The first thing to consider is how many hens are going to make the chicken house home and how much space there is in the garden. As a rule of thumb poultry require a minimum of 30cm space to be comfortable. So if you decide to keep 5 chickens you will need a coop with a minimum of 4.5m floor space.
The perch should be 5-8cm wide with smoothed out edges with 20cm in between each perch to allow the chicken enough space to be comfortable. Perches should also be removable for ease of cleaning. Chickens naturally try to perch in the highest spot so the perch should also be higher than the nest box entry.
The nest box should be in the lowest darkest corner of the chicken house, so the chickens feel safe and can lay privately. If the nest box is high up chickens will try and sleep in the nest box making the area dirty.
Keeping a chicken coop clean is very important. A good house should have a large access door that gives easy access to every corner of the coop. The house should be raised off the ground to prevent rats from nesting and should be easy to move about the garden.
The overall construction of the coop should be solid. Poultry need somewhere they can shelter from rain and cold weather. The walls should be solid enough that chickens can bed down and keep warm in the winter. The roof should be solid and free of cracks so that there are no leaks, damp is very bad news in a chicken house.
A chicken house should also have ventilation points and a roof that is high enough that the house doesn’t get to hot in the summer, and so that fumes don’t build up in the house.
A chicken house needs to be heavy enough that it won’t blow over in strong winds, and also to withstand predators such as foxes or badgers.
Chicken houses are generally made from either wood or plastic. There are advantages and disadvantages to both and in the end the decision will probably come down to personal preference. However there are a few things to consider. The big advantage to a plastic house comes from cleaning. A plastic chicken coop can be cleaned and dried very quickly which is a huge advantage particularly in winter. Wooden houses on the other hand are naturally breathable. This means a wooden coop is far less likely to have condensation running down the walls which helps prevent the growth of moulds that can cause respiratory problems for birds.
The run provides an area for chickens to exercise, find bugs to eat and gives poultry a space there owners don’t mind them destroying.
As well as containing the poultry, the run helps to protect chickens from predators. A high quality fence will keep animals such as cats and foxes out of the run, providing peace of mind for owners that their chickens are safe.
When it comes to how to size the run, work on the rule that a chicken needs about one square meter of space in the run to be happy.
Chickens need a balanced nutritious diet fed constantly throughout the day in order to maintain a long healthy life and produce a good number of high quality eggs. Protein is particularly important to chickens as it affects egg laying and feather growth. In the wild chickens forage for insects, worms, slugs and snails however in a garden it is unlikely chickens will find enough protein in this manner. A high quality commercial feed will be specially formulated to provide a balanced diet and is a must for a backyard chicken keeper.
The type of product given to chickens is dictated by age. Chick crumb is fed up to 5 weeks and contains 19% protein. Grower pellets are typically around 19% protein and is fed between 6 and 18 weeks. After that the switch is made to layer pellets at about 15% protein.
Chickens also require grit added to their feed. Chickens don’t have teeth so they peck at small stones to help grind up food in their gizzard. Grit with oyster shell is particularly useful as it provides calcium which helps produce eggs with strong shells.
As a treat chickens can be given corn. Chickens love corn, but if they eat too much they can become fat and produce fewer eggs. A handful of corn per chicken is plenty.
There are a bewildering array of chicken feeders on the market. The only hard and fast rule is that the feeder must keep the feed dry. Wet feed can lead to disease and clog the feeder preventing chickens from feeding.
One of the first things to consider is plastic or steel. The big advantage of plastic is hygiene. Because plastic is non porous so there is nowhere for bacteria to hide. A plastic feeder has more options when it comes to cleaning products, as some may be too strong and corrosive for metal. Plastic feeders also tend to be cheaper than metal which might be a good option for someone without much money or only a couple of chickens.
Metal feeders on the other hand tend to be heavy, so they won’t blow away, and more durable, so they’ll last longer. Against that metal feeders tend to be more expensive, and are perhaps not quite as hygienic.
The next thing to look for is a feeder that spreads the feed around evenly. Chickens are very competitive when it comes to food and things can turn nasty around the feeder. It is not uncommon for older hens to bully younger ones. A feeder that offers a good dispersal area will help to ease tensions and make sure all chickens are well fed.
It also very important to buy a feeder that is easy to clean. A dirty feeder can lead to disease and illness for your chickens so it is important to have good access to the whole of the feeder in order to keep your chickens healthy. Good access will also save time and help you avoid becoming frustrated.
As with feeders, choosing the right product begins with metal or plastic. Plastic drinkers are cheaper and more hygienic, whereas metal are more durable and heavy weight but more expensive.
Hygiene is as always very important. When choosing a drinker make sure it is easy to clean, but also the water remains clean. Poultry tend to be a bit clumsy and very messy. Having a source of water that remains free of litter, dirt and feet is important.