Chicken owners tend to be a conscientious lot and they like to ensure that their birds are living the happiest and healthiest lives that they can. This can lead to a bit of worry if they only have one chicken because it might be possible that the chicken could get lonely or distressed.
Can You Have Just One Chicken? It actually depends on the chicken. It appears likely that some chickens do get lonely and unhappy but that some are unaffected by being alone. If you do want to introduce new chickens to your existing chicken, you do need to follow a decent process to integrate them without encountering any problems.
Do Chickens Get Lonely?
This is a difficult question to answer because whenever we get into talking about animals, such as chickens, having feelings we have to admit that we have no means of communicating with a chicken that allows us to accurately gauge what or how it is feeling.
This leads to quick accusations of anthropomorphization from many in the scientific community who feel that trying to determine if a chicken is “lonely” is trying to place a human emotion on a chicken that probably doesn’t have such emotions.
However, there is evidence to suggest that it is possible for chickens to get a feeling that might be “loneliness” and that this can have a significant impact on the way that a chicken might behave.
Chickens Are Social Creatures
Chickens are social animals. We know this because even when they’re not part of a farmer or homeowner’s property – they hang around in flocks. Wild chickens aren’t solitary creatures only occasionally bumping into each other for the purposes of mating, they live, play, bathe and roost together and they do so because they choose to.
In fact, they are also happy to lay their eggs in the same places as each other and childcare chicken-style is a communal activity with all the hens of a flock tending to keep a watchful eye over each other’s eggs and chicks.
It has also been scientifically demonstrated that mother hens and their chicks feel something akin to distress if they are separated. Their heartbeats race, their blood pressure goes up and they make loud and more plaintive cries to each other until they are reunited.
There’s A Social Pecking Order
Excuse the pun but yes, chickens have a social hierarchy and they have social status as part of that hierarchy. The exact attributes that are required to gain or lose status are probably as complex as they are in human beings (check out any high school’s pecking order) but there’s no doubt that the order exists.
Check out a flock when a low-status chicken decides to step over the boundaries based on its status, the rest of the flock will soon be remonstrating with it until it decides to comply with their wishes.
So, it’s clear that chickens value company and get value from a social order around them, they also experience some emotions which appear to be, based on external observation, similar to human emotions.
Anecdotal Evidence Suggests Chickens Do Get Lonely
So, when we turn to the question of whether chickens get lonely, we’ll leave the arguing over anthropomorphization to those above our pay grade because we don’t think it matters whether chicken loneliness is exactly the same as human loneliness – what matters is whether being on its own affects a chicken’s behavior.
And it does. Owners who have tried to keep a lone chicken say that the chickens quickly become depressed and withdrawn, there is a clear relationship between a chicken’s happiness and having other chickens for company.
It’s also worth noting that human company does not seem to compensate for having company from their own species. Sure, it might seem like a nice idea that your chicken thinks of you as family but, in reality, the best you can be is a featherless friend that they can’t talk to (and yes, chickens do talk to each other – in a very, very limited vocabulary).
However, Bridget Swain says, “One chicken, well cared for can thrive. A few years ago, I had a very beta chicken that could NOT be left with the flock. They hated her and would do their best to kill her. She was a sweet girl and a good layer. I separated her and put her in a small chicken tractor (rolling coop) and made a pet out of her. She still lives quite happily in my side yard, alone. Although she’s getting pretty elderly by chicken standards (5 yrs) I still get an occasional egg from her. I just like her sweet personality and happy croon when she sees me.”
So, it may not be impossible to raise a chicken on its own – if it has already shown that it prefers to be without the company of its flock.
How Many Chickens Should I Get?
The number of chickens you should own depends on a few things:
- The species of chicken. Some chickens like big flocks and others do not. Some chickens will happily mix with other breeds and some will not. You want to ideally, pick a single breed but sometimes there may be good reason to mix and match.
- Chickens need space indoors. Hopefully, you’re not aiming to turn your backyard into a battery farm but rather to develop an organic space in which your chickens can thrive, and you can get eggs and things from them. If that’s the case, you want to make sure that there’s room for each chicken to spread its wings fully plus a bit more space so that if they’re having internal flock conflict (which really happens) they have room to sulk at each other for a bit too.
- Chickens need space outdoors too. You want to ensure that your chickens have space to run around and hunt for seeds, bugs, etc. when they’re outside without falling over each other. They may be social animals but rather like human beings if you force too many chickens into a small space – they’ll start fighting and becoming very stressed.
- Chickens need space to nest as well. A nesting box should be large and comfortable, and no more than 3 hens should share a single nesting box. Cramped nesting conditions are almost guaranteed to lead to conflict within the flock.
As long as there’s enough space – then the number of chickens you should own becomes a personal question. How many do you need and/or want? You can always sell or give away any surplus eggs, we’ve never met anyone who didn’t enjoy a fresh home-produced egg.
What Happens If I Only Have One Chicken Left?
If you only have one chicken and it’s happy then this shouldn’t be a big deal. However, if you want to add new chickens to the flock – you need to do so carefully.
They may be social creatures, but they can be absolutely vicious when they think their territory is being invaded. Chickens can peck each other to death when they fight. So, it’s important to follow a sensible process to introduce chickens to each other.
How To Introduce New Chickens To A Flock
OK, so here’s the process broken down into two stages: pre-introduction and after the introduction.
Before Introducing Them To Each Other
Before the chickens get to meet you should:
- Quarantine the new arrivals. Strangely, adult chickens get worse problems from being sick than young chicks do. So, you want to avoid the chicks infecting the existing chicken rather than the other way around. Keep an eye out for any problems and make sure they’re treated properly.
- Give supplements and minerals to the new arrivals. You want to ensure that each chick is at a decent size before introducing them. Your original chicken is likely to attack any bird that looks weak or underweight.
- Let them see each other for a week without intermingling. Placing the two flocks in pens next to each other but where they cannot walk among each other for a week will really reduce any problems when they do meet.
Once you feel they’re ready, it’s time to introduce them:
- Let the new chickens out first and then let the existing chicken join them. There should be some jostling as they all establish a new pecking order, but it shouldn’t be too bad.
- If it does get bad with the squabbling – remove the existing chicken and try again the next day and the day after and so on… they will get used to each other, eventually.
Can You Have Just One Chicken? Yes, some chickens are quite happy to live on their own but as a social breed, many chickens are better in company. If you find that you have a single chicken and need to introduce more, please follow a careful process to ensure that you don’t cause any of the chicken’s distress or allow them to pass diseases to your existing chicken.
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