Newbie confused by space requirements

Discussion in 'Coop & Run - Design, Construction, & Maintenance' started by Evergreen160, Jan 2, 2011.

  1. Evergreen160

    Evergreen160 In the Brooder

    Jan 2, 2011
    Foothills of Colorado
    Hi all!

    I am hoping to start keeping chickens for the first time this spring and I'm trying to figure out what to do about a coop. I've done a lot of research and I see that I need about 4 sqft per chicken indoors. We would like to have 8 chickens. I want to buy a coop kit but it seems like none of the coops have enough space. Am I missing something? Even coops that say that they can house 8 chickens don't have anywhere near the 32 sqft that they would need. My husband and I aren't particularly handy so building a coop ourselves is out. Anyone have any advice or tips? Am I wrong about the sqft required? Thanks!
  2. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner Free Ranging

    Feb 2, 2009
    Southeast Louisiana
    I fully understand the confusion. The answer is not as simple as many people think.

    The rule of thumb used on this forum is 4 square feet in the coop along with 10 square feet in the run for each full sized chicken. This is intended to keep most people from Fairbanks Alaska to Miami Florida, from Perth Australia to Inverness Scotland, from Boulder Colorado to San Diego California out of trouble. It is intended to cover people with a few chickens in a coop and run in a small suburban back yard to chickens that free range in the country. It is just a rule of thumb, not an immutable law of nature. In most cases it will keep people out of trouble, but not always.

    We keep our chickens in different conditions than the commercial operations. We give them more space. We don't cut off their beaks to keep them from eating each other. We give them true access to the outside. Under certain conditions, they don't need the space we normally provide. I kinda like the way we do it.

    You can keep your chickens under certain conditions with a lot less space in the coop than the 4 square feet and they will do fine. If they have access outside every day from when they wake up to quite a bit of space, are not kept in for weather or because you want to sleep late, you feed and water then outside, and basically just use the coop as a safe place for them to sleep at night and lay eggs, there is absolutely nothing wrong with providing them with less space in the coop. But the more you restrict them, the more space they need.

    I'll include a write-up I did on space requirements. It might help you. My normal advice is to provide them as much space as you can.

    I am not a great fan of the coops you can buy premade. I think you will be better off using a shed you can get at Lowe's or Home Depot and fixing it up yourself. You really don't absolutely have to do a lot. Provide a roost (about 8" to 12" per bird) and nests (one for every four hens). The hardest thing is to provide vents. There are a lot of things you can do. The simplest is probably to cut out under the overhang and cover that with hardware cloth. I'll include a link to Pat's Ventilation page. I think it should be required reading for eveyone that is buiding a coop. Heck, all her pages are good.

    Pat’s Big Ol' Ventilation Page

    Cold Coop (winter design) page:

    Big Ol' Mud Page (fixing muddy runs):

    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.
  3. patandchickens

    patandchickens Flock Mistress

    Apr 20, 2007
    Ontario, Canada
    We would like to have 8 chickens. I want to buy a coop kit but it seems like none of the coops have enough space. Am I missing something?

    Here's the thing.

    a) there is no hard and fast specific requirement. It is not a matter of simply packing objects into a space. It is a matter of behavior, and what kind of behavior you want the chickens to exhibit, and what chances you are willing to tolerate of various less-good behaviors.

    You can most certainly keep chickens with only 1-2 square feet of space per hen, even without a run. That is what commercial battery hens (egg layers) get.

    OTOH they are not at all happy, and not especially healthy either, at those space allowances.

    Many BYCers feel, for whatever reason (honestly I think it is more 'herd mentality' than anything else, sorry guys) that 3-4 sq ft per chicken in the coop and 8-10 sq ft per chicken in the run is a good amount of space. Certainly it is FAR better than LESS space would be, and at least gives you a pretty reasonable shot at avoiding the worst behavior and health problems.

    However I've gotta say, having TRIED having them at 4 sq ft apiece (plus run) and at other amounts up to 15+ sq ft apiece (plus run), giving more space really does make a conspicuous difference in the chickens' behavior. They seem happier and more relaxed and "individual" with the greater space allowance. Personally I will not go back to more-crowded conditions, even if one can often "get away with it" in terms of simply avoiding major cannibalism.

    So there is no one magic number. It is a continuum and depends on your personal preferences.

    And also,

    b) the guys advertising those commercial coops, they are trying to sell you their coops [​IMG] Seriously. So obviusly it is in their best interest to quote as high a number as they feel they can get away with for how many chickens their coops will hold. Typically it is based on giving each chicken 8-10" of roost space and packing roosts into the coop. Thus, a 4x8 coop can very plausibly hold 15-22 chickens or so. But how WELL will it hold them? Not too darn well unless you live somewhere that is so year-round every-day mild that the chickens will be spending all of every day of the year outside.

    Basically: give them as much space as you can bring yourself to do (= keep as few chickens as you can bear to limit yourself to, for a given size coop) AND do not believe what the coop-selling folks say [​IMG]

    Besides, there is really no good reason IMHO to buy a commercial coop, even if you don't want to build something yourself you are still almost always MUCH better off with buying a prefab SHED and converting that. Very easy, just add more ventilation and a roost and popdoor and there ya go [​IMG] And you'll have a larger (and often less-dysfunctionally-designed) coop for your money.

    Good luck, have fun,

    Last edited: Jan 2, 2011
  4. elmo

    elmo Songster

    May 23, 2009
    Welcome to the forum!

    Prefab coops almost without exception overestimate the number of chickens that can be adequately housed in them...they're trying to get you to buy their product, after all. You can't send the coop back if you find out it's overcrowded at the manufacturer's recommended level and your chickens are pecking each other to bits.

    The 4 square foot per chicken rule of thumb is just a guideline, not some kind of law written in stone. People certainly do keep chickens in smaller housing, and some number of them manage to do it without problems, too. If you live someplace where the climate year round is mild and your chicken will just use their coop for roosting, and you pick breeds of chickens that tolerate confinement well, you may find that you can manage with less than 4 square feet per chicken. Personally, I think it's a risk to try to pack more birds in a smaller area, and on top of the stress/squabbling problem, the more birds housed in a given area, the more work there will be for the chicken keeper to keep things clean enough for health.

    Two other things to look for as you're looking at coops: roost space and ventilation. Figure on about 12 inches of roost width per chicken, and about 12 square inches of vent area per chicken, too. Ideally, the vents should be up at the top of one or more walls so that they can be left open or mostly open in the winter without having cold drafts blow over the birds as they roost (obviously, the roost needs to be positioned so that the birds heads are down below the level of the vent).

    I don't think I've actually ever seen a prefab coop kit built with adequate (enough) or well positioned (above roost level) vents. Ventilation is important for several reasons. Chickens like all birds have efficient respiratory systems, and can develop health problems from poor air quality. Inadquate ventilation can lead to moisture/humidity building up inside the coop, which can lead to the growth of mold (again bad for respiratory health) or if you live in someplace with cold winters, make frostbitten combs more likely Plus, a poorly ventilated coop can get to smelling really bad..

    Bottom line, I really wouldn't recommend you start out with less than the 4 square foot per chicken of space. Are you really certain you need 8 chickens in the first place (i.e., do you need/want that many eggs?)
    Last edited: Jan 2, 2011
  5. Judy

    Judy Crowing

    Feb 5, 2009
    South Georgia
    You have received replies from some very knowledgeable people. I mostly want to add my urging to have as much space as possible.

    I have about 13 sq ft per bird in the coop, this is a relatively temperate climate so they are usually out, and they free range over several acres. I also have a fenced yard for when I need to confine them which is about 50' by 70'. They have particular places they check out most days as well as particular places they hang out for a lot of the day.
    There is plenty of room in the coop to store feed and bedding, as well as a "broody pen" about 5'x6' for a broody with chicks or a sick chicken.

    I've had a good deal more chickens in this coop. I wouldn't want less than about 8 sq ft per chicken. After keeping chickens this way, I would never confine them to a small coop and run.

    If you buy a prefab shed, which I agree is probably the way to go, do be sure you add a good amount of ventilation, even if you are in a climate like Canada. It is vital for their health.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 2, 2011
  6. grendel

    grendel Songster

    Mar 12, 2010
    Walbridge ohio
    I feel that space requirements are not that important as long as you have one rooster with the hens.They will huddle together for warmth in the winter.Just let them out frequently and keep the coop clean and free of parasites.use some d/T food grade in the coop,and vary their diet.I have a five by five and 10 feet tall coop with a run attached,and it has fourteen chickens in it of varios large breeds and it has been that way for almost four years.No problems with death,sickness,or bullying ,and have introduced new flock members.So everyone's experience is different,experiment and you will suprise yourself and maybe other longtime chicken keepers.
  7. Evergreen160

    Evergreen160 In the Brooder

    Jan 2, 2011
    Foothills of Colorado
    Thank you all so much for your replies! Sounds like a shed conversion is the way to go. I will check-out all of the links provided. Just a little info where we live - we are in the foothills of Colorado just outside of Boulder. We live at 8,300 ft so it can get quite cold but it is sunny most of the time. I would like the chickens to have plenty of indoor space since the weather in the winter can be unpredictable even though it is quite a bit warmer then VT or Canada. The chickens won't be able to free-range since we have numerous predators up here. We planned to build a large enclosed run.

    Thanks again for the tips!
  8. Rivers

    Rivers In the Brooder

    Oct 3, 2010
    I built a coop for four with 4sqft of floorspace per bird and fairly generous height. Yet to me it seems it would be too crammed to put more chickens in there, especially in summer.

    My birds only use it for sleeping at night and are free ranging all day, yet to me it seems that the 4sqft rule is a pretty good one.
  9. Knock Kneed Hen

    Knock Kneed Hen California Dream'in Chickens

    Feb 15, 2010
    So. Cal.
    I agree, think you'd be happier with a shed conversion. You'll appreciate being able to stand up while you're in there cleaning too.

    As far as space goes, I'll just share what I have, which is 4 sq. ft. per bird in the coop and 10 sq. ft. per bird in the run. They do fine, but I think I'd like it better if I got it down to 5 & 12. I don't let my birds free range so I think I'd be happier giving them more space in the run especially. I'm looking to re-home some of my birds for this reason.
  10. briteday

    briteday Songster

    Dec 16, 2008
    Northern NV
    We live in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, near Reno, Tahoe, and Carson City, so our weather is pretty similar. And I have visited your area quite a bit. I would think that not being handy, a shed conversion is the way to go. I have built from scratch, re-configured dog houses, built coops from shipping crates...and by far the easiest and BEST chicken coop I have is a shed conversion. We bought an 8' x 10' wooden shed that you could typically find at any big box hardware store. It looks like a lot of money up front. But if you add up all of the lumber, doing all of the math for building and purchasing...the shed is a bargain.

    The doors to my shed (a double set of people doors) are on one of the 10' sides. When you walk into the shed on the left (this side faces south)...I cut a 12" x 12" pop door for the girls and then there are 4 nesting boxes stacked 2 high by 2 wide (plastic garage storage bins from Lowes, about $8 each, Stanley brand I think). On the right of the door are 4 staggered height roosting bars that run the entire length of the 8' wall. The roosts are 2 x 4's with the 4" side facing up. They are built in a stair-step fashion, think of a ladder leaning against the wall. As you look straight ahead from the people doors, to the opposite wall, we have a 5 gallon bucket with nipples for drinking hanging from the ceiling on the left (they are next to the nesting boxes mentioned previously). Also mounted to the opposite 10' wall is a 10' length of plastic gutter where the chickens eat. I pour their food into the gutter when I make my afternoon egg collecting run. The only other things in the shed are a galvanized trash can for food and I am building a brooder under the roosting bars to raise chicks each Spring. A tarp hammock under the roost bars prevents the chicken poop from landing on the brooder below. Over the people doors I have a shelf for miscellaneous supplies, extra bowls, paper towels, a roll of garbage bags, ...

    The pop door leads out to a chain link panel enclosed run. We have about the same predators as you do. However we do have a rooster that gives our hens a good warning when hawks or such are around. Our run is not covered, there is minimal sagebrush in the run area. We have never lost a chicken to predators. Most days all of us are gone during usual working hours so the girls are quite "on their own" as far as protection.

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