Am I really breaking the 4 sq ft per chicken rule?

Compost King

Free Ranging
Apr 19, 2018
3,304
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707
Salisbury, North Carolina
I am not here to say that 4 sq ft per chicken rule is stupid, I actually live by it in most circumstances. I would even say try to have 5 or 6 sq ft per chicken in a coop. However I found coop arrangement that can fit 6 chickens in 13.3 square feet. I do not recommend anyone do this until they understand chicken behaviors. This took a few years to plan out. I also have to be extra vigilant in watching these coops when I put up to 6 in them.
Reason for limited space: Roofing material costs $$$ and I want to get the most for I spent on my roofing materials. I tried going vertical, and in this arrangement I made the most of going vertical as the chickens will allow but chickens like ground level activity and will not exploit skyscraper coop for space. However they will use 2 different levels if you have feed, egg laying and the roosting bar are on top and you have a basement area underneath (shade, dust bathing, keeping hidden from the dominant hen or Rooster)

13.25 Square feet is the size of a Pallet (I love free materials), thats why it was chosen for the floor plan.
DSCN3531.JPG

The roosting bar (2x4) is a bit short, just imagine it the full 5 feet 3 inches that goes from corner to corner. Roosting Bar length determines how many chickens you can fit. You can actually fit more than 6 but 6 was my limit for other reasons I will share later. This leaves the Feeder (I use a smaller feeder in the actual coop) and nesting box (thats and old I am about to compost) which fit nicely in the opposing corners.
DSCN3538.JPG

Here is the view from the door of one of my breeding coops. Chickens hate Bamboo Roosting Bars BTW, when I get a scrap 2X4 I will be replacing it. Most of my breeding coops already have 2x4s or better for roosting bars. The smaller feeder is better in my Opinion because its not going to have part of it hang under the roosting bar where it may collect manure. mounted wall feeder might be ideal in this situation. I am sure someone could construct the perfect PVC feeder that you can fill from outside the coop. I just like the cheap small $5 feeder. I have a milk crate for a nesting box, Usually I just use Cardboard boxes and replace them when they get worn out, There was an extra milk crate laying around when I built this so I put it in.
I let my chickens out at sun rise and they pretty much only roost, eat, and lay eggs in here. But there is still an issue not addressed. Bad weather! When there is bad weather they would be over crowded and that will lead to problems. So.......
DSCN3534.JPG

Outside the coop in my 60 sq ft breeding run I have a basement, you can see the yellow legs of a production red under there right now. This coop/Run set up only has 4 currently. I do not cram 6 chickens in these coops until demand for hatching eggs calls for it. I have had 6 chickens in coop and run set up like this before without a problem. Thats not saying a problem won't happen, they have happened when I had 3 in a set up like this. I had a hen that absolutely would not live in close quarters with the rooster. She ended up being sold for to someone who had no roosters. The basement area is an absolute must when pushing the boundaries of space. Technically I can say I have about 24 square feet of sheltered space which is actually the bare minimum for 6 chickens. The basement provides a hiding area with multiple entrances/exits, and is perfect for dust bathing although I will admit I ran across some issues of run off water going under. It was designed correctly on high ground but because of things I do with chickens involving composting that others do not do, the level of the run came up leaving the basement the lowest area in the run, I am working on a drainage system to fix that. If you ever do something like what I do your coop must be constructed on high ground, or you lose out on your basement being a dry shelter on a rainy day.

So am I really breaking the 4 sq ft per chicken rule? I would say not really since the coop is never shut during the day and at night when they roost they only need room to roost. The basement is still part of the coop its just not locked up at night because I am not concerned about predators breaking into the dust bathing area.

Currently the most chickens I have in one of these coops is 4 as far as breeding adults go. I do have 6 juvenile birds in one of them as I wait for them to grow out and I can pick which ones I will breed and which ones I will sell. I have had adult rooster and 5 adult hens in one for 2 months with no problems. However problems will happen and I keep a close eye out for hens that hide under the coop all day (a sign of a problem). Also feeder space could be an issue in this set up. I do not have much of a feeder space issue because of the constant dumping of organic materials in my coop due to my high demand for compost with my actual hobby. My chickens actually spend most of the day getting bugs worms and seeds that are added daily.
 

cmom

Hilltop Farm
13 Years
Nov 18, 2007
26,456
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Florida
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There are no rules just guidelines. I have some coops that are on the smaller side but enough roost space for them and plenty of room for them in their runs/pens, which they are in most of the time except to roost. Even nest boxes. I have some birds that insist on laying in the same nest box even though there are plenty to choose from and there may be a dozen egg in one nest box.
 

Compost King

Free Ranging
Apr 19, 2018
3,304
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Salisbury, North Carolina
There are no rules just guidelines. I have some coops that are on the smaller side but enough roost space for them and plenty of room for them in their runs/pens, which they are in most of the time except to roost. Even nest boxes. I have some birds that insist on laying in the same nest box even though there are plenty to choose from and there may be a dozen egg in one nest box.
I actually believe the 10 sq ft per chicken guideline is far more important. If their outside area is adequate or better then they only need a place to roost at night. Adequate means shelter from the weather and hiding places for the bottom of the pecking order chickens. Its actually a complex equation that I can't put numbers or mathematical symbols to.
 

cmom

Hilltop Farm
13 Years
Nov 18, 2007
26,456
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Florida
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I have what I call shade/rain tables in all of my pens along with shade trees. It gets quite hot here in the summer and they need shade. We also get plenty of rain so the birds do get under the tables when it's raining out. When it rains or very sunny and hot out, they usually get under the tables.
IMG_20181202_133523.jpg
 

ChocolateMouse

Free Ranging
7 Years
Jul 29, 2013
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Cleveland OH
I've had a similar situation, squishing 8 birds into a 16sqft coop + two attached outside nest boxes (so +2.5sqft), plus feed and water outside the coop, over a year. It actually went surprisingly well because the outside pen is huge (800sqft, so "80" chickens worth!?) and has a lot of man-made sheltered areas. I cleared a path between all the sheltered spots and they overwintered just fine. They'd come out of one sheltered spot then move to another, sometime splitting up sometimes not, sometimes going in and out of the coop, etc. Is it ideal? Of course not. Did I have to clean the coop more? Naturally. But it worked, no fighting, good laying (for winter), etc. Sure the chickens were happy for the thaw days but who isn't?

4sqft per bird is just a guideline, and depending on your flock, can be fudged a little to a lot. Feistier bigger birds need more space to coexist, maybe up to their own large personal bubbles. And the space doesn't scale linearly. 8sqft of coop space for two chickens feels a lot more cramped than 160sqft for 40 and cutting out a single square foot from an 8sqft coop feels worse than cutting out 20sqft from a 160sqft coop. It's all about your particular needs. If your birds are fighting, their health is suffering, or the ground is getting too messy too fast it's time to expand the pen or reduce the flock.
 

aart

Chicken Juggler!
Premium Feather Member
8 Years
Nov 27, 2012
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ChocolateMouse

Free Ranging
7 Years
Jul 29, 2013
5,603
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Cleveland OH
I have always considered the 4sqft rule to be about how much space a single chicken needs to preform normal, healthy behaviors. 4sqft gives a chicken enough space to;

Walk in a full circle
Flap their wings
Scratch on the ground
Stretch their legs
Lay down and/or dust bathe alone
Crow with neck fully extended
Safely meet another, familiar, chicken face-to face
Breed

For most of these, 4sqft is about the amount of space a bird needs without touching another bird. And so if you have two birds, the chances of them both doing something that needs 4sqft each at the same time (say, flapping wings without crashing into each other) is pretty likely. So for someone with only a few chickens, such as in most suburban backyard settings, this makes a lot of sense to give that much space for each bird.

But the chances of 6, 12 or 40 chickens, all doing something that occupies maximum natural space needs all at the same time is pretty low. So the more chickens you have, the less it scales. And the less often they're in the confined space the less it matters. I shut my dogs into a crate when they eat or I leave the house. But then when I'm home they have the whole house and then sometimes the back yard or the whole neighborhood (on walks). They even sleep in their crates deliberately, putting themselves into a confined space on purpose. So for me the best way to determine space needs is to watch your flock and see how they're getting along!

(I also consider outdoor space to be a completely separate need with separate purpose, which is mostly stimulation and entertainment as opposed to needing room just to not get leg cramps. And I agree this space should always be as big and interesting as possible.)
 
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Shadrach

Roosterist
Jul 31, 2018
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I think a lot depends on how you keep the chickens. I don’t have 4sq feet per chicken in any of my coops. What I do have is families per coop and this makes a huge difference. Also, if the chickens free range, which they do here every day no matter what the weather the coop becomes a sleeping place and not living space.
I’ve got seven bantams in a 18sq foot coop. When I look in at night the coop looks practically empty and everyone is on one perch in the winter; in the summer both perches get used.
There are other coops they could live in but they prefer this living arrangement.
All the groups here live like this and have for years.
I’ve only had problems when a different breed has tried to move in or a member from another family.
 

Compost King

Free Ranging
Apr 19, 2018
3,304
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Salisbury, North Carolina
I think a lot depends on how you keep the chickens. I don’t have 4sq feet per chicken in any of my coops. What I do have is families per coop and this makes a huge difference. Also, if the chickens free range, which they do here every day no matter what the weather the coop becomes a sleeping place and not living space.
I’ve got seven bantams in a 18sq foot coop. When I look in at night the coop looks practically empty and everyone is on one perch in the winter; in the summer both perches get used.
There are other coops they could live in but they prefer this living arrangement.
All the groups here live like this and have for years.
I’ve only had problems when a different breed has tried to move in or a member from another family.

When birds free range the only thing I consider for a coop is roosting bar space. I guess this also depends on their range if they have sheltered type areas (trees, shrubs, under decks, etc etc).. for birds that free range from sun up to sun down the coop is just secure lock box at night and they can pack themselves in as tight as they want. When it gets too crowded they will roost in trees... or that has been my experience.
 

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