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How much roosting space do you need for 20 hens?

Discussion in 'Coop & Run - Design, Construction, & Maintenance' started by mexicanchickens, Dec 31, 2016.

  1. mexicanchickens

    mexicanchickens In the Brooder

    Jun 17, 2015
    We are thinking of getting 20 hens and would like to know about how much roosting space we would need. Like what length of roost poles. If we had something like a 8ft roost pole on one wall and the same on the opposite then a 4ft pole on each of the other walls that would add up to more or less 24ft of roost space. Would this be enough for 20 hens?

  2. Folly's place

    Folly's place Free Ranging

    Sep 13, 2011
    southern Michigan
    I would try to find room for more roost space; the hens need room to fly up there, will have 'social issues' over locations, and generally just need more room. At least thirty linear feet would be best, IMO. Mary
  3. flyin-lowe

    flyin-lowe Chirping

    Jan 24, 2016
    From my experience what you describe should be enough. I have 9 hens for almost a year now and they have a single 8 foot 2x4 for a roost bar. There could be an initial squabble I haven't seen when they start to jump up there but most nights they only use about 6 feet of it. They like to huddle up together during the night.
  4. azygous

    azygous Free Ranging

    Dec 11, 2009
    Colorado Rockies
    I'm totally with Mary on this issue. The one foot per chicken of linear roosting space guideline is inadequate. It's another one of those "scripture" practices that everyone follows without thinking about it that turns out to be less than helpful when careful observation at roosting time will indicate otherwise.

    I've watched chickens squabble in frustration as late comers attempt to fly up onto the roost only to have their flapping wings knock the chickens off that are up there and trying to get settled. The roosting space therefore should ideally be double what the guide indicates.
  5. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner Free Ranging

    Feb 2, 2009
    Southeast Louisiana
    Unlike what seems to be most people on this forum I don’t believe in magic numbers for roost space or much else of anything to do with chickens. I understand people starting out need guidelines, the numbers can really help. But which numbers can you believe? I’ve seen a recommendation on here that 1 square foot per chicken is enough, no mention of a run. I’ve seen a post saying 15 square feet is the minimum you need per chicken in a coop. I’ve seen plenty of people recommend 7” per chicken on the roosts, as you can see others want more than a foot. To me there are way too many variables to blindly set a magic number.

    Let’s look at what happens when chickens go to roost. The chickens at the top of the pecking order get to roost wherever they wish. Generally the higher the roost the more preferred it is. All else equal the area next to my window is preferred above other areas the same height. When they are going to roost is pretty much the only time mine get nasty toward each other. Different chickens go to the roost at different times. If a lower ranking chicken is in the way of a higher ranking chicken, the higher ranking does not say “Excuse me, Dearie, you are in my way. Please move.” She does not find the Sergeant of Arms to tell that hen to move. She is the higher ranked hen and she is offended. She personally moves that other hen out of the way, pecking or physically knocking her off the roost. Welcome to chicken society. After they all mature and are clear in their pecking order status this calms down a little but it never goes away totally.

    Chickens don’t take up much room on the roost once they are settled in for the night. But they need enough room to settle in for the night. When my chickens go to the roosts they spread their wings and fly up there. They need enough of a landing spot to land with wings spread, though they do kind of collapse their wings as they land. In winter mine tend to sleep fairly close together, after they settle in they don’t take up a lot of room. In summer they spread out more.

    Some of mine fly up to the roosts from the coop floor, some fly up to the top of my nests off on the side wall and then fly over to the roosts. I’ve seen hens fly over from the nests and park their butt right there, although the far end near the window is preferred roosting. Hens following them from the top of the nests get frustrated looking for a landing spot and may fly up there and knock a hen out of her way so she can land. Chickens are not polite little creatures that think “Pardon me Dearie, I see I’m in your landing spot. Let me move down and give you room.” They are much too self-centered and self-absorbed for that.

    Another reason magic numbers of inches per chicken on the roost doesn’t work is that the number of chickens you have makes a difference. I’ll do some things to simplify the math so this isn’t totally realistic but let’s assume you give each chicken 12” of roost space and each chicken takes up exactly 6” when they are settled in for the night. If you have 4 chickens you will have 4’ of roost length with 2’ occupied. That would leave 2’ empty for a landing spot, if they are all squeezed in next to each other. I know if they are all up there they don’t need a landing spot but I’m trying to simplify the math. Now say you have 20 chickens. That would be 20’ of roosts but 10’ not occupied. Even with them spread out it might be a lot easier to find a landing spot if they have 10’ to work with instead of 2’.

    Something else I’ve noticed when integrating younger chicks. Some hens will sometimes go out of their way to beat up on a younger chicken. I’ve seen a hen leave her normal roosting spot and walk over to a weaker chicken to peck it. It’s not like the chick was invading her personal space or anything like that, it’s pure intimidation. That hen is making sure the lower ranked chick knows its place in the pecking order. I regularly see mine split into three distinct groups. The highest ranked sleep near the window, the lower ranked are in the far back corner, as far away as they can get. The group in the middle sleeps in the middle.

    I know I’ve made it sound like total gang warfare on the roosts every night. It’s not. When they are in the process of maturing and sorting out the pecking order it can be pretty rough. When you are integrating new chickens it can be rough while they sort it out. Once they all mature and sort it all out, it calms down a lot. But you will still have a hen that parks her butt in the wrong place and needs to be moved.

    One other thing to bear in mind, chicken like to sleep as high as they can. If your nests are higher than your roosts, they might sleep in the nests. So you need enough roosting space higher than the nests.

    So let’s look at your specific situation. I don’t know what your coop actually looks like (I remember your other post, you haven’t built it yet) though I’ll assume it will be 8’ wide since that’s the length of some of your proposed roosts. One option could be a ladder-type roost. Lots of people use those. Say you build a ladder across one end of your coop at a 45 degree angle. The horizontals would be separated vertically and horizontally by 12”, the first one 12” off the floor. This way the chickens don’t fly up, they hop from rung to rung. They don’t need as much room to spread their wings. They will still all want to sleep on the top rung, but they won’t all fit, so some would wind up sleeping on the second rung down. The top two rungs would need to be higher than your nests. One disadvantage to the ladder roosts is they can be hard to clean under. Some people hinge then so they can be pulled up or make then removable to make cleaning easier.

    Another option is to build two roosts side by side at the same level. Any roost needs to be at least a foot off the wall. The second would need to be another foot over. Would two 8’ roosts be enough for 20 hens? Probably so. They should have enough room to get up there and sort themselves out. That’s pretty close to what I have for my main roosts.

    I integrate younger chickens a lot. I have an additional roost on a side wall that’s higher than my nests but lower than the main roosts to give the weaker chickens a place to go. This separate roost has kept a lot of younger chicks from sleeping in my nests.

    Would putting a roost on each wall work? If you are still looking at a non-walk-in coop, I can see why you want the roosts close to the walls for access. I don’t give guarantees with anything related to behavior, but I’d expect one of those roosts to become the preferred roost where the top of the pecking order goes. The lower ranking chickens should sleep on other roosts, assuming they are all higher than the nests. To me that’s plenty of roost space, I’d be surprised if all four roosts are used.
  6. speedy2020

    speedy2020 Songster

    Jul 24, 2010
    Two 8 feet long 2"x4" will do the trick.
  7. mexicanchickens

    mexicanchickens In the Brooder

    Jun 17, 2015
    Thank you all for your advice.

  8. TerryH

    TerryH Songster

    Mar 12, 2016
    NW Arkansas
    My Coop
    I would put the most you can and then let them decide on how much to use. We plan to eventually expand to 12 total so I have 16' of roost space available even though the 4 that we have now prefer to sleep on top of each other on the same 1' of roost. :/
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2017
  9. CptMoonlight

    CptMoonlight In the Brooder

    Feb 25, 2017
    thank you!
  10. DeYoungs

    DeYoungs In the Brooder

    Mar 7, 2017
    great points, thanks

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