Run space requirements for HAPPY hens

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by harmonyp, Oct 21, 2019.

  1. harmonyp

    harmonyp Songster

    May 25, 2013
    N. California
    I completely understand abiding by minimum posted space requirements for chickens for folks in urban environments. I'm lucky enough to be rural with acreage, so I'm really trying to figure out the right amount of space for my girls to keep them as happy as they can be.

    I tried free-ranging for a short period of time, and despite having very happy hens temporarily, my reward was coyote eaten hens. I can't go through that again.

    I started with a 20' x 30' space for my 17 girls (no roosters). They just seemed cramped. So I expanded out another 16' x 16'. That gives them 50 square feet per hen. As I watch them fly around, and race back and forth following my movements outside, it seems adequate, but I still question whether it is enough.

    For people without space restrictions that do still keep their hens contained, wondering how much space you're giving them?
  2. DobieLover

    DobieLover Easily distracted by chickens

    Jul 23, 2018
    Apalachin, NY
    My Coop
    Aerial map.jpg
    This is my chickens area, about 1/3 acre. The yellow line is 4' high poultry netting charged with 10,000 volts. The red lines are gates, the white is the coop and the blue is the predator proof run with a solid roof.
    I have fisher cats, black bears, coyote, fox, raccoons, opossums and the neighbor's rotten dogs to contend with. Nothing has gotten at my flock while inside their pen. Multiple hawks fly over daily. I did have one strike but because I have two boys on constant look out, everyone made it under a very large old style quince bush or into the covered run with zero injuries.
    I most certainly have a happy flock.
  3. pintail_drake2004

    pintail_drake2004 Songster

    Jun 12, 2017
    I free range my birds all day, and put them up at night. I have an attached 600sqft run that is fully enclosed for my birds. At most, I've had 40 birds in there, but normally keep it around 30-35. I have not had an issued with my large breed birds (BO, BR, RIR) and a few roosters in there.
  4. so lucky

    so lucky Crowing

    Jan 31, 2011
    SE Missouri
    @Harmony, 50 square feet per bird does sound like paradise, as well as DobieLover's yard. Most of us don't have either the space or $$ to adequately protect the chickens in that large of an area. If you are wanting to provide that "something extra" for your girls, you could put in interesting play items in the enclosure. Use your imagination, with things like an old stump, a brush pile, saw horses with planks on top, concrete blocks stacked up like stair steps, an old wooden or metal chair.
    If the girls have scratched away/eaten all the grass, you could replant a small section and keep it blocked off till grass gets 4" high or so, then let them in and replant a different area.
  5. townchicks

    townchicks Free Ranging

    Dec 1, 2016
    Contra Costa county, Ca.
    Sounds like you have some very lucky birds. I always think it is good to go as big as your land and your pocketbook will allow. I do think @so lucky has the right idea, though, space alone is not always enough. Keeping their run interesting is what makes happy hens, imo. Even something as simple as a new pile of leaves has my girls running over to scratch and investigate, looking for tasty morsels. I also sometimes buy live crickets from the pet store, and dump them into the middle of the run, and the chase is on. Spending time with the girls, talking to them, maybe sometimes tossing out a few blueberries or mealworms as I sit with them, adds interest to their lives. These things are cheap and easy to do, no matter how much space the girls have, it can be very enriching for them.
    Kellow1, junkman56, ValerieJ and 21 others like this.
  6. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner Free Ranging

    Feb 2, 2009
    Southeast Louisiana
    Define "happy". Are they cannibalizing each other? Are they beating each other up? Are you loosing any to predators? What make you think the are not happy? I understand you want what is "best" for them but don't let the pursuit of perfection get in the way of good enough. Perfect would be total free range but coyotes have shown that is not a good solution. Take some comfort that yours are many times better off than most of the chickens forum members have.

    My flock size varies. Maybe 7 in the winter when I'm down to my laying/breeding flock they have about 400 square feet per chicken. In summer when I might have 50 chickens, most of them young growing to butcher size, they might have about 55 square feet per chicken, not counting the coops. Most of that is inside electric netting, though I have a 12' x 32' main run that is pretty predator resistant. I've never lost a bird to a land-based predator with that electric netting but I lost one to an owl once and another to a hawk. I have hawks and owls all over the place but they just have not been that much of a problem. Others have real problems with flying predators, some seasonal when they migrate and others year around.
  7. harmonyp

    harmonyp Songster

    May 25, 2013
    N. California
    Reading these replies is a good reality check. Nope, not cannibalizing each other or beating each other up, and since "the incident", haven't lost any to predators.

    I had planted lots of grass, and despite trying to keep it up, not a shred is left. I love the idea of rotating closed off growing areas - I'll definitely do that. Also love the idea of buying some live crickets. (They got a mouse the other day - what a chase scene - I cannot believe what serious hunters they are!)

    More creative on the enrichment side sounds like the way to go. When it finally starts raining we'll start getting worms - that'll be fun. I do spend time with them daily, and good solid time on weekends, but I'm not much more creative than scratch or some hunks of alfalfa hay (from the horses) - can do better here.

    Happy chickens are important to me, as I have them as pets / sanity keepers to help balance out a hectic high tech life.
  8. rosemarythyme

    rosemarythyme Free Ranging

    Jul 3, 2016
    Pac NW
    My Coop
    I currently have 7 hens in 440 sq ft (62 sq ft per bird). We're on 4 acres but only about 1 acre of that is usable (the rest is wetlands). I have to admit I wouldn't mind having a bigger run but I certainly don't think the birds are unhappy either. I think I was able to strike a balance between giving the birds space, plus extra room to add junk and stuff for enrichment (and to ease integration) while giving my dogs room to roam as well... and keep everyone out of the garden at the same time.
  9. aart

    aart Chicken Juggler!

    Nov 27, 2012
    SW Michigan
    My Coop
    Ditto Dat^^^

    Right now I have 15 birds in 500sqft in 2 runs(33 sq ft per bird).
    There are multiple perches and a bench that stay up all year around.
    In springs/summers there may be ~30 birds, with way more places to perch and 'hide' for the chicks.

    Clutter your run...for 'enrichment':

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