A chicken’s needs are few, and pretty simple–yet these are things they MUST have if you are going to keep chickens and not expect to find them horribly killed and strewn about your yard one fine morning.

Coop– Basically a small shed, with some chicken accoutrements such as roosts, food & water containers and nest boxes, secure against predators and vermin.  Used to securely house your chickens at night, during the day as a nesting area.

Run–Protected outdoor space, with a secondary set of food & water containers if needed, safe from predators.

Basically that’s it.


The Coop

Chicken Housing Explained

Velvet Sparrow

The Coop

I've always said that the Chicken Mantra is: "If it's possible for a chicken to hurt itself on something, somehow it will find a way." This means that when you build a coop you should literally get down at chicken level and use your eyes and hands to seek out sharp points, dangerous wire edges, loose bits of wire to get tangled in, etc. This simple procedure can save you a lot of grief and vet bills. It's ridiculous how often and how quickly chickens can get into trouble, just like a two year old human child--which bears repeating, is a birds' basic intelligence level. They have the curiosity of a two year old as well! To illustrate this, as I type this, Yin, one of my hens--this one is 7 years old and you'd think she'd know better--just jumped up on the edge of a tall cardboard box that I had on the porch and fell inside. I had to go outside and rescue her...

In building the coop, at our house we use hardware cloth--the sturdy metal welded wire fencing with the small, square holes--instead of chicken wire. Chicken wire (also called ‘poultry netting’) is too flimsy and the holes are too large, NEVER, EVER USE CHICKEN WIRE. I cannot stress this strongly enough. Also, chicken wire rusts and becomes brittle with age, and predators can tear through it like tissue paper. A good test is to see if YOU can tear down your run with your bare hands--and really TRY, because that neighbor's dog sure will! If you can get through, so can a predator. Make it strong. You should build your coop not only to keep your chickens (and baby chicks!) IN, but to keep predators OUT. Baby chicks can easily slip right through the holes in chicken wire, and small animals that might carry disease like mice, rats and sparrows can slip in. Rats and mice can flatten themselves out to slip through VERY small spaces--if their head can fit through a hole, so can the rest of their body! Also larger predators can easily break though chicken wire or, as in the case of raccoons, reach their little hands through the wire to grab and hold one of your birds by a wing or leg and eat them by the handful right through the wire. The classic raccoon attack is a chicken with it's back eaten out-- sometimes the bird survives, suffering horribly from this gaping wound. I've heard many stories of chickens found dead in a tightly locked up coop where this has happened, especially if they are young birds and are sleeping next to the wire.

Chickens sleep pretty soundly at night and have poor night vision. Also, chickens being a prey animal, they display the prey animal trait of seeming to just give up, go into a trance and accept their fate the moment they feel a predator has them and they cannot get away.

Also when building the coop, make sure to extend the fencing 4-6 inches BELOW ground, and bend it outward. This keeps predators from simply digging under the wire and into the coop from the outside, which is VERY common. Do not skip this step!.  The door to the coop should have very secure latches--we use  TWO bolt-style latches.  One is at human eye level, the other is about 6 inches above the bottom of the door.  This is so a ground-based predator like a raccoon can't just grab the bottom of the coop door and pry it open enough to get inside. Also a common problem, and not to be skipped.  Test your coop door by grabbing it at the top, middle and bottom and pulling--if you can pry open a rat or mouse-sized access point, so can a predator!  Most predators are VERY determined, clever, strong and patient.  Your coop door should be very sturdy and strong enough to hold up to lots of use.  Even better is a set of double doors or aviary doors--you go through the first one into a small chamber and must shut the first door before opening the second into the coop.  You see these in aviaries in zoos all the time, it prevents unauthorized birdy escapes.  

Make sure to build your coop to withstand the weather extremes for your area--make heating or cooling arrangements if your climate requires.  Chickens are tough, but after all are still birds, and birds are delicate and easily injured.  Chickens can get too overheated and die, so in hot areas a mister system, water bottles that have been frozen and then placed in the run as a cool spot or just plain old YOU with a garden hose all work great to cool them off.  If you hang old burlap sacks at chicken level on the wire sides of the coop or run and hose them down, the birds are cooled by evaporative cooling. In our hot southern California summers, I would go out every two hours at MOST (more often if it is really hot) and hose off the plants, ground--wherever the chickens like to hang out in the shade--and using a light, gentle spray, the chickens themselves. It won't make you popular but it keeps them alive. On a hot day, if a chicken is standing with it's feathers slicked down, wings held open and panting, its overheated and needs to be cooled off NOW. I just put a pressure nozzle adjusted to a nice spray on my hose and mist everyone off really well.  In cold weather areas some chicken owners install a light bulb that they leave on to help ward off too-cold temps. You can also insulate your coop, eliminate drafts–but not ventilation–and use a barn heater in really cold temperatures.  Chickens with large combs and wattles, such as Leghorns, can sometimes suffer frostbite in freezing temperatures. You can either plan ahead and only have birds with pea or rose combs, or apply a thin layer of Vaseline (petroleum jelly) daily to the birds' comb and wattles to help insulate them from the cold.


Adequate roosts should be placed--we use squared off 2 x 2 poles that we have sanded lightly to remove splinters and round off the edges a bit for comfort for all our birds, both standard and bantams. When a bird sleeps, their natural foot position is closed–this is why they clamp onto roosts and perches while they sleep and don’t fall off.  Provide plenty of roosting space to lessen bedtime squabbles over who sleeps where. Your chickens will maintain the pecking order at roosting time and it will dictate who sleeps next to whom.  You can use a ladder-type of roost or a single level, or several roosts scattered in various places.

If it gets very cold, consider having a single roost area where the birds have to huddle together, it will help eliminate single birds freezing to death or getting frostbitten. Your birds will instinctively want to go to the highest point to roost, so the upper roosts may be squabbled over. To eliminate this particular sticking point, we use a single level roost with 4-5 long roost poles, it looks more like the seat of a park bench. A ladder leading up to the roosts is a great help to injured or older birds who have trouble jumping up to the roosts, and can help curb foot troubles such as Bumblefoot, which in large, heavy chickens is sometimes caused by hard impacts to the foot pad–in other words, landing hard after jumping down from a high roost.


Nests should also be plentiful, provide a nice darkened hidey-hole type feeling and have an adequate layer of nesting material such as straw, and be large enough to accommodate at least two hens at once.  Why two?  Well, because hens LOVE to cram into a nest at the same time to lay eggs, the more the merrier.  When I say ‘at least two’ I’m being conservative.  

Because a LOT of the time they’ll do this–this is FIVE hens in one nest box:

To make matters worse, your laying hens think broodies are just fine and dandy and will helpfully ALSO cram in there to lay their eggs so that the broods can hatch them.  Problems, is, the broods refuse to vacate the nest boxes while the laying hens are in there, so you end up with a situation like the one above.  In the picture above, only the tiny black Silkie hen all the way in the back is laying an egg, the rest of the girls in this shot were broody.  Now mind you, I had SIX identical nest boxes–but no, only THIS ONE would do.

I recently spoke to someone whose hens refused to lay in the nest boxes--until she added another inch of straw to them! A good nest will reduce the chances of your hens 'laying away'--that is, finding or creating their own nest elsewhere.  If your hens are fighting over certain nests, create a few more spaced away from each other, that way the bullies can't be everywhere at once to guard them all.

I like wooden nest boxes, built with about a 3 inch lip on the front to help contain nesting material–hens tend to fuss and kick around in a nest, making the perfect well for eggs.  The lip also helps keep eggs from rolling out.  In addition to making my nests nice and deep front to back, I like to hang a curtain of what is called ‘shade cloth’ or the front of the boxes, with a slightly V-shaped slit cut up the center so the hens can come and go as they please.  The curtain provides that extra ‘hidey-hole’ quality and privacy that hens love, the shade cloth is a large weave, heavy-duty woven plastic material that lasts for years and withstands use by chickens very well.

Heck, even roosters LOVE to get in on nesting.  The roos will climb in, snuggle around in the nest and chuckle and burble charmingly to attract the hens.  This makes the hens nuts and they eagerly climb right in there with him.

In the photos here Weedcat, my Giant Cochin rooster, called in two other hens–Bug the Americaunas and Kiev, a gray Giant Cochin–into the next box he was already in.  We already knew that chickens love to do this, so we planned ahead and built these nest boxes big!

It got to be like telephone booth stuffing after a while.  Here is another Giant Cochin hen, seen here waiting until her sister had stuffed her fluffy butt into the nest.  They successfully stuffed 4 large chickens into one nest box.

Quarantine, Broody Hen Pens And Injured Bird Pens

It's a REALLY good idea to have at least one separate, small enclosure for sick or injured birds, at the very least. Because sooner of later you'll have one, at the most inconvenient time possible. It's best to build it so the bird can remain in it 24/7, so it needs to be secure at night. Anything other than a contagious or quarantined bird can have a separate run built right into your existing coop or run, you can skip the burying wire step since it will already be inside your secure coop/run.  This is great for injured birds and broody mamas with chicks, that way they are around the flock but safe from bullies. Any pens should be complete with a nest box and a roost or two, although roosts that can be removed are a good idea in case you have an injured bird that is restricted from roosting.

Sick birds or new birds to your flock that you are quarantining are another matter. You need to be prepared for this and be ready to either bring them into your house or garage, or build them a secure pen AWAY from your flock and where your flock cannot get near them in case they might catch whatever illness your sick bird has. Your quarantine/sick pen MUST be secure, complete with buried wire.

Cleaning And Sanitizing The Coop

One handy tool for keeping your coop, roosts, nest boxes and food-water containers clean, disinfected and practically mite and pest free is a hand-held steam cleaner. I use one made by Scunci, pictured here. Below is a link to their site, which provides more info. I have no affiliation with Scunci in any way, I just use the product and it works great, especially as a pesticide-free and organic way of killing mites! Pests can't develop a resistance to 'death by heat' like they can to pesticides, so this is a great option. Needless to say, DO NOT USE THIS ON YOUR BIRDS, IT WILL GREATLY HARM OR KILL THEM! Use it on the coop, living quarters and emptied food and water containers only, please. Also, ONLY use water in the cleaner, never any chemicals or anything else--you don't want to risk an explosion or aerosolizing harmful chemicals for you and your animals to breathe. Follow the manufacturer's directions to the letter and stay safe.

URL: http://www.scunci-steam-cleaner.com/

When I use my cleaner I fill it as directed--be respectful of steam, steam burns HURT and are serious, and keep the cleaner AWAY from children and animals. Wear a mask when using it to avoid breathing in vaporized chicken poop and dirt. The outside of the cleaner does get warm, so use care. This little cleaner is very portable and comes with a storage bag, several nozzles, a brass brush or two and a flexible hose. It's great for softening and blasting off dried chicken poop (which normally has the consistency of concrete) and getting deep into the nooks and crannies of the roosts and nests. If you use it on food and water containers, empty them out and scrub them off first--you must remove any debris such as poop, algae, etc. before the steam can do it's job. If you are trying to disinfect an area, no matter WHAT type of disinfecting tool or chemical you are using, chicken poop MUST be removed in order to get the area under it clean, otherwise you are wasting your time. Chicken poop traps and harbors mite and worm eggs and adults. The combination of the steam cleaner and a scraper where needed is an unbeatable team when it comes to coop cleaning. Since this cleaner uses steam, it doesn't badly soak the wood and things dry out quickly.


Chicken Tractors

Despite that very fun little mental image you have, a chicken tractor is NOT a miniature John Deere with a big rooster at the wheel.

A chicken tractor is a small, low, long enclosed chicken run designed to hold anywhere from 2-7 (on average) chickens. It is made of a sturdy wire and has an open bottom, and can be dragged from one spot to another in the yard so that the chickens can scratch and dig, eat bugs, fertilize and weed different patches of ground--hence the 'tractor'. Tractors are lightweight so that even women can move them, and some have small, wooden-sided coops and nest boxes attached (with solid bottoms), and even wheels on the bottom to facilitate moving them.

Make sure to keep your chicks VERY well protected in the tractor, predators are VERY patient and clever about getting a chicken dinner, especially at night. Chicken tractors, by design, are meant to be daytime runs ONLY and are NOT secure enough to withstand an attack by a predator. Predators are adept at tunneling under wire and reaching through it, or just plain ripping through things like chicken wire, which is NOT designing to keep chickens safe. Chicken wire is designed to keep chickens out of gardens, and is NOT strong enough to protect your birds from any predator. To make matters worse, chicken wire quickly becomes brittle when exposed to the elements. So if you build your own chicken tractor, PLEASE use only the best and sturdiest materials--hardware cloth for example and NOT chicken wire--and always securely coop your birds from dusk to dawn. The wooden, solid-side and bottom coops are also there because your birds need to be IN THERE when you move the tractor. This is because you generally lift one edge of the tractor to drag it along, and chickens still in the run can either escape or get caught and injured under the moving edge of the tractor. Remember The Chicken Mantra?

If you build your tractor, one thing to take into consideration is that at some point, it is very likely you will need to get YOURSELF into the tractor to go after a trapped, injured or sick bird. Leave yourself some crawling room.  It's also another reason to have tame birds that are accustomed to being picked up and held or petted. If you are planning to raise chicks--and don't fool yourself, you WILL, once you fall in love with your chickens--make sure to include in your design a way to partition off mama and the new chicks so they don't get attacked by the other birds. There is no way to tell from one hatch to the next if this will happen, but in a small space like a tractor there is less room for mom and the kids to escape, so plan ahead. Either that or build a separate tractor for the broody and chicks to be SURE they are safe. A separate area AWAY from the flock is also a good idea to have handy for sick or injured birds, which, inconsiderately enough, they never schedule in advance. So be ready.

There are plenty of sites and plans online for chicken tractors, you can also search on 'permaculture' and 'hoophouses' for more results and how-to's, and searching Google Images returns loads of great pictures and plans. There are several sites with terrific chicken tractors for sale.

Great article not only on chicken coops and tractors, but on people in urban areas keeping a few hens:

URL: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/pacificnw/2002/0120/cover.html

The Omlet site, they sell pre-fab chicken tractors called Eglus (they even come with two hens!), give the site a read, it's HIGHLY entertaining and fun, and the Eglu design is fantastic:

URL: http://www.omlet.co.uk/homepage/homepage.php


Jack’s Henhouse


Jack’s Henhouse


Jack’s Henhouse


Jack’s Henhouse


Jack’s Henhouse

     Enjoying the chickens?          Has my site helped you?

 Want to buy the chickens             some goodies?

          Click the button!

Chicken Breeds

Jack’s Henhouse

Home Jack's Henhouse Store Chicken Basics Jack's Henhouse Blog Health New Birds In Your Flock Hens, Broodies & Eggs Roosters The Coop Meet My Flock! Suburban Chickens & Housechickens CHICKAM! Links Wild Birds & Handfeeding Baby Birds About/Contact Me

Watch Chickam!

Copyright Jack’s Henhouse 2003-2016

web site visitor counter
Rent DVD Movies
Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Share on Stumble Upon
Share on Reddit
Share on Digg