One of the first things people ask when they are thinking of keeping chickens is, how many birds should they start with? If you have never kept chickens before and you are planning on keeping them in your backyard then I would suggest two or three is a good place to start. Chickens are sociable creatures so it is considered unkind to keep just one solitary bird.
If you are intending to keep chickens primarily to provide eggs for your family then of course it depends on how large your family is and how many eggs you need a week. In general three birds will provide enough eggs for the average egg eating family of four.
A hen will lay one egg a day, assuming it is well fed, healthy and has plenty of water. Egg laying is determined by the amount of daylight hours so she will reduce her egg laying as the days shorten and may even stop altogether over winter, if she becomes too cold. During her lifetime a hen can lay up to thirty times her own body weight in eggs. If the eggs are not collected she will stop laying after she has three or four and sit on them to try to hatch them, which as they will be unfertilized (without a rooster) will not happen.
The type of breed will also determine how many eggs are laid per year. For example, a Light Sussex may lay up to 220 eggs a year, while a show breed such as the Orpington may only produce 80 eggs a year. So it depends what is more important eggs, or show stopping chickens.
Hybrids (a combination of breeds) are bred for either meat or egg production and the latter such as ‘Bovan Goldline’ (the type of hens used in most battery farms) can lay up to 320 eggs per year. However not all strains of the same breed will lay the text-book number of eggs since there has been a large amount of selection for specific traits desirable on the show circuit and sometimes egg production has actually been bred out of these birds.
As a chicken ages she will also start laying fewer eggs. She will start laying eggs at four to five months and most hit peak production in their first and second years of laying, with the quantities decreasing by around 10% per year after this.
There is no need to keep a male chicken (rooster) to get eggs, all the eggs we eat are unfertilized and you will only need a rooster if you plan on rearing your own chickens.