Is 4 sq ft really necessary?

Wabi Sabi

In the Brooder
9 Years
May 28, 2010
I've read this board and other resources for YEARS before finally getting our chickens this spring. Since our coop is roughly 4'X5' I limited ourselves to five full sized hens at first. But, I noticed that even though the coop is smallish that they only use a fraction of it- at night they all huddle into one tiny corner and they spend virtually zero time in there during the day. They're outside from morning to dark. I had the opportunity to "adopt" a few more hens and now we have eight in that space. I haven't noticed any issues with odor, birds seeming unhappy/crowded, etc.

If it makes any difference they free-range in our yard (1 acre) most of the day. They also have an enclosed run (140 sq ft total) for when we can't be home to check on them throughout the day or if we think we won't be able to make it home by dark to secure them.

Am I really going to end up regretting this and need to re-home a few hens this winter or are there some birds that really just don't seem to need as much space as others?


10 Years
Mar 31, 2009
SouthEast Texas
A lot of this depends on where you live. I live in a warm climate, so i might not worry about it as much as someone whose chickens might spend 3 months of winter confined to the coop. However, i do have to consider the occasional hurricane or some such emergency, wherein i would confine my chickens to the coop for their safety. I think a lot of the space considerations are based on situations needing you to confine them to that space for whatever reason.

However, i am a supporter of the idea that 4 sq. feet is a great guideline, but every flock is different, and you have to be the judge of whether they're happy and healthy.

Loddie Da

13 Years
Jan 14, 2007
Troy, New York
If your birds are happy & healthy & there coop does not look like it is a larger battery cage then do what works for you, or better yet do what's best for the birds...if they seem fine then roll with it, but I would not ever go below 2.5 sq. ft. per bird no matter what.

As long as your girls & their housing is clean, well fed & have room enough to roam then everything should be okay. You know your coop is to small (your flock can not be to big, unless you run out of time to feed, water & clean them in a day
when you find your self thinking they don't have enough room or you "have to" clean the coop more often then is recommended.

I go buy a few rules:
1. Every bird gets 2.5 sq. ft. even if they are a 11 oz. Serama Hen.
2. Give them 1 sq. ft. for every lb. (i.e.: 1lb. gets 2.5 sq. ft. 5lbs. gets. 5 sq. ft. 8lbs. gets 8 sq. ft.) up to 10 sq. ft. per bird. which my Langshan are thankful for. but for birds that are 3lbs. or over I try for the 4-5 sq. ft. if I can.
3. I build my coops with a breed in mind & since I was a breeder I tried to plan ahead of time how many of what breed I am keeping & build accordingly. (i.e. a trio of 3lbs. Silkies only need 9 sq. ft. but I try to give them 12-15 sq. ft, but a SQ Langshan cock can be10-25+lbs. so 10 sq. ft. makes them happy)
4. If I can 5 sq. ft. per bird in the coop & 10 sq. ft. or more in the run, I may give or take from this, but in the long run it's their home, & we all want our home to be comfy.

If your birds are cooped up more then 8 hours or so I'd try to add more space, but since they free range & seem to fit without incident I wouldn't worry to much about it, Just do what you think is best for them & they will be lucky birds.


13 Years
May 23, 2009
As others have noted, the 4 square foot number comes from a calculation that the chickens will sometimes have to stay "cooped up" inside all day because of bad weather. If your winters are mild enough for that not to be an issue, you should have no problems.

For people who confine their chickens to a run all day, I don't think the 10 square foot per chicken guideline is as flexible, though.


9 Years
Sep 19, 2010
Calumet Township-NW Indiana
If you live in an area where winters get cold, I'd be concerned with possibly not having enough ventilation during the winter, especially. The coldest part of the day happens during the night, when they'll be in there. Not enough ventilation causes moisture to be retained in the coop, and frostbite can occur because of that.



12 Years
May 8, 2007
I've noticed chickens will spend more time in a well maintained coop that has light and adequate ventilation. They will spend as little time as possible in a coop that is very dark, too hot or has poor air quality.

Weather definitely plays a role, also. What area of the country do you live in? Chickens can have different lifestyles in the winter, than they do in the summer, depending on your snow cover and temperatures.


Premium Feather Member
14 Years
Feb 2, 2009
Southeast Louisiana
I did this write up on my opinions on space requirements a while back. You might find it interesting. I'll add here that if all you are using your coop for is a place to safely lock them up at night and they are not locked in there when they are awake, then you can get by with a lot less space that 4 square feet per chicken.

As long as you have enough height for the roosts to be noticeably higher than the nest boxes, height does not matter to chickens. They are basically ground dwelling birds, so the ground area is all that really matters space wise. I said it does not matter to the chickens. It does matter to me if I have to work in there. It matters quite a bit.

If the nest boxes are high enough off the ground that the chickens can easily get under them, then nest boxes do not take away from the space available. The tops of the nesting boxes does not add to the living space either although they may occasionally be up there. Ground level is what counts.

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. I’m not encouraging you to crowd your birds if you have a large number of them. I’m trying to say you are more likely to get in trouble with 4 square feet per chicken if you have very few chickens.

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.

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.

Wabi Sabi

In the Brooder
9 Years
May 28, 2010
Good to know. Cleanliness, ventilation, and air quality are all absolutely fine (my 2 y/o daughter spends lots of time hanging out IN the coop with the chickens so I make sure to keep it very clean. I never know when I'm going to go out and find her sitting in a nest box, LOL!) It is, however, in pretty much 100% total shade so it does tend to be pretty dark/dim. They do free-range in an area of the yard with lots of trees and bushy undergrowth and I think they just prefer that environment.

As for weather we're in the midwest. We do have cold winters. Sometimes we have a few decent snowfalls over the winter, other times we barely get any snow at all. It's certainly not as cold as being in Minnesota or Vermont, but we aren't Texas either.

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