There really isn’t anything mystical about chicken houses, despite the extravagant efforts that tend to get the advertising space in glossy magazines. They are not hard to build, but the market in ready-made housing is very competitive so simple houses are inexpensive. At its simplest a chicken house is just a weatherproof box with a door, a nest box, and a perch. There’s no reason you can’t use a small shed, and I’ve visited farms where they do just that. I’ve also seen a converted old children’s playhouse, which was so suitable that all it needed was a nest box, a perch and the windows painting out.
When deciding on the house, be led by the size and number of birds that you want to keep. You will need to allow 18cm/7″ perch space per medium bird (15cm/6″ is the minimum for European free range regulations), and up to 30cm/1′ for very large breeds. Avoid felt roofing and lap panels as far as possible, because they provide handy hiding places for red spider mite which can quickly make your birds miserable and are often missed by beginners. Instead opt for plain or close-fitting board (or seal any joins with sealant compound) and a corrugated or wooden roof.
It’s not difficult to build your own chicken house, but the market for them is highly competitive: unless you’re a competent carpenter or have access to cheap materials, once you’ve factored in your time it’s probably probably cheapest to buy a suitable house. We’ve put a few inexpensive models into our online store, but if you’d like to build your own then there are some links at the bottom of the page.
Chickens quickly reduce the ground on which they are kept to barren scrub unless they have lots of space, or are moved regularly. Because of this most keepers opt to enclose them in a set area (the run) using a netting or wire fence. The chicken house can sit entirely or partially inside the run, but some of the smarter houses are integrated with their own run. The design type pictured here has the house above a small run which makes it perfect for people without much space. You do, however, need to be realistic about how many birds you are prepared to keep in a run of this size, especially once you allow space for a feeder and drinker.
Because of the effect that chickens have on the ground in their run, it’s a good idea to be able to offer them fresh ground every few weeks. For small houses with fixed runs you simply pick the whole thing up and carry or drag it to a new location, but for larger or fixed houses you can change the run by altering the configuration of the fencing – so make sure you locate the house appropriately. It’s also a good idea to make sure that the birds have access to some shade in the hottest part of the day – and last but not least, give some thought to proofing the run against predators.
One final word concerning housing; rats. Sooner or later – and it’s probably going to be sooner – the local rodent population will discover that there is chicken food about. Rats like dashing from one hidey hole to another and don’t like crossing open ground, and for that reason you’ll see that many chicken houses stand on stilts. This creates an exposed space underneath, rather than the perfect nest site created by a permanent house resting on the ground. Have a think where rats might decide to live, and take it into account when you site your chicken house.
Build your own chicken house links
Poultry house construction: The only set of paper plans that we recommend. Ideal for anyone without good carpentry skills.
Backyard Chickens: An astonishing 450 sets of free web plans of varying quality and practicality.
The stealth coop: Free web plan for a distinctive (!) 4’x8’ house designed to look like a play house. Good construction skills recommended.
Build-easy house: Free web plans for a serious walk-in house with storage and generous space for eight birds.