Choosing a Poultry/Chicken House
A chicken house is usually an expensive item whether home built or purchased, home built models take a lot of time to get right and money can be wasted on incorrect materials.
Gold Cockerel books produce two excellent books on making housing, Poultry House Construction and Making Mobile Poultry Houses and Broad Leys print a booklet of Make Your Own Poultry House Plans.
If you do embark on making your own, try to look at finished houses and copy the best ideas in your own design. One of the biggest faults is usually lack of adequate ventilation, birds give off a lot of heat and damp birds in winter make a house very humid. High humidity and poor ventilation can lead to respiratory diseases and these can spread very quickly in the confines of the house.
Nesting boxes must be big enough for a bird to stand up to lay her egg and to turn around to make a nest. One large box is better than three small boxes, often the girls only use one box anyway. I had a large house with 10 boxes, only two were ever used, the girls queued up for them!
Think carefully about how many birds you may end up keeping, a lot of people make huge houses which are too big for the number of birds kept. If the house is too large, small birds such as Bantams can become chilled, whilst an overcrowded house will increase disease transmission and can lead to suffocation.
What sort of layout suits your garden/allotment? Houses can be stand alone, needing an attached run or secure compound, or varieties of ark. Arks are popular as starter units as they are usually easily moved. A disadvantage of arks is that usually the run is not really big enough, the triangular shape means that the hen really only has head access down the middle of the run, OK for bantams but a bit depressing for a large fowl. With the ever present fox problem I prefer a secure house in a fox proofed compound, especially important if your birds are on a allotment where the run needs to be secure against two legged foxes as well.
With the need to be vigilant against Avian Influenza many companies are advertising biosecure runs, if you are making a new run you can build this in from the start. I would recommend using Weldmesh wire if you can afford to, it is much better to work with, looks nice and gives strength to the structure, similarly if buying a house choose one with weldmesh, chicken wire is quite weak and will need replacing after a few years, weldmesh seems to last much longer. Consider roofing over the run with plastic sheeting or marine ply, you may need to consult your local planning department first, we are in a National Park(oh joy!) and all our planning rules have changed. A layer of wood chips or pea shingle prevents mud baths, free ranging can be arranged as needed. The compound also allows the house to be raised up, so increasing the floor area of the run. Hens can shelter under the house from sun or rain, dust bathe and feed kept dry, there is also nowhere for rats to hide. The base of the house is kept dry so prolonging house life and providing a drier environment in the house for the birds.
If buying a house try to look at one before you buy it. Talk to other poultry owners for recommendations and really think about what you and the hens need. A quality house will be expensive, if something is cheap then there is probably a reason for it. Plywood is a cheap material and not very longlasting, houses made from it will be OK for a while, advantages are that it is light so the house will be easier to move.
A PLEA FOR UK BUSINESS, SOME FLAT PACKED HOUSES ON THE MARKET ARE IMPORTED FROM CHINA, PLEASE SUPPORT OUR OWN SUPPLIERS AND CUT DOWN ON IMPORTED GOODS.
Featheredge wood looks nice, but has a tendancy to warp easily leaving gaps, it is also easy to pull off, not good with Badgers around. The best wood is ship lap or tongue and groove, ship lap normally has a bit more tolerance with shrinkage and looks great and is a bit cheaper than tongue and groove.
Look at the features on the house, make sure it is good for you and your birds. Look for easy clean features such as removable sides, Rivers houses are particularly good for this. Make sure pop holes are sturdy and lockable, sliding doors look great but have a tendancy to stick, usually when it is pouring with rain. Climbing into a muddy run to free stuck doors is no joke, especially when heavily pregnant! Doors also get frozen solid, strings break and the hens pull the string into the house, meaning you have to fiddle about with doors and escaping hens, I have years of bad experiences with sliding doors and HATE them, but they do offer a quicker close than a push-to door. .Chicken houses are often on show are in a clean, dry environment and they work well in that set up, put a few hens in and expose it to an English winter and it fails miserably. Pressure treated timber will last longer, especially if in contact with the ground. Follow manufacturers guidelines for any retreatment, warranty may depend upon it if offered.
Second hand houses can be an option, treat well before use to kill any Red Mite lurking. Wavy edge board such as Onduline makes a good roof if timber is too pricey, but has to be used at the correct pitch, consult manufacturers instructions and also screw into the top of the waves and not the valleys, else you get drips. Roofing felt is a practical material, it can conceal red mite so do not stick it down, so it can be stripped back to treat affected areas and to make replacement easier. I have also used tarpaulins with good effect, easy to fix on with a heavy stapler for DIY novices.
Perches always cause great debates, some hens simply never use them. I know a poultry keeper who provides stout hazel sticks for his perches, the birds seem to like them, he never has to clean them or worry about mites as he simply replaces them when soiled. As a rule, a perch shoud be shaped and not round for better grip. Young birds should not be offered perches as they can distort breast bones, floor based perches seem OK though. In some houses floor based perches are the best option, being a perch raised a few inches on a base, and removable for cleaning. They give better ventilation, raise the bird out of droppings and prevent smotherings, for birds such as Orpingtons they are ideal as they dislike high perches and heavy birds can damage legs when jumping down. Having a high perch can also result in floor sitting birds being poohed on!