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How much space is needed per hen in a henhouse?

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How much space is needed per hen in a henhouse?

When planning to install a henhouse, the question of the space available for the hens is paramount. Contrary to popular belief, hens can't be crammed into a small space without consequences. But what is the minimum surface area needed per hen in a henhouse to guarantee their well-being? This is a complex question, as the answer depends on a number of parameters.

Depending on whether or not the henhouse has an outdoor run, and whether it's a free-range or intensive poultry farm, the recommendations will vary. The breed of hen also plays a role. Of course, the space available will also have a direct impact on the poultry's behavior and health.

In this article, we'll review the various regulations and standards in force concerning the minimum surface area per hen, depending on the type of rearing. We'll also look at the recommendations of veterinarians and professionals in the field. Finally, we'll look at the influence of density on health, the well-being and productivity of the hen as a social animal.

General recommendations

Generally speaking, there are certain standards and regulations concerning the minimum surface area to be respected per laying hen in a henhouse. These vary from country to country, but provide a framework for conventional poultry farming.

In France, for example, regulations require 750 cm² of building space per caged laying hen, and 11 m² of outdoor run per hen for alternative breeding. These minimums are quite low compared with the recommendations of specialists in the field.

According to veterinarians specializing in this type of breeding, each hen requires between 1 and 1.5 m² of space. This more comfortable surface gives them enough space to avoid stress and express the natural behaviors of their species: flapping their wings, stretching their legs, trying to fly, dust bathing...

Farm breeders and animal welfare advocates even recommend an area of up to 2 m² per hen. This space makes it easier to install enriching features such as a raised nesting box, perches or deep litter for comfort and scratching.

Thus, the range generally accepted by specialists to guarantee good conditions for hens is from 1 to 2 m² available per hen in a conventional henhouse. Of course, this does not include the outdoor run, which must also be provided.

Surface area required according to farming method

The surface area required by a hen varies greatly according to the type of hen house and the rearing method chosen. The main systems encountered are :

The chicken coop

This is a small hen house with an outdoor run, allowing the hens to roam freely for part of the day. In this case, the minimum recommended surface area inside the henhouse is 1 square meter per adult hen. You should also allow for around 5 square meters of grassy run accessible during the day, so that the hens can express their natural behaviors.

The henhouse with outdoor run

Designed for medium-sized farms, the fenced outdoor run should be at least 2 square meters per hen. The enclosed building should provide between 0.5 and 1 square meter per hen, depending on breed. The ideal is 0.7 square meters per hen.

The above-ground henhouse

Used in intensive breeding, this type of building does not provide access to a run for the hens. They are permanently confined to the henhouse, where the density must not exceed 7 hens per square meter to guarantee decent sanitary conditions.

Consequently, the more extensive and close to natural conditions the system, the greater the space required to allow the hen to display her full behavioral repertoire.

The influence of density on hen welfare

The amount of space available for chickens has a major impact on their health, well-being and even production. Too high a density can quickly become a problem.

In terms of health, crowded conditions and a lack of floor space make hens more susceptible to viral and bacterial infections, which are easily transmitted within the flock if sick birds are not isolated. This increases the need for antibiotics.

We also see more injuries and mortality when living space is lacking, as hens step on each other, attack each other to defend their territory and have difficulty reaching feeding and drinking areas.

On the behavioral side, hens suffer from not being able to express their full repertoire of innate abilities. They can't fly, they can't dust-bathe, they can't lay eggs high up or out of the way. This frustration generates chronic, harmful stress.

Finally, from a production point of view, overcrowding of laying hens leads to a drop in egg-laying rates and an increase in the number of broken or soiled eggs. Proof that overcrowding is economically counter-productive in the long term.

That's why, before starting poultry farming, it's crucial to correctly size your henhouse to provide your gallinaceous birds with a decent living space that promotes their health, well-being and performance.

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