Another space/bird question.

Discussion in 'Coop & Run - Design, Construction, & Maintenance' started by Northie, Oct 1, 2013.

  1. Northie

    Northie Songster

    We're building our "starter coop". A little 4x6 coop to test out if we're any good at chicken keeping before I turn the old granary in my profile picture into a chicken barn or... Chicken mansion... ;).

    My question is about how many birds would be comfortable in this little coops by the 4 square feet rule I'm under the impression I could have 6 standard size chickens in there, but that seems like too many just on instinct... Once I've added a nest box, perches, food and water there's going to be a lot less space... Right? Does that 4 square feet only count open floor space or did whoever came up with that magic number account for clutter in the coops somehow.
    A few other factors that may influence the number of birds we keep;
    -they will have access to a large run/pasture area.
    -we'll most likely be getting RIR from a local hatchery to start out with,
    -hubby may want to keep a rooster (not if they're nasty though we have kids)
    -our winters are brutal they may need spend a good amount of time snuggled up in there and yet... Not be so crowded they drive each other nuts...
    - poop management... How many birds do I really want to be cleaning up after in there? and how often...?

    Suppose I should look for some space saving Ideas and too be for we get too much farther along.
    Any advice is hugely appreciated! :)
  2. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner Free Ranging

    Feb 2, 2009
    Southeast Louisiana
    I don’t believe in magic numbers for about anything to do with chickens, space or much of anything else. We keep them in way too many different circumstances and conditions with different flock make-ups, in different climates, and using different management techniques for one magic number to be right for each of us. The guideline of 4 square feet per chicken in the coop along with 10 square feet per chicken in the run will keep practically anyone out of trouble wherever they are. For a lot of people that is overkill though I find that the more room I provide the fewer behavioral problems I have to deal with, the less hard I have to work, and the more flexibility I have to deal with issues as they arise.

    It’s not just coop space either. It’s space available when they are awake. It doesn’t matter if that space is in the coop, coop and run, or they free range and sleep in trees. And you are correct to consider the worst weather you will have, not just when things are perfect. After a few days mine normally get used to snow and go out walking in it, but it usually takes them a few days to get up the courage to step on that strange white stuff. You are going to have a lot more snow than I do. You might consider fixing your run with a roof and sides to create an area where snow does not build up just to provide a little more space.

    I don’t know what dimensions building materials come in Canada. I imagine they are a lot like here where most building materials come in 4’ or 8’ sizes. If you plan your coop around those dimensions you can often get a larger coop with less cutting and waste of materials and with very little extra costs. Just something to consider.

    You’re right that putting other stuff in there reduces the space available some, but another issue is finding room for feeders, waterers and such so they don’t poop in them from the roosts. Another reason for more space.

    Poop management is another big issue. They will poop a lot while on the roots at night. A lot of us put a droppings board under the roost to catch that poop and get it out of the coop. It’s great for a compost pile. Some people clean that off daily but I clean mine every two to three weeks, depending on how bad it gets.

    I hate giving hard and fast magic numbers. Our circumstances, management techniques, goals, risk tolerances and all that are so different that a lot of it comes down to personal preference. But you want suggestions. In your circumstances since it is only a trial, I’d suggest you start with 3 hens (no roosters) whether in a 4x6 or 4x8, whether you fix up a portion of the run to be snow-free or not. I suggest three because they are social animals. If you have three and something happens to one, they still have a buddy. For what you are trying, it doesn’t matter if you have 3 or 10. The basic experience will still be about the same and you are more likely to have success if you don’t overcrowd them.

    I haven’t posted this for a while so I’ll add it to this post. A few years ago I wrote something up on space for chickens. It’s probably a good time to post it again. It might give you an idea about why I don’t believe in magic numbers for chickens.

    I don’t believe in magic numbers for chickens. We keep them in so many different conditions, in different climates, with different flock make-ups, and use so many different management techniques that no one magic number will cover us all. Some of the things that make up the space requirement are, in my opinion:

    1. Personal space for the birds. They have different personalities and different individual requirements. Some are very possessive of personal space and some can share. Each flock has its own dynamics.

    2. Access to feeder and waterer.

    3. Being able to put the feeder and waterer where they will not poop in it when they roost.

    4. Roost space. They not only need to have enough room to sleep on the roost roost, they need to have enough room for them to spread their wings and fly to the roost and to sort out who gets to sleep next to whom and who gets the prime spots once they get on the roost. When they get on, they may jump from some midway support or fly directly to the roost, but either way, they like to spread their wings. And some chickens seem to enjoy blocking the entry points if there are limits. And when they get off, mine tend to want to fly down, not jump to a halfway point. They need room to fly down without bumping into feeders, waterers, nesting boxes, or a wall.

    5. Poop load. The larger area they have the less often you have to actively manage the poop. They poop a lot while on the roost so you may have to give that area special consideration, but mucking out the entire coop can be backbreaking work plus you have to have some place to put all that bedding and poop. In my opinion, totally cleaning out the coop is something that needs to happen as seldom as possible.

    6. How often are they able to get out of the coop? The more they are confined to the coop, the larger the personal space needs to be. The normal recommendation on this forum is 4 square feet per full sized chicken with a minimum of 10 square feet of run per bird. This additional requirement outside is sometimes not mentioned. How often they are allowed out of the coop may depend on a lot more than just weather. Your work schedule, when you are able to turn them loose, what time of day you open the pop door to let them out or lock them up at night, all this and more enters into the equation. The 4 square feet recommendation assumes they will spend extended time in the coop and not be able to get in the run. What that extended time can safely be depends on a lot of different factor so there is no one correct length of time for everyone.

    7. Do you feed and water in the coop or outside. The more they are outside, the less pressure on the size of the coop.

    8. The size of the chicken. Bantams require less room than full sized chickens. This has to be tempered by breed and the individual personalities. Some bantams can be more protective of personal space than others, but this is also true of full sized breeds. Young chicks need less space than mature adults.

    9. The breed of the chicken. Some handle confinement better than others.

    10. The number of chickens. The greater the number of chickens, the more personal space they can have if the square foot per chicken stays constant. Let me explain. Assume each chicken occupies 1 square foot of space. If you have two chickens and 4 square feet per chicken, the two chickens occupy 2 square feet, which leaves 6 square feet for them to explore. If you have ten chickens with 4 square feet per chicken, each chicken has 30 unoccupied square feet to explore. A greater number also can give more space to position the feeders and waterers properly in relation to the roosts and provide access. In general the more chickens you have the less space per chicken you need. You are more likely to get in trouble with 4 square feet per chicken if you have very few chickens.

    11. What is your flock make-up? A flock with more than one rooster may be more peaceful if it has more space. I don't want to start the argument about number or roosters here as I know more than one rooster can often peacefully coexist with a flock, but I firmly believe more space helps.

    12. What is the maximum number of chickens you will have. Consider hatching chicks or bringing in replacements. Look down the road a bit.

    13. Do you want a broody to raise chicks with the flock? A broody needs sufficient room to work with or you risk problems from other chickens.

    14. The more space you have, the easier it is to integrate chickens. Chickens have developed a way to live together in a flock. It’s called the pecking order. But establishing that pecking order can be pretty violent. One method they use to take most of the danger out of establishing the pecking order is that the weaker runs away from the stronger when there is a confrontation or they just a void the stronger to start with. They need room to run away and avoid.

    15. The more space you have the more flexibility you have dealing with problems.

    I'm sure I am missing several components, but the point I'm trying to make is that we all have different conditions. There is no magic number that suits us all. The 4 square feet in a coop with 10 square feet in the run is a good rule of thumb that most of the time will keep us out of trouble, but not always. People starting out with no experience with chickens need a starting point. The 4 and 10 is a good starting point. For a lot of us it is more than they could possibly squeak by with but I do believe that more is better both in the coop and in the run.

    There are also people that have no trouble with a lot less space. If the coop is used only for sleeping and maybe some nest boxes, you can get by with less. But there has to be additional space available when they are awake. If you commit to giving them that space whenever they are awake, you don’t sleep in any mornings and you have to find someone to let them out at the crack of dawn if you are away for a while.

    It doesn’t matter if the space is in the coop, coop and run, or they free range and sleep in trees. It’s total space that counts, not just coop size in isolation.

    2 people like this.
  3. thomasboyle

    thomasboyle Songster

    Feb 28, 2013
    Northwest Hills of CT
    The more room they have, they happier they will be, and the easier it will be for you to clean etc. I initially had my food and water inside the coop, and this contributed to a regular wet mess. So I moved the food and water outaide into the run, and this made a huge improvement in keeping things dry, clean and and greatly reduced the smell of chickens! I built my nesting boxes 18" off the floor, so they did not take up any floor space, and in fact, my ducks like to nest under the overhang - keeps them out of poop bombing range from the chickens on the roosts!
  4. Northie

    Northie Songster

    Thanks for taking the time to post that Ridgerunner, it would make a good sticky at the top of the construction and maintenance forum :)

    We use the same sizes as the USA for most construction materials. Everything was supposed to be switched to metric years ago, but it caused so many problems that the tradesmen ended up rejecting the system and going back to the imperial. Now we're stuck half way between both... Silly... The 4x6 size came from a nice piece of plywood I scavenged from Hubby's scrap pile. I think he may have been saving it for something, but he let me have it anyway. Most of the material has been scavenged from his scrap/crooked piles.
    3 sounds like a reasonable starting point and if we succeeded with our chickens I can turn this one into a small breeder/broody/bachelor/whatever-I-need coop later right. :)

BackYard Chickens is proudly sponsored by: