Usually, when you hear people talk about having chickens, it’s in the plural. Not just one chicken. But what if you’re limited by cost or space and don’t want to squeeze multiple birds into a small area? Or perhaps you had a few birds but most have died leaving one left on its own. Read on to eggsplore your options and help you decide what’s best for you and your feathered friend(s).
Do chickens get lonely?
In short, yes. Chickens naturally flock together for warmth and comfort, for company, and when they are stressed or frightened. They are generally very social animals and without companionship can become depressed. Single chickens have also been known to harm themselves by picking at their feathers to relieve the boredom of solitary life. Much like humans, they tend to thrive in a group rather than in isolation.
Is it OK to have just one chicken?
Most owners recommend keeping chickens in groups of at least three or more. But some people do successfully keep one chicken on its own. If possible, you should keep it in the house so that it can interact with you and your family in the absence of fellow chickens. It also helps if you have toys for them to play with, just like you would with a cat or dog.
Toys involving food can be great fun for them. And if you are going to get a solo chicken, it’s best to get a hen rather than a rooster as they tend to be more docile, quieter, and more adaptable. You’ll also be rewarded with regular fresh eggs. You can even share some of your food with them to help them feel more like part of the family. But be sure to follow our advice on what they can and can’t eat.
Having said that, it is always better for chickens to live in flocks due to how much they thrive on their social lives. Whilst cats and dogs are happy for humans to replace their pack, chickens are not quite the same. They do recognise and bond with their owners, but they will still get lonely without other chickens, which can cause stress and shorten their lifespan as well as affecting egg-laying.
If you’re thinking of getting just one chicken it may be best to wait until you’re in a position to get a flock. Our handy guide should help you to understand their housing needs.
What to do when you only have 1 chicken left
On average, chickens live between 5 and 10 years. Although some have been reported to live as long as 16 years. So if you have a flock, your numbers will gradually diminish over time.
And if you don’t regularly replace them, there will likely come a point when you have just one chicken left. Ideally, it would be best to not get this far, but circumstances change over ten years or so and it may not be practical for you to keep getting new birds.
One option would be to find a new home for your chicken with another flock. But this isn’t always easy, and you may have formed an emotional attachment in both directions.
A lot of it will come down to the individual chicken’s personality. One that has had plenty of human interaction in earlier life is much more likely to thrive alone than if they have been solely supported by the flock.
An older chicken coming towards the end of its life may be better kept on its own as the stress of joining a new flock may not be worth it for only a short time. If you do decide to keep a chicken on its own, let it come into your house if you can and be part of your family.
That way it is much less likely to get lonely and can live out its days calm and stress-free and you can enjoy its company.
Can chickens die of loneliness?
Indirectly, yes. As we mentioned, solitary chickens can resort to self-harm to relieve the stress caused by boredom. If this is left unchecked, then it will ultimately result in death as the chicken’s health gradually deteriorates.
Chickens are emotionally intelligent creatures. Much more so than many give them credit for. As well as feeling lonely when flock members die, they can experience heartbreak when they lose another bird that they were particularly close to.
The secret to a happy chicken
It’s important to pay close attention to their general behaviour and happiness,
whatever the size of the flock, as the earlier you spot problems the better they can be remedied.
Whatever the circumstances of your solitary chicken, spending time with them and understanding their needs is crucial to keeping them happy and healthy.
If you’re unable to improve a chicken’s happiness and habits by spending time with them, and getting companions is not an option, then you should speak to your vet for expert advice.