Choosing the right Chicken House
Choosing the right Coop and Run for your garden
I think the main thing when choosing the right Chicken Coop for your garden is to firmly put the chickens first.
I spent a long time worrying about them when I first kept hens and since then, about 14 years, I've had them living in about 5 homes and found them in their own made ones as well !
As long as it's dry and cosy, you'll have no problems. I remember the place in the TV series 'Ballykissangel' where they kept their chickens in an old car ! This sums it up so well. If you want a fancy place, by all means give them a fancy place, but they don't have to have that.
So, they say the minimum sizes should be 10 / 12 square feet per bird on the outside and 1 square feet for each bird inside although I wouldn't go down the one square foot per bird which is quite cramp, especially in summer when there's a fear of them overheatingl.
CHICKEN ARKS / MOVEABLE HOUSING
The joy of the ark is that you can move it around the garden thus giving the chickens fresh grass to eat and scratch every day or so. The other good points are you know where they are and can easily shut them in for the night...
The negative is that no matter where they go on your lawn, they're going to leave their mark and this will take a few days, or weeks depending on how often you move the Ark, to recover.
I took pictures of a few types whilst at the local Auction.....
Remember chickens are very adaptable. There is no problem with the 'standard / basic' ark, but you may find after a while that they do need a small shelter area. Also, by that time you'll probably be thinking of increasing your flock anyway !!
STATIC AND SEMI STATIC HOUSING
I started with 2 chickens and a 6' x 4' Ark, I then extended the ark, then built a shed and used the ark as their external area, then sold the ark and made a 60' square enclosure and at one time went up to over 30 chickens ! That's what happens I'm afraid - either by off periods of egg laying or the pure joy of having chickens usually brings this about.
Having a 'proper' hen house or coop allows you more space and options for perches and nest boxes. I have three perches about 4' long each and a laying area of about 4' x 2'. But don't believe they're going to lay the eggs where you want them to and where they're easy to get at !
Many people make a run alongside a garage - some make a hole in the garage wall, house the chickens inside and let them out into the run as 100% exercise area.
The only problem is with static housing is that the ground is going to get destroyed quite quickly and quite completely. That is grass and greenery wise, so ample food is required for them. After a while they'll make their dust baths and the ground will become quite dusty.
One rather enjoyable plan I came accross was this. A 4' x 6' shed with a exit hole on each side. Three exit holes are shut at any one time and a 12' x ' 4' run is put into place for a fortnight, then rotated round the shed. This gives the used area 6 weeks to get going again. (see left column)
Inside the Chicken House - my set up
The shed is about 6' x 4' and has the external nest box (used about once every six months !!).
In the bottom picture you see I have the nesting boxes below the height of the perches, but in a place where they can get up a bit higher for privacy etc. I use the plastic trays as toilets, layered with paper and wood shavings, it's easily disposed into the compost heap
The nesting box is quite a social gathering sometimes and when I say they don't always lay in an orthodox manner, I mean it.
The bottom picture shows a hen who, about 15 seconds later, laid an egg on top of the other one, rolled off and I was one breakfast short !
My external area is fenced with corrugated iron to a height of 5', above that I've hung spikey chicken wire up to a height of about 6' in total. The fence is sunk about 8", but I've made sure with planking going around that as well.
Finally, don't forget the gate ! Sounds stupid, but I forgot the fox could get under there as well. I've now hammered old tent pegs into the ground directly underneath and this seems to have worked.
My chicken enclosure looks like a prison, but it's safety first when 'he's' about !
See also.. Chicken Coops - Wood v Plastic in the Blog
Garden, Wetland, Woodland, Heath, Coast and more. Keep up to date with
The Down the Lane Wildlife Diary
Summer 2009 - My new Chicken House (old Shed) interior
Click for full size