A chook house should provide chickens with a place to sleep and a place to lay eggs. It should offer protection from the elements, predators and vermin. The house should be a decent size to accommodate the number of chooks you require plus addition space should you ever need to expand your flock (which happens more often than not!) A solid plywood floor to keep litter dry is a big bonus. We use and recommend the deep bed litter system in our hen houses. The litter consists of untreated wood shavings which absorb droppings, odours and help to keep the chook house dry and sweet. Good housekeeping is required and fresh shavings can be added from time to time to keep the mix going. Watch out for wet spots and remove these quickly and replace with dry shavings.
Deep litter should have no smell and can be incorporated into your garden compost to enrich it. Throw wheat or maize into the litter get the chooks to turn it over regularly. Make sure the litter stays dry for it to work effectively and only clean out when required which could be every 6 to 12 months. The floor litter once ready can be added to the compost bin in layers with lawn clippings and other general garden materials or placed around trees/shrubs in your garden. Remember one nest box to every 5 hens is recommended. The funny thing about hens is that they all usually choose to lay in the same nest box all sitting one on top of the other when it is laying time. Nest boxes should be positioned away from perches. Perches should be removable for cleaning and therefore making it easy when spot-checking for mites. Easy access for cleaning is very important so a decent sized hen house with a person sized door will make all the difference to those cleaning jobs. A shutable pop-hole for the chooks to come and go is essential.
A chook house on skids is a good idea should you require to move it from paddock to paddock. If you are looking at having a permanent house site we recommend raising the house off the ground so the chooks can use the underside area to dust bath and keep it free of mice and rats. We recommend shavings in the nest boxes. Using hay or straw is not ideal as once damp is an easy breeding ground for moulds, fungi and spores plus it begins to smell dank. Avoid chook houses made of tongue and groove or batten timbers as they offer the red mite lots of lovely places to hide! Too much fancy insulation in the walls will attract and harbor red mites.
Make sure your hen house and run are predator proof.
Read our newsletter Loosing precious eggs and poultry to predators?
What type of accommodation will be best?
Your chooks will want to forage and roam. Do you want them to do that in your garden, back paddock or would you prefer to have them confined to a run or pen? Chooks love to free range and will enjoy your vegies or perfectly manicured garden so it is best to get define the boundaries and get properly set up before you bring them home.
If looking to house just 3 or 4 hens then a movable chicken coop will be ideal. A dry house at one end with a small run at the other. Our movable chicken coop or chookTUBE are approximately 2 square metres in area and will adequately accommodate 3 hens. If let out to free range then more hens can be added up to the recommended maximum. If looking to keep 5, 6 or more hens then a decent sized hen house is the way to go with the option of an enclosed run off the front or back. We build and supply optional wire netting runs which go with our hen houses plus we also offer the option of extended runs for those that wish to give their hens some more space. Having hens in a run offers then both protection from dogs, cats and other predators. Another option would be to fence an area using 1.8m high chicken wire and place your hen house within this area. Here at Appletons we let our chooks free range in our poultry area and have enclosed our vegetable garden behind 2m high netting and it works well keeping the girls and everthing else
out (also the rabbits!) The position and orientation of your hen house is also key to having happy hens. Sit the back of the hen house towards prevailing winds and rain. Ventilation is important, good air flow will reduce strong ammonia smells and help reduce the temperature in the hen house on hot days but remember through drafts are not favourable either. Sunshine is also key for good health and fertility in your flock so face your hen house north-west to catch morning and all day sun.
Chook house maintenance
Depending on what system you use it should be done at least one or twice a year. Please wear a face mask (we have packs available for sale) when undertaking this job due to all the fine dander and and dust particles which could carry all sorts of nasty bacteria or fungi. We use a wide mouthed shovel brush, pan, paint scraper and big plastic bin to clean our houses. Remove the bulk of litter using the shovel and then sweep out the rest with a brush and pan and then using a scrapper remove any necessary stubborn bits. Sweep out. Spray house well with Poultry Shield or Smite which is a great multi-purpose cleaner as well as red mite killer. This needs to be applied onto a dry hen house so do not wash down or waterblast prior to applying Poultry Shield or Smite. Leave to dry and replace with clean shavings. For residual red mite control we recommend using Appletons De-Mite Powder in your hen house on a regular basis. If your hen house smells bad and is attracting flies then something is not working for you. A chook house should have no odour and be a sweet smelling home for your chooks.