Raising poultry in your garden is a rewarding experience. Whether that means a constant supply of delicious fresh eggs, organic meat for your roast dinners or a fun family-friendly pet, once you have a brood in your life, you’ll never look back. When raising backyard chickens, preparing a safe, comfortable, clean, dry and warm coop is essential for happy and healthy birds.
Your chicken house needs to be big enough for your brood. Ready-made poultry houses will come with a guideline number of birds. If you are making your own house, large chickens and layer hens require a minimum of 2 sq ft per bird inside the coop, and 10 sq ft per bird in the run. This is a minimum though, and allowing for extra space will help avoid health problems amongst your birds.
Natural lighting promotes egg production; hens are happier when they can see their friends. Extra lighting can be provided through well-placed windows, which will also promote ventilation. You may require extra vents, however, to prevent the air becoming stale.
Chickens instinctively want to roost off the ground. Building nests and roosts off the ground encourages your birds to use their wings, as well as being safer and more hygienic. Nests should be approximately one and a half times the size of the bird, and a gap should be placed between them.
The bedding you use should be absorbent, hygienic and affordable. There is a huge selection of poultry bedding on the market. Wood chippings are ideal as they are affordable and safe for young stock. They resist compression well and recycled wood has a lower moisture content than freshly cut timber, helping to reduce mould, spores and mites. After being used, wood chippings can be reused as handy compost or fertiliser.
Modern hemp-based poultry bedding materials are an absorbent ‘green’ alternative. They are made from the inner core of the hemp plant stem, without chemicals or bleach, for an organic product. Like wood chippings, hemp-based bedding can be recycled into compost once removed from the coop.
Avoid hay and straw based products for your chicken bedding. These encourage the spread of mites and lice, and removing them can be a costly expense.
Your run should be spacious enough for your birds, and well protected against foxes and other predators. Your coop requires a roof, and ideally your pen will have one too. If not, the fence should be tall enough to prevent animals like dogs from jumping over. Ideally, it should provide access to edible vegetation, and smaller runs can be portable to allow vegetation rotation and constant provision.
To clean your chicken house, simply remove the bedding and use poultry safe, DEFRA approved disinfectant to sanitise the house walls and floor. Various sanitising products are available for cleaning waterers and removing flies, lice and red mites from the coop. Your disinfectant and cleaning products need to be completely harmless to birds, so only buy from a specialist in chicken supplies.