Warning: If you have backyard chickens – you’ll be inclined to want MORE backyard chickens!
When I first entered the world of backyard chicken keeping, I thought four hens would meet my needs: 4 eggs a day X 7 days = 21 eggs per week. That’s plenty of eggs for a family of four, but I didn’t realize that hens aren’t just about providing you with delicious eggs. – They each have unique personalities, endearing antics, gorgeous feather patterns, provide free entertainment… the list goes on and on. Suddenly 4 hens wasn’t enough!
Over the years I’ve averaged about 7 – 8 hens in my medium sized coop. I have three nesting boxes (1 box / 5 hens is the requirement) – and usually the girls share only one of the nesting spots. The coop size is a little shy of the recommended space for a flock of 8, but the hens free range during the day and spend little time actually inside the coop. I added an extra roosting bar a couple of years ago which allows more sleeping spots, but how much space does a chicken need to comfortably rest at night? Is a roosting bar an essential element in poultry housing?
According to Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens by Gail Damerow, here are the specs for a roosting bar:
Wild chickens roost in trees. Many of our domestic breeds are too heavy to fly up as high as a tree limb, but still like to perch off the ground. You can make a perch from an old ladder or anything else strong enough to hold chickens and rough enough for them to grip, but without being so splintery it injures their feet. If you use new lumber, round off the corners so your chickens can wrap their toes around it. Plastic pipe and metal pipe do not make good roosts: they’re too smooth for chickens to grasp firmly. Given a choice, chickens prefer to roost on something flat, like a 2 by 2 – with rounded edges.
The perch for regular-size chickens should be about 2 inches across. Allow 8 inches of perching space for each chickens, 10 inches for the larger breeds. If one perch doesn’t offer enough roosting space for your number of birds, install additional roosts. Place them 2 feet above the floor and at least 18 inches from the nearest parallel wall, and space them 18 inches apart. If floor space is limited, install roosts in stair-step fashion 12 inches apart vertically and horizontally, so chickens can easily hop from lower to higher rungs.
As for the benefits of perches – I’ll refer to the following info provided by Dr. Jacquie Jacob – a poultry extension associate at the University of Kentucky.
Providing laying hens with perches is a way to relieve their stress and to reduce certain injuries and cannibalism. During the day, hens that are lower in the pecking order use the perches to escape pecking from more dominant hens. This ability to escape reduces the incidences of injury to the head and neck caused by aggressive pecking and cannibalism caused by severe feather pecking. At night, when all the hens perch, the more dominant hens take the higher perches.
Perches can play a role in manure management as well. Perches allow birds to stay off the floor, particularly during the night. Consequently, manure tends to accumulate under the roost area, and the rest of the bedding material in the house stays cleaner.
The use of perches also can affect egg laying. A higher level of floor eggs has been reported for flocks without access to perches.
This year I was down to 6 hens and decided to add 3 more to the flock. – However, I had a hard time trying to decide which breeds I wanted and ended up purchasing 4 more pullets! That impulsive decision increased my flock size to 10 birds. I have 2 roosting bars – one is 43 inches – another one is 33 inches. At 8 inches space per bird, that allows for about 9 hens (without any wiggle room). I do have one chicken that for some odd reason has never used a roosting bar (she nests on the floor of the coop). I recently combined the two flocks (young pullets – mature hens) and the quarters are pretty snug. It’s not much of a problem now – other than a lot of squirming and pecking while the little girls are learning their position in my hierarchy of hens. However, in my experience I’ve learned that once the outside temps go below freezing, the flock spends much of the day inside the coop – and that’s when there might be an issue with not enough space to ruffle their feathers…
Take my advice – before you increase your flock size – consider how many birds your setup can accommodate safely and comfortably. Then have someone else purchase the chicks so that you won’t be tempted to get “just one more”!!
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