The chicken house or coop is usually considerably more expensive than the chickens who will live in it. While the choice of chicken houses has never been wider, and purchasing one has never been simpler, it’s never been easier to make a costly mistake. Poor quality or workmanship will not only prove uneconomical in the long-term, but may cause problems for you and suffering for your chickens.
Over the next few pages, we’ll be helping you to make the right decision when buying a chicken coop, exploring the different types of housing, and in a separate article, looking at individual makes and over the coming months road-testing as many as possible ourselves. The eventual aim is to provide you with: The Ultimate Guide to Chicken Housing!
- What to look for in a chicken coop – Guidance on security, weatherproofing, ventilation, insulation, space, perches, nest-boxes, cleaning & manoeuverability.
- Chicken house dimensions – Average coop dimensions we would recommend.
In the next article (this page was getting too big!):
- UK Manufacturers of Chicken Coops [Coming soon!]– A list of every wooden and plastic chicken coop manufacturer in the UK we’ve found.
- Imported Chicken Coops [Coming soon!]– Guidance on buying cheaper imported chicken coops.
So, let’s get started with the basics!
Seductive designs, tempting prices, traditional wood, new-fangled plastic – today’s excess of choice doesn’t always make life simpler. The good news is that the chickens’ basic requirements are still the same, and if the coop can give them what they need then you won’t go far wrong.
It’s fairly easy to keep chickens in, but more difficult to keep everything else out. If the coop isn’t secure against predators your chickens won’t be around for long, so this must be a top priority.
Imagine being very hungry and knowing a feast awaits inside that chicken-coop. Could you easily smash your way in? What if you had sharp claws and strong teeth to help your endeavours? Badgers, for example, have been known to rip the entire side off a flimsy chicken-house to get at the occupants.
A bolt provides security on the door of this chicken house.
Doors are often a weak spot, especially those with weak hinges and catches. Swivel catches tend to work loose and can be turned with a paw. Look for a house with sturdy bolts and robust fixings. Check that nest-boxes with outside access aren’t vulnerable to predators.
Two legged foxes
Chicken thefts are becoming ever more prevalent, so good padlocks on housing may be a wise precaution depending on where you live. Any window or ventilation holes should be covered with small-gauge wire mesh.
Chicken houses with run attachments
If the coop has a run attached, this too should be constructed from small-gauge welded mesh. Chicken-wire can be bitten through and is really only effective for keeping chickens contained.
Make sure the run is well-made and secure, with a roof to prevent predators climbing in. There may also be an option of an anti-dig ‘skirt’ to make tunnelling under the wire more difficult.
A house than can be easily tipped or blown over will be uncomfortable for the occupants and not very secure either. Should you be in a particularly exposed area, or plan to keep your chickens in a field with other animals, stability will be especially important.
Chickens cope well with the cold but not with damp or draughts. If the house leaks or the doors don’t fit properly, there will soon be respiratory problems amongst your flock.
Look for a roof with a good pitch and an overhang that sheds water away from the house. Avoid roofing felt, as this can be a great hiding place for red mite. Corrugated metal roofing can result in condensation unless it is well-insulated. Onduline is a popular choice.
Onduline roof on one of Tom’s Chicken Houses.
Although draughts should be avoided, it’s essential that chickens have air in their house – both in summer and winter. Excess heat is much worse for them than cold, and hot, stale air will cause health issues. Bear in mind that chickens do most of their droppings at night.
A chicken-house should be fitted with ventilation slots or wire-covered windows, preferably situated at the top of the house and not opposite each other. Sometimes ventilation is adjustable, allowing you to moderate the airflow according to the temperature and wind direction.
This vent can be adjusted and has small gauge mesh to stop predators.
The house should be raised at least a few inches above ground level so that air can circulate underneath, and to discourage vermin from making homes there. A coop that is raised higher than this allows the chickens to shelter beneath it, and is useful if space is limited.
Some houses have a plastic ‘window’ to let in light. This can help stimulate egg-laying, but your flock will start stirring at dawn. If you don’t want them up and about too early (especially in summer), choose a house that will remain in darkness.
Plastic coops require good insulation to keep the temperature stable and avoid condensation. A well-made wooden coop shouldn’t need any further insulation.
It’s usually best to allow more space than the manufacturer suggests. If the coop is advertised as being large enough for four to six chickens, assume a maximum of four. Over-stocking causes bullying and can lead to health issues. There is more information about average sizes below under chicken house dimensions.
If there isn’t sufficient space on the perches, some chickens will end up on the floor. Not all chickens get along, and the dominant ones may refuse to allow subordinates to roost next to them – think of trying to get a crowd of unruly children to all sleep in one bed!
Chickens tuck themselves down to sleep, resting their breasts on the perches. Narrow or round perches will be uncomfortable and cause them problems.
Perch with droppings board underneath for easy cleaning inside a garden shed chicken house.
If there are several perches make sure they aren’t directly underneath each other.
Heavy breeds of chickens need low-level perches so they don’t injure themselves when jumping down.
Look for nest-boxes with outside access to save having to open up the coop every time you want to check for eggs.
Nest-boxes should be lower than the perches or the chickens will roost in them, leading to dirty nesting material and mucky eggs.
Access for chickens
There should be a small door (a pop-hole) for the chickens to access their house. Sometimes the pop-hole door is on hinges and pulls down to form a little ramp. Alternatively the door may slide vertically or horizontally – runners on horizontally sliding doors can become clogged up over time.
If you think an automatic pop-hole closer would be useful (and they certainly are), then check the door is suitable to be operated with this device.
Access for you
You’ll need easy access to the henhouse so you can check on your chickens and clean them out. If the house comes with an attached run, make sure you can get into it without difficulty.
Ease of cleaning
Your chickens will need a good clean out at least once a week, so make life easy for yourself by ensuring the job will be as straightforward as possible. Too many fancy features and crevices will give you hours of fun cleaning them, as well as making it even more difficult if you have to get rid of red mite.
Perches should be removable so they can be taken out and scraped. A removable droppings tray under the perches is a useful feature, as are detachable nest boxes. Some houses can be taken apart completely and this is a real bonus at spring-cleaning time.
Be careful if considering a second-hand wooden coop. Parasites can lay dormant in an empty house for months, and it can be difficult to ensure they have all been eradicated. This is less of a problem with plastic coops which are easier to clean thoroughly.
If you are planning to move a large coop regularly, look for a model with wheels or skids. Test it out first though to make sure the wheels are adequate for the structure and it can be moved around easily.
This Eglu Go Up has wheels that can be lowered to move it onto fresh ground.
Look before you leap
It’s always better to see the actual house before buying so that you can check everything for yourself. Pictures can be misleading and cheap imitations of reputable housing may be offered on-line.
Average dimensions given here are for medium-sized hens. Males are often bigger than hens of the same breed, and large combs may need extra headroom to avoid damage.
- Coop: minimum 30cm square per chicken.
- Run: absolute minimum of one square metre (preferably two) per bird.
- Size: 5cm square (even for small breeds) with the top edges rounded off.
- Perch space: 25-30cm per bird with at least 30cm between perches and room for the tallest chickens to stand upright.
- Each box: 30cm square
- One box for every three hens
- Ideally positioned lower than perches to prevent roosting in nest-boxes at night.
- 35cm high by 30cm wide
- A suitable ramp or step / ladder to reach it if the coop is raised off the ground.
Next why not read our companion guide: UK Manufacturers of Chicken Coops [coming soon!]- A list of every wooden and plastic chicken house manufacturer in the UK we’ve found with guidance on buying cheaper imported coops.
- Cheap Chicken Coops – I took the challenge of finding sub-£200 chicken housing.
- Best Bedding Material for Chickens – We reviewed a number of popular bedding options.
- The Beginners’ Guide to Keeping Chickens – If you’re getting started with hens, this article provides everything you’ll need to know.
This guide was co-written by Anne Perdeaux and Tim Daniels.