With all the interest in chicken keeping in the last couple of decades, many people are getting into keeping poultry for the first time. You probably want to provide the best possible conditions for your birds. One crucial factor is how many square feet per chicken. There’s a lot of debate about how much space chickens need.
In commercial production systems, hens are kept in very confined spaces, whereas backyard keepers often treat their chickens as pampered pets. You probably lean toward the latter, but if you’re like most people, you don’t have unlimited space. How can you keep your birds happy? Read on to find out.
How Many Square Feet Of Space Per Chicken?
The right amount of space chickens need in the coop depends on various factors, such as how big your chickens are, the number of chickens how active they are, their general temperament, and particularly how much time they spend in the coop.
Smaller chickens will need less space than smaller ones, all other things equal. In particular, bantams can be kept in smaller quarters.
The note about all other things being equal is essential to understand. While large breeds of chicken seem to need more space than smaller birds, many larger breeds, such as Buff Orpington and Sussex, are pretty laidback. In contrast, smaller Mediterranean breeds such as the Leghorn and Ancona are highly active and like more space.
How much time your chickens spend in the coop will affect how much space each chicken should have in the coop. The University of Georgia Cooperative Extension recommends a minimum of 3 to 3.5 square feet per laying bird.
Many people say that you should give chickens at least 4 square feet each inside the coop if they are spending a lot of time outdoors either in a mobile run (chicken tractor) or roaming freely around your yard.
Other people argue, quite convincingly, that you can get away with as little as 2 square feet per bird inside the coop, provided there is sufficient roosting space. If they only spend their nights inside the coop sleeping and the whole day outside in the run or ranging freely, then this amount of space is sufficient to keep them healthy and happy. With bantams, you only need 1 square foot each.
While you can get away with this tiny amount of space inside the coop if the birds spend most of their time outside, you should provide them with 8 to 10 square feet per bird if they spend their time cooped up (for example, in a rainy climate). Remember that a large coop with a few birds can get too cold. Too much space can be a bad thing.
What’s more, even if they spend most of their time outside and are free-range chickens, you may wish to give more space than the bare minimum (around 6 square feet per bird) if you are mixing docile breeds with more aggressive ones to prevent bullying problems.
How Much Roost Space Do Chickens Need?
There is much debate over how much roost space chickens require, with estimates varying from 8 to 12 inches per bird. However, many people are ignoring basic facts about chicken behavior. Chickens like to huddle together when roosting, and you don’t need to provide a lot of roost space – 8 inches per bird is more than enough.
As long as your chickens have room to fly up to their perches or ramps to scramble up for the heavier breeds, they will happily huddle.
How to work out the Right Size Chicken Coop
The Size of the coop really depends on how many hens you plan to have and how big will they be. It is pretty simple math:
Smaller breeds such as Bantam chickens multiply by 3 feet to give them enough room
Larger birds or heavy breeds multiply by 4 to get the square feet of coop space
What Is The Recommended Run Space?
The run space will again depend on the chicken’s size and breed. Smaller birds can get by with 8 square feet per hen in the chicken run. Larger birds will need a larger area – up to 15 feet per bird
How Many Square Feet Of Outdoor Space Do Chickens Need?
At a minimum, they need 8 square feet per hen in an outdoor run. Free-range chickens otherwise you will get overcrowding problems.
How Much Space Do Chickens Need In The Run?
Providing plenty of room in the run for your chickens to scratch, take dust baths, and socialize helps keep them healthy and happy. If your run is fixed, the chickens will rapidly turn the entire area into a dust bowl, and their poop will accumulate. A better alternative is a chicken tractor (a mobile run).
The general square footage guideline is 8 to 10 square feet per bird for standard chickens and 4 square feet each for bantams. However, erring on the generous side reaps dividends in contented chickens and delicious, nutritious eggs. Allowing 25 to 30 square feet per bird is optimal.
If you want your chickens to range freely, allow 25 to 30 square feet per bird. This space doesn’t necessarily have to be entirely open. You may want to fence off the entire area to protect your chickens from predators or keep them from visiting the neighbors.
How Much Space Do Hens Need In The Nest Box?
Hens lay their eggs in dark, confined spaces out of the general activity of the backyard flock, and if you provide nest boxes, they will use them. Raising them off the ground means you don’t have to bend down to collect the eggs and offers protection against trampling (and, to some degree, against predators).
Hens like their laying space cozy, and you should base the size of your nest boxes on the size of your hens. Commercial nest boxes are usually 11 or 12 cubic inches, which will suit even the largest breeds such as Orpingtons. You can get away with one around 10 cubic inches or even slightly smaller for bantams.
A note on positioning: keep the nest boxes below the roosts so that your chickens aren’t tempted to roost in the boxes and poop in them, contaminating the eggs.
Why You Should Give Chickens More Than The Minimum Space
Chickens are pretty small birds, although their exact size varies from breed to breed. You may think that they don’t have the space requirements as larger animals do, but chickens have specific behavioral patterns that give them a need for adequate space.
While chickens do not need much space to roost and tend to huddle up together in the hen house, they do still need decent indoor space to prevent bullying. During the day they need room for normal activities such as roaming and foraging, dust bathing, exploring, and socializing.
While chickens will do okay in the minimum required space required for keeping them humanely, for them to thrive, they need extra space. Such freedom allows them to be happy, healthy, productive birds.
If you are obsessed with chickens, you will inevitably get more. It is a good idea to create enough space to allow for this inevitable expansion in flock size.
The Consequences Of Overcrowding Your Chickens
There are many negative consequences to overcrowding chickens, which are frequently seen in commercial factory farming. These range from behavioral issues to increases in disease. Here are some of the problems you may face if you overcrowd your chickens:
- Bored, frustrated, stressed chickens. Dominant chickens will bully weaker ones by pulling out their feathers. They may even gang up on weaker birds and kill them (the pecking order can be brutal)
- Reduced feed intake
- Disruption of a healthy gut microbiome
- Reduced growth rates as a result of reduced feed intake and disrupted gut microbes
- Chickens pooping everywhere and then pecking at poop
- Increased mold count and respiratory disease caused by inhalation of toxins
- Contaminated drinking water
- Increased transmission of diseases such as avian influenza, exotic Newcastle disease, and Salmonella
- Increased incidence of mites
- Insufficient nesting space for hens, resulting in them laying eggs everywhere. The chickens may then trample the eggs and break them or begin feeding on them
- Bare patches in your lawn from dust bathing or over-foraging
- Foul odor from poop build-up (ground becomes sour)
- Problems with flies
As you can see, you must provide chickens with enough space for them to be healthy. Besides, chickens with enough space to be chickens are much happier and make better companions.
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.