hen house chicken coops poultry house free range confined | The Old Farmer's Almanac

Create a Successful Hen House

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

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Protecting Hens from Predators and the Weather

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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.

About The Author

Martha White

Martha White has been a full-time writer and editor since 1987 and has a broad background in journalism, opinion columns, syndicated features, humor articles, book reviews, essays, and fiction. Read More from Martha White

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