Space Should Increase as Birds Grow, By Phillip Clauer

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Problems with small flocks can result from inapropriate space and heat as the birds grow. Increasing the housing, water, and feeder space limits stress and social problems, especially with larger and fast-growing meat birds.

Space Should Increase as Birds Grow

Before you get your first bird, you need to plan to have the necessary space your flock will need when they arrive and as they grow. While it is appropriate for you to raise a small number of chicks in a ten-gallon aquarium with a quart-size chick waterer for the first week or two, it is not acceptable to expect the birds to live that confined space beyond two weeks of age. Whatever facility you use to raise your poultry it is important you provide the proper space and accommodations necessary to keep the bird comfortable and safe.

The specific requirements you should consider are pen, feed, and water space as well as the proper environmental temperatures. The chart below shows the minimum space and maximum temperature requirements for different ages of chickens.

Summary of space and temperature requirements for different ages of chickens

Age of Chicks Max. Temperature °Fahrenheit Min. Floor Space sq. ft./bird Min. Feeder Space inches/bird Min. Water Space inches/bird
1st Week 92 – 95°F 1/4 1 1/2
2 – 3 Weeks 85 – 90°F 1/2 1-1/2 1/2
3 – 5 Weeks 80 – 85°F 3/4 2 1/2
5 – 8 Weeks 70 – 80°F 1 2 3/4
8 Weeks and Up room temperature 1-1/2 to 3 3 to 4* 1 to 2*

* May need to Increase as birds grow especially for larger breeds.

If the pen is too large or small for the birds it will be extremely difficult to control the environment for the birds.

This is especially true for very young fowl since they cannot control their body temperatures. It is much easier to maintain a comfortable environment and is more economical to start the chicks in a small enclosed area free of drafts. If you brood chicks in a large area or on a coop floor meant for adult birds it is suggested that to enclose the chicks in a smaller area or use a chick ring like in the photo to limit the chicks to a more controlled area. Some people will also develop a removable wall in their coop to limit their chicks to a smaller area for the first 2-4 weeks. Did you know you it important to warm the brooding area to 92 degrees F at least 24 hours prior to placing chicks to prevent chilling? The materials (shaving, floor, equipment) will take up to 24 hours to bring up to the desired temperature.

Photo Credit: Phillip Clauer

Using a chick guard during the first few weeks can help to prevent drafts, keep the chicks near the heat source and keep chicks from piling in corners. A chick guard is usually made of cardboard and encircles the brooding area. A chick guard 18 to 24 inches high and 4 to 10 feet cross depending on the bird numbers. A general rule is to start with a ring 4 feet across for the first 25 chicks and increase another 2 feet across for every 25 chicks up to 10 feet for 100 chicks. It is recommended that you provide multiple chick rings for flocks larger than 100 birds. Brooder rings are especially good in large floor pens where the chicks can get separated from the heat source and pile up in corners. A few simple tips to temperature control for chickens.

  • Always measure the temperature at the chick’s level, directly under the heat source. Do not overheat the brooding areas. Excessive heat causes dehydration, poor growth, and increased mortality.
  • Supply 92-95°F. at chick level under the heat source for the first week. Decrease the heat by 5°F. per week until the normal daily temperature or the building reaches 62-65 degrees F. Many producers tend to forget to decrease the brooding temperature as the weeks go by and the chickens become heat stressed.
  • Be sure that chicks do not get chilled during extremely cold nights or experience large temperature swings for the first 6 weeks of age. This commonly happens in pasture coops or extremely large coops that are difficult to heat.
  • After 6 weeks of age ventilation that provides a constant flow of air over the birds will help cool the birds during hot weather.

House Space: As a general rule you should start with ¼ sq. foot per chick floor space for the first two weeks and then increase the floor space by at least ¼ sq. foot per bird every two weeks until you reach the required adult square footage per bird indoor space. Increasing the indoor coop space will also help you manage heat and moisture buildup in the litter as the birds grow. Poultry require a dry, well-ventilated house that is draft-free. Their manure has high moisture levels and if the bird population is too dense for the coop size the litter will not be able to handle the moisture and the litter will become wet quickly.

It is important that you only count the indoor space square footage toward your space requirement. During inclement weather and at night birds will need to have an indoor area with ample space to function and live. Too often people consider the outdoor open run as part of the square footage available to the birds. I have seen a 2-foot x 2-foot (4 sq. feet) indoor box (coop) and 3-foot x 4-foot (12 sq. feet) outside wire covered run be advertised to accommodate six to eight laying hens. That means only ½ sq. ft per hen inside space. That is not acceptable and means some birds will not be allowed in the coop.

If you find your coop does not provide appropriate space for your flock size, you may be able to enclose part of an outdoor run with plywood or a tarp to protect the birds in the weather. Just remember not to enclose too tightly and allow some ventilation to prevent overheating on warm, sunny days. Also, this should only be temporary until you can decrease your flock size or build better housing for the birds.

Water and food space can be another major issue most people do not think about as the chickens grow in size or your flock grows in numbers. The equipment size and accessible space per bird must increase as the birds or flock size grows.

Supply one quart of water and one 24″ diameter round hanging feeder for every 25 chicks when starting out. Once you have over 25 chicks provide an extra waterer and feeder for every 25 chicks. Feeders and waters should be placed conveniently throughout the pen for birds’ access. Place the top lip of the waterers and feeders at the birds’ back height. This will keep the feed and water clean and prevent waste.

If you choose to use nipple watering systems place the tip of the water nipple at a level just above the bird’s eye level. The bird should need to reach up slightly for the water nipple to prevent water and wet spots in the pen. Plan to have 1 water nipple for every 6-8 birds in the pen and space the nipples at least 10-12 inches apart.

Be sure that birds always have free access to water and feed. The pecking order determines which birds get to eat and drink in the flock. When you have inadequate feeder space birds at the lower end of the pecking order may never be allowed to eat or drink. As the birds grow provide up to 3 linear inches of feeder space per bird and have a separate feeder and waterer for every 25 birds in separate areas to preventing social starvation in the flock.