Create a Successful Hen House

Protecting Hens from Predators and the Weather

By Martha White
May 31, 2016
Create successful henhouse-Thinkstock

A hen enjoys the view from the safety of her coop.

Photo by Thinkstock

All hens need a secure shelter for nesting, roosting at night, and escaping predators and bad weather. Check out our tips for creating a successful hen house.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

Free-Range or Confined?

Based on your surroundings, deciding whether you want your chickens to be free-range or confined can be tough—let us help you weight out the options.

  • “Liberty and varied abundance are the two greatest essentials for poultry, old, and young, to promote health, growth, beauty, and fertility,” stated a poultry man in 1850.
  • In confinement, contagious diseases such as coccidiosis can decimate a flock.
  • Outdoors, predators such as raccoons, weasels, foxes, coyotes, hawks, and eagles can be problematic.
  • Rats and snakes can threaten chicks or eggs.
  • Some small farmers find a dog (or donkey) useful, others depend on the shotgun, while still others use fencing of various sorts.

Hen Housing

  • Most coop guides suggest about 3 square feet of space per adult bird.
  • At a minimum, the coop should be easy to clean, be well ventilated but draft-free, include clean watering and feeding stations, and offer adequate roosts.
  • Good, natural light is a plus, both for human and bird, and this together with standing headroom promotes more-frequent cleaning.
  • Dirt floors can work where the soil is sandy and the drainage reasonable, but a wooden floor is vastly easier to clean and protect.
  • Cement floors work well also.
  • Good bedding, such as sawdust (untreated wood only), wood shavings, or chopped straw over a wooden or concrete floor is ideal.

Rules of the Roost

  • Hens perch on roosts about two feet off the ground and lay their eggs in nesting boxes.
  • Simple 2 by 4s placed on the edge and rounded off make find roosts for the standard-size hen.
  • Bantams will want a smaller pole, closer to an inch in width.
  • As for the nest boxes, you’ll know whether they’re right by whether or not the hens use them.
  • A 14 by 14-inch box, up to a foot deep and lined with clean hay will accommodate even the larger breeds.
  • Raised nests will require an outside perch to facilitate the hen’s movement in and out.
  • Since hens prefer a darkened nest, boxes can easily be stacked one above the other.

Read more about hens. Click here for our Raising Chickens 101 articles.


The 2000 Old Farmer's Almanac. This article was originally published in 2010 and has been updated.

Reader Comments

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Coop building & heating

Never build a coop from plastic or metal, always wood bc wood creates an air exchange. I have owned chickens for 9 years and I keep 12 hens in a coop advertised for 15--never believe the advertiser bc overcrowded chickens will fight each other to the death until they have enough room. Their run is made from dog chain link fencing, 12' x 30', and I use avairy netting for the roof, just like the farm nearby that raise phaesant. My coop was a pre-fab, floor is ~15 inches off of the ground and I put a piece of vinyl flooring on the floor of the coop. There is a ramp. The vinyl makes cleanup very easy bc chicken manure is acidic and can stick to and break down wood. You can clean vinyl with soap and water if you need to. The 5 nest boxes are exterior and you raise the lid to collect eggs. The one inch lip on each nest box wouldn't hold bedding well, so I bought 2 flat napped entry mats and cut them to fit. My girls like them very well. Your hens will all try to lay in the same nest, anyway. I use extruded and dried pine pellets right under the 2 roosts, cover that and the rest of the floor with medium pine shavings. This keeps down ammonia and their windows are only closed in the coldest weather. Chickens respire more water than most livestock and humidity creates a cold coop. Since I keep straw for my horses, I also use straw in the coldest months on top of the shavings bc their poo sticks to it and makes cleanup even faster. Their run is dirt and I use my tiller in it about 5x/year, warm season. All dirt will compact and it breaks down their manure and any treats that they didn't like or didn't finish to decompose faster. They love scratching through the newly tilled dirt, and I can more easily shovel it out to use for gardening. Also it's better for their dust baths, which, if you didn't know, the hens Need to get rid of pests. They flop around like their are dying, but, on closer inspection, your can see them use their wings to push dirt underneath them. Feed them with commercial feed--I have never had to pay $20/50 lb of feed and sometimes my local feed store sells me 55 lbs/price of 50. You can supplement with stale/moldy bread, crackers (non seasoned), damaged fruit, damaged vegetables, meat (I never feed them chicken OR scrambled eggs), but they will clean up a t-bone or pork bone very nicely. They like mice, too, when they can catch them and will not turn up their beaks to any bugs.

Heating your coop

Don't bother if your hens are adults. If not, try using one of those electrician's lamps with a cage around the light bulb. Adult hens, in a wooden coop with enough other hens will be warm enough even when it dips down to -20 degrees F, which has happened at our place for 2 winters running. Too much heat in a coop won't let them develop enough feathers and a local woman burned down her barn using a heat lamp for chicks. MY 70yo wooden barn is NOT replaceable and I never heated the stall I used to keep my chickens in. It takes about 6 months of feed to get the first egg out of your hen. NOT worth it. Feathers are the warmest coat an animal can have and hens will sit on their feet to keep them warm in the winter and huddle against each other. The have to have 24/7/365 fresh air, even super cold fresh air. I always leave the door for the ramp, north facing, open. I DO use plywood to stop winter winds from the North, West and South, and block the wind on the outside of the run to keep it warmer where the ramp is. I use a heated dog water bowl that melts the ice even on the coldest days. I run a cord from my tool shed to the coop.

Baby chicks

When can they go into a coop. My chicks are 6 weeks old have feThers and getting combs.when can I turn off heat lamp?

would love to see pictures of

would love to see pictures of hen house for a ideal for mine.