Thinking of getting some of your own chickens, or expanding your flock? If you’re hoping to produce some more of your own food on your property, having a flock of backyard chickens is a great place to start. Chickens don’t take up much space at all compared to larger livestock, and it’s not too hard to get your hands on (or build) a basic coop and run. Plus, whether you’re in the market for laying hens or meat chickens, it doesn’t take long to see the fruits of your labors. If you’re planning out your chicken coop, “how much space do chickens need?” is one of the first questions you’re probably asking. Let’s jump in to that question and go over the factors that might affect your planning.
How Much Space Do Chickens Need?
How much space chickens need depends on a number of factors, but a general rule of thumb is to give each bird 4 square feet of coop space and 8 square feet of outdoor space (also called run space).
While this is a good generalization to go off, it’s a good idea to consider some other factors before making a definite decision on your coop and run size. For example:
What breed of chickens will you get? (The 4 square feet/8 square feet of space numbers are ideal for the standard chicken, but chickens come in all shapes and sizes!)
Will your chickens be able to free range in a large outdoor area, or will they have just a small run outside their coop?
Are you raising layers (for eggs) or broilers (for meat)?
These are just a few questions you’ll want to ask yourself about your plans for keeping chickens, before you decide on what size coop to build or buy. But we’ll explore each of these factors further so that you can have a clear answer on space requirements regardless of your chicken-raising plans!
How much space do chickens need in their coop and run?
If your chickens will be kept in an enclosed space at all times without being let out to free range, it’s important to make sure that they have enough space to walk around freely, dust bathe, and stretch their wings. Chickens who cannot free range should at least have a chicken run to be able to access.
A chicken run is simply a safe, fenced area where chickens can roam outside of their coop. Chicken tunnels are another way that many chicken keepers give their birds outdoor space while also keeping them safe. Whatever option you choose, having an outdoor run or another enclosed outdoor area gives your birds a chance to forage, get some sunlight, and enjoy more movement while still staying safe from predators.
At bare minimum, your coop should be at least 4 square feet per bird, and your run space should be at least 8-10 square feet per bird.
So, for example, if your flock has 10 chickens, you should have 40 square feet of coop space and 80-100 square feet of run space. The amount of time your chickens will spend in their indoor space vs. their outdoor space will also play a role in determining how much room they should have. (For example, if you live in a very cold climate, your chickens will probably spend more time indoors, and will likely need more indoor space than birds that can be outside a lot.)
The more space chickens have to roam and forage, the happier and healthier they’ll be. And healthy chickens living happy lives means more eggs and better-quality farm-fresh products (whether eggs or meat) for you!
How much space do free-range chickens need?
The term “free range” is not necessarily specific. According to the USDA, free range simply implies having an unspecified amount of access to an unspecified amount of outdoor space. Confusing, yes.
When homesteaders and backyard chicken keepers talk about free-range birds, though, they’re usually implying that the chickens are allowed to roam freely on the property, or at least outside in a very large pasture or other space. Again, though, keep in mind that this is not a specified term. Some people use the term “free range” to describe chickens who have adequate space in an outside run off their backyard chicken coops.
If your chickens have unlimited access to the outdoors during the daytime and only come in at night, your coop should be a minimum size of 2-4 square feet per bird.
If you have the ability to raise free ranging chickens while keeping them safe from predators, take it! The more room chickens have to forage, stretch, and roam, the better. Giving chickens the extra space also helps prevent diseases within your flock.
How much roost space do chickens need?
Square footage isn’t the only “space” issue to think about when preparing your chicken coop. If you have layers, you’ll also need to make sure that your birds have enough room to roost. A chicken roost is simply a long bar, branch, or other perch where your chickens can rest and sleep. Thin (but sturdy) boards also work well.
To calculate roost size, budget about 6-8 inches per chicken. Large breeds, like Brahmas, Jersey Giants, and Buff Orpingtons will need more space – around 12 inches per birds. Smaller breeds (such as Bantam chickens) can make do with little space (around 4-6 inches per chicken).
Roosts should be at least 18 inches off the ground. 1-2 foot-high roosts are suitable for large chickens, as their weight can cause them to become injured if jumping down from higher roosts. Smaller and more agile breeds can utilize higher roosts.
Meat chickens don’t need roosts. Their heavy weight usually doesn’t allow them to hop up on them anyway!
Tip: Keep your roosts away from nesting boxes to prevent your birds from pecking at or eating the eggs while they’re roosting.
How much nesting space to chickens need?
Lastly, chickens also need nesting space. Nest boxes are enclosed boxes that provide a safe space for chickens to lay their eggs. Chickens need to feel secure in order to lay, so if you don’t provide adequate, clean, sturdy nesting boxes, they’ll probably end up laying their eggs elsewhere (potentially in a hidden spot that you may not find!).
You do not need a separate nesting box for every bird. They don’t all lay at the same time, anyway, and they don’t mind sharing their boxes. Plan to have one box for every 3 or 4 chickens.
How much space do meat chickens need?
Meat chickens don’t need as much space as layers. 2 square feet per bird is an adequate amount of space for broilers. These birds only live for about 12 weeks or less, and they don’t have as much energy as layers to move around and explore very much, anyway.
So, if you’re raising a batch of 25 meat birds, a 50 square foot space is acceptable. We use a Suscovich-style chicken tractor to move our birds every day or so and give them fresh space to forage. (Read more about the supplies we use to raise our meat chickens.)
Still not sure how much space your chickens need? Check out this super handy chicken coop size calculator for easy reference!
What Factors Influence How Much Room Chickens Need?
While the numbers above are great generalities to go by, there are some variables that could affect the amount of space that your birds will need. They are:
- Outdoor space
- Size of your chickens
- Temperament of your birds
If your chickens have lots of outdoor access, they won’t need as large of an indoor coop area. Free-range chickens or birds that have a large run are just fine with a minimum amount of indoor space. They won’t be in there for very much time each day, anyway!
So, for mostly outdoor birds, you can err on the lower end of the square footage requirements we talked about above. Just make sure that they have adequate roosting space and nesting boxes so that they can roost and lay while they’re all together in the coop at night.
Size of your chickens
The size of your chickens is a major factor when it comes to calculating the size of your chicken coop.
Small breed chickens like Bantams need a lot less space than larger breeds, such Buff Orpingtons, Brahmas, and Jersey Giants. While Bantams are agile birds that only weigh between 1-2 pounds, some large birds can weigh up to 18 pounds! A standard breed, medium-sized chicken (such as a Plymouth Rock or Rhode Island Reds) will usually weigh in around 6-8 pounds.
Obviously, chicken breeds vary in size a lot, so if you can, think about what breed(s) you want to get before selecting or building a coop. While heavy breeds will need a bigger coop and roost, smaller chickens will be just fine with the minimum amount of space suggested.
So for example, consider giving large breeds 6-8 square feet per bird, medium breeds 4 square feet per bird, and small chicken breeds 2 square feet per bird of coop space. You should also adjust your run space, roosting bars, and nesting boxes accordingly.
Climate matters when considering how much outdoor time your birds will get. If you live in climate with milder weather, your birds will probably spend a lot more time outside and thus can probably make do with a small coop. On the other hand, if you live in a place that gets very cold, your chickens will spend less time outdoors and will need a larger coop to be able to stretch, roam, and have some personal space during their many hours inside.
Temperament of your birds
Chickens are social animals and like to be kept together. They’ll usually establish a pecking order, or an order or hierarchy, but in general enjoy being in groups.
However, certain chickens can be more aggressive than others, with males (roosters) often being more aggressive than females (hens). Even more than whether you have hens or roosters, though (or a mix), the breed and environment of the bird can determine temperament.
Some breeds, like Brahmas, Cornish, and Dorking chickens are naturally more aggressive. In addition, chickens can become more aggressive if they are overcrowded, don’t have enough roosting space, are under stress, or don’t have enough food.
If you’re noticing that your birds are becoming overly aggressive, you may want to consider giving them more coop and/or run space.
Why Is It Important for Chickens to Have Enough Space?
If your chickens don’t have enough space, it can lead to problems for them as well as for you. If you’re planning to stuff as many chickens as possible into a small space in hopes of more eggs or meat, it might not actually play out as well as you’re thinking. Here are some important reasons why the size of your flock needs to be on track with the size of your coop and outdoor space.
- Egg production
- Aggressive behavior
- Dirty coop
A chicken house that’s too small for the number of chickens you have can quickly lead to health issues. Overcrowding means more manure, dust, and and bacteria in a small space. It will also make your chickens’ feed and water dirty very quickly. The spread of bacteria and parasites can quickly lead to disease throughout your flock.
Chickens that don’t have enough space will also experience more stress. This can lead to aggressive behavior, malnutrition, and a decline of overall resiliency and general health.
Happy chickens lay more eggs! Stress and sickness are a common cause of decreased egg production in adult birds. (Although this is just one factor that can influence production.) If you’re noticing that your hens are laying fewer eggs, a lack of coop space, outdoor space, roost space, or nesting boxes could be a potential cause.
Chickens often fight when they need more space. If you’re noticing bullying or feather plucking in your flock, you may need to give your birds a larger area.
A smaller space can also lead to boredom, which can cause aggressive or antisocial behavior in chickens.
Too many chickens in a confined space will quickly lead to a dirty coop. A coop that’s too dirty is not only a potential health risk to your chickens, but it’s also frustrating for you! After all, who wants to have to clean out the chicken coop every day, or walk in at feeding time to an overwhelming smell of manure and chicken filth?
Having the right number of birds in your coop makes it easier to keep your wood shavings or straw fresh, prevents nasty smells from accumulating too quickly, and will also help keep your eggs from getting all dirty.
So how do you know if you need more space? The short answer is that if your noticing health problems, aggressive behavior, or an overly dirty coop, you might want to consider reducing your flock size or increasing the amount of room your chickens have.
Ready to Start Your Flock?
Whether you’re looking to keep a small flock of layers in order to have your own eggs or want to raise a batch of meat chickens for the freezer, the amount of space you’ll need is one of the most important things to think about before you get started. Chicken keeping is a great first step in raising some of your own food. It takes up less room than most other animals, and doesn’t require a lot of tools or infrastructure.
Check out our other posts about raising chickens to learn more!