How Much Space Do Chickens Need: The Complete Guide

Just like people, chickens prefer to have some personal space.

They enjoy being able to move around freely and do what they want without having to wade through a crowded coop or run.

How you would feel if there was someone behind or in front of you every step of the way – frustrated right?

Chickens get stressed when they do not have enough room and this creates some fairly ugly behaviors.

So the bottom line is personal space is important for your chickens.

Keep reading to learn how to create harmony in your flock by providing them with the right amount of space in the coop and out in the run…

Factors That Impact How Much Space Chickens Need

Red Jungle Fowl

Size

The first thing you need to pay attention to is the size of your chickens.

Bantams will require less room than standard chickens. Obviously they are smaller but they also like to fly up high, so higher perches are perfect for them.

Standard sized hens require more space and their perches will need to be a bit lower to the ground.

Larger breeds (such as Jersey Giants or Brahmas) require a lot of space to move around in. Do not try to skimp on the space – especially if your birds are not going to be free range.

Coop Space Guide:

  • Bantam: 2 square feet each.
  • Standard: 4 square feet each.
  • Large: 8 square feet each.

Temperament

This particular factor is vital to harmony in your flock.

The temperament of your chickens will help or hinder the flock dynamics.

For example a flock of Silkies are much more docile than a flock of Asils.

Silkies can live together as a flock in relative peace whilst Asils have to be carefully monitored as they can and do fight among themselves.

Because of this more docile breeds can get by with less space whereas more aggressive and dominant breeds will need more room. If you have multiple breeds and some are overly aggressive you are going to have to give them space and separate them for the well-being of the entire flock.

Australorp Hens

Distractions

If your flock cannot free range this means they will be spending all of their time in the run.

The more distractions you can provide in the run the less space is an issue.

You can use leaf piles, perches, flock blocks, cabbage pinatas, hay bales and other similar type objects.

Also providing areas where they can hide out and be alone if they want is important to keep stress levels low.

Broodiness

If you have hens that are known for broodiness (such as Orpingtons) then this will impact how many nesting boxes you need.

Your other hens will need a place so that laying can continue uninterrupted if a couple of hens decide to sit.

Also in general having a couple of extra nesting boxes is a good thing for all concerned. Hens that cannot access a nest box when she wants to lay will lay that egg anywhere which leads to broken or dirty eggs.

Weather

Your local climate will also impact space requirements to a certain degree.

If you live in an area where they can free range all year round you can get by with a slightly smaller coop. However if you live in a climate where they are going to spend a good portion of the winter months penned up you might want to give them a touch more room.

Those long boring winter months can lead to mischief in the coop so give them plenty of room.

How Much Space Do Chickens Needs

Flock Size Coop Size Minimum Run Space
6 standard 24 square feet 48 square feet
12 standard 48 square feet 96 square feet
18 standard 72 square feet 144 square feet
6 bantams 12 square feet 30 square feet
12 bantams 24 square feet 60 square feet
18 bantams 36 square feet 90 square feet

Chicken Coop Size

Ideal Chicken Coop Size

Bantams need the least space in the coop – they will need 2 square feet of coop space each.

As we mentioned before they like to fly up so higher perches will keep them very happy. Roosts for bantams should allow roughly six inches of room for each chicken. Some do not like to sit next to each other so a bit more space is always better.

Bantam nesting boxes should be about 10 square inches – this allows enough room for one bird not two. Allow one nesting box per three hens.

Space requirements for standard sized chickens can vary depending on the exact breed.

The smaller sizes of standards such as Appenzellers, Fayoumis and Leghorns can each have 3 square feet of coop space providing they have access to the outdoors. The larger standard chickens such as the Dominique, Faverolles or Australorp will each require the full 4 square feet of coop space.

In the run they should have no less than 10 square feet per chicken.

Roosting bars should allow around 8 inches per chicken and the standard 12x 12 inch nesting box will work well.

Extra large breeds such as Jersey Giants and Brahmas should have no less than 6 square feet of coop space each. These are very large birds so everything needs to be that much bigger for them.

On the roosts they should be allowed one foot space each.

As for nesting boxes they need to be 12 inches deep, 14 inches wide and 12 inches tall

Again one box for every three hens works well.

Run Size

Breed Size Run Space
Bantam 5 square feet per hen
Standard 8 square feet per hen
Large 15 square feet per hen

Chicken Run

The run should be well thought out and provide everything a chicken should need.

Bantams will need 5 square feet of space per chicken. They are easy to cater to as they love to fly – an array of high perches, walkways and platforms will keep them occupied for a long time.

Standard sized chickens will each need at least 8 square feet in the run. This will give them plenty of room to wander around in.

Finally the extra-large girls and boys will each need a minimum of 15 square feet in a run. Although they may not be fast movers they like to have enough room and things to keep them occupied.

In addition to several perches at varying heights your run area should try to include the following things for the flock:

  • A dust bathing area where they can have a good dust bath with their friends. Aim to make this area big enough for three birds to enjoy at the same time. If it is outside try to put some sort of cover over the area so it does not get wet during a rainstorm.
  • Old leaf piles occasionally replenished will give them something to sift through in search of bugs and other tasty morsels. Hay bales serve the same purpose and also provide a sitting area for them.
  • Covered or quiet areas are also important. This gives a hen who perhaps wants five minutes of peace the chance to go sit by herself.
  • Scatter seed or corn in the run periodically. This will encourage them to scratch and peck for morsels. It also helps to keep their toenails and beaks from becoming too long.
  • Cabbage can be hanged as a pinata for them to peck at. Just make sure to hang it slightly higher than their head so they have to jump a little.

All of these things will help their mental and physical well-being.

What Happens If There Is Not Enough Space?

Chickens Free Ranging

If chickens are overcrowded in their coop or run things can get ugly very quickly. The most common issues with overcrowding can be found below:

Bullying

When hens are crammed together they become stressed and start to act out in the form of bullying. The two worst parts of this are feather plucking and pecking.

Feather plucking is exactly what it sounds like. The more dominant birds will pluck feathers from the lower order hens and if the dominant hens gang together it can be a terrifying ordeal for the hen being plucked.

Pecking is along the same lines. They will peck at a lower hen until she starts to bleed and then the blood will exacerbate the situation.

Hens have been pecked to death because of overcrowding.

Health Issues

The next overcrowding issue that can occur is health issues.

In very small coops they can sit, lie or stand in their own filth because as we know chickens will poop anywhere and everywhere.

Filthy conditions can lead to a host of problems and diseases.

Contaminated drinking water can lead to a variety of bacterial, protozoan and viral health problems.

Also your chickens will peck at anything including poop. If the excrement has been left lying around for a while it is the perfect incubator for many disease vectors such as flies. Poop and flies can lead to fly strike on the hens rear end.

Chickens that have feathered feet are especially prone to the poop gathering on their foot feathers – this can harden and cause poop balls between their toes which is painful and can lead to infections.

Hen and Rooster Eating

Parasites

Overcrowding is the perfect environment for plagues of lice and mites to occur.

Close contact makes it easy for these pests to breed until the henhouse is literally crawling with them. What is usually seen as a nuisance can become something of a horror story if there are too many hens confined in a small space.

The mites are especially debilitating, as they will drink the bird’s blood causing anemia.

Laying Issues

If there are not enough nesting boxes your hens will lay anywhere they can find space.

This will lead to broken eggs which in turn can lead to egg eating. Once your chickens start eating eggs it can be very difficult to stop them, so prevention is better than the cure.

Make sure they have enough nesting boxes!

Tips To Keep Chickens With Less Space

Small Coop

So we have determined that skimping on space is not worth the aggravation for you or your chickens but how do you keep chickens in a small area?

Bantams.

With bantams you can build their coop vertically as well as horizontally. A couple of floors in a bantam coop will give them lots of extra space.

Another option is to reduce the number of chickens you keep.

You need to be realistic.

If your yard can support three hens then only get three hens – do not buy 10 and hope for the best. If you really do not have the space then talk to locals. See if they would be willing to rent you a small portion of land where you can place a coop.

Finally some folks keep their chickens in the house – it can be done with a few birds and some careful planning.

How Much Space Do Chickens Need To Be Considered Free Range?

Chickens Outside

Free range is defined as “access to the outside” from the area in which they are kept.

Unfortunately with commercial chickens most of the birds in these barns never see the light of day or scratch in the dirt.

Your backyard hens however live in comparatively natural surroundings compared to these industry raised birds.

There is no set standard for how much free range space they should have and all of the recommended numbers regarding space allowance are just that: recommendations.

Fortunately most small flock owners really care about their hens and will give them enough room not only to enjoy but to thrive in.

Ultimately it is up to the keeper to decide what is and is not free range.

Raising your flock on a pasture does come with a couple of caveats though.

Firstly to prevent an area becoming a barren, muddy and poopy mess you must either have enough acreage that it won’t happen or practice rotational pasturing.

Rotational pasturing sounds pretty fancy but it simply means that you move your chickens aroundto prevent the ground being picked clean.

A fence will keep them in a particular area and provide some protection from predation. I have around 40 chickens and I do not rotate them but they have the run of around 4 acres and have not yet managed to destroy the grass.

The second caveat is to make sure that they cannot wander off onto the road or into neighbors yards – this is for their safety and security. In light of the current instances of chicken theft, we recommend that all coops need to be securely locked at night.

Summary

The most important takeaway from this is that the right amount of space for your birds is essential for them to perform at their best.

They may be flock creatures but they still enjoy the ability to do their own thing if they want to.

Keeping them in cramped coops is less than ideal.

Take care of your hens and they will take care of you.

There is much to be said about the symbiotic nature of our relationship with animals.

How much space do your chickens have? Let us know in the comments section below…

Chris Lesley Bio Picture
Chris Lesley has been Raising Chickens for over 20 years and is a fourth generation chicken keeper. She can remember being a young child when her grandad first taught her how to hold and care for chickens. She also holds a certificate in Animal Behavior and Welfare and are interested in backyard chicken health and care. Her work has been shared on HuffPost, Mother Nature Network, Community Chickens, Mother Earth News and many more outlets. Today Chris keeps 11 chickens including 4 Buff Orpingtons, 4 Rhode Island Reds and 3 Silkies. She is our backyard chicken expert at Chickens And More, and shares her knowledge on raising healthy, happy chickens with our readers. You can contact Chris at chris@chickensandmore.com

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