Now you have decided to keep chickens, before you trot off and buy them, you need to decide how many chickens you think you realistically want and you need to find somewhere for them to live. These choic
es are closely linked. No supplier will allow you to take their chicken’s home if you don’t have a hen house for them to live in and the house needs to be the right size for the quantity of hens you plan to buy. Plus you need to fit the house and run into your garden.
So start by identifying:
- How much space you have in the garden to donate to your chickens.
- The minimum size of house you will need for the quantity of hens you think you want.
- How much secure room that number of hens will need to peck and scratch around in, I just mention the run here because even if you want your chickens to be free range there may be occasions when you want them to be restricted too.
- Recheck whether you have enough space in the garden for all that house and run then either adjust down the number of chickens you want or increase the amount of space you donate them.
There are as many hen houses to choose from as there are varieties of hens to live in them. There is nothing as good as a bit of research at this point, as there are plenty of things you are going to need to think about. I recommend that you start by going to have a look at some hen houses before you buy anything. This will give you a better feel for what is available and how big they can be. It will also help you to form a check list of must haves to suit your and your potential chickens. Remember you wouldn't buy your own house without checking it out first.
How big should the hen house be?
Hen houses are sized by the number of hens that can comfortably live in them. Remember chickens come in flocks so having a single chicken will cause it stress and anxiety, there is no-one to look out for me whilst I lay my egg, eat, have a dust bath etc. This really means the minimum number of chickens you should start with is 2 and a house for 2 hens is the smallest you can get. Normally a house this small will have a fitted run too and be made for lifting and shifting. Great if you have plenty of grass you want mowed for you.
For most domestic chicken keepers 2 to 6 chickens is a good number. If you have space for 8 chickens and you choose to get a house that holds 8 chickens, it does not mean that you have to buy 8 chickens. Remember you could get as many as 8 eggs a day and that is a lot of eggs. Just like humans chickens will spread out to fit the space you give them and cosy up when they want to. More house space is better if you think you might want to increase your flock at a later stage without investing in a new house. A big house is not essential though esspecially if you can accommodate more than 1 house to achieve a bigger flock.
2nd hand house versus new
Buying a second hand house is a good option if you want to keep the cost down, especially if you are still uncertain whether chicken keeping is for you. You may also find that when buying 2nd hand you can negotiate having all the other bits you need as well. The feeder and drinker for example, the house may even come with the chickens. Remember, all a chicken really needs is a safe place to roost at night, a safe place to lay her eggs and a safe place to scratch around. These are a chicken’s favourite things. She won’t care if someone else lived in the house before her.
However before you commit to the 2nd hand purchase you really need to have a good look at the house. Make sure it is robust, has been well maintained and isn’t showing signs of wear and tear. Identify whether you can transport it ready assembled, and if not, whether will you be able to put it back together again when you get the bits home. If the house is unoccupied find out why the current owner no longer wants it. If you have already looked at new options consider whether you are really getting value for money.
A new house means you can choose exactly what you want. You can have the colour you want, with the right number of bedrooms to suit your current and future needs and choose any other things that you might feel your hens and garden require of a hen house. It should arrive in top notch condition, without any unexpected and unwanted bugs and there should be little you will need to do to it other than put your hens in there. The supplier should be able to give you advice about assembly if necessary, maintenance for long house life and healthy living conditions for your chickens. They may also sell the other equipment you need to get you going. However most pet shops and all farming suppliers will have what you need as well.
The Hen house checklist
Whether you opt to buy a new or pre-loved house here is a list of things we should have considered before we bought our first hen house. I hope you find it helps you on your way. Feel free to add to the list.
- Ease of access for cleaning, egg collection and sadly the inevitable removal of a deceased chicken.
- Does the house have legs, it is better if air can circulate under the house. A raised house provides additional shelter in bad or hot weather and often a dry place to have a dust bath.
- Cosy nesting facilities, a nest box usually has space for 2 chickens, they normally lay their eggs in the nest box and roost on the perches but I have seen all ours crowd in at night.
- Sturdy perches that are big enough to hold onto and not so large in circumference that it’s not a perch at all.
- Good ventilation, the air needs to flow through to keep the temperature reasonable in the summer and condensation down in the winter. Chickens come with their own feather duvet so no radiators required.
- Safety. Can a fox/dog, or whatever else that wants a tasty snack, get into the house at night by knocking off the latch and opening the door? If so you may need additional locks.
- Does the house need to have a built in run? If you need a built in run, can the fox/dog get in to it, or the chickens out when you don’t want them to, and can you get in there easily if you need to.
- Has the run got sufficiently strong wire with the right sized holes. Watch out for plastic netting, a rat can nibble through looking for food, this will open the way for a fox.
- How easy is it for the hens to get into and out of the hen house. We have learnt that sliding doors stick in winter, fortunately ours could get out of the rear cleaning access hatch but at the time we had a fitted run that didn’t cover this entrance, it led to other issues!
- It is always better to shut the hens in yourself as you will know it has been done but to some this is not practical. Do you need or want an automatic door opener and if you are going manual how easy is it to close the door with the run in place
- Don’t be fooled by gadgets and gizmo’s, they are an extra expense and unnecessary really. Remember all a chicken needs is somewhere to lay her eggs, a perch and a secure place to rest at night.
- Aesthetics are down to what you are happy to look at for the next few years. This is important to you, but your chickens wont care.
- If the house is painted you are going to have additional maintenance that you may not want.
- A laminated roof with a felt cover gives layers of cosiness for mites etc to hide in and breed. It is highly advisable to go for a corrugated roof material or something made in one solid layer to help minimize this nuisance.
- How heavy is the house/run if you are likely to need to move it and does it have carry handles?
- Does the house come ready assembled and if not do you really like putting together flat pack furniture?
- Is the run enclosed and if not can the chickens jump onto the roof of the house and over the top of the run? This was a favourite escape route until we got a house with a steep pitch. Chickens don’t fly but they have wing assisted jumping off to a fine art and can jump up to 2 meters high if they choose to!
- Size matters
- does the house accommodate your chosen number of chickens
- does it fit into your garden
- and how you are going to get the house into your garden, especially if it will arrive erected.
Above all have a good look around and enjoy the experience. Then come away and consider your options before you part with any money. You are going to be tempted but take a breather and recheck your measurements.