Your Chicken House Purchase
Your Chicken House purchase is important so should be considered as an investment that will protect your birds and make life easy for you to look after them.
The hen house size/layout convention is that:
- You should allow 1 sq ft of floor area per bird in a hen house
- It should have a large access door for you to be able to clean it with a removable floor or dirt tray
- The nest boxes should be low down and in the darkest part of the house so that the hens can lay in privacy and undisturbed
- Perches should be higher than the nest boxes, removable for cleaning, approx. 2 inches square with rounded edges, allowing at least 7 - 8in of perch space per bird and perches should be at least 8 inches apart. If the nest boxes are higher than the perches then the hens will sleep in the nest boxes (they instinctively want to roost at the highest point) and make them dirty, which is not ideal.
Ventilation is also important, and best in the upper part of the house, to allow airflow throughout the house but they must not be perching in a draught.
What Type of Chicken House do I need?
We would (naturally) always recommend timber housing and there are very good reasons for this.
All Flyte so Fancy Hen Houses are made using pressure treated timber so that they will last for a considerable number of years without needing any preservative treatment (for more information see our Caring for Treated Timber page and our Warranty page).
Timber is a natural material so it will move and breathe with the seasons and therefore provide a healthy atmosphere for the birds. It will not be damp with condensation every time the temperature changes and will not suffocate them in summer or freeze them in winter.
We recommend that you check the house is made from timber that is, not only pressure-treated but also at least 19mm thick to avoid twisting and warping. Any plywood used should be at least 9mm thick and of hardwood exterior grade or marine ply otherwise it will degrade and delaminate very quickly.
When considering your henhouse purchase some common-sense rules can avoid wasted money. First and foremost is build quality. That is to say, you can spend £100 on a basic hen house from China that may last a year before degrading, or spend £300 on a timber house to last over 20 years but does have a good resale value if you decide to change it after 5 years.
When viewing a possible henhouse, think about how it would be once the hens are living in it, and also what it may be like after a year of hens living in it, and ask:
- Is it strong enough to withstand the 'traffic' of hens in and out every day?
- Is it made of thick, maintenance-free, pressure-treated timber i.e. shiplap or tongue and groove, so it can be outside in all weathers?
- Do you think that with a clenched fist say, you could bash a hole in the walls (we are not for a moment suggesting you actually try this, just think about it). If you could, then certainly a fox could get into the house without much effort.
- Is the roof of thick enough timber so that it will not crack and leak and it is steep enough for the rain to run off easily? Onduline sheet is commonly used, it is a robust roofing material but not as good looking as timber and can be prone to condensation.
- Is it raised off the ground so that rats cannot make their homes underneath the house?
- Will it help to keep the hens draught-free and comfortable in the coldest part of the winter?
- Are there any places in the design where it might leak in heavy rain?
- Will it blow over in high winds or is it solid and heavy?
- Is the headroom inside enough so that the birds will not suffocate in the heat of summer?
- Is it easy for you to clean and can you easily get access to all corners inside?
- How easy is it to move to fresh ground regularly?
- Can you imagine the number of birds you would like, living in that space inside?
- Would a determined fox, mink or badger be able to break his way into the house and kill your chickens?
- Is the pop-hole approx 13 inches square, which is what is needed for an average size chicken?
- Are there ventilation points for air movement or will the birds sleep in a draught? Air movement is vital to avoid a build-up of fumes and humidity. Don't forget the birds excrete ammonia and perching in a draught is not healthy.
- Above all, consider the health, security and comfort of your hens and make your chicken keeping experience a good one. Your budget will naturally play a huge part so invest wisely and you will reap the rewards.
Chicken Runs and Security
To keep your lovely hens secure from foxes, badgers, mink, or any other predator, a secure run area should be a consideration.
This can be either an enclosed run attached to the hen house (shown here is a Poultry Protection Pen with Hobby Henhouse), a dedicated fenced area with the house inside, or an electric poultry net that will keep them secure and give them plenty of space.
Although it may not suit everyone, we can certainly recommend Electric Poultry Netting as a solution to chicken safety as we have used it successfully for many years.
Electric Poultry Netting is about 3ft 6in tall and is brilliant. A fox cannot dig under it without getting a shock and it doesn't look like a prison camp, it can be moved when necessary and made into almost any shape you want. Complete Electric Fencing Kits are also available.
There are other considerations with electric netting but, you can research it first here How Electric Fencing Works.
Alternatively, a large non-electrified fence ought to be at least 6ft tall to prevent a fox scrambling over and ideally should have wire mesh around the base to prevent a fox or badger from digging underneath.
Shelter and Shade for your flock
You should also consider, when choosing a site for the hen house, how to offer some natural protection for the hens from the sun, wind and rain.
It's a good idea is to plant small trees in the pen to provide some shade (not bushes as they may be encouraged to lay under them), or place the house so that they can find a shady spot.
For the very worst of winter weather, it may be an idea to provide a wooden shelter of some kind, like our Chicken Shelters, or something homemade so they can at least keep out of the wind and rain.
Chickens are generally quite robust outdoor creatures and will generally look after themselves, but they do not like windy weather. In summer they will love a shady dusty area and cool themselves by spreading their wings.
In winter they will equally take care of themselves outside in the snow, again, providing they have shelter from cold winds but do remember, they have a lovely coat of warm feathers which they will just 'fluff-up' to keep the heat in.
Don't be tempted to keep them in a heated house though as the shock of rapid temperature changes as they go outside can be harmful.
Ground Cover in the Chicken Run
We have found that the best surface for an outside chicken run area is a Hardwood Wood Chip layer (not bark which can be harmful due to mold spores). Chickens will quite quickly denude any grass in their run and leaving them in a muddy patch of earth is not healthy (and it will have a terrible smell).
If you have limited space, and they have turned your grass to mud, it may be worth considering giving them a permanent run area that is manageable with good hygiene and husbandry.
A Hardwood Woodchip surface will keep them clean, keep them permanently occupied scratching around in it for bugs and seeds all day, and can be washed through with a hose or, naturally with the rain if it is open to the elements. The Woodchip may need changing perhaps twice a year so it is very cost-effective.
Researching your chicken project is key to successful, trouble-free chicken keeping so do invest wisely.
Choosing a Chicken House ©Flyte so Fancy 2010. Author: Anne Weymouth. Reproduction of part or all of this text is only possible with the express permission of Flyte so Fancy Ltd.