Conflicting information on coop size and number of birds


In the Brooder
7 Years
Jul 4, 2012
East Windsor, CT
I know this question has been asked on here a million times but as I do my search I seem to get different answers. I have a 4X4X3 coop that I just built. They will be able to be out during the day in about a quarter acre. I will have two roosts, each being about 4 feet long. I have heard that all that matters is square footage of the floor, I have heard that if they are free to walk outside during the day that all they need is 1 foot of roost space/bird. I have heard 4 square feet per bird and 2 square feet per bird. I am wondering what you guys think I could have for numbers in this sized coop? Thanks!
In a perfect world 4ft² for the coop and 10ft² for the run (if you violate this rule you may experience problems with cannibalism and the like). However my coop is only 32ft² and I have housed up to 15 birds all winter long with no run and no issues (on 3 levels.) A lot depends on the breed of bird and the dynamics in the flock.

x2 the general rule that is followed in a backyard situation is 4 sqft per bird in the coop PLUS 10 ft per bird in the run with 10-12 inches of roost space per bird and 1 nest box for every 4 birds. This is just a guideline and depending on breed and flock and circumstances you may want to adjust but it is a good place to start. My coop follows this pretty closely and I personally think that is it a great guideline. The breed you pick will make a difference -- 4 bantam cochins does not equal 4 leghorns does not equal 4 jersey giants.

Meat birds are generally housed a little differently and I usually read about 2.5 ft in a movable tractor is best if you are wanting to go down that route. (meat breeds being very fast growing birds that are only going to live in this housing a few weeks)
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You stated that the chickens had a big run and would not be limited to a tractor. So they would only be sleeping and possibly laying eggs in nest boxes in the coop. I think that changes the dynamic some. How many chickens do you want? I think you could figure in a limited run about 1 chicken per square foot because lets face it, Chickens poop, gives off ammonia and ammonia can kill chickens. I would not put 25 in a 4x4 coop but I have a 4x4 coop that my chickens used and it housed 10. I have 5 coops and they chose to roost together. Some of the coops had no chickens inside. But they had my entire yard to roam and forage. At one point I had 55 chickens 8 bantams in one coop and the rest were dispersed among the other 4 coops. I cleaned the coops every Saturday without fail and they were dirty! My honest advice is to keep the number of chickens in perspective to your goals and plan to house them by way of 1 chicken per cubic foot. It is easy to fall into chicken math but I will believe a healthy flock will bring much joy and happiness in chicken keeping.

Thank you everyone for the prompt responses. I was thinking between 6-9 birds. 2 nest boxes which are not factored into the square footage since I built them on the outside of the coop. so 4X4 would be 16 square feet for sleeping. Could I get away with as many as 9? Thanks,
Americana's are medium sized birds, and they are usually docile, so they may do better in an overcrowded coop than some other breeds. You didn't mention where you live - are you in a snow belt? If yes, the birds may be in the coop for a while, and then more birds per sq ft is a problem. My hens don't like the snow, and would not go out in it, so I ended up building a covered run so I did not have to shovel out the run after each snowstorm.
Of course you are going to get different answers. We keep them in so many different climates, in different set-ups, with different flock make-ups, using different management techniques, having different goals, with different breeds, and who knows what other differences, how could one magic number for space cover everyone? I think that’s what the other posters are saying.

I’m always a proponent of providing as much space as you reasonably can for three reasons. I find the more space I give them the less behavioral problems I’m likely to see, I have to work less hard, and I have more flexibility to handle problems. It doesn’t matter that much if the space is in the coop, coop and run, or if they free range and sleep in trees. What matters is how much space is available when they are awake.

Let’s say you want to keep 9 in that 4’ x 4’ coop. All you use it for is to safely lock them up while they sleep. When they are awake they have access to your ¼ acre. That will work fine as long as you let them out at the crack of dawn each day and they have weather and conditions that they can go outside. If you decide to sleep in until noon on weekends or one day that you have the flu, it might get pretty crowded in there. If you decide to take an overnight trip for work or vacation, I guess you have someone dependable to let them out at the crack of dawn.

I’m guessing you’ll feed and water them outside? I mean, how could you configure that coop with roosts for 9 birds and position the food and water where they won’t poop in it.

If you are counting on them having access every day of the year practically all day long each day to that ¼ acre, how do you handle a predator, say a bobcat, fox, dog, or raccoon, that starts picking them off in the middle of the day. Sometimes those predators can be pretty difficult to manage on a short term basis.

If you decide to integrate new chickens or have a broody hatch and raise chicks, it really helps if they have some extra room.

Those are a few examples where extra room gives you a bit of flexibility.

Can you keep 6 to 9 chickens in that 4x4 coop and using that ¼ acre? Yes, you certainly can with the right management techniques as long as things stay ideal. If you run into a problem, you might get stressed a bit if you shoehorn as many as you possibly can in that coop.

My goals and conditions are quite a bit different from yours so I can’t tell you what I would do in your circumstances. I’d be very uncomfortable with more than 4 to 5 hens in that 4x4 coop unless I had a fairly predator resistant run available where they could be locked up if that full 1/4 acre is not available some days.
Good advice, I will stick with 6 and try it out. I have raised meat birds in the past without a coop but with a barn so this will be my first go at it with egg layers in a year round situation. I was planning on watering and feeding outside the coop. I am guessing that if they do not have access to water at night that it will not be a big deal? I am hoping I am right! Thanks again everyone,
I have 11 hens in a 6'x4' raised coop. 2 roosting bars, 3 egg boxes, 1-12''x 5' sliding window and 3 hinged openings plus a ladder leading to the entry/exit door. The coop is about 4' tall and 3' above the ground. The hens have access to about 1600 sq.ft. of fenced yard to roam anytime they like. All the feed and water are outside the coop, even in the winter. I have a mix of Easter Eggers, australorps, rhode island reds, leghorns, barred rock, gold sex link, and a buff orpington.
So far they all get along and snuggle in at night without pecking or aggressive behavior. I was a little concerned at first but I think having access to the yard prevents a lot of potential issues.

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