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I have been keeping chickens for well over 20 years, and during that time I have kept my birds in a number of different locations with varying amounts of space.
From the corner of my backyard where I kept my first few chickens, to the 1/2 acre field I currently have dedicated to my much-loved hens, I have tried it all.
In this article, I will draw on my experience to answer the question, ‘How much space do chickens need?’.
The amount of space required to keep chickens varies largely depending on the species of chicken and the number you hope to keep. It is generally accepted that each chicken requires around 2 to 3 sqft of indoor space in the coop and 8 to 10 sqft of outdoor space in an enclosed run. Many homesteaders aim to give their chickens much more space than this if they can.
How Much Space Do Chickens Need?
If life were simple, the answer to the question, how much space do chickens need? would be, as much as you can give them. However, life is rarely that simple.
In my experience, each chicken requires around 2 to 3 sqft of useable floor space when in the coop and about 8 to 10 sqft in an enclosed run.
This would be the absolute minimum amount of space I would offer my birds, and in all of my chicken coops and runs, the birds actually have more space than this.
Of course, this number does vary depending on the breed of chicken. I have some tiny Buff Orpington Bantams that in theory could easily occupy less space than I mention above, and still be perfectly happy.
My Jersey Giants on the other hand need more space per bird, especially when they are in the coop.
How Much Space do 6 chickens need?
Ok, so let’s look at a real-world example to see how much space a small flock of chickens needs.
6 chickens is a realistic number a new chicken keeper might decide to keep in their backyard flock so let us have a look at what those 6 chickens might need. You can then scale up or down depending on how many birds you plan to keep.
How large should a coop for 6 chickens be?
When considering what size coop you need for your chickens, there are 3 things to consider. They are;
Floor space is one of the main factors to consider when choosing a coop for your flock. Ideally, each bird will need 2 to 3 sqft of floor space. A flock of 6 chickens will therefore want around 12sqft to 18sqft of floor space, meaning a coop with the main body measuring 4′ x 3′ (1.2m x 0.9m) is the minimum size you should consider for a group of 6 chickens.
I recently ordered myself an imasay chicken coop from Amazon.com which is ideal for a small flock of chickens.
When it comes to roosting space (the place your chickens will spend the night), each chicken will require about 8″ to 10″ (20cm to 25cm) of roosting bars. This means our flock of 6 birds will need a minimum of 48″ (1.2m) of totally roosting space.
Ideally, this roosting space will be divided between at least two roosting bars as chickens often bicker over where they spend the night. Apparently, if you are a chicken, one 8″ length of the roosting bar is more desirable than another!
The final piece of the puzzle to consider is nesting boxes.
It is generally recommended that there should be at least 1 nest box for every 4 chickens, meaning our flock of 6 birds will need a minimum of 2 nest boxes.
To be fair, most small coops come with 2 or 3 nest boxes as standard, so this should not be a major issue.
How much outdoor space do chickens need?
As mentioned above, 8sqft to 10sqft (0.75sqM to 0.9sqM) per bird is generally considered to be the minimum amount of outdoor run space each chicken should have. This means our flock of 6 chickens needs 48sqft to 60sqft (4.5sqM to 5.5sqM).
In my experience, keeping a flock of 6 chickens all day every day in a run that measures just 6′ by 10′ is not ideal. The ground will quickly be turned to bare dirt and in the winter it will get very muddy.
My smallest enclosed run houses 10 large birds and measures around 300sqft (27.8sqM). Even so, they quickly stripped out all the grass and weeds and the whole run ware bare earth within about 8 weeks.
One important point here is, that chickens are messy birds. They scratch the soil constantly in the search for food, and they poop a lot!
If you are going to keep a small flock in a run that is on the smaller side, try and make it a portable run that you can move around your plot frequently. You might have to move it every 3 or 4 days.
Why More Space is always better than less
So no matter how many chickens you are hoping to keep, or what size breed they are, more space is always, always better than less.
There are several reasons the statement above is true.
Firstly, chickens are actually fairly mean birds. The term pecking order comes from the way chickens decide who is above who in their social standings. They literally peck one another, and they peck hard!
The more space you give your chickens, the less bullied and pecked the chickens at the bottom of the social ladder will be.
Secondly, the more birds that occupy a given space, the greater the chance they will pass pests and diseases to one another. Respiratory infections, mites, and worms all tend to spread more quickly when chickens are kept in very tight quarters.
In commercial flocks, large quantities of antibiotics are used for this very reason.
Chickens also poop a lot at night when they are on their roosting bars, and again, if their coop is too small, the quantity of poop on the ground will build up extremely quickly, possibly leading to the build-up of dampness and the growth of mold.
When it comes to deciding how much space your chickens will need, more is always better!
As a rough guide, a chicken coop should provide each bird with a minimum of around 2sqft to 3sqft of usable floor space. Each bird will also need 8″ to 10″ of roosting bars.
For outdoor space, the minimum space provided for each bird should be around 8sqft to 10sqft, although I always recommend allowing much more space per bird where ever possible.
If you found this article interesting, why not check out another one I wrote recently titled ‘Why are my chickens awake at night?’.
- Free Range Wikipedia.com
- Aims of EU quality schemes European Commission
- Transforming the U.S. Food System usda.gov
- What does ‘free-range’ actually mean? The Guardian