Finding the Perfect Chicken Coop
Your choice of hen house and where to put it is probably the single most important decision of all. Spend a bit of time here because however well-bred or well-loved your hens are, unless they are in the right environment, they simply will not thrive.
There are 6 basic requirements you should consider when looking at chicken coops:
- Sufficient room for the number of hens you wish to keep
- Easy to clean and collect eggs
- Well ventilated
- Secure from predators such as foxes and rats
- Design and aesthetics
Does the chicken coop have sufficient room for the number of hens you wish to keep?
There are guidelines on the minimum space per bird, which according to DEFRA is 1 sq foot per bird. Many chicken coop manufacturers and online resellers state that their chicken houses (coops) can take up to 8 chickens. And if you follow DEFRA and The Poultry Club minimum requirements then technically you could squeeze that amount of hens into the house, but it’s not recommended.
While hens will perch close together at night keeping too many hens in a coop could result in health problems as well as a lot more cleaning!
A trick is to find out what the internal measurements of the coop are in square feet and remember to give at least 2 feet per bird.
(To get the area: multiply the length and width. If the measurements are in cm, do the same to calculate the square centimetres and then visit a site like this to work out the amount of square foot space your hens will have.)
In addition, ideally chickens need around 3 feet of head height to jump around and stretch their wings, so the height of the coop is also important. However, as we will explain later in our guide, the actual nesting areas should not be too high.
Will it be easy to clean and collect eggs?
As you collect eggs nearly every day, it makes sense to choose a chicken coop that offers an easy way to access those eggs, with the minimum disturbance to your hens. Also, your hen house will need regular cleaning to keep your chickens in good condition, so ease of cleaning should be a major consideration.
Regular cleaning will not only avoid the build-up of droppings (see below) but also reduces the opportunities for pests and diseases to take hold. A weekly clean should only take around 15 minutes in a well-made and maintained hen house.
Is it well ventilated?
This is an important point you may not realize but the air inside a chicken coop can quickly become toxic due the high level of ammonia given off by the chicken’s droppings.
Inadequate ventilation can lead to respiratory problems in your hens, so it is important to keep fresh air circulating. However, chickens do not tolerate drafts, so your hen house should be designed to give maximum ventilation with minimum drafts.
Sounds like a bit of a catch 22 but look for coops that have ventilation holes near the top of the coop. This way it allows for the toxic air to escape without the chickens being in a draft.
Will the coop keep your hens secure from predators such as foxes, day and night?
Your chicken coop must be secure against predators including foxes and rats. A housing area that is raised off the ground offers better protection from predators trying to dig their way in. We’ll expand on the dangers of foxes a little later.
Is the coop weatherproof and does it provide adequate protection from the elements?
Chickens are fairly hardy and will be out in most UK weather. However, part of their outside area should ideally provide protection from the sun in the summer and shelter from rain and wind.
Chickens that spend much of their daylight hours outside will also not foul their hen house as much, making cleaning easier and quicker, a chore which as you can imagine is not that fun in the dead of winter!
A chicken coop with an integral run can provide a small secure area for your hens scratch around in, and is worth considering.
Your hen house should also be weatherproofed sufficiently for the UK weather, and if you invest in a wooden coop then you should consider treating it with animal-friendly preservatives, once or twice a year.
Design and aesthetics – does it look good?
Your chicken coop sits in your garden 365 days a year, so it should be something you are pleased to look at, not an eyesore. Whilst it is possible to build your own from scrap materials or old garden sheds, buying flat-packed or pre-made hen houses online from a reliable company ensures that you can create a safe, suitable environment for your hens with the minimum of DIY skills and which is visually pleasing.