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Can someone explain the 4sq ft per bird in the coop to me?

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by cupman, Dec 13, 2011.

  1. cupman

    cupman Songster

    Apr 12, 2011
    Portland, OR
    I have a coop that is 120 square feet. It has 3 perches that are 10 feet wide, cascading. I haven't moved my hens into this new coop yet and currently they reside in my first coop that is kind of small. I have 12 adult birds and 15 juveniles. They say minimum 2sqft/bird with a recommended 4sqft/bird. Why is that? My birds now free range all day and the only time they go into the coop is to lay eggs and to go to bed. They don't normally hang out inside. Ideally my coop would fit 30 chickens at the 4sqft/bird rule. I was kind of hoping to do around 35-37 chickens as there are a few breeds I still want to add to my flock.

    I guess what I'm wondering is what is the reasoning behind the requirements... is it for times when the weather is crummy and they have to stay inside all day? Well if anyone knows I'd appreciate it.

  2. stcroixusvi

    stcroixusvi Songster

    May 5, 2011
    Western NC
    My Coop
    I am not a chicken expert by any stretch but our chickens do not go outside much when it is very cold.
  3. Imp

    Imp All things share the same breath- Chief Seattle

    I believe it is just a rule of thumb.

    Sometimes chickens will peck at each other or egg eat if they are crowded.

    The corollaries to the rule are:

    -depends on your birds
    -less is OK if you freerange
    -less is OK if you have Bantams
    -less is OK if you have a large run

    I'm sure there are other reasons too.

  4. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner Free Ranging

    Feb 2, 2009
    Southeast Louisiana
    The basic idea behind the 4 square feet in the coop along with 10 square feet in the run is to cover practically everyone on this forum under many different conditions. Many can get along with less, but some need more. If yours can truly be outside from when they wake up until they put themselves to bed, you can get by with less in the coop. But think about the worst conditions they see, not the best.

    Here is something I wrote about space a while back. You might find it interesting.

    As long as you have enough height for the roosts to be noticeably higher than the nest boxes, height does not matter to chickens. They are basically ground dwelling birds, so the ground area is all that really matters space wise. I said it does not matter to the chickens. It does matter to me if I have to work in there. It matters quite a bit.

    If the nest boxes are high enough off the ground that the chickens can easily get under them, then nest boxes do not take away from the space available. The tops of the nesting boxes does not add to the living space either although they may occasionally be up there. Ground level is what counts.

    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.

    2. Access to feeder and waterer. The general recommendation is that they all be able to eat at one time, but access to the waterer is also important. Part of this is that they seem to like to all eat at once but not necessarily drink at the same time. Part of it is that a dominant bird may keep others from eating or drinking, especially with limited access.

    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 roost, they need to have enough room for them to sort out who gets to sleep next to whom and who gets the prime spots. They also need enough room to get on the roosts and get off them. 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.

    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. I’m not encouraging you to crowd your birds if you have a large number of them. I’m trying to say 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.

    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 for a minimum that most of the time will keep us out of trouble, but not always. I do believe that more is better both in the coop and in the run.
  5. cupman

    cupman Songster

    Apr 12, 2011
    Portland, OR
    Thanks guys. Man, Ridgerunner you are like an encyclopedia, first with breeding and now this.
  6. moetrout

    moetrout Songster

    May 5, 2010
    Milan, MI
    i take the 2sq feet per bird as what you want to have if you have bantam and the 4 sq feet per bird is full sized birds. Since you are in Oregon I would think the winter may be harsh enough that there could be many days in the winter that they don't get out and that is when the extra space is important. A few birds over probably won't hurt as long as you give them the option to get outside every day, no matter the weather.
  7. ChicKat

    ChicKat Crowing Premium Member

    I think that a lot depends upon the individual birds, and even beyond that---one very territorial and agressive bird can make a lot more space requred. Some folks in very warm/mild climates don't really have coops per se, they have enclosures that are designed to be roofed and provide maximum air flow. Some climates the chickens need to spend large periods of time indoors constantly. I think this is one of the 4sq feet sources.

    Lots of time people compute a coop plus run square footage... Of course, the more space the better, but some raisers have intense, small flock management. for example, poop trays emptied daily are a different management situation than annual 'deep litter' management.

    so-- chicken personality, climate and coop clean-up are factors for consideration.

    If your run is covered and you are near the coast (mild weather), your run is always accessable to the chickens, you have mellow chickens and no crazy evil feed and water defenders, AND your chickens feel that there is plenty of food and water available, you should be able to put the number of chickens you imagine in the space you described.

  8. TDM

    TDM Songster

    I find the four square feet per bird to be bunk propagated by the American chicken hobbyist. Two square feet is considered standard throughout the rest of the world. I personally run 65 birds per 8' x 16' coop with no problems. I know a few organic farms that run 1.75 square feet per bird.
  9. elmo

    elmo Songster

    May 23, 2009
    Take out a ruler and a piece of construction paper and mark off a 2 square foot area. That's only 12" by 24", about the same size as half a sheet of newspaper. A standard size chicken just barely can fit into a square foot, and some of the bigger breeds will overflow even a square foot. That gives the chicken only a 12" by 12" area to "move around in." If that area is only used as the chicken is heading up to the roost at night and heading back out in the morning, there's going to be a lot of jostling around in the flock but it certainly is doable, potentially.

    But if the chickens might be confined in that area for any period of time during their active, daylight hours, doesn't that seem terribly cramped? Overcrowding is stressful, and stress depresses egg laying.
  10. TDM

    TDM Songster

    Quote:This is about 80 birds in an 8' x 16' mobile hen house. They decided that they liked this particular hen house over an identical one twenty feet away.

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    Last edited: Dec 14, 2011

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