When my birthday approached last year, I knew what I wanted – Cluckingham Palace. Disenchanted with my cheap ready made chicken coop (henhouse), I drew up a design that would fit the available space and could be made by my handy husband. The budget?
Nothing. We have a shed full of old doors, boards, timber framing and corrugated iron after renovating our house.
The new chicken coop had to be predator-proof, space savvy, well ventilated, easy to clean and attractive. The inspiration was the old-fashioned skillion roof henhouse of yesteryear.
Chicken coop dimensions depend on the size and number of fowls, and how it will be used. Simple night-time accommodation, with an attached run or daily free range, can be smaller than a deep litter shed in which hens live full time.
Allow a minimum of 0.37m2 per fowl for a henhouse and 0.5–1.0m2 each for a run, preferably more if space permits.
You may not need a run if chooks can safely range, however, a wire mesh enclosure provides security from daytime predators, and protects the garden from over-scratching.
My henhouse is 1750mm wide, 950mm deep and 2150mm high, with a 2m x 3m run; my five bantams also free-range each day.
A henhouse must exclude foxes, wild dogs, cats, snakes and pests such as rodents and wild birds, which steal feed and are unsanitary.
A floor of concrete, pavers or bricks set flush, with a lip extending beyond the frame, will prevent predators digging underneath. Pavers are simple to clean; cover with litter so droppings are easily removed.
A raised henhouse may have a timber floor; make sure it is fully sealed.
Wire mesh windows provide necessary light and ventilation, but avoid chicken netting – use 6.5–25mm galvanised aviary (square) mesh to exclude pests, though only 6.5mm mesh will prevent mice. Attach so there are no raised edges foxes could worry off, or cover edges with a frame. Set doors and windows flush with no gaps.
Chicken netting is fine for a run. Where daytime foxes are a problem, dig a 40cm wire skirt into the ground angled 45 degrees outward. Run roof with wire netting over a timber frame or polypipe arches attached to timber uprights, or make walls 2m tall and angle the top 40cm outwards 45 degrees.
Light and bright
My new henhouse is taller and larger, taking up more of the run, but representing a better use of available space, and allowing for mesh windows.
In rainy weather, it’s a light, undercover area where birds scratch and preen.
It has excellent cross ventilation so remains cool and odour free.
Feed, water and shell grit are located inside out of the weather.
Increased vertical space allows for perches of different heights.
Here are some points to look for when buying or building a henhouse.
Using recycled materials is always cheaper; collect boards, framing, timber or wire doors, wire, fence panels, even old cubbies and swing frames.
Henhouses made from metal are more durable and easier to clean than those from wood, but more expensive.
Small cottage-style henhouses are often made and designed overseas to suit cooler climates and don’t have adequate ventilation.
If buying one, use a 6mm drill bit to add a row of holes under the eaves to release warm air. Glass windows are not suitable in our climate.
Try to source henhouses made from sustainable hardwood. Bored chickens will peck substantial holes in softwood henhouses.
Make sure it’s possible to enter and remove an ill fowl from any corner of the henhouse, and to easily clean inside walls.
Chooks naturally lay down low, not up a tree, so nest boxes situated high up may lead to floor laying.
How To Make A Chicken Coop
Hubby made our new henhouse from a hardwood frame and corrugated iron roof.
The walls are clad with timber floorboards and weatherboards; alternatives would be corrugated iron, or external plywood.
We used 12mm galvanised mesh.
Woodwork was painted or sealed with linseed oil. It could not be made in situ, but is very heavy, so it’s modular; each wall is a separate unit.
The communal nesting box is down low for easy access by chooks. It sits out from the henhouse for no-fuss egg collection via the hinged lid.
If I go out before dusk, or want to sleep in, the chooks are secure inside a bright spacious house with feed and water.
Maximum daylight entering the pen stimulates the hens’ hormones so they meet their egg-laying potential.
I can see all birds are on the perch at night, and easily remove them to inspect for lice.
No bending is required for routine management tasks such as cleaning.
I can effortlessly access all corners, unlike my old henhouse, which I could not get inside.
The ideal site is shady in summer and sunny in winter, protected from winds, and facing north or east for morning sun. I like a spot handy to a tap and feed storage.
Henhouses in town may be required by council to be 1m from the fenceline; I sited a water tank between the henhouse and fence, and plumbed it to the roof.
The henhouse comprises:
FRONT: 1750mm wide x 2150mm high, with a section of timber boards 820mm x 1200mm, and 820mm x 950mm mesh window. The entrance is a 800mm x 1980mm recycled house door in a frame, with a small mesh panel above.
BACK: 1750mm wide x 2150mm high, clad with timber boards, with a 1750mm wide x 150mm high mesh window under the roof to release hot air.
SIDES: 950mm wide x 2150mm high, clad with timber boards. The left side houses an external nest box at the base, 750mm wide x 350mm high x 350mm deep.
It’s communal rather than partitioned as the chooks lay together. It is accessed from outside through a hinged lid.
ROOF: 1150mm wide x 1650mm deep corrugated iron on a timber frame; the generous overhang provides shade and rain protection. In hot areas, installing a whirligig, using insulated Colorbond or lining with insulation will reduce indoor temperatures, as will painting the roof reflective white. My henhouse is in a shady spot so this isn’t necessary.
BASE: A base frame to screw walls onto 1750mm wide x 950mm deep.
Once the base, walls and roof were completed, we paved the site with recycled pavers, placed the base frame down, moved each panel across, then screwed it to its neighbours, the base and the roof.
For the run, 1.8m hardwood posts were sealed, buried 80cm into the ground, 1.1m apart, and wire mesh was attached to these with nails. A second door, cut to size, made a matching gate.
The chickens are extremely pleased with their new henhouse, and so am I.