how many coops?

Discussion in 'Raising Baby Chicks' started by chick'n'weave, Aug 18, 2014.

  1. chick'n'weave

    chick'n'weave In the Brooder

    Feb 25, 2010
    I bought an 8'H x 6'L x 4'W A-frame chicken tractor. Is advertised to hold 8-10 chickens. I will start out with 3-4. So when the time comes that I want to get 3-4 more chicks and add them to the flock, will this coop be large enough to house both, since I always read about the older ones bullying the younger ones.....and especially if I free-range all of them during most of the day? With the $ I have and will invest in the coop, chickens, etc. I sure don't want to have to get still another coop each time I add more chicks. A neighbor down the road has 4 chicken coops and the yard looks so trashed out.
  2. HEChicken

    HEChicken Crowing

    Aug 12, 2009
    BuCo, KS
    My Coop
    Coop manufacturers always advertise their coops as being capable of holding far more than they can in reality.

    The general rule of thumb is 4 sq ft of coop space with an additional 10 sq ft of run space PER BIRD. Your coop is 6x4 (the 8' height is immaterial since it is ground space that counts). At 24 sq ft, it would be enough space to house 6 adult hens if they were free-ranging all day and only sleeping in it at night. If they are living in it full time, it is really only big enough for two.

    The other consideration is that it is very difficult to add new chicks into a small space with adult birds. I add new birds without incident regularly but mine free-range full time over several acres and with that much space, the older birds hardly glance at the new chicks. But when space is tight, the older ones will tend to pick on the younger/new ones mercilessly. I've found that a key to integration is to have multiple feeders and waterers so the little ones can always get to food and water even if the older ones bully them from the "favorite" feeder and waterer. But in a small space, adding additional feeders gets problematic.

    Although my birds free-range, I've found it is very useful to have multiple coops. In my case I have only one main coop but I have several small pens - coop/run combos - that are in use almost constantly for about 9 months of the year. When a hen goes broody she goes into one of these smaller pens, and raises her chicks there until they'll old enough to be turned out to free-range. They also serve as a hospital pen in the event I need one.
  3. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner Free Ranging

    Feb 2, 2009
    Southeast Louisiana
    Follow the link in my signature below to get my thoughts on room for chickens. We are all in different circumstances and conditions so there is no one magic number for space that fits us all. How you manage them, your climate, their personalities and flock dynamics, and many other things all play into how much room you really need. I find the more I crowd them the more behavioral problems I have to deal with, the harder I have to work, and the less flexibility I have to deal with problems that come up.

    You are right to be concerned. You hardly ever hear of a purchased coop that will house nearly as many chickens as they advertise. Most of them are even worse than the one you bought with their advertising. Even saying that, the coop size itself is not what is important. It’s how much room they have when it is needed that is important. The coop size is an important part of the system to house them, but hopefully it’s not the only part. It’s part of the system of how you feed and water them, provide roosts and nests, protect them from predators, and protect them from the weather. Don’t just think coop in isolation. Think of your system that includes the coop.

    If the only time you use that coop is for them to sleep safe at night and they have access to the outside from the minute they wake up until they are settled on the roost at night, you could get 10 to 12 hens in there. But if you try to feed and water in there you run out of room quickly. It can get challenging to put the food and water in places where they don’t poop on it when they roost. Nests may or may not take up room too. That depends on how you build them. They need a certain amount of room to get on or off the roosts, the higher the roosts the more free room they need to land when they hop off.

    But some people do house them that tightly in the coops. They commit to getting up at the crack of dawn every day of the year to let them out if they are locked in there at night or they have a predator proof run and never lock the birds in the coop itself. You also have to have a climate where the chickens can go outside every day of the year if they want to. I have no idea what your winters are like. When you let a broody raise chicks with the flock, integrate new chickens of any age, or keep a rooster the need for space goes up. It also helps to have chickens that take confinement well.

    One way that chickens have learned to live together in a flock is that when there is a conflict the weaker runs away from the stronger and soon learns to avoid them altogether. They need room to run away or avoid. More mature chickens will dominate more immature chickens. That’s why you normally see younger chickens form their own sub-flock until they grow and mature enough to force their way into the pecking order.

    When you integrate chickens about the same level of maturity, they will determine a pecking order. The normal sequence of events when two chickens share personal space and don’t know the pecking order is that one tries to peck or somehow intimidate the other. If one runs away the pecking order is determined, though there may be some running away and chasing or a few repeat performances to drive the message home. If neither runs, there is probably going to be a fight. Usually one quickly determines they are better off running than fighting so it ends without anyone getting hurt. If the weaker can’t run away, either from lack of room or they get cornered against a fence, the winner does not know they won. They will keep attacking. The loser will just hunker down and try to protect its head but that does not always save its life or keep it from serious injury. It is important hey have room to run away.

    Even if the pecking order is known, when a weaker chicken enters the personal space of a stronger chicken, the stronger has the right to peck the weaker. It’s bad chicken etiquette for the weaker to invade the personal space of the stronger. This does not always happen once things have settled down, but it happens enough that the weaker need room to avoid the stronger to start with or run away and get away if necessary.

    Many of us successfully integrate chicks and chickens all the time. Other than having enough room, one of the ticks is to house them side by side where they can see each other but can’t get to each other for a week or more. That helps them accept the others as flock members and not a rival flock. Having several food and water stations spread out helps them to eat and drink without the weaker having to challenge the stronger. Having places the weaker can go to avoid the stronger can help a lot. That may be up on the roosts or things to hide behind or under where you break the line of sight. I think it helps to have the new chickens sleep somewhere separate for a couple of weeks until they really get used to each other. I find mine are most brutal as they are settling down to roost at night. The time to get used to each other helps with that, but you also need enough roost space so the weaker can get away from the brutes. Several times I’ve had chickens leave the roosts and sleep somewhere else because of that. I finally put a separate roost lower than the main roosts and horizontally separated to give them a place to go that was not my nests.

    My preferred method is to house them side by side for a while, then let them out to free range together during the day. The younger quickly learn to avoid the older and the older don’t go hunting them down to kill them. At night they sleep separately. Eventually you can move them into the big coop together. Other people have different systems but the tighter the space the more challenging it is.

    Good luck!
    1 person likes this.
  4. RJSorensen

    RJSorensen Chicken George

    The coop sellers must rate their holding capacity on many chickens will fit inside… not how many it can raise. By me, the smaller the coop, the more floor space per bird should be required. Even inside waterer and feeders should perhaps count as a bird. I believe that the rating system, for these smaller coops, is way over stated and is a disservice to the new bird keeper. Tight spaces lead to many of the problems one sees reported here on BYC.

    So if one has a 'compact' type coop, you may well need several. I have noticed as well that many folks with many coops tend to have thrashed out places, but it need not be so. Bigger is always better, I am unsure why it is that we collectively feel the need to 'pack' our buildings to the brim, with birds.

    Best to you and you birds,

  5. chick'n'weave

    chick'n'weave In the Brooder

    Feb 25, 2010
    Many thanks to all of you who shared such valuable information. I'm a person who likes to do all the research before investing, and I can see that my research was lacking. I always appreciate the generosity of ideas that are given when I pose a question to backyard forum.
  6. islandgirl82

    islandgirl82 Songster

    Jul 4, 2014
    I wholeheartedly agree on the rating system and the claims on the number of birds they can house that manufacturers make. I bought an adorable prefab coop when I first started raising chickens that was advertised for 4-6 birds. Then I got 4 started pullets (2 weeks old) and it worked really the beginning. Eventually I was down to just 2 hens and I felt there was barely enough room in there for the pair and that was without keeping food and water inside. I free-ranged them most of the time so there wasn't any bickering between them but when I couldn't let them out, the coop was at least small enough to move it around the yard myself so they could still have fresh vegetation and places to scratch every day.

    I upgraded this spring to a 4'x8'x7'(h) coop and a 12'x24' run with trees and branches for roosts at multiple levels to take advantage of vertical space as well and I added 5 more to my flock. That's over 4.5 sq ft per bird inside and over 41 sq ft outside per bird (not including the vertical space) which should be sufficient. I still free-range but due to neighbors' unruly dogs, I can't allow it all the time and I notice a huge difference in their treatment of each other when they haven't had enough time ranging. I think some flocks/breeds would be perfectly content in that amount of space but I'm already making plans to expand their space again to lesson the tension, especially with winter not far off and knowing they won't want to be spending as much time ranging.

    I've also kept my starter coop and used it when my youngest additions were too young to be with the big girls and also as an isolation coop when someone gets a little too enthusiastic with her bullying. There are a number of reasons to have an additional place for isolation but if you don't want a separate structure, you might consider getting a larger structure that can be divided with a solid wall (or even a floating wall to use only when needed) and separate runs.

    As for the eye sores you see where there are multiple coops...RJ is right, it doesn't have to be so. The more space provided, the less destruction there is and the happier and healthier everyone will be. I personally found the book in this link to have some great ideas combining chickens and gardening/landscaping and it lists chicken-hearty plants that are pretty low maintenance as well.

    Good luck!

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