How to House Chickens
To a certain extent the style of housing used is down to personal preference, however there are certain factors to be considered. You will need a coop for the hens to roost in with nest boxes for them to lay their eggs in. Both these areas need to be waterproof and draft free.
The Nest Box
The nest box needs to be fairly dark to keep the hens happy in their laying and reduce risk of certain problems such as pecking by other hens. One nest box per three hens is usually sufficient. The coop needs to be large enough to comfortably house enough perch space for all the hens, this will vary depending on variety. It is worth considering red mite when purchasing/building housing – every crack or groove will form a home for red mite so shiplap/tongue and groove should be avoided, along with excessive use of roofing felt.
Free Range Chickens
Whether to have an enclosed run really is down to personal preference and situation. The benefit of free ranging chickens in the garden is that they get the maximum amount of space, however there are down sides for both the hens and their owners.
…you as the hen owner need to be available at the crack of dawn in Summer and mid afternoon in Winter
The coop must be opened first thing in the morning and shut before dark to protect against foxes, and even then foxes and other predators can attack in the day time. This means that you as the hen owner need to be available at the crack of dawn in Summer and mid afternoon in Winter… plus hens can also cause a lot of damage to the garden!
Enclosed Chicken Run
Many hen owners have a solid run attached to the coop so that the chickens can do as they wish within this area. Such runs should have a solid base to prevent predators tunnelling in and be made of fine weld mesh not chicken wire – foxes and badgers can break through chicken wire and the larger the holes the more likely that vermin and small predators (e.g. weasels) can get in.
In terms of bedding the best covering for the floor of the coop is often wood shavings (not sawdust) with straw for the nest boxes. Hay should not be used, as it is associated with respiratory disease in chickens.
For run areas that become muddy wood chips can be used, but bark must not be used as there are potentially dangerous moulds that can grow.