The Hen House
Prepare proper shelter PRIOR to bringing animals to the farm.
People & Animal Safety First
Proper shelter should be in place prior to bringing chickens or any animal to the farm. Skip this step and you have a recipe for stress! Stress on the animal and caretaker alike. Caretakers NEED adequate space to move freely and safely around the animals. When constructing shelters consideration should be given to an area for feed storage, tack, tools, emergency kits and room to grow.
These instructions are offered from experience and observing other homesteaders. Wisdom would say "grasp insight from others hindsight". Enjoy the process of creating a dry, safe place for livestock. A place you enjoy walking into and wish you could stay there longer.
From the orneriest to the most fragile animal,
a safe comfortable shelter
may make the difference between injury and disaster or an
"I want to do this again!" experience.
Guidelines for chicken shelters.
Shelters take space and money. The size of the chicken shelter will determine how many chickens you can care for humanely (do not include storage area). The links found in Part One, will provide guidelines for the total sq. ft. dimensions per chicken.
To create a permanent shelter, "include in the original plans" the following:
- expansion plans for the future
- a holding area for sick animals, birthing animals, emergencies (they happen)
- long term plans for repurposing the shelter (when the hens are gone)
- cost of repairs long term, such as wood vs metal siding
- natural lighting (if you want fresh eggs in the shorter days of winter) from the south, SE and roof are most efficient.
- maintenance, how difficult will repairs be
- cleaning requires access to all areas
- make EVERY area larger than needed
- predator proof (as much as humanly possibly)
- dry area should be at least the minimum area required per chicken
- nests off the ground (cleaner eggs, easier gathering)
- tack area for feed and tools (carrying a bucket of feed on a windy, wet day is not fun)
- positioning, place the hen house where the wind will take the "aroma" away from homes.
- position the doors where they can be seen at all times (if possible, a security measure)
- storage space for 6 months minimum of feed and supplies (it is not as much space as you may think)
- option, a place to sit and enjoy watching the chickens.
The Hen House at Root Cellar Farm
Root Cellar Farm chickens are raised naturally so the hen house is only used when there is a potential threat to the chickens, bad weather, and at dusk. The current hen house was built for protection. It is not cute (yet). Cute has not been in the budget, but it has proven to be a worthwhile investment. After 7 years I would make only one unplanned change to the original design.
Morning sunshine comes through an 8'x 4' plexiglass glass window. Nests benefit from the warm morning sun and the eggs can be collected from the storage area. The exterior doors are 4' wide making it easy to bring in bales of straw and hay. The exterior doors are directly across from the interior door entering the nesting area. This was done to make it possible to take the wheelbarrow directly into the nesting area. The deep shelf to the left of the interior door has been made strong to hold 8 x 50 lb bags of feed. There are 2 additional shelves overhead that are available for storage. The entrance and storage area have a raised wooden floor providing a dry, clean area.
Recycled materials were used for most of the hen house interior. The cost, building codes, and the need to protect the chickens from the wildlife made the outer shell and chicken yard a challenge. A local hardware store in town went out of business the year before we started the project. I went to the hardware store daily to check the new mark downs. All of the concrete footings, chicken wire, and some lumber were purchased at 50-75% off.
The hen house is 10' x 11'8'' which includes a 10' x 8' nesting area beyond the storage area. It has small doors for the hens to exit. The hen house is built on a concrete foundation and has a metal roof. The chicken yard is not attached to the hen house. The yard is 10' x 16' the size was determined by the lumber and chicken wire that were purchased on clearance.
Sitting on concrete footings above ground, the wood frame is screwed together using metal brackets. The chicken yard has 3 sides and one exterior door. The yard is covered with heavy duty plastic or shade cloth in harsh weather. The plastic and shadecloth are not attractive, but they are quick and easy to put up. They keep the hens shaded and dry.
To help keep predators out of the chicken yard a trench was dug around the chicken yard and was filled with concrete and rocks from our property.
The photo on the left was a warm morning in early spring. The hens laid many eggs outside in soft places like the pile of hay. The photo on the right shows the comfortable yard. Over the past 8 years nut trees have been planted around the chicken yard to provide shade in the years to come.
The principles used to create this shelter for chickens and caretakers can be applied to any hen house large or small. People who live where building codes are not so restrictive have far more options for animal shelters.
Insight from Hindsight
Chicken tractors do not work unless you have a tractor to move one.
Do not build a shelter you CAN NOT stand up in.
Do not house chickens in cages with wire floors.
Must have in the Hen House
Items commonly overlooked.
first aid kit for chickens and people
tool box with the basics
bench or platform off the ground for sacks of grain
working flashlight, check it often
work gloves and disposable gloves
small wire holding cage
emergency water (plastic jugs stored in totes)