The answer to this question depends on who you ask! The official answer from the United Egg Producers Animal Husbandry Guidelines for US Egg Laying Flocks, 2017 edition states 67-86 square inches of usable space per bird. These figures were established after research to determine what amount of space is large enough to reduce obvious stress behaviors, but small enough to keep egg production costs reasonable for consumers.Since pet poultry owners usually choose to emphasize cozy surroundings and environmental enrichment over costs associated with egg production, we recommend much more space per bird. Many hobby sites recommend 3 ft/bird in the enclosure, and minimum 10 ft/bird in the outdoor run. This sounds like a reasonable option. Here are a few more considerations:
- The cute ready-made coops you see online look great with a few chicks in them. However, once the chicks are full grown, they are usually way too small. Be sure the space reflects the size of the ADULT birds, and not the chicks.
- Even the most peaceful hens will establish a pecking order (this is actually where that expression is from!). Lower ranking hens need to be able to avoid the boss hens, and need enough space to be able to do just that.
- The ideal coop is well ventilated and easy to clean. If it’s tough to get in there and remove the mess, most people avoid doing it. We recommend emphasizing ability to clean over style and beauty of the coop.
- Most infectious diseases we see in pet poultry happen after owners buy birds from multiple sources, pick up birds at auctions, or fail to buy vaccinated birds. For the least chance of having an infectious disease in your flock, buy all birds from a “closed” hatchery, pay a little to have them vaccinated, and resist the temptation to add birds from any other sources.
The Indiana State Board of Health has great resources for both poultry producers and pet poultry enthusists. Go here: https://www.in.gov/boah/2721.htm <%22> We especially like the links on biosecurity, and a free program where you can have your flock’s eggs tested for diseases such as Salmonella.
Questions on pet poultry? Call us!