Chicken Houses / Coops

Chicken houses  (often called chicken coops) come in a variety of qualities, materials, shapes and sizes and there are many different variants to suit different circumstances.

Plastic Chicken Houses.

plastic chicken coopI haven’t ever tried a plastic chicken coop to be honest with you, although they are certainly a popular chicken house with many keepers. Omlet seem to be the leading supplier and they produce a number of different models and accessories. The size of run that the birds get is not that big so you need to consider letting your birds out regularly to free range. If this is difficult, you can easily move most of their coops around. The mesh is sturdy on their runs and there is a flap of mesh around the base that stops predators from getting in but remember the ground must be flat so as not to create a weak point.

omlet-chicken-coopOmlet make a range of different coops and associated accessories such as clip on feeders / drinkers that match the colour of their coops. The biggest advantage of their coops is that it can be cleaned out easily and there are fewer cracks and crevices so it’s harder for red mite to take up residence as they are washed away easily. The Omlet website sells a huge range of products for the chicken keeper.

Unless you have a very large run, you can end up running out of grass, especially in the winter but with an average sized lawn, and a movable run such as the runs supplied by Omlet, you should be able to provide your hens with fresh grass every week.

Eco Chicken Houses

Eco-chicken-house

A recycled Eco Chicken House

I have seen some sturdy recycled plastic ‘ECO’ chicken houses being sold that are made from recycled plastic (usually made from recycled farm waste) and in my opinion are a very well designed. The plastic is normally quite thick and the walls are bolted together securely. These houses usually come flat packed so are both practical (for cleaning) and certainly appear to be secure from predators such as foxes and badgers. They also allow a large DIY run to be built around them. More work for you but if done properly can last a very long time.

Wooden Chicken Coops.

My one small bit of advice when buying a hen house: Always buy one a little bigger than you need! Hen house manufacturers will give you numbers of chickens that can be housed in a coop but you will find the hens usually need a little more space than this. They assume this is roosting space and you have a contented flock that are happy to roost together. Often this isn’t the case and you will find some chickens are at the bottom of the pecking order and don’t get the opportunity to roost.

For example, all of the hens want to roost on the one top perch or one hen is being pecked  so has to roost with a gap between her and the others or the hens need to stay in their house because of snow or you started with 3 chickens but you’ve been given another 2 by a friend and so on….  it’s so addictive keeping chickens you may want to buy a few more.  All of these reasons mean you’ll wish you had a slightly bigger house.

There is a good article on Cheap Chicken Coops on the excellent Poultry Keeper website that looks for chicken houses below £200 that you might find worth reading.

chicken-houses

The ‘Devon’ a budget Chicken House

“…a good choice if you are on a limited budget…”

Some of the cheapest wooden hen houses are manufactured abroad, like this ‘Devon’ Hen House shown to the right. This may be a good choice if you are on a limited budget or would like to ‘dip your toes’ into the World of Chicken keeping.

You can find this chicken house here on the Chickencoops Direct website.

How Much Space?

Manufacturers usually give you a guide as to how many chickens a coop will take. This is usually roosting space in an ‘ideal’ world… At the cheaper end of the market, often these figures get exagerated so use this as a guide for standard (hybrid size) chickens or bantams. Large breeds such as Orpingtons, or Wyandottes should have half as much space again.

Your chicken coop should have:

  • Floor Space: A minimum of 30 cm x 30cm (90 square cm) per bird floor area.  i.e. If you have a coop that is 90cm x 90cm, this could house a maximum of 9 medium chickens.  Do not include nest boxes in this measurement. This should be the inside floor area.
  • Perches: 4 to 5cm wide perches with rounded edges. At least 40cm long per large fowl and 30cm per medium hen (hybrid size) or bantam. Chickens like to sit down when they sleep and a fairly wide perch helps them balance when sleeping like this. They don’t take all of this perch space as they often huddle together but you do need the extra space to allow for gaps so birds lower in the pecking order can still roost away from other hens. e.g. in our example above three perches across a 90cm wide coop is suitable for (90cm x 3 perches / 30cm) = 9 medium hens or bantams, 6 large fowl. Some large breeds will not roost very high and can damage their legs or feet when jumping down from high perches so low perches 30 cm from the floor or a series of perches gaining in height like a sloping ladder is normally better for these breeds.
  • Nest boxes: should be provided below the height of the perches to ensure birds don’t roost in them and soil them. They should contain straw (not hay due to mould spores that can cause problems) or another suitable nesting material. Aim to provide one nestbox for every four hens with a minumim of two nest boxes.

See further down the page for more information on perches and nestboxes.

Quality

The quality of a chicken coop is important. Generally speaking, the more you pay, the better quality you get, especially with wooden hen houses where the wood costs are the main ingredient. Higher quality chicken coops are made of solid, pressure treated 12mm tongue and groove boards that interlock with one another. Remember thin boards can mean weak doors if you are not carefull that can be a problem if you have a determined fox.

Fittings should ideally be galvanised to stop them rusting. This is very easy to check, even when buying online – you can often tell, just by looking at a manufacturer’s pictures.

“Chicken Coops are the most expensive thing you will need to buy. If you buy a good quality house once, it will last a lifetime, it will also have a good resale value if you need to sell it.”

Lenham Chicken House

A high quality coop – The Lenham from Forsham Cottage Arks. Click the image to learn more!

A well known name in the UK is Forsham Cottage Arks. You may even recognise these coops from television shows such as Big Brother and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s his ‘Chicken Out‘ campaign. The house shown on the right is the famous ‘Lenham’ – one of these was also presented by the Poultry Club of Great Britain to The Queen Mother in celebration of her 100th Birthday back in 2000!

These houses are made in the UK and are built to last. Omlet bought Forsham Cottage Arks in 2011. They produce some of the best quality houses on the market.

You can see the Lenham and a range of other houses on the website here where there are some better photos and further information.

Roof

In days gone by, chicken houses were often sold with a felt roof and the main wooden body of the house was treated with Creosote to weatherproof it. Red mite that live in the cracks of houses weren’t really a problem, however since Creosote was replaced with “Creosote Substitute” chicken keepers have been finding their coops full of red mites in the summer months.

Chicken Coop

A well built chicken coop. Good quality timber & fittings, easy access. The roof isn’t ideal having felt tiles which can harbour red mite.

So what has this got to do with the roof of the chicken house? Well, felt roofs are all very good until you find the red mite have gone underneath the felt where you can’t get to them and as a result, you cannot get rid of the red mites without removing the felt and starting again.

Ideally, you should be looking for a corrugated steel or an onduline roof to prevent this problem occurring. This also has the benefit of providing high level ventilation where the roof meets the wall. Some houses use tongue and groove (interlocking or overlapping) wooden roofs which are normally easy to clean with a hosepipe jet or pressure washer if there is a red mite problem.

Draft Free Ventilation

This is very important – Chickens can withstand the cold and are kept in temperatures as low as -20 in countries such as Canada, however, they need a dry, draft free house to sleep in that is well ventilated. Your coop should have some form of ventilation at high level and some sort of inlet at a lower level. They should not be perched next to an opening as it will be too drafty for them.

Chickens droppings release ammonia which needs to be removed from the house by having good ventilation. The heat from the droppings causes this to rise and with a vent at the bottom to bring in fresh air and a vent at the top to allow the ammonia filled air out, all should be fine.  Always point ventilation windows away from prevailing winds and close them up if there is wind blowing in through them because on nights like this, there will be sufficient ventilation through the gaps in the wood.

The real test is to put your head into the coop in the morning before letting the chickens out to see if you can smell ammonia.

If there is too much ammonia in the air, your hens lungs and eyes can be damaged. Chickens are particularly susceptable to respiritory problems but this can also stress your hens and lower their immune systems… which in turn increases the chances of disease being picked up.

Nest Boxes

collecting-eggs

Collecting Eggs from a Nestbox

If you buy a chicken house then it should come already fitted out with nestboxes. These are usually added onto the side of wooden chicken houses with a lid to the outside so that you can lift it to collect your eggs. Remember that foxes are quite smart and can usually lift these lids so it is alway best to have a latch on the lid.

Garden sheds or similar can also be adapted to house chickens and nest boxes can be added to the inside of the shed easily as there is usually more room. You can of course build your own nestboxes out of wood (15 inches square is usually a good dimension) but an alternative solution is to buy some nest boxes. Some of these like the Chickbox are plastic and make it easy to remove red mite which can be a problem with the cracks around wooden boxes.

plastic-nestboxes

Plastic Nestboxes “The Chickbox”

The Chickbox has a roll away plastic tray inside which causes the eggs to roll into a safe area which keeps eggs clean and away from other hens feet when they come in afterwards lay. To collect your eggs, you have to lift the landing perch and then lift the little clear plastic lid. The Chickboxes can clip together side by side to form groups of nestboxes if you need more than one.

Perches

Perches should be sturdy and allow a hen to wrap her toes around the edges. The corners should be smooth to help her do this. The most important thing is they should be higher than the nest boxes are to ensure the hens use the perches at night and not the nest boxes. If they use the nest box, it will need cleaning every day – chicken muck where they lay eggs is not good! See “How Much Space?” further up this page for the dimensions.

Cleaning

choosing a hen house for easy cleaningAfter some use, you will need to wash the chicken house out using a detergent like poultry shield. This helps to remove organic matter (or chicken muck) and also helps to keep red mite under control which can be prolific during the warmer summer months (usually between May and October).

Ideally, you want a coop that has easy access for cleaning and has as many removable parts as possible – droppings boards, perches and nest boxes should all ideally be removable so that you can clean your chickens’ house out more easily.

If you can’t get easy access, you will struggle to clean it and are more likely to regret your purchase later on…

Check List:

  • The wood thickness and whether it is pressure treated.
  • The fittings are galvanised.
  • There is easy access for cleaning
  • Avoid a felt roof if you can
  • Ensure there is adequate ventilation
  • Check that perches are higher than nest boxes
  • There are ideally removable perches, droppings boards and nest boxes

There are of course hundreds of suppliers of chicken houses of varying quality. One I would recommend that provides  practical, high quality houses is Omlet – they stock the famous plastic chicken coops, but also produce the high quality Forsham Cottage Arks wooden coops and arks. The Forsham Cottage Arks range are hand built in the UK, are practical and will certainly last a lifetime and will have good resale value in many years to come.

If you’re considering a cheap chicken coop then I would suggest looking at Chickencoops Direct who offer a number of designs at very reasonable prices.

290 Responses to Chicken Houses / Coops

  1. Laura hobbs says:

    Hello
    We have our coop and enclosure all secure and are getting 4 hens next weekend. The coop has a separate nest box and when we get them in at night do they need access to water? Or do they go all night without drinking and eating? When’s best to feed them and how often please? Thank you

    • Keeping Chickens says:

      No, when it’s dark, the chickens will go to sleep so you don’t need water inside the coop. Just make sure there is water for them when they come out the next day.

  2. Lynn says:

    Hi, thank you for this wonderful informative web-site, I have read it and reread it since planning to keep chickens. I have now bought 8 chickens, 6 are mine and two belong to my friend, they moved into their new home 3 days ago. They are about 21 weeks old, none laying yet. We have a chicken house for them that has nesting box’s for 6 chickens, 3 each side of the house. But I find that all 8 chickens cram into 3 of the nesting box’s on one side only of their house. Why do they do this? Many thanks.

    • Keeping Chickens says:

      They do have their funny little quirks!

      You may find adding some dummy eggs to the other nest boxes will help – they see them and think “this must be a good place to lay eggs because another chicken has laid here”…

  3. Ian Williams says:

    I have 4 chickens in the one coup, but they all like to get ontop of each other in the nesting boxes. How do i put a stop? Or is this ok? Also they are only 6 months old. When can i expect them to start laying eggs.
    Love the site by the way, Thanks

    • Keeping Chickens says:

      Shut them out (cardboard boxes in the nest boxes work well) and pop them on a perch at night for a week to see if they will get the hang of roosting. It helps to have nestboxes lower than perches or they tend to favour going up high into the nest box at night. They will lay as spring arrives and the daylight hours increase.

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