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How many SqFt for 4 hens?

Discussion in 'Coop & Run - Design, Construction, & Maintenance' started by hladik, Dec 23, 2014.

  1. hladik

    hladik New Egg

    Dec 23, 2014
    Arlington, Texas
    My city ordinance only allows 4 hens so expansion is not an option for me. I have a tiny back yard and can only build a 3 foot deep coop along the fence (length is negotiable). I have read 10 sqft per bird for the run and 4 sqft for the coop. Is this best practice knowing I will not get more than 4 birds? Right now I have drawn up 24 sq ft for the run and another 16 for the coop. They might occasionally be free range but the majority of time will be in the run. No predators other than rats.

    I read all 4 birds can share the same nesting box, is this correct or should I have 2 boxes?

    Is there a preference between shingles or metal roofing?
  2. Judy

    Judy Moderator Staff Member

    Feb 5, 2009
    South Georgia
    Welcome to BYC!

    That's the usual guideline, intended to be the minimum amount to prevent pecking injuries and cannibalism. In general, though, the more space they have, the more content they will be -- especially outdoor space, unless you live in a severely cold area like Alaska. Please tell us where you live. The sort of small box you commonly see sold for small flocks is much more enclosed than they like; in many climates, hardware cloth makes better "walls" than wood does. And yes, one nest is plenty.

    Most cities have resident populations of animals like raccoons and coyotes these days. And everyone likes chicken. Don't be surprised at what shows up.

    I'll add a few of my favorite links for those just getting staarted planning: There is also an excellent article on ventilation linked in my sig line. Good luck!

    https://www.backyardchickens.com/t/163417/please-show-me-your-hot-weather-coops/0_20 (Man of these setups are great for all but the snowiest areas)


    Last edited: Dec 23, 2014
  3. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner Chicken Obsessed

    Feb 2, 2009
    Northwest Arkansas
    Telling us where you live can help some. We don’t need your street address, telephone number, and SS#, just enough information to give us a general idea about your climate and which side of the equator you are on. If you stick around on this forum, and I hope you do, you might modify your profile to give us some help with that.

    Both metal and shingles will work for a roof. With a coop that size, slope the roof so water runs off instead of standing on top of the roof and slope it in a way that the water runs away from the coop and run, not back into it. You may need a gutter and downspout to get the water away. That depends on where it is situated and the slope of your ground. And have some overhang so you can put ventilation at the top of the walls and still keep rain out.

    If you live where you get really hot in the summer, make the coop fairly tall so you have enough vertical room to put in the nests, then put the roosts higher than the nests, then have some clear room above the roosts. Chickens usually like to sleep on the highest thing they can get too. You don’t want that to be your nests since they poop a lot at night. You don’t want poopy eggs. And in the winter if you live where it gets cold, you don’t want a breeze blowing directly on them at night. If you have those ventilation openings at the top of the walls, you want the roost low enough so any wind blows above their backs when roosting.

    We keep chickens in so many different conditions and with such different goals it’s hard to generalize on how much space you need. Since you are using feet instead of meters I’ll assume you are in the US. Since much of our building materials come in 4’ and 8’ dimensions, your proposed sizes make sense, a 4x4 coop and 3x8 run. As long as you only have those four hens that will probably work. They should be the same age and there are no roosters involved. But if you lose a hen and replace her, integrating a new chicken in that space could be a problem. I’m a believer in providing as much space as you reasonably can. I find the less I crowd them the fewer behavioral problems I have, I don’t have to work as hard (poop management for example), and the more flexibility I have in dealing with problems. I’d like to see more space but that three foot width restriction makes it a bit of a problem. Maybe just elevate that coop and box in the area under it so that adds to your run area? That gives them some shade to get out of the hot sun too.

    It’s not pure square footage that is important. One way chickens have learned to live together is if there is conflict, the weaker runs away from the stronger or avoids them to start with. That’s where the real danger comes in with space. You are more likely to see that type of behavioral problem if they are crowded. The working harder and flexibility is just for your convenience. With all hens the same age you are not likely to see a lot of conflict once they settle the pecking order. That’s why your space will probably work.

    Not knowing what your climate is like in the winter, are you planning on feeding and watering in the coop or in the run? We do both so both will work. The feed needs to stay dry so the feeder needs to be out of the rain. You don’t want wet feed molding. If the food and water is in the run, they need access in the winter if the ground is covered in snow. One problem with a smaller coop like you are proposing is that you need to set up the nests, waterers, and feeders so that they don’t poop in them from the roosts. Lots of people do that in a 4x4 coop but it takes some preplanning. One method is to use a droppings board. You put a flat surface under the roosts to catch the nighttime poop and scrape that off as required. That gives you good poop for a compost pile and reduces how often you need to change bedding in the coop. You put the feeder and/or waterer and/or nest under that. But that can eat into your vertical space so preplan. Your nest does not have to be in the coop either. It can either be hung off the side of the coop or a totally separate structure. There are just so many different ways you can do these things it’s hard to be specific. And be flexible. No matter how much you plan, some things will not work out like you expect. You are dealing with living animals, not furniture, and things don’t always work out as you expect.

    Welcome to the adventure. I think you will enjoy it.
  4. georgiagail

    georgiagail Chillin' With My Peeps

    We very recently finished a coop and run for my son who has four hens. His was four by four because it was easy to cut plywood that size but you could do, say, a three by five if you wish. We included two nest boxes, although one would likely have been enough. This size was enough for four hens.

    The run is a kennel (purchased from Lowes) that can be used as either a 10 x 10 or 5 x 15 run. We set it up as a 5 x 15 run. I mention this as it sounds like your area for your coop/run may be similar to what he used (although his yard is much larger he wanted this in one corner under a tree for shade) and you two both wanted just four hens.[​IMG]

    I have attached a picture of the coop before the run was attached so you can get an idea of the roofing materials we used (neither shingles nor metal).

  5. song of joy

    song of joy Chillin' With My Peeps

    Apr 22, 2012
    Central Pennsylvania
    Hi! Welcome to BYC! This is exactly the way I started out, with housing for 4 birds. I'd recommend a 3x5' coop with 2 nest boxes attached to the outside and a hinged access roof to the nest boxes for you to collect eggs (see photo by georgiagail). Having the nest boxes mounted on the outside of the coop frees up valuable floor space within the coop itself. A single roost bar, running the 5' length of the coop allows for plenty of roosting room for 4 birds.

    We used corrugated tin for the coop roof, but we put wood spacers between the tin and the plywood ceiling of the coop to allow heat from the tin roof to dissipate. Tin gets VERY hot, so these spacers ensured the inside of the coop would not get too hot in summer. Scrap tin was an inexpensive roofing material and kept the coop dry.

    If they're going to be confined to the coop and run most of the time, I would definitely increase the size of the run to at least 40 square feet, or allow the run to open into a larger fenced yard.
    Last edited: Dec 23, 2014
  6. matt44644

    matt44644 Chillin' With My Peeps

    Sep 14, 2014
    Sanilac County,Michigan
  7. hladik

    hladik New Egg

    Dec 23, 2014
    Arlington, Texas
    Thanks so much for the information. I am very green to this. My grandma (a real Oklahoma farmer) recently moved from the farm to a retirement home and can't believe I am going to raise chickens in the city... and as pets of all things!

    I live in Arlington, TX a few miles from the Dallas Cowboy's stadium. We get about 30 days a year close to freezing but the rest of the time it is a high of 40-65 in the winter. The summers are a different story but they will be in part-sun/shade so it should help. I plan to have covers for any large wire windows that I can use if it will be really cold for an extended period of time.

    I am actually repurposing my compost bin so I now have 4' depth to work with instead of 3'. I think I will settle on 3 hens instead of 4 based on the available space. I would hate to crowd them and deal with problems. I plan to feed them inside and under the coop with one of those PVC pipe contraptions I have seen on here. That is my next part to research.

    A couple follow up questions: I get mixed messages about roofing/light inside the coop. Some say they nest where it is dark but others put clear roofing on to allow more light... does it matter?

    Since I have 3 young children, I think it would be fun for them to watch the hens inside the coop, plus I need it to look attractive. I found this photo I am going to try to replicate with it sitting on top of the run. The second photo is my similiar to what I will do for the run with this box sitting on top where the other one currently is. Does anyone have comments on the design with plexiglass windows? Traditionally, are the vents shown on the first photo near the roof enough to add good ventilation to the coop or should I consider other wire windows? I do not want smell to be an issue since I am so close to my neighbors.

    Should I cover the entire run with some type of roof or is it okay to leave it open with wiring over it?

    Imagine this coop... sitting on a run similar to the 2nd photo.

  8. georgiagail

    georgiagail Chillin' With My Peeps

    In regards to the run....we're used hardware cloth but in several of the runs out in the direct sun here in the deep south have added some shade cloth (attached with zip ties) to provide some shade as needed. I purchased some "left over" shade cloth through www.farmtek.com. Our roofs on the coops are the poly panels like on Matthews coop.

    Whether plexiglass windows might be too warm would depend on both your climate and whether the coop ends up being in the sun or under shade. You could always add hardware cloth over the window areas for ventilation and security that would still allow you to see inside and add plywood coverings (attached with hinges and held open with hook and eye) that would allow you to close this area during inclement or cold weather. For such a large window as you describe in your posting, perhaps a "shutter" type attachment would be preferable to what we used for our coop windows which aren't as large as in your picture.

    Again, since I'm not good at describing these things, I'll just include a picture:


  9. henless

    henless Chillin' With My Peeps

    Since your in Texas, I would plan on adding as much ventilation/windows as possible. Cover all holes with hardware cloth and you can put hinged windows or wooden shutters to close when needed. Be sure when you building one of the smaller coops, that you are able to reach all areas inside the coop. It never fails you will have at least one hen who will lay her eggs in the corner farthest from the door.

    As far as run, build it as big as you can. In this case, bigger is better! I suggest you use hardware cloth for your wire. It costs more, but well worth it when the predators start showing up hoping to get a free chicken dinner. Also be sure and put a wire apron around the perimeter of your coop/run to prevent diggers from getting in.

    If you can afford it, I would suggest you build your run taller than the one shown. Then you will be able to get in the run without having to stoop. Makes it easier to clean and much easier when your needing to catch a hen for tending.

    I converted a couple of stalls in our barn into an open air coop. We just completed the added run a week ago. My coop has a tin roof and a small section of the run has tin. The rest is hardware cloth. It is mostly to keep the rain from coming into the coop area, since the overhang was not enough to prevent it.

    Good luck with your building and I hope you really enjoy the chicken experience. Mine has been a blast!
  10. Judy

    Judy Moderator Staff Member

    Feb 5, 2009
    South Georgia
    I definitely agree you will want shade and breeze in summer -- and as an open a living area as you can manage. To a chicken, you do not come even close to getting anything like winter. They do fine in Alaska in an unheated coop, and can die at 100 degrees. Every year we read about heat deaths on BYC, unfortunately. I hope you looked over the hot weather coops thread I linked in post #2.

    You don't need to cover the run, necessarily, but some people find there are good reasons to, in their situation. The chickens will need shade while outside on sunny, hot days. And chickens prefer to be outdoors except when eating. Actually, they will happily sleep outdoors, but because of redators, most people close them in a coop at night. They appreciate a roof and some protection from high wind, but basically they prefer outdoors. Some people add light for a few hours during the winter, to keep the "day" 14 hours long, as it increases winter egg production. This probably has less effect down South than in the northern US. This is wht commercials do, but it is a debatable approach to chicken care for backyard chickens.

    Hens probably do prefer a hidden, perhaps darkened area to lay, but in the end, they will lay when the egg comes out. You will only need one nest for those few chickens. You can use any discarded or convenient container -- a plastic or even cardboard box, an old dresser drawer, etc., if you wish. It can be open on the top or front. If it's the front, you will probably want a lip across the bottom so they will be less likely to scratch out the hay or other nesting material.

    They don't need light as from electricity in the coop, but it should have natural light so they see the natural movement from night to day and back. They also need some sun every day.

    Good luck!

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