eggs while a hen incubates her chicks, and you won’t have to “break” a broody hen to get her back into production.
Ameraucana Homestead Chickens
Ameraucana hens weigh 5.5 pounds and lay 3 to 4 eggs per week, producing roughly 250 eggs per year.
This breed starts laying a little later than others, and you might not get your first eggs until the pullets are 6 or 7 months old.
These hens are happy to forage for food and they’re fairly hardy. Ameraucana hens will sometimes go broody. That’s great if you want to increase your flock size, but your egg yield will be lower.
Ancona Homestead Chickens
Weighing about 4.5 pounds, the Ancona is an efficient egg layer, producing up to 220 eggs per year. That’s 3 to 4 per week.
Ancona chickens are cold hardy, and they’ll even continue egg production during the winter months.
These hens don’t go broody, and pullets begin laying at 5 months old.
Barnevelder Homestead Chickens
Barnevelder hens weigh around 5 to 6 pounds and lay 3 to 4 eggs per week and continue laying through the winter.
Another pro for the Barnevelder is their temperament. The chickens are friendly, making them a good breed for children. They rarely go broody, and they enjoy foraging for food.
Hamburg Homestead Chickens
Hamburg chickens are good egg layers producing around 120 to 225 small to medium-sized eggs per year. Hamburgs weigh 5 pounds and they’re fairly flighty, but if you raise them from chicks and handle them regularly, they’ll be easier to take care of.
These chickens are excellent foragers. Let them free range to meet some of their food needs and you’ll have a lower feed bill. Although, out on pasture, the birds may prefer to spend the night roosting in trees than make the trek back to their coop.
The pullets begin egg production at 4 to 5 months old and, while annual egg production is lower than the more prolific Leghorn, Hamburgs maintain a more consistent laying rate over several years.
Minorca Homestead Chickens
This is one of the larger breeds of laying hens. Hens weigh about 7.5 pounds and produce between 140 to 220 very large eggs per year.
These chickens are a good choice if your homestead is in a region where summers are hot. They’re less useful in cold regions.
Minorca chickens are active foragers that enjoy free ranging, and they’re another chicken that will happily spend the night up in a tree if they’re not rounded up before they decide to roost.
Non broody and can be used as dual purpose birds, although their meat isn’t the best chicken you’ll ever eat.
Welsumer Homestead Chickens
Welsumer chickens lay 180 enormous eggs per year. Hens weigh 5 pounds and are a friendly, docile chicken to have around the homestead.
They may go broody occasionally, and don’t cope well in very cold climates.
White Leghorn Homestead Chickens
Of all the egg laying breeds, the White Leghorn is probably the best known (remember Foghorn Leghorn from the cartoons?)
Leghorn hens weigh 5 to 6 pounds and they’re good foragers able to meet some of their own food needs as long as they’ve got room to free range.
This chicken breed is fairly noisy, and they will fly over fences. A 4 foot high chicken wire run will not contain these hens.
Expect to get between 280 and 320 eggs per year at peak production.
How Many Dual Purpose Chickens Should A Homestead Have?
When you want birds capable of producing eggs and meat for the table, you need a dual purpose chicken breed.
Dual purpose breeds are classic homestead chickens with easy going temperaments.
These chickens don’t grow as rapidly as true meat breeds and they don’t lay as many eggs as laying breeds, but they do give you the best of both worlds. Bear in mind that these larger chickens use more food for initial growth, maintenance, and egg production.
Because dual purpose chickens don’t mature as fast as broilers, the meat won’t be as tender as the meat from a broiler. And the meat from older hens culled from the flock once egg production slows down is usually too tough to roast or cook in the skillet or fryer.
Dual purpose birds slaughtered when they’re more than 12 months old are meant for the stew pot or slow cooker.
In a small homestead flock, you will ideally raise new birds each year to increase your flock size, or at the very least to replace chickens you cull for the table.
Since a hen will give you good egg production for the first two years, there’s little point culling a dual purpose hen before that point.
If you were keeping 20 hens, then you would have the option of culling those 20 birds at the end of their second year (before the winter off lay period begins).
That seems like a long time to wait for meat, doesn’t it?
But you won’t have to actually wait that long. As a homesteader, you’re probably going to raise chicks from those hens, either by collecting eggs to incubate yourself, or by taking advantage of a broody hen.
With a flock size of 20 hens, 1 or 2 days egg production will give you enough eggs to incubate a batch of 24. Incubation takes 21 days, and some eggs won’t hatch, but you should end up with 18 – 20 fluff balls.
In a hatch you’ll get a mix of males and females. If 10 of the chicks are males, you raise them up for 16 to 20 weeks, then cull them.
Incubate a new set of eggs every 3 weeks, and you’ll have a steady supply of birds for the table.
Add the females to your flock, then once they start to lay, you can cull the older hens as you see fit.
Dual purpose hens start laying eggs when they’re anywhere from 5 to 7 months old.
Until you get into a rhythm hatching a regular supply of dual purpose birds, include some broiler chickens in your flock for the first year.
Dual Purpose Chicken Breeds For The Homestead
These are just a few of the excellent dual purpose breeds you can choose from:
- Jersey Giant
- New Hampshire
- Rhode Island Red
- Wyandotte (a number of color varieties)
Black Australorp Homestead Chickens
Male Australorps weigh 8.5 to 10 pounds, females weigh 6.5 to 8 pounds. They reach table size in 5 to 6 months.
These chickens are friendly and hardy and can produce up to 250 eggs a year. The hens are moderately broody and they make good mothers.
Australorps are hardy birds, withstanding heat and cold fairly well. They’ll tolerate living in a chicken run but prefer to free range.
These birds are quiet, making them a good choice for urban homesteaders.
Buckeye Homestead Chickens
Male Buckeyes weigh 9 pounds, females weigh 6.5 pounds. They take about 6 months to make a decent size for the table.
Buckeyes are very cold hardy, so they’re a good choice for homesteaders in areas with cold winters. These chickens are friendly and will happily forage for food.
Moderately broody, Buckeye hens make good mothers, and hens will produce between 150 to 200 eggs per year.
Jersey Giant Homestead Chickens
Jersey Giant males weigh 13 to 15 pounds, females weigh 10 to 11 pounds.
These birds are huge, so they’ll eat a fair amount of food before they reach full size at 8 to 9 months. However, these birds can be culled at a younger age and you’ll still get plenty of meat.
Hens lay between 150 to 200 large eggs per year. Pullets start laying at around 8 months old, which is a little later than other breeds.
Broodiness in Jersey Giants is hit and miss, but if you get a broody hen, she’ll be a good mother.
These chickens are cold hardy, they’re good foragers, and they continue to lay over the winter months.
Jersey Giants need more coop space than other breeds because of their larger size. They’re pretty noisy birds too.
As well as their huge size for meat production, these birds don’t make much effort to fly over fences, which makes them easier to control, and they’re gentle, friendly birds to have around.
New Hampshire Homestead Chickens
Male New Hampshire weigh 8.5 pounds, females weigh 6.5 pounds. These birds are fairly fast growing and they’re ready for the table at 20 weeks.
These birds do well in a wide range of climates. Females are productive egg layers, producing between 220 to 280 eggs a year. Hens have a moderate inclination to broodiness.
New Hampshires can be quiet and docile chickens, or they can be pushy and aggressive. If you’re considering building a mixed breed flock, don’t mix New Hampshire with more easy-going breeds like Sussex chickens.
Watch out for aggressiveness in roosters too during spring and summer which are the peak breeding months. Birds handled frequently as chicks will have a better temperament.
Orpington Homestead Chickens
Male Orpingtons weigh 8 to 10 pounds, females weigh 6 to 8 pounds.
Orpingtons grow reasonably quickly, and at 10 to 12 weeks old they’ll give you a 2 pound bird for the table. By the time they’re 5 to 6 months old, they’ve reached full size.
Hens will lay up to 280 eggs per year. They’re also a broody breed and make good mothers, so this breed is ideal if you want to replenish your flock without the hassles that come with incubating new chicks.
Orpington chickens are easy to take care of thanks to their extremely laid back, friendly nature.
Their thick plumage keeps them warm in cold weather, but they need extra shade on hot days.
The only real downside to Orpingtons is their lazy foraging habit. They expect you to provide all the food.
Rhode Island Red Homestead Chicken
Rhode Island Red males weigh 8 pounds, females weigh 6 pounds. They reach table size in about 20 weeks.
Hens start laying when they’re 6 months old and will produce up to 300 eggs per year, making this breed a favorite among homesteaders.
These chickens are hardy and with good foraging abilities, they can scratch up plenty of their own food if they’re out on pasture.
Hens are friendly and moderately broody. Roosters can be aggressive from time to time.
Sussex Homestead Chicken
Male Sussex chickens weigh 9 pounds, females weigh 7 pounds.
These chickens are lovely birds to raise, they’re gentle, friendly, and quiet (even the males kept together rarely get into a fight).
Sussex chickens are fantastic foragers and if you move them around in chicken tractors, they’ll quickly clear planting ground for you.
The hens readily go broody and they make superb mothers tolerating their youngsters well past the juvenile stage.
You’ll get 200 – 250 large eggs per year, with some egg laying continuing over the winter. Pullets start laying at around 8 months old.
Sussex chickens are fairly cold hardy and they don’t try to fly over fences.
This is the breed we’re concentrating on these days at our homestead.
Wyandotte Homestead Chicken
Wyandotte males weigh around 8.5 pounds and females weigh 6.5 pounds. Roosters reach table weight in roughly 20 weeks, hens take a little longer.
These chickens are a docile breed with good tolerance for cold weather conditions.
Wyandottes don’t make much effort to fly over fences, so they’re easily contained.
You can expect 200 large eggs per year from these birds, and hens make good mothers.
How Many Chickens Should A Homestead Have – Broilers?
It’s a lot easier to work out how many chickens you need to have on the homestead for meat production.
Broiler chickens take 8 to 12 weeks to reach full size for the table.
Figure out how much chicken you want to eat over a 2 to 3-month period, then purchase that number of chicks. As those birds approach maturity, bring in another batch of chicks to raise.
Broiler Chickens For The Homestead
Good to know: Broiler chickens are young birds with tender meat bred for fast growth.
Cornish Cross Broiler Chickens
Ready to harvest in 8 to 10 weeks. Males weigh 10 pounds, females weigh 8 pounds.
Raising Cornish Cross chickens is a popular choice because the birds are ready for the table quickly. They have an excellent feed-to-body weight conversion rate, and provide plenty of breast meat.
These are the birds bred for supermarkets, and their meat is juicy and tender, but if you’ve ever tasted other types of chicken, then you’ll know this meat is pretty bland compared to the meat of heritage breeds.
With Cornish Cross chickens, you raise the birds in batches and slaughter the entire flock in one go to fill your freezer.
Then you raise the next batch of broilers who will be ready for slaughter when you’ve eaten the birds from your freezer. And so on, and so on.
To work out how many to raise at a time, you just need to know how much chicken you want to eat over an 8 to 10-week period.
Use this table for a quick guide.
How Many Cornish Cross Chickens Should A Homestead Have?
|Chickens To Eat Per Week||Number Of Chickens In Each Batch|
Homestead Cornish Cross Broiler Chicken Batch Schedule (6 Months)
|Weeks 1 – 8||Weeks 9 – 16||Weeks 17 – 24||Weeks 25 – 32|
|Bring in 1st batch of chicks||Harvest 1st batch (week 9/10)|
|Bring in 2nd batch of chicks (week 9/10)||Harvest 2nd batch (week 17/18)|
|Bring in 3rd batch of chicks (week 17/18)||Harvest 3rd batch (week 25/26)|
|Bring in 3rd batch of chicks (week 25/26)|
Homestead Meat Chicken Batch Schedule (12 Months)
Adjust for the weeks to maturity for your chosen breed.
|Weeks 1 – 18||Weeks 19 – 37||Weeks 38 – 56|
|Bring in 1st batch of chicks||Harvest several chickens each week|
|Bring in 2nd batch of chicks (week 19/20)||Harvest several chickens each week|
|Bring in 3rd batch of chicks (week 58/59)|
How Many Chickens Have You Got Room For On Your Homestead?
The number of eggs we want each day and the number of chickens we want for the kitchen each week are one thing, but it’s important to work within the limitations of your homestead set up.
If you’ve got plenty of land, a year-round mild climate that doesn’t hit extremes of hot or cold, and a small number of easily deterred predators, then your ability to free range birds will let you keep a bigger flock without too many problems.
As long as you can provide enough overnight coop space for each chicken, they’ll spend their days outdoors and won’t need any special setup. You’ll want to fence off your vegetable garden though, and electronet fencing will keep them safe from smaller predators.
How much overnight coop space do chickens need? 3 to 5 square feet per bird is enough. In cold weather, they’ll huddle together in a heap for warmth, but in warm weather they like to spread out.
Where you’re homesteading on a half-acre suburban backyard or when you’ve got a healthy population of large predators in your neck of the woods, you’ll need to confine your hens in fixed runs or in mobile chicken tractors.
How much run space do chickens need? The run space available for each chicken to avoid overcrowding should be a minimum of 8 – 10 square feet.
This not only increases your initial start-up costs. It takes more time and bigger supplies of litter material to keep a large coop and run clean. And it takes time, energy, and dedication to drag chicken tractors to new foraging spots every day, come rain, shine, hail or snow.
When you’re homesteading in an area with harsh winters, your chickens will need sheltered run space too. Don’t just plan for summer conditions.
It’s important to ask yourself how many chickens you realistically have room for and how many you have the time to care for.
A small flock of 12 – 15 chickens is easy enough to take care of. They don’t need a huge coop, run, or chicken tractor, and the time you’ll need to spend letting them out in the morning, and feeding and watering them is minimal.
Taking care of a small flock eases you into the world of homestead chickens, so finding the time and energy to take care of them along with all of your other homestead jobs won’t overwhelm you while you learn the ins and out of poultry keeping.
Coop and Run Size Chart
Use the lower number for smaller laying breeds and the higher number for dual purpose breeds.
|Number of Chickens||Total Coop Space (minimum)||Run Space (minimum)||Eggs Per Week|
|6||18 – 30 square feet||48 – 60 square feet||24 – 36|
|8||24 – 40 square feet||64 – 80 square feet||32 – 48|
|10||30 – 50 square feet||80 – 100 square feet||40 – 60|
|12||36- 60 square feet||96 – 120 square feet||48 – 72|
|14||42 – 70 square feet||112 – 140 square feet||56 – 84|
|16||48 – 80 square feet||128 – 160 square feet||64 – 96|
|18||54 – 90 square feet||144 – 180 square feet||72 – 108|
|20||60 – 100 square feet||160 – 200 square feet||80 – 120|
I’ll add another word of caution if you’re planning on raising chickens for meat.
Start with a few point of lay hens from a laying breed. Look after them for a few weeks, then ask yourself if you’ve got the heart to kill them.
If your answer yes to that question, then go ahead and bring in a batch of broiler chicks to raise, or a dozen or so point of lay dual purpose hens.
But if you find the idea of killing animals you’ve been caring for a little too far outside your comfort zone, then you can just keep those hens as layers and you won’t have the problem of 20 or more broilers that need to be culled.
Once Cornish Cross broiler chickens reach slaughter weight, they need culling sooner rather than later. It’s cruel to keep them alive because their rapid growth leaves them with a weak skeleton and other health problems.
Killing chickens isn’t fun. I don’t think any homesteader enjoys “freezer” day. It’s just one of those things that you have to brace yourself for and get done.
Bringing chickens on to your homestead gives you the opportunity to become self sufficient in meat and eggs, you get a valuable supply of rich chicken manure, and your birds can be put to work clearing garden beds for you.
The number of chickens you need for your homestead depends on how much food you want to get from them.
My advice is to start with a small flock of 12 to 20 chickens and see how you get on. Then after a few months you can decide if you want to pick up more chicks or point of lay hens to expand your flock.
Thanks for reading: How many chickens should a homestead have? I hope this post helps you figure out the right number of birds for your homestead.
Image Credits: How Many Chickens Should A Homestead Have
- Ancona Chicken – Di Festina lente – Opera propria, CC BY-SA 3.0
- Barnevelder Chicken – By Outback hens at English Wikipedia, CC BY 2.5
- Hamburg Chicken – By Joe Mabel, CC BY-SA 3.0
- Minorca Chicken – By Yioschi – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0
- Welsumer chicken – By Uikitireza – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0
- White Leghorn Chicken – By Kolforn Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0
- Jersey Giant Chicken – By Troubadix – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0
- Buckeye Chicken – By Melinda Sayler – Flickr, CC BY-SA 3.0
- New Hampshire Chicken – Dorenwolf – Flickr CC BY 2.0