If you are thinking of keeping chickens, the most cost-effective way of housing them to your own specification is to build your own chicken coop or convert an existing shed. There is no perfect coop but there are a few best-practice rules of thumb that should be followed where possible. Incorporating these rules into your chicken coop plan will save problems later.
The basic rules of thumb for building a chicken coop are:
Timber for the Hen House
Make sure you use the best timber you can. It will be stood in all weathers for several years hopefully and cheap, thin cladding or flimsy framing will soon warp and let in wind and rain.
Avoid Draughts But Provide Ventilation
No draughts. No gaps or holes where the chickens will be perching or laying. A cold draught can kill your hens.
Ventilation. You need plenty of ventilation above their heads. Preferably across the underside of the roof. They generate a lot of heat while they roost and, in summer, the internal temperature can be stifling. Ideally, cover any holes with welded mesh. A good idea is to make a large ventilation hole with a sliding cover to partially cover it in winter.
How Large the Coop Should Be
Size. The minimum floor area is 1sq ft per hen. That’s 10 per sq metre. For instance, 6 medium hens would need at least 2ft x 3ft. In practice, the more you can allow, the better. If nothing else, it allows for expansion and makes cleaning and general husbandry far easier.
Nest box. This needs to be somewhere fairly low and dark. An old drawer will do in a shed or an external box with sloping roof, usually hinged for easy access. You will need approx 1 box per 3 or 4 birds. Size is just enough for them to squeeze into easily. About 12″ squared by about 12″ high if roofed.
Perch. This should be approx 2″x3″ with the top edges rounded allowing about 9″ per bird. It can be anything from a couple of inches off the floor to a couple of feet or more, if they have a ladder or ramp to climb up. Some people use a droppings board underneath to keep the floor clean at night. They can be either mounted from the walls or on legs. They should be removable for cleaning.
Cleaning. Some thought should be given to cleaning out regularly. Access is needed for removing all the litter and bedding and spraying/washing all surfaces. Any openings need to be at a height/position to enable leaning into the coop for cleaning. This is the big advantage of making a walk-in shed. If you make the surfaces as flat and smooth as possible, without nooks and crannies, it provides less hiding places for nasties. Red mite will spend daytime in the smallest of cracks and then come out at night to eat your chickens alive. If you do get them, you want as few hiding places for them as possible. Easier to do at the design stage.
Pop Hole (The Chicken’s Door)
The pop-hole needs to be held open in the day and secured shut at night. Foxes can undo simple catches. Bolts or similar are needed at night. They can slide, upwards or sideways, or hinge. Size needs to be about 12″ wide x 15″ high approx. Smaller or bigger to suit different breeds. Auto-openers can be purchased to open at dawn and close at dusk.
Ideally, the house should be raised off the ground to avoid vermin nesting underneath. At least three or four inches, but the higher the better. If it can be raised by about 18″ or so, the feeder and/or drinker can be placed underneath and it increases run space.
Further Articles on Keeping Chickens
- DIY Chicken Coop Planning – Building Your Own Chicken Coop
- Poultry Housing – Chicken Coops Checklist
- Poultry Housing – Chicken Fencing & Protection
- Poultry Housing – The Chicken Run
- Poultry Housing – Where to Buy Chicken Coops
- Omlet Automatic Chicken Coop Door Review & Test