Hen House DIY


Keeping Chickens In Your Backyard
April 29, 2013, 16:58
Filed under: Articles

More and more people are keeping chickens in their backyards these days.  The reasons vary, from getting nice fresh eggs daily to just having these appealing birds as pets.  Whatever the reason, there are some sensible questions that you need to ask before setting off down this road for yourself, such as the kind of predators likely to be a problem in your area and the space needed for your intended flock.  Let’s take a look at the most important matters surrounding the raising of chickens.

Chicken Feed

Commitment

Keeping hens takes time, effort and money.  How much depends on the number of birds, to some extent the breed, the locality, the place where you will keep them, local regulations and your neighbors.  Hens need daily attention to provide their food and water, to collect their eggs, to check and clean their living quarters and to keep an eye of their general health.

If you go on holiday (and who doesn’t?) you need to make arrangements with friends or neighbors to look after your hens while you are away.  Usually this will not be a problem, given that there will be free eggs available!

While none of this is particularly difficult or much of a chore it is nevertheless vitally important for the wellbeing of your hens.  Keeping and treating your hens properly will have a positive impact on their egg production, for instance.

Regulations

Local and national regulations are starting to be relaxed for keeping chickens in gardens and backyards.  Most communities, even urban ones, now allow some degree of hen-keeping.  The cut-off number is usually 50 birds – below this is considered to be ‘personal use’ whilst above it is regarded as ‘commercial’ and different rules apply.

It is essential to familiarize yourself with any regulations that apply to keeping hens in your locality or on your property.

Neighbors

Hens are not particularly noisy birds but they still can make an occasional cackle (to announce the arrival of the latest egg, for example!) which can be unpleasant for non-lovers of chickens.  Cockerels or roosters, on the other hand, tend to be quite noisy.

Either way you need to get your neighbors’ agreement before you introduce poultry into your garden or backyard.

If you are only keeping hens for pets or for egg-laying then you do not need a cock in the flock.  This would reduce any potential neighborly objections considerably.  The offer of some fresh eggs often has a really positive effect on neighbors’ goodwill, too!

How Many?

Hens are social animals and are not happy when on their own.  Plan on at least 3 birds, and expect them to treat you as their leader if there isn’t a rooster.  I think that 6 hens is about the right number.

The maximum number will depend on the space available for their coop and run.  Plan on providing about one cubic foot in the coop and about 9 square feet in the run per hen.  You should allow about 8 inches per bird when installing the perches in the coop.  These parameters might need to be increased by about a third if you are keeping large breeds (for example, Buff Cochins)

Choosing the Site

If you have the space available then free range chickens have many advantages – but some disadvantages too.  Their eggs will be delicious, they will fertilize your garden and their feed costs will be minimal.  On the other hand they will be more vulnerable to predators and could stray onto your neighbors’ land – not a good idea for friendly next-door relations.

I think that the best compromise is a closed chicken run fitted around a good hen house.  This can be either a fixed or a mobile arrangement.  It is important to ensure good drainage – hens like dry land and at least some good places for their dust baths.  Damp soil increases the risk of diseases and pests.  Make sure that there is adequate drainage around the run and coop.  The other important consideration is wind – site the coop out of the prevailing wind direction but ensure that there is good air circulation at all times.

A good site for the coop, for instance, would be against a wall in the direction of the usual wind and facing the sun during the day.  Dry feet, dry litter in their coop, plenty of fresh air but no direct draughts in their sleeping quarters – these are the ideal conditions for your hens.

Housing Your Chickens

Hens need proper sleeping quarters and somewhere quiet and cozy to lay their eggs.  Choosing a chicken coop is an important part of your responsibility towards your hens.  You can buy ready-made coops from your local farm shop or hardware store (or online) but, personally, I much prefer to design and build my own.  That way you get exactly the right henhouse for your particular site and flock, and it is also immensely satisfying to build your own chicken coop.

This is a big subject beyond the scope of this blog, but here is a good article about Designing And Building Chicken Coops which you might find useful.

Predators

There is a huge variety of animals that like to eat your hens and their eggs.  Depending on your locality these could include foxes, raccoons, badgers, rats, snakes, eagles, owls – even your pet dog or cat.  The best way to guard against these is to keep your poultry in an enclosed wire chicken run, but you still need to check the perimeter regularly to make sure that there are no holes in the fence.

Diseases

Taking good care of your hens will help prevent most problems with common diseases and pests.  Keep their living quarters clean and dry; give them a good, balanced diet; give them access to water and ensure that it is kept clean; provide adequate space for sleeping and foraging; and be constantly on watch for any early signs of problems (isolate any suspect bird as soon as possible)

There is a lot more to keeping chickens but this should give you a good idea of the main things to think about.  If you are interested in building your own chicken coop but need some help finding plans and assembly instructions, check out the best chicken coop guides for some useful pointers. And enjoy your hens – they will give you a whole lot of fun!



The Importance Of Ventilation In Chicken Coop Designs
December 20, 2011, 16:46
Filed under: Articles

best chicken coop guidesIf you intend to build a backyard chicken coop – and that’s a great idea – there is one thing above all else that you must provide.  Ventilation.  Sounds obvious, but I am constantly surprised by henhouse diy projects that fail to make adequate provision for this. Even some of the best hen house diy guides fail to stress this enough.

Your hens are able to tolerate a wide range of temperatures, from the -20s and -30s of winter in the northern half of North America to the heat often encountered in more southerly climates during the summer. What they do not tolerate well is damp. In very cold weather this can lead to frostbite of feet and combs, as well as breathing problems.  In hot weather it can cause listlessness and poor egg production, and a whole host of nasty health problems such as heat stress and even death.

Keeping hens is not a passive task.  You have to manage their environment actively every day.  Not just food and water.  You are responsible for their safety and well-being, too, and this is especially true of ventilation. The amount of ventilation will depend on your local climate both day and night, in winter and summer.

In some ways cold weather is worse, because less moisture is absorbed into the air.  Hens produce a huge amount of moisture, not only from their breath but also from their droppings, and all this has to be channeled away from them before it can do them any harm.  Your hen house diagram, if you are building a coop, will most likely allow for some passive ventilation in the form of spaces at the top of each wall.  A roof overhang will prevent bad weather getting in, and wire netting or outdoor screen mesh will stop predators getting in too.

How much space?  It is difficult to provide too much ventilation in a chicken coop, and you should err on the side of too much rather than too little.  Some experts state that one square foot of vent opening per hen is adequate in climates where summer heat is not too great.  For a 10-bird coop with a floor area of, say, 40 square feet that means ventilation openings totaling at least 10 square feet!

In warmer climates you might find it easier to make one or two walls of the coop entirely of wire netting or predator-proof screen mesh.  I would suggest you talk to other poultry keepers in your locality to get their opinions – these folks are always very helpful.

Unfortunately there is another aspect of poultry care that you need to consider in your chicken coop design – drafts.  Hens do not like drafts except a gentle cooling breeze in really hot weather.  That means closing and sealing all lower windows and doors in windy conditions, and making sure that the hens have plenty of roosting perches well away from any drafts that might remain.  Good chicken coop designs will call for ventilation openings that have built-in covers, panels or doors that can be closed easily and seal off drafts effectively.

To summarize this, then.  When looking at chicken coop designs or plans, satisfy yourself that they include enough ventilation openings for your particular climate pattern, and that these openings have an easy and efficient way of sealing off drafts during cold or bad weather.

If you would like some more information or ideas about keeping hens check out this article.




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