Fresh eggs from your own hens are great but hens can be a bit fussy about when and where they lay. It's worth getting the coop right, otherwise you will be simply feeding your birds for no result.
There are heaps of designs for chicken coops online and if you have a bit of time and the ability to hammer a few nails, you will be able to find plans to build you own or you can buy one of the many kitsets available. Whatever you decide to do, here's a list of things you should make sure your hen house has to make sure you get your fair share of eggs.
- A dry, draft free place for your hens
- Perches for them to sleep on at night
- Next boxes for them to lay eggs in
- Access to food & water
- Ventilation & light
Chickens like a dry & draft free coop
Chickens need shelter from cold wind and rain as well as shelter from the hot sun in the summer. Chickens can actually handle the cold of winter better than the heat of summer, they have an instinct to fluff their feathers to keep warm. They also have the natural instinct to roost together.
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If you live in a wet climate and your hen house is likely to be on wet ground in the winter then it is a good idea to have a timber floor that sits up off the ground. The airflow under the floor will help keep the inside of your coop dry and give your hens a nice dry floor to walk on. Many people use timber shavings or sand for the floor of their chicken coops but in wet conditions they can hold the moisture especially if they are placed directly on the ground.
We recommend that if you have an Outpost Hen House that you reposition it so that it is facing away from the prevailing wind & rain during the winter months to keep it dry & draft free and then reposition it in the summer so it gets more shade. Outpost Hen Houses also have rubber draft stoppers between the timber frame and the corrugated iron roofing and also around the bottom of the hen house.
Chickens like perches in their coop
Perches are where your hens will roost at night.
A hen's foot will grip the perch, even when she’s asleep so she doesn't fall off. A timber perch that is about 25mm square with slightly rounded edges is best. It's also a good idea to have a perch that can be removed so you can treat it for red mites on a regular basis. Each bird needs at least 20cms of their own space on the perch. Perches should be 50 to 70cm off the ground, any higher and some breeds may have trouble getting on & off them.
Underneath the perch is where most of the bird poop will collect, so be sure the design you choose has easy access to this area for cleaning. Outpost Hen Houses are designed to be moved, so you can drag your hen house to fresh ground regularly. They also have person height doors so that you can get inside to clean it out if you need to.
Outpost Hen Houses have timber perches in them. The smaller designs have 2 timber perches that span the width of the hen house. Larger Outpost Hen Houses have removeable timber ladder style perches which are easily removed from the coop for cleaning. See the example picture above.
A good rule of thumb, is one next box for every 4 birds with a maximum of 6 birds per nest box. The best nest boxes are the ones that are attached to the side of the hen house and can be accessed from the inside for your hens, and can also be accessed from the outside for easy egg collection. Nest box height should be slightly above the floor, but below the perch height, to discourage hens from sleeping in them. Straw or wood shavings work best for nesting material. Avoid hay as it retains moisture.
Outpost Hen House nest boxes are easy to access with a hinged lid on the outside for collecting your eggs. Outpost nest box dimensions are. If your nest boxes are too small you might end up with cracked eggs or your hens will look for somewhere else to lay their eggs. The chicken nest box size is very important, however should be relative to the size of hens. So if you have small hens you can make them a bit smaller or large hens you may need them bigger.
Access to food & water
Hens will need access to feed several times a day and fresh water at all times. There are many different feeders available. Some feeders will need to filled more often than others and some feeders prevent wild birds from eating all your chicken feed.
Outpost sell 3 different feeders; the cheapest is a basic 5kg pellet feeder, this feeder is good for inside your hen house, it has a removeable lid for easy filling but if left outside in the rain all your chicken food will get wet.
My favourite feeder is the Feed-o-matic Auto Feeder. It holds up to 12kg of layers pellets or mash so you won’t need to fill it up as often – great for people with large flocks of hens. No feed is exposed to the elements so it can be left outside even in the rain and your chicken food will stay fresh & dry. To access the food your hens need to stand on the treadle that sticks out from the feeder – to train my hens I sat a brick on the treadle for the first week and after that they all knew what to do.
The other feeder Outpost sell is called the Chooketeria. It is another auto feeder and it can hold up to 5kg of grain, mash or pellets. It is made of stainless steel and works similar to the Feed-o-matic in that the hens need to stand on the platform to open the lid of the feeder. This means the lid is closed unless a hen is standing on the platform which helps to keep rodents and wild birds out of your chicken food.
You can buy 20kg bags of hen food from your local rural supplies store such as Farmlands or FarmSource. Buying a quality chicken feed from a good brand is recommended to keep your birds healthy and ensure they get all the right nutrients they need.
You can supplement their diet with some of your household food scraps. Be careful not to feed your hen any food that might be harmful to them such as green potato or potato peels, chocolate, citrus fruits, dried lentils or beans – for more information about what not to feed your hens read our blog: What not to feed your chickens
There are many different ways you can supply your hens with fresh water. Outpost sell a basic water font that holds 6.5L of water and it can be hung from the roof of your hen house to keep it up off the ground and prevent your hens from standing or pooping in it and making the water dirty. If you have a look online you will find heaps of great ideas for making your own water fonts.
Here’s a couple of links if you want to try:
Chickens need good ventilation & light
As much as your hens need shelter & a draft free place to sleep they also need ventilation.
Good ventilation will help keep your hen house dry. No ventilation will lead to moisture build up from condensation inside and basically cause "rain" inside your hen house!
Outpost Hen houses have a wire mesh font panel to let plenty of fresh air inside. During the winter we recommend you position your Outpost hen house away from the prevailing wind & rain to keep it out of your hen house.
Some of our customers that live in especially wet climates have added an extra piece of plywood to the front of their hen house to half cover the wire mesh and give their hens more protection from the wind & rain.
It is also important to let plenty of light into your hen house. Chickens will naturally respond to the changing of seasons and increased or decreasing day light hours. In winter when day light hours decrease your hens egg production will probably decrease and your hens may begin to moult. The more daylight that your hen house gets then the more eggs your hens are likely to produce.