People who keep backyard chickens all recommend getting more than one. Flock size of 2 or 3 is considered ideal if you have limited space in your garden. But what if you only have space for one chicken? Or the rest of the flock dies, and you are left with a solo chicken? Can you keep one chicken? Can chickens live alone?
Chickens are social animals and a lot like people in this regard – yes, they can live on their own, but in the absence of interaction with others, their quality of life is not great. If you are considering keeping a single pet chicken, it’s important to learn how to keep them stimulated and happy.
Can Chickens Live Alone?
If a single chicken is kept by itself, even with your company, it will get lonely. A chicken’s needs are very different from other more common domestic animals like dogs and cats which enjoy the presence of human company. Chickens like to be with other chickens and if they’re not they’ll get very lonely and unhappy which can cause issues such as:
- a decrease in egg production
- shorter lifespan
If you’re considering keeping a chicken, getting a couple of friends for her is incredibly beneficial
Hens have a surprisingly complicated and intricate social structure when in groups and in larger flocks they are healthier, happier and feel more secure. When you first get chickens, they’ll seem slightly befuddled, but they’ll quickly adapt to their new surroundings and form relationships with the flock. Certain hens will enjoy spending time together in smaller groups and others will avoid each other, the point is that they thrive on each other’s company and can’t do without.
Can Chickens Die Of Loneliness?
Will a chicken die of loneliness? The feeling of loneliness does not directly harm a chicken’s health, but the symptoms of loneliness can be very stressful. Loneliness can affect chicken’s health negatively and may cause them to self-harm.
There is no evidence to show that loneliness directly causes chickens to die prematurely; however, indirectly, it seems that chickens can die of loneliness. Chicken owners who have lost every chicken in their flock except one to predators commonly report that the remaining chicken dies naturally soon afterward.
Chickens can survive living alone under exceptional circumstances. For example, if you let a chicken live inside your home as a pet, it can survive happily on its own.
However, being a chicken’s flock mate is a massive commitment. Chickens make very messy and high-maintenance housemates!
Do Chickens Get Lonely?
It is not ideal to keep a single chicken. If you want to keep a solo pet chicken, you must be prepared to devote significant amounts of time every day to the chicken.
Chickens are flock animals and highly social creatures and have evolved to live in flocks with complex social hierarchies. Being alone is, therefore, not natural for chickens.
Chickens can get lonely, bored, and depressed on their own. Being in a flock of chickens makes chickens feel safe and happy. You often see flock mates snuggling together, and at night, chickens roost side-by-side to keep warm.
When a chicken is alone for long periods, it causes them distress. The absence of companionship can cause chickens to self-harm. Solitary birds have been known to pick at their own feathers.
How To Tell If A Chicken Is Lonely
If you have spent enough time around chickens, you will have learned some of their basic body language. Without projecting human emotions onto animals, you can generally tell when chickens are happy, excited, angry, broody, sick, scared, or sad.
Many chicken owners report cases where they have been sure their birds were showing signs of loneliness. But what do these signs look like? How do you tell if a chicken is lonely?
Chickens cannot cry because they do not have tear ducts, but you may observe the following in sad, lonely chickens:
- Hens stop laying eggs. Or lonely chickens will lay eggs less often.
- They do not feed
- They lose condition
- Wattles and combs turn a pale red
- They make odd noises, like a low “boot boot” sound
If your chicken is showing these signs and you have taken them to a veterinarian to rule out any health conditions, the bird may be suffering from loneliness.
What You Can Do To Keep A Single Chicken Happy
If you are set on keeping a single pet chicken, there are several things you should do to keep your feathered friend from becoming bored and lonely:
- Provide your single hen with lots of attention. Chickens are affectionate animals and like the company of others. They appreciate a scratch on the back of the neck, sitting on your lap, and just enjoying your companionship. Be prepared for them to become one of your family members!
- Mentally stimulate chickens by giving them toys and simple puzzles that involve plenty of food. They adore mealworms, black soldier fly larvae, and sunflower seed hearts.
- Give them lots of scratching mix to promote foraging behavior. Adult chickens love scratching on the ground for treats and can provide one of their basic needs.
- Take a lonely chicken outdoors for supervised walks. You must make sure that your feathered friend is not overly sedentary. They need exercise, as they can be prone to obesity.
- Make sure to provide some of their basic needs such as plenty of food, enough space to forage, dust baths, a clean water source, and a safe place to roost and lay eggs such as a chicken coop.
What To Do When You Have Only One Chicken Left In The Flock?
Many backyard chicken keepers find themselves left with only the remaining hen after having a flock for many years – this generally happens for one of three reasons:
1. Chickens live surprisingly long lifespans of between 5 to 10 years. However, some chickens live for much longer – up to 16 years! If you do not regularly add chickens to a flock, the entire flock size will gradually shrink due to natural causes until there is only a single chicken left.
2. A predator gets into the coop at night and kills all the chickens, save one.
3. You have an outbreak of disease in the flock, and only one chicken survives. This can happen in larger flocks
What should you do in these situations and what is best thing for the welfare of the remaining chicken?
If the remaining chicken is old, rehoming them and introducing them into a new flock may be too stressful for them to survive.
Flock members have a strict social hierarchy called a pecking order. Everyone knows their role and their place in the flock and can have a close relationship. This keeps the peace. When new birds are introduced to a flock, it upsets the pecking order. The adult hens squabble amongst themselves until a new pecking order is established.
If possible, you should bring the single old chicken into your home to live out the rest of its days as a pet.
If the lone chicken is still young, they will be able to adapt to living in a new flock. You can get a new chicken and carefully introduce them, or you could rehome your single chook.
How To Introduce New Chickens To A Flock
Before adding any new additions to your flock, you must quarantine the new group of chickens to ensure that they do not bring any parasites or diseases into the flock.
It is important to introduce new chickens to a flock gradually to give them time to get to know each other. Put the new chickens into a separate coop for a week or two, but keep them near the main coop.
Gradually allow the chickens to interact without being separated. It helps to allow the chickens to forage together. This is one of their favorite activities, so it is sure to get them all into an agreeable mood.
Keep a close eye on the new addition to ensure that they do not get bullied. Give them lots of feed and fresh water to minimize competition for resources.
What Is The Smallest Number Of Chickens You Can Keep?
A single chicken is certainly not an ideal flock size for chickens. So, what is the smallest number of chickens that you can keep if you want to have a tiny backyard flock?
At a minimum, you should keep two chickens, but the ideal size for a small flock is three chickens.
When chickens are kept in a pair, they always have the other for companionship, so they will not become lonely. However, in a trio, chickens will feel safer from predators and will thus be less stressed and healthier.
Is it ok to only have a couple of hens?
Yes, chickens can live in pairs, but they will be happier and healthier in a trio or larger flock. Chickens kept in pairs often form strong bonds with one another and become inseparable. Having only two hens is better than having only one but it’s still not beneficial for the two chickens kept together. The bigger a flock is, the healthier its social structure is and the better the chickens will feel, we recommend having at least 3 or 4 hens together if you’re considering keeping chickens. They also need a certain amount of space for them in order to be happy, these are our general recommendations:
|2 chickens =||8 square feet of space (minimum)|
|3 chickens =||12 square feet of space (minimum)|
|4 chickens =||16 square feet of space (minimum)|
|5 chickens =||20 square feet of space (minimum)|
|6 chickens =||24 square feet of space (minimum)|
|7 chickens =||28 square feet of space (minimum)|
|8 chickens =||32 square feet of space (minimum)|
|9 chickens =||36 square feet of space (minimum)|
|10 chickens =||40 square feet of space (minimum)|
What Is The Best Amount Of Chickens To Have
As we mentioned before, the larger a flock is, the more complex and healthy its social structure will be. However, not everyone can keep dozens of hens so as a minimum we recommend 3 or 4 but if you have the space required, it would be healthier for the hens to have more company (around 6 would be a good amount).
Domesticated chickens have not evolved to live in isolation as they rely on their flock mates for social stimulation, affection, warmth, and safety in numbers. Therefore, backyard hens struggle to live alone and can get lonely.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can chickens live on grass alone?
While chickens can live on grass alone, they will not thrive and will likely develop health problems. Chickens need a balanced diet that includes greens, grains, protein, and calcium.
Should chickens live alone?
No, chickens should not live alone as they are social animals that need the companionship of other chickens. Chickens kept in pairs or trios are less stressed and healthier than those kept alone.
How long can chickens stay alone?
Chickens can stay alone for short periods of time (such as a few days), but they will become stressed and unhealthy if they are kept isolated from other chickens for too long. It is best to keep chickens in pairs or trios so that they always have companionship.
Will chickens die if they are alone?
No, chickens will not die if they are alone, but they will likely become stressed and unhealthy. Chickens are social animals that need the companionship of other chickens. It is best to keep chickens in pairs or trios so that they always have companionship.
Is Human company enough For Chickens?
If you’re keeping a hen as a pet, you might be considering only keeping one or two because you’ll be spending a lot of time with the hens but human company isn’t the same. Some chickens do get used to and enjoy human presence but they don’t thrive on it like other domestic animals (cats and dogs etc).
David Cameron is a passionate chicken enthusiast. Growing up, he always wanted to be a veterinarian and loved animals. After graduating from veterinary school, David spent over 40 years as an equine veterinarian. He and his wife retired a few years ago and moved to North Carolina. Here, David’s love of chickens grew even more – he now has 7 chickens and 6 quail. If you have any questions about chickens, feel free to reach out.