Before we ever entertained the idea of keeping chickens in our garden we were long under the impression that you need lots of land to keep chickens- ideally at least an acre of grass. Fortunately, this isn’t the case (unless you are planning on keeping thousands of them!) and you’d be surprised by the actual amount of room chickens need.
The amount of room chickens need really depends on a few key points. Firstly, are you intending to allow your chickens to free roam? Secondly, how many hours of the day do you intend to keep your chickens in their coop? Finally, how many chickens do you intend on keeping?
Let’s start with the first question…
Do I need Lots of Land to Keep Chickens?
In short, no.
Clearly this depends on how many chickens you intend on keeping, so let’s use a little example.
I’d guess that most people who want to keep chickens for the first time would look to get around six, so let’s use six chickens for this example. Now let’s also presume that the chickens are kept in a coop during night time and are left to roam during the day time.
The short answer would be that six chickens would need a coop that’s at least 18 square foot and a run which is at least 90 square foot. So in total that would mean you’d need just under 110 square foot to keep six chickens. [source]
We give our chickens a lot more room than this and we will discuss our set up later, however as a bare minimum 110 square foot will get you started.
So to answer our original questions: “Can I keep chickens in my garden or do I need acres of land?”. Providing you have at least a 11 foot by 10 foot garden you can easily keep chickens in your backyard.
However, if you put 12 chickens in this field below, we’re sure they would be the most faithful hens you’ve ever seen!
Now let’s dig deeper into each of your choices…
How Big Does A Chicken Coop Need To Be?
Now to clarify before we answer this in detail- a chicken coop is the chickens’ house where they go to roost in the evening (or during the rain!), this does not include their run or any other space which they can roam in.
Inside a coop you will find the floor (which we cover with sawdust and straw) and a roosting/perching space.
The actual chicken coop needs to be at least 3 square foot per chicken. So following on with our example of six chickens, the coop needs to be at least 18 square foot.
Now you might think with chicken coops the bigger the better? Well this certainly isn’t the case. Large chicken coops with only a small number of chickens in them can actually be a bad thing because the chickens can’t generate enough heat to keep the coop warm.
The other key item inside the coop is the roosting/perching area.
This is where your chickens will sleep and you need to make sure that each chicken has 10 inches of perching space. So in our example you would need a roosting pole which is 60 inches long (5 foot). You will probably find that your chickens need less roosting space than this because they will huddle together very closely during the night- however again its best to err on the side of caution.
How Big Should A Chicken Nesting Box Be?
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In addition to a coop you will need to ensure you have enough space to fix a nesting box to the back or side of your coop.
You can either have a large ‘open-plan’ nesting box or separate individual nesting boxes. For our hens we have a single ‘open-plan’ nesting box however we are thinking about changing this and providing the girls with individual nesting boxes to give them some more privacy.
Regardless of the choice you make, you will need a foot cubed of space per chicken in your nesting box. So continuing with our example you would need a nesting box six foot long by 1 foot deep for six chickens. And if you have the option, try to make individual nesting boxes, your girls will thank you for it later!
If you want to know more about nesting boxes and what to do with your freshly laid eggs, read here.
How Much Space Do Chickens Need To Roam?
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In terms of roaming, each chicken at a minimum will require 15 square foot. So if you have 6 chickens you will need around 90 square foot (6×15). This isn’t much land at all- a ten foot long by nine foot wide strip of grass would meet this. But, if you want to make your chickens happy, the more room you give them the better!
We wouldn’t leave our chickens with only 15 square foot each- we make sure our chickens have at least 25 square foot.
Now where and how you allow your chickens to roam is up to you. You can choose to create a run, tractor (portable run) or just allow them to free roam in your garden- it’s up to you and each has advantages and disadvantages (more about this in an upcoming blog post).
But just as a quick word of warning if you intend to keep your chickens in a run- try to make the run portable because during the winter it will become boggy and it isn’t fun changing their bedding every evening because they are filthy…
Also, if you give them more room to roam they will have more fun. We gave our 12 chickens over 3000 square foot to roam in and each day is like a huge adventure for them!
How Much Space Does A Chicken Need To Be Free Range?
All of this talk about how much room chickens need led us to an interesting debate here at The Happy Chicken Coop.
We were struggling to decide exactly how much space a chicken needs to be classed as ‘free-range’.
We can look at legal definitions, for instance in the EU a hen needs a single square foot of floor space inside and around 13 square foot of outdoor space. However, the law doesn’t stipulate how often the chickens need to go outside- it’s at the farmer’s discretion.
And in the US the Department of Agriculture defines free-range as a chicken having access to outside but it doesn’t stipulate how much space they require or how long they need to be outside for…
But, taking commercial farms to one side- in terms of backyard chicken keepers what counts as free range?
We’d class free-range as chickens that each have at least 25 square foot of outside space. Ideally, this would be without a run keeping them in, however this isn’t practical all the time due to foxes and other predators trying to catch them.
So there you have both the short version and the long version to exactly how much room do chickens need.
Leave us a comment below letting us know what you think counts as a free range chicken…