Chickens can be one of the most carefree types of livestock to have in the barnyard or the backyard. They have simple needs and wants that are easily accommodated no matter what type of budget or space you have available. With some basic planning, you can provide the perfect home environment for your feathered friends.
The main thing to remember when you are planning your chicken housing is to keep them safe, dry, and draft-free. Nature designed chickens to be pretty resilient when it comes to their environment. When they are healthy and robust to begin with, they can overcome a lot of issues. Being cold and wet in a drafty location is one situation that can become a serious problem in a matter of hours. They must have some type of protection from the elements.
The chicken coop is the first thing that comes to mind when discussing housing for chooks. People dream of providing their new birds with the fanciest of digs or they want to just let them loose in the yard to do their thing. In reality when it comes to shelter, as long as the chickens have a roof over their heads, a roost to perch on, and a place to deposit their eggs, it’s all good.
There are as many coop designs and plans out there as there are breeds of chickens. As long as the basic needs of your particular birds and environment are met, the options are unlimited. You can build the ultimate chicken mansion, a quirky chook shack, or you can buy an efficient coop package ready for use straight out of the box.
A good rule of thumb when it comes to building or acquiring an appropriately-sized chicken coop is to allow a minimum of 4-6 square feet per bird. While the birds don’t need their own individual bedrooms, they do need some space to move around, stretch their wings, and get comfortable. If there are too many chickens in too small of a space, you are asking for trouble.
Cramped birds have a habit of taking their frustrations out on each other. Usually, your lead or “alpha” birds will start picking on the weaker or smaller chickens. The famous “pecking order” is a real thing that can become dangerous or even deadly. The birds at the lower end of the line need to be able to get away from the bosses, aka bullies.
Ventilation is an important component when you are building a chicken coop. It may be tempting to want to “button up” your birds when it gets cold, but fresh air is a necessity. While you don’t want drafts that chill the birds directly, you do want to create an airflow that will help remove trapped odors and stale air. Ammonia build-up from the urine and manure is another concern that circulating air can help take care of.
Runs and Fencing Options
Free-ranging your birds is a wonderful thing – if you can do it safely. Between predators, regulations, and irritable neighbors, it might not be possible. This is when providing a secure outdoor run is a great option. Having extra outdoor space to wander around and exercise in will also help with the bullying problem mentioned above.
When designing the run or enclosure, you need to determine which type of netting or fencing is appropriate for your situation. Whether you have a covered run or simply an enclosed, fenced space, you need to consider the type of fencing material you are using. There are many times in which it is useful to employ more than one type of fencing to accomplish your security goals.
Plastic poultry netting is an efficient way to contain gentle or smaller birds. They usually don’t challenge the fencing and in fact, will ignore it for the most part. The plastic mesh or netting is also a good choice for temporary quarters or movable pens. It is especially effective if used inside another secure area such as a fenced yard or larger chicken run. It is not designed to withstand predators or other dangers.
Electrified Poultry Netting
Effective in both cost and purpose, electrified poultry netting is an excellent choice for temporary fencing. This type of fencing is a great way to allow your chickens some freedom while still protecting them. The electrified poultry netting is much more versatile than standard types of fencing as it can be easily moved around your property.
While it is commonly referred to as “chicken wire”, this type of fencing is only good at keeping your birds IN. It is not the best choice for keeping things OUT. If you have any type of predator, it usually doesn’t take them long to tear down, dig under, or run through chicken wire. Chicken wire can often be used in conjunction with other fencing to offer a more secure setting.
Galvanised Metal Wire Mesh
Galvanised metal wire mesh is often the most secure choice for your coop and fencing needs. The stronger welded wire is usually made up of ¼” – ½” squares and comes in rolls of various lengths. It is almost impervious to chewing and if you dig the edges well into the ground around the coop and run, it can become nearly impossible for creatures to get in. It is also a great choice when chicks are involved as they can squeeze through and escape most other types of fencing.
Chain Link Fencing
Many chicken keepers will make use of chain link fencing to keep their birds contained. This is an expensive option that doesn’t always work quite as planned. Predators wait for the moments when the birds try to reach that greener grass on the other side of the fence. By reinforcing the chain link with galvanised mesh or one of the other options above, you can create a safer environment for your nosy and sometimes clueless birds.
Roosts or perches are another thing that doesn’t require any fancy or expensive materials. Chickens like to roost high above the ground whenever possible because they are a prey animal. They feel more secure well above the ground when sleeping.
Tree branches, fence boards, pipes, etc. are all common things that you will find your birds perching on at any given time. If something is up off the ground, your chickens will probably get on it. While there are other options presented, wood really is the best all-around choice for a roost. It doesn’t matter if it is the natural tree branches, closet rods, or building lumber.
Chicken feet are constructed to naturally curve around tree branches. This makes branches obvious choices when outfitting your birds’ habitat. Rounded wooden poles or fence posts also make great options to fill your chickens’ perching needs.
Intentionally using any type of metal piping for a perch is not recommended. The metal can become very cold in the winter and may even cause frostbite to your birds’ feet which can lead to the loss of toes.
PVC pipe or plastic piping is a lightweight alternative for chicken roosts. If you do go this route, be sure to rough up or sand the surface of the pipe lightly. This allows the chickens to maintain their grip on the pipe. Too smooth of a surface can cause a bird to fall off of the roost when they fall asleep.
The Ladies’ Room
Hunting for Easter eggs is a fun and rewarding holiday tradition. Hunting for your wayward hen’s daily eggs can be frustrating and annoying. A simple way to combat this irritating ritual is to provide your girls with dedicated nesting boxes.
It doesn’t matter if your birds are penned up or free ranged, you can get your hens used to a routine of laying their eggs in nest boxes. By providing a quiet and secure location, you work with the hen’s natural tendency to “hide” her eggs. Another way to entice her to lay where YOU want her to is to place ceramic nesting eggs in the box.
Wooden boxes have been the go-to nesting box for as long as people have kept domestic chickens. They are inexpensive, easy to make, and long-lasting. A downfall to using wood nest boxes is that mites and other parasites, along with bacteria, find it easy to hide in the nooks and crannies. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use the wood boxes, it just means you must be more vigilant in your cleaning and disinfecting.
Five-gallon buckets and plastic tubs are popular choices with the DIY crowd. They are cheap (often free), easy to clean, and are a quick way to provide a place for your hens to nest.
Metal boxes or nesting rows are often found in coops or barns with larger numbers of chickens. Some of the units have up to twelve individual boxes in one piece that attaches to a wall or fence. These are also easy to sanitize and keep clean, but can be pricey.
Keeping the nesting boxes clean of debris and pests is extremely important. No one likes to reach in the box and grab a poopy egg and your hens will be more prone to lay in a box that is clean with fresh materials. It’s a good idea to plan for approximately one nesting box for every three hens. You don’t want your girls standing in line waiting to lay their egg every day.
Plan for the Future
The main thing to take away from this article is that there is no “perfect” method or way to house your chickens. As long as you are satisfied that your birds are healthy, happy, and safe, you’ve done your job. It is up to you how fancy or how simple you want to make your chicken housing.
Now that you’ve learned how easy it is to house and accommodate your birds, you’ll also understand how tempting it is to keep adding birds to your menagerie. So when you are in the planning stages for your chicken keeping adventure, be sure to keep the future in mind. Always map out enough extra room and plenty of space for the inevitable growth of your flock.
It is not a matter of “if” it will happen, but “when”. Be ready.