So you want to keep chickens?

Once you’ve made the decisions to keep a few chickens, you have a lot of things to think about before you go out and buy them. The first thing you need to consider is the amount of space you have available to house them. Often, you’ll see advertisements for hen houses and coops, and the seller will state that it is for up to X number of birds. Ignore the number as the seller will be operating on getting the buyer to think that the house is spacious. His calculations however will be based on the number of birds which can be crammed together on a perch. You need to be thinking about how to give your birds the best accommodation and not “what is the minimum I can get away with”. Over the coming weeks I hope to be able to give the budding poultry keeper information, tips and advice about poultry keeping based on my 35 years experience. I shall discuss breeds,feeding, parasites,the good bits, and the bad bits about keeping chickens and I welcome any questions. So, you have decided on a corner of the garden or allotment and you need to think about housing the birds. You CAN spend literally hundreds on a custom made coop or henhouse if you have lots of spare cash. However, some of the most expensive ones are not necessarily chicken friendly. In my opinion, the best henhouse for up to 8 standard size fowls, is a 6X4 foot shed which can be bought fairly cheaply from any garden centre or DIY store. Make sure you get a shiplap one and not a featheredge one.
Once you have the shed, then adapting it is very easy indeed. Firstly, remove the glass from the window and replace with inch by half inch aviary wire. Or, if you can find a section of louvre kitchen door to fit the aperture, even better. Don’t worry about the birds being cold in winter. They wear their own thick warm feather duvets.
Then, build the shed and stand it up on some breeze blocks. This will not only prevent the floor from coming into contact with the damp ground which will rot the timbers, but also mean that rats have no place to hide under it, and you can place your bait station under it.
Then, measure the height and width of the door, and make a frame out of battens to fit the measurements and staple inch by half inch aviary wire onto the frame. Attach 2 hinges to one side and fix on the inner side of the door frame so that you have the solid door, plus a wire inner door.
About halfway into the shed, is usually an upright batten. Attach your perch to this about 2 feet off the floor. Once again use battening. It’s sold as tile batten and is very cheap. You need to avoid smooth round perches as they can cause bumble foot which is a painful lesion under the foot.
At the rear of the shed, on the floor, place some cardboard boxes and fill with shredded paper. You can get these for free from most supermarkets. The reason for placing them on the floor is so that the birds don’t sleep in them overnight and make a smelly mess by pooing into them. Cardboard and shredded paper can be composted when you do a clean out, plus, if you get lice or red mites in the house, you simply remove the boxes and paper and burn the lot.Never use hay in the nest boxes as it harbours mite and mould spores which can harm the birds, straw is bulky and doesn’t absorb moisture.
Near the door of the shed, into the roof, screw 2 cup hooks, one either side of the door. And, with length of chain, suspend the feeder and water holder so that each is roughly shoulder high to the chickens. Place a good layer of wood shavings (not sawdust) onto the floor, (you can buy bales of shavings usually sold for horses for about £8 for a bale) sprinkle some stable louse powder into the shavings, and there you have one cheap, spacious, easy to clean, well ventilated hen house. In bad weather you simply open the door, close the inner door and the birds have room to scratch about,,, lots of fresh air, yet are dry. You can stand upright in it and simply clean it out with a broom or dustpan and brush. Don’t forget to place the cleanings onto your compost heap.
Depending on how much space you have available, you can attach a run to it. If you only have space for one run, I’d advise cutting a pop hole in one of the side walls, making a small plywood door and fixing to the pop hole so that you can close it overnight. Make a catch to fasten it securely, on the inside of the house once the birds have gone to roost in the evening. You can make a run easily using tile battening and making several 3 foot by 6 foot frames, stapling aviary wire and screwing the panels together to make whatever size run you can accommodate. Cover the run with wire and ideally roof it with corrugated clear plastic or similar to ensure that in rainy weather, the birds stay clean and dry. Lay aviary wire on the ground to deter predators from digging under. Then, get some old planks or scaffold boards and screw to the base of the run all around, and then fill the floor of the run with gravel. This keeps the birds off the soil. Cleaning is simply a case of hosing it down once a week. The droppings get swilled under the gravel and the worms will take it into the soil. When keeping fowl confined, people often leave them to peck about and poop in a small space. Invariably they peck about in their own poop as well as mud, which is a recipe for salmonella or other nasty things. So a layer of gravel to the depth of around 3 inches will keep them clean and healthy. The planks or boards stop the gravel from getting spread outside the run.So, that’s your spacious, easy to clean and maintain henhouse and run sorted out. Next time I’ll start looking at different types of chickens, where to find your chosen breeds and where NOT to buy them, and also what to look for and how to decide if the birds are healthy. Feel free to ask questions.

See also  Make space for chickens


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