Coops and Runs: How Much Space Does a Chicken Need
How much space you have should determine how many chickens to own. A small family can supply themselves with their own fresh eggs from a relatively small back yard. To have healthy hens for eggs means giving them an adequate environment. Most of this can be accomplished with just a few rules in mind.
Large fowl breeds need at least 4 square feet of space per bird provided they are let out to forage during the day. So, a 4’ by 8’ coop would be adequate for about 8 birds. On the other hand, if they are always confined, then each bird would need 10 square feet. So, a 5′ by 10′ coop would be adequate space for 5 birds.
Chickens will be happier and healthier if they are let out during the day with
supervision to forage. At night, they need protection against predators, so they should be kept in a chicken coop or shelter. The proper size of the coop depends on how many birds you have, what size they are, and whether you let them out to forage during the day or keep them confined to the coop.
If the coop is too small, manure will build up quickly inside, and ammonia levels can cause health issues. Chickens will also tend to peck each other which can lead to cannibalism. Overcrowding can cause a variety of problems and disease. It’s best to make sure your chickens have plenty of coop space.
For lighter size breeds that are allowed to forage outside during the day will need at least 3 square feet per bird, so a 4′ x 8′ coop could house 10-11 birds. Chickens that are confined should be given at least 7 1/2 square feet of space, so a 5′ by 10′ coop would be sufficient for about 6 chickens.
Bantams, being smaller, don’t need as much space per bird.
This is one reason they are popular in backyard flocks. Two square feet per bird is adequate if they are allowed daytime forage, so a 4′ by 8′ coop could house 16 bantams. Also, a 5′ by 10′ coop could contain 10 bantams if kept inside at all times.
Every coop needs a roost and a nest.
It’s a natural tendency for fowls to perch off the floor. This is an instinct that keeps them safe from ground predators in the wild. Perches not only make them feel secure, but it keeps them clean and out of their manure. Perches should be positioned at least 12” to 18” away from the wall for head and tail space. Chickens need a minimum of 18" to 24" of head space above the perch. Don’t forget to give them room to fly up there without banging their heads!
The amount of space given to the head space is just as important as the floor space. There will be days of bad weather will your chickens will want to sit on their roosts to avoid snow, ice storms, or flash floods. That’s why the height should be given just as much consideration as the floor space.
Large fowl do best roosting on the 4” side of a 2”x4” perch with the edges rounded off. While the bantam breed needs only 2”x2” board. It’s good to round off the edges because they can hurt their feet. Natural branch roosts may also be used with a minimum diameter of 3”-4”; make sure the type of wood used are healthy for chickens.
Providing plenty of perches, stumps, a dust bath and other “chicken furniture” can go a long way to alleviate boredom and stress-related flock issues.
Nests will prevent your girls from straying in a search for a safe place to lay eggs. They greatly appreciate a safe comfy nest to relax in while they lay their eggs. It's their instinct to be protective of the egg and they require a place that makes them feel secure. A 12”x12” is the standard size for nest boxes, but your chickens won’t mind slightly smaller or larger boxes provided they fit comfortably. Minimum of 1 nest box for every 3 laying hens
The last thing to consider when building your coop and run is just how addictive chickens are. If you can, build a larger coop than you think you will need… coops have a funny way of filling themselves up rather quickly!
4 square feet of floor space per Large Fowl chicken
3 square feet of floor space per Bantam chicken
1 square foot of ventilation per 10 square feet of floor space
12 inches of perch space per LF chicken
9 inches of perch space per Bantam chicken
12”x12” is the standard size for nest boxes, but your chickens won’t mind slightly smaller or larger boxes provided they fit comfortably.
Minimum of 1 nest box for every 3 laying hens
10 Sq Ft of ground space per LF chicken
7.5 Sq Ft of ground space per Bantam chicken
It can be confusing for those new to chickens to wade through the variety of information on proper coop and run square footage for their flock. Manufacturers selling small “doll house” coops often tout their structure as being able to house up to “X” amount of birds… and often those numbers are misleading and are not appropriate for the birds or the buyer’s needs.
Through research I have found it to be more economical to build your own coop than to buy. Even if you hire a carpenter you could probably come out better, but if you do buy I highly recommend Carolina coops.
We have coops with space beneath the coop and those with porches. I must say that having a porch for your hens to stay during harsh weather solves a lot of problems even though they have space beneath the coops. I myself prefer space beneath the coops simply because rodents and snake cannot live there without being seen.The coops that we have built with the space underneath are around 3 feet. This gives chickens an extra space for dust bathes and shelter.
The most important thing to remember when building a coop is to have ventilation above their heads not in their face and give them plenty of room to keep them healthy. Overcrowding and bad air are 2 major reasons for health issues.
Always obtain a larger coop than necessary at the time, to allow for changes in the future such as broody hens, or an older hen has stopped laying as much as you need younger hens to fill in for the lack. It's easier to start off with a larger coop than it is to build onto a coop.
Coops and runs can be a healthy place for your flocks when armed with information. Give them room to grow, fresh air to breath and a fun place to hang and your girls with reward you with wonderful fresh eggs for years to come.