Looking for opinions on flock size and other suggestions

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by Ears2You, Apr 13, 2017.

  1. Ears2You

    Ears2You Hatching

    Mar 18, 2017

    I'm brand new to the forum and chicken keeping, though not new to livestock and pet management (so far chickens have proved to be a combination of both). I'm trying to make some decisions based on information I've read across the internet, and I'd love some perspective from experienced chicken people.

    I have a sturdy chicken house with a poured concrete floor and windows on the East side. The main coop area is about 12'x12' with a brooder/hospital area in the front (about 4'x5') and a foyer where we keep metal bins of supplies (so the whole front area is maybe 12'x4'). The covered chicken yard measures 35'x35'.

    I currently have one year old rooster, his 4 EE year old girls (who are laying spectacularly), and 4 Silver laced wyandottes (who were sent into a stress molt after their move to our property 3 weeks ago and are only now starting to become red-combed again).

    I also purchased 7 3 month old Black Java pullets that currently have the run of the brooder and foyer area. They were someone's 4-H culls and they're really nice....and huge.

    So question 1) I read a while back that a certain density of birds is needed to maintain warmth in cold climates. I live in an area that will see sub zero temps for weeks at a time in winter. I do have electricity out to the coop. Do I really need a critical mass of chickens? I'd like to expand the flock with day old chicks but I'm not sure if I should do that this summer or next spring when I'm a more experienced chicken handler.

    2) What is the maximum number of birds that would be happy in this set-up? The 1.5 sqft per bird rule says ~40, but that seems like a LOT of chickens for that space!

    3) How do I introduce the Black Javas into the flock? Should I leave the door to the main coop open so they can mingle? Or should I shuffle the youngsters into the yard and hope they follow the other hens back inside to the main coop?

    4) I was against having a rooster, but he's actually pretty handy. He tries new foods first and let's the girls know they're tasty AND he showed the hens how to go in and out from the coop into the yard. However, two of the EEs have significant feather breakage on their backs and I'm worried about their ability to stay warm in the winter. Will adding the Black Javas reduce the roo's attention to his favorite hens enough to let their feathers grow back?

    I'm super open to any suggestions. I don't know anyone else who keeps chickens!

  2. TalkALittle

    TalkALittle Songster

    Dec 15, 2014
    The 1.5 sqft "rule" is for commercial operations. You'll find that for backyard and hobby farm coops 4 sqft per bird is a healthier number.
  3. lazy gardener

    lazy gardener Crossing the Road

    Nov 7, 2012
    Your coop is a good size. I live in zone 4 gardening area, and also have weeks at a time with temp below 0*F. However, we were spared last winter, and we enjoyed the milder temps. As for density of birds, that thought process needs to be balanced with the fact that for those of us who have snow cover and frozen ground for 6 months of the year, our birds will spend a LOT of time in the coop during the winter. This can lead to stress behaviors which include feather picking, excessive fighting, and blood shed. Even in the dead of winter, with sub zero days and nights, it's imperative that your coop be well ventilated, while also being predator proof. 1/2" hardware cloth over all openings larger than the size of a quarter will help, as will a buried wire skirt around coop and run. Having electricity will allow you to use a water heater. I use a 5 qt heated dog bowl with a gallon of water set in the middle to make a moat to help keep birds wattles out of the water, and prevent them from walking through the water. Wet feet in the winter can lead to lost toes... and feet. Good ventilation will help prevent frost bite. A high density of birds will increase the humidity in the coop, resulting in increased frost bite.

    My coop is 10 x 12. Stocking "rule of thumb" says that I could have 30 birds in that space. No way would I keep that many birds in the winter. I've kept as many as 25, which includes one roo. Last winter, I started with 17, which I found to be a more manageable number. I also have a covered "sun room" in the bird's winter run. This has been a huge benefit, enticing the girls to be out in the sun room on all but the coldest and stormiest days. They have been happily creating compost for me all winter in both the coop and the run. I do deep litter in both spaces, using dry leaves, hay, and during the summer months: grass clippings as well as garden debris. I also use wood chips in the run. Several times/year, I clean a lot of the DL out from under the roosts, moving the litter from the front of the coop to the back to replace the DL that is shoveled/raked into the run. FYI, stocking density for BYF in the run is generally suggested to be maxed out at 10 s.f./bird. It's helpful to lay down a deep mulch in the run as soon as they destroy the vegetation in that run. That keeps the soil healthy, helps to eliminate pathogens and parasites, gives the flock a job to do, builds great compost for your garden/yard, and builds a healthy immune system in your birds b/c of all the beneficial bacteria and fungi that they eat. Your feed bill will go down as a result of their continued foraging in the DL.
  4. aart

    aart Chicken Juggler! Premium Member

    Nov 27, 2012
    SW Michigan
    My Coop
    Welcome to BYC!

    LG hit the salient points.

    Sounds like a great building....would love to see pics.
  5. Mrs. K

    Mrs. K Crowing

    Nov 12, 2009
    western South Dakota
    Really many people think warm, when what they really need to think is dry and protected from the wind. I have totally changed my thinking on this. When I first started, it seemed best to close up the coop and trap the heat in the house, much like we do in my own home. However, the coop was not that insulated nor was added heat an option. Think of teenagers in a car in the winter with the engine off. Immediate condensation.When you close the coop up, what you really trap is moisture. Wet or damp chickens are cold chickens

    The advice given here was good ventilation without a draft. Which seemed to me to be conflicting advice, but actually is good advice. What I think you need, is ventilation above the chickens roosting area. This allows the warm damp air to exit the coop. The chickens roosts need to position the birds so that they are away from the walls, and ceiling,where water will condensate back on to them.and out of a draft. This allows the moisture the birds produce to move away from them. Good dry bedding on the floor, and your birds will be able to keep themselves warm. I don't think that a critical mass of chickens is nearly as important as being dry and out of the wind.

    Mrs. K
    2 people like this.
  6. rosemarythyme

    rosemarythyme Songster

    Jul 3, 2016
    Pac NW
    You're better off with lower density (4 sq ft or more per bird) to stave off behavioral issues than trying to keep them warm by packing them in the coop. If weather is bad enough the birds may opt to stay inside the coop and that's where crowding may really become a problem.

BackYard Chickens is proudly sponsored by