Coop Square Footage - Question - Confusion!

Discussion in 'Coop & Run - Design, Construction, & Maintenance' started by ThomsonCentennialFarm, Jan 22, 2012.

  1. ThomsonCentennialFarm

    ThomsonCentennialFarm Chillin' With My Peeps

    Aug 17, 2011
    Holliday, Missouri
    So I've read and read that chickens should have a minimum of 4 square feet of coop space. My current chicken house (enclosed) is 64 square feet (which includes where the nest boxes sit and food/water). By the 4 square foot rule, I should house 16 chickens total in this house. The chicken house is attached to an enclosed yard that is 256 square feet. So total square footage of chicken house and yard is 320 square feet.

    Do you use the yard space also in calculating the maximum number of chickens? Could I (in theory) have 80 chickens in this area (320 square feet/4 square feet per chicken=80)? Or do you only use the enclosed chicken house space for calculations?

    I currently have 18 chickens in this space, and they seem to do just fine and have more than enough perch space. They are allowed free range in the enclosed yard every day as well. Could I reasonably increase this number to say, 30 chickens, without them being overcrowded?

  2. ontimeborzoi

    ontimeborzoi Chillin' With My Peeps

    Nov 13, 2008
    Northern Neck of Va
    I suppose you *could* put 30 chickens in that space. Long as everything always goes well, which life being life, won't happen. One must also plan for the times when things do NOT go well, like when for some reason the chickens cannot be out. A hurricane is coming, I am ill or injured, its hunting season and packs of dogs are crossing my property, I have to be out of town....there are plenty of times when my chickens might have to stay in their coop, when conditions are not favorable for letting them out safely, and that is when I am very very glad that I planned for maximum space per chicken. I don't have to be on any forum asking what to do about picking. Or worse. Better to build another coop/run, in my opinion, than to put more in your current space.
  3. Carols Clucks

    Carols Clucks Chillin' With My Peeps

    Oct 13, 2010
    the run space is usually 10 sq feet, so in your 320 sq feet run, you have space for 32 chickens not 80

    If you always have good weather you might be able to get a few extra hens in the coop than the 16 max it should have.

    But if you live some place it rains or snows, 32 chickens in that coop and you are likely to have issues.
  4. ThomsonCentennialFarm

    ThomsonCentennialFarm Chillin' With My Peeps

    Aug 17, 2011
    Holliday, Missouri
    Thanks for the responses. I think I will just keep the flock size I have in there now (16 hens and 2 roos), and either expand the current enclosed chicken house or build another. I don't want to cause any problems for the hens with overcrowding.
  5. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner True BYC Addict

    Feb 2, 2009
    Northwest Arkansas
    Yes, the chicken space required is pretty hard to pin down because there are so many different things that go into it. That 4 square feet in the coop along with 10 square feet in the run is a general rule of thumb that will keep most of us out of trouble under most conditions and circumstances regardless of climate, the chicken breeds, and management techniques. There are times it is not enough, but for most of us, it is usually more than the absolute minimum required. Some people get by quite well with as little as 2 square feet in the coop, but their circumstances and management techniques always give the chickens access to more outside space.

    One problem with overcrowding is that you can get behavioral problems, excess fighting, feather picking, even cannibalism. Another issue I have with it is that the more crowded they are, the more I have to work to take care of them. Think poop management, for example. I firmly believe the less often I need to clean out the whole coop, the better. But there are techniques to handle that in a smaller coop, such as using a droppings board. Another thing is flexibility. If you plan on minimum space and have techniques to manage that, you have to follow those techniques. For example, if you have a bit more space than the absolute minimum, you can maybe leave them locked in the coop or coop and run if you have a need. If instead you depend on them free ranging all the time and you need to deal with a predator problem, your absolute minimum space may wind up being not enough. Or if you wind up with a broody raising chicks with a flock, the broody needs some extra space to work with. If you have the absolute minimum, it may not be enough for her to successfully raise her brood.

    I did the following write-up a while back. I really need to update it a bit, but it will give you some things that I think you need to consider when planning space. Space is not a firm concept.

    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. If you have a very large number of birds, then you don’t need as much space per bird, but I’m talking about flocks bigger than many of us have. And if you have a very limited number of birds, you may need more space.

    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.
    2 people like this.
  6. ontimeborzoi

    ontimeborzoi Chillin' With My Peeps

    Nov 13, 2008
    Northern Neck of Va
    Gosh Ridgerunner, your response was really well thought out and stated!
    1 person likes this.
  7. qball53

    qball53 Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jan 19, 2012
    Thank you for that in depth reply. I have been wondering just how much interior space I will have to have in order to run 50+ birds together. I raise Longhorns and down the road I want to utilize chickens to scour the pastures and spread the fertilizer the cows leave behind. My first thought was to build a chicken tractor on a trailer and haul them from pasture to pasture after the cows have been worked through that area. I would have an automatic door and the chickens would have free range access every day. I figure the pasture size will be approximately two acres and the cows will be left in about 3 days then moved to the next.

    First I have to figure out how many cows it takes to consume two acres of forage in my area within three days. They won't see that pasture again for about 30 days. The next problem is to figure out how many chickens to clean up in a like amount of time as they follow behind the cows? I don't know if that will be 30, 50 or a 100? Recently I have been thinking maybe it would be better to have a coop in each pasture on a permanent basis, that would be less chickens per coop.

    BUT what will keep the birds going back to their own coops? Will I have a huge mingling problem or will the numbers sort themselves out? How far away from each other do the coops have to be? Then also if I leave chickens on the pasture all the time they consume some pasture thus it doesn't get the rest/growth period afforded by rotation?

    Questions, questions, questions ........ Anyone want to help think through this one?
  8. ThomsonCentennialFarm

    ThomsonCentennialFarm Chillin' With My Peeps

    Aug 17, 2011
    Holliday, Missouri
    qball53, have you read Joel Salatin's Pastured Poultry Profits? It's a great resource for raising chickens after cattle. The website is and Joel has written lots of articles that are linked there as well.
  9. Going Bhonkers

    Going Bhonkers Chillin' With My Peeps

    Apr 12, 2012
    SW Florida
    Wow!! Good advice!
  10. colburg

    colburg Chillin' With My Peeps

    Sep 10, 2012
    Loving, NM
    I currently have 37 chickens in a 6'x13' coop with plans to add 24 more in about 2 months. The feed and water are outside the coop and they free range almost everyday.

    Looking at my chickens when I keep them locked in the tractor(13'x32'), 50 chickens in 416sqft seems awful crowded. For a stationary run and coop, I would probably try to keep it at 15-20sqft/bird.

    qball, the biggest problem I have with free ranging is when I move my tractor. If it gets moved more than 100' or so, then they won't go back to it at night. They'll huddle up right on the spot it was once parked and we either have to herd them into the coop, or just pick them up and carry them. I don't know about co-mingling as I don't have 2 tractors that I'm moving around yet. I will in April though.[​IMG]

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