Whether you’re raising a few chickens in your backyard as pets or for their eggs, or you have a large flock of chickens for your egg-laying or broiler farm, you need to ensure you have enough square feet per chicken available. Not only does having enough space prevent bullying and diseases, but having too much space isn’t suitable for chickens, either.
So, how many square feet per chicken do you need? The answer depends on your flock, as chickens of different sizes and upbringing need different amounts of square footage. As experts in raising free-range chickens for more than 40 years, Freedom Ranger Hatchery and its family of hatcheries want to ensure you provide the correct coop, brooding, and forage-space sizes, so the chicks you order can live long, healthy, and happy lives.
In general, chickens raised in a free-range backyard need about two square feet of personal space inside a chicken coop. Keep in mind that chickens should be allowed to be themselves, which means not being cooped up inside an enclosed space for too long. Free-range chickens will use their coop to lay eggs and roost at night but should ideally have about 8-10 square feet per chicken of outdoor space to forage and roam freely.
Regular-sized chickens in enclosures need about three to five square feet of space per chicken inside a chicken coop. Smaller chickens, like Bantam Silkies, may only need about two square feet per chicken. Blue Plymouth Rock Chickens and other large breeds need at least four square feet per bird.
All backyard birds need about 8-10 square feet of outdoor space per bird to forage. You’ll want to keep these numbers in mind when you’re building a coop and run for your chickens. Ensuring you have the correct size indoor space will help keep your flock healthy and happy so that they can produce exceptional eggs for you and your family.
When you order day-old baby chicks from Freedom Ranger Hatchery and its family of hatcheries, you’ll want to plan for 0.45 square feet per chick upon arrival. Ensure the brooder walls are high enough that when the baby chicks start jumping around two to three weeks old, they won’t be able to get out of it. After about four weeks, you’ll need to upgrade to 1.5-2 square feet per chicken for free-range birds.
A chicken coop the size of 20 square feet is adequate for small or free-range birds, 30 square feet is ideal for regular-sized birds, and 40 square feet or larger is needed for larger breeds. Starting with 10 chickens for your backyard chicken farm is a good idea. This way, you can get accustomed to tending and caring for chicks without the process being too overwhelming.
A 4×8 foot coop is 32 square feet, and you can comfortably fit 16 free-range chickens in this size coop. It can also hold eight to 10 regular-sized chickens or six to eight large-sized birds. Free-range chickens require less space than chickens who live in enclosures because most of their lives are spent outdoors. So, if you have a small space, take serious consideration to raise your baby chicks as free-range, just like we do here at Freedom Ranger Hatchery.
If you’re raising chickens to produce income from their eggs or meat, you likely have more chickens than someone who raises chickens in their backyard as pets. For example, if you have a flock of 20,000 broiler chickens, you need about 16,000 square feet per chicken. A grow-out house that measures 400 feet long and 40 feet wide would provide adequate space for your chickens. This measurement comes to about 0.8 square feet per bird.
The critical thing to remember when raising broilers is not to give them too much space. When broilers have too much space to run, they’ll burn too many calories and not gain weight as well. If you’re raising broilers in confinement (as opposed to free-range), you should allocate 1.5 square feet per bird in the chicken house.
A popular approach to raising chickens is called the chicken-tractor method for those in the egg-laying or broiler farm business who have several thousand birds. This farming method, popularized by Joel Salatin, author of Pastured Poultry Profits, moves birds in a mobile bottomless coop, called a chicken tractor, several times per day or week. Salatin recommends one acre per 500 birds per this method to be sustainable and profitable.
This rotational grazing allows chickens to forage the ground naturally while gaining access to fresh grass. It reduces the amount of feed required by 30% and naturally fertilizes the grass.
Some folks may be worried about the high nitrogen levels in the chicken manure that may destroy the pasture. To combat this issue, allow cows to regularly eat the grass fed by the chicken droppings. The cows will cut the grass and keep it growing, thus supporting the amount of nitrogen left in the droppings.
You may be wondering why we dedicated a whole blog post to obtaining the right square feet per chicken for your backyard or broiler farm flock. It’s because if chickens don’t have enough space in their brooder, chicken coop, or forage area, there are significant dangers to their health, thus destroying all the hard work you put into caring for your baby chicks from day one.
Chickens explore the world with their beaks. If there isn’t adequate space in their environment, they won’t have enough ground space to peck, thus leading them to peck each other. Not only can this cause infections if a bird is preening her feathers or pecks at an insect on a flock-mate that leads to minor skin wounds, but it can also eventually lead to cannibalism, aggression, and dominance issues.
In addition, too little space for your chickens means that droppings accumulate more quickly, and—especially if you keep water inside the pen—it can cause health problems for your chickens. These dropping and moist areas can cause dangerous organisms and bacteria to grow, and your chickens may develop coccidiosis, a deadly intestinal disease. This disease can spread quickly in congested areas, so it’s essential to ensure all your chickens have a good coop, run, and forage space.
On the other hand, having too big an area for your chickens also poses issues. Chickens are excellent at keeping themselves warm. If there is too much space in a chicken coop and not enough chickens, they may not generate enough body heat to stay warm. As long as your fully feathered friends live in a chicken coop that is well-ventilated and sealed, and they don’t have any bare spots on their backs or under their wings, they can retain their body heat.
Also, if the coop is too large, you may be tempted to put water dishes inside of it, which, when spilled, can lead to parasites and dangerous organisms to grow that can threaten the livelihood of your flock. It’s best to keep water dishes outside since they don’t drink water when sleeping.
When you have several acres of land for your broiler or egg-laying farm, it’s harder to protect it from predators. As we mentioned previously, too much freedom will mean your broiler chickens burn too many calories and don’t gain adequate weight for meat sales. Thus, too much space on a farm for chickens is dangerous because they can be exposed more easily to predators and won’t gain enough weight.
Getting the right size chicken coop for your backyard flock is essential. Now that you know how many square feet per chicken you need for your pen, you can order the correct size to lead to happy and healthy birds. Remember to order a chick coop that allows for about two square feet per chicken or more if you have large birds.
Having enough space for egg-laying or broiler farms is crucial to raising healthy, hearty, and happy birds, but too much space puts them at risk of not gaining enough weight and being attacked by predators. About 1.3 to 2.4 square feet per bird is adequate for large flocks.
Once your brooder, coop, chicken tractor, and foraging space are in place and ready, you can get to one of the most exciting parts of having backyard chickens—ordering baby chicks. Luckily, Freedom Ranger and its family of hatcheries have a wide variety of chicks, waterfowl, guinea keets, silkie chicks, and hatchings eggs from which to choose. Plus, you know that our free-range environment and care tactics mean you’re getting the best birds possible for your backyard.