The Hen House

Mobile hen house amidst trees with large chicken run.
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Our hen house, built according to our own building instruction.

Here you will find an overview of the possibilities for planning your own hen house. We tried to sum up some of our experiences and provide the most important information on the subject.

What is the Importance of a Hen House?

Next to the chicken run, the chicken coop is the main place of residence of the chickens. It is the sheltered place of the chickens at night. It provides space for laying and incubating eggs. In winter it is the main place of residence for several days in a row. Therefore, it is important that the barn is large enough for all chickens, safe, weatherproof and properly equipped.

Due to their low standards, chickens are satisfied with almost everything and therefore are often kept in simple sheds or cheap prefabricated barns. They are okay if individual things are not implemented as described in theory. Which type of barn you want to offer your chickens, you can hopefully decide after reading the following article.

What to Consider Before Getting a Hen House?

The barn must match the chicken breed, the size of the flock and the environment. We are more interested in a small flock of chickens for private use, not so much in breeding. Following, we try to describe the optimum for a healthy chicken.

The answer to this question depends on three things:

  • Which chicken breed should be kept?
  • How many chickens do you want to keep?
  • Where are the chickens supposed to live?

The Preparation and Planning of a Hen House

Sketch of the henhouse.
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A good planning of the henhouse is essential.

Careful planning is particularly important, as construction errors are usually very difficult to rectify. You will use the stable for a few years and don’t want to get annoyed about mistakes again and again.

What factors do I need to consider before the chickens move in?
What do I have to organize in advance?

The construction of the stable is the largest one-off cost factor. In order to keep the costs low, the stables are usually self-constructed. If you are not very skilled, you could hire a carpenter or a construction company. There is also the possibility to order prefabricated stables from construction companies. But here, too, some craftsmanship is necessary to assemble the barn, as it is usually delivered in individual parts. Already existing buildings, like housing for other animals or construction wagons, are also often converted into customized chicken coops.

When planning the barn, there are a few points to consider that make life easier for the chickens and the chicken farmer. As chickens will sleep in the barn for about eight hours per day, lay their eggs there and must also be able to stay comfortably in rainy weather, good planning is in demand. All this must be taken into account when planning the the place to sleep, the place to run out, the place to lay eggs and the place to eat and drink.

As a chicken farmer, it is important to ensure that the barn is kept clean and that the eggs can be reached as easily as possible. All utensils and food should also be kept inside or near the barn.

Once you have decided on the chicken breed and the number of chickens, you can start planning. Both factors are decisive for the size of the barn. The more chickens you want to keep, the bigger the barn. The breed is also important, because the size of the chickens can vary depending on the breed. Dwarf chickens, for example, can be kept in smaller barns and with a smaller run.

In general, no more than 2-3 chickens should be kept per square meter of the chicken house, depending on the size of the chickens, in order to ensure appropriate housing for healthy chickens.

The Hen House and the Building Law

Picture of us building our wooden hen house in the garden.
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Check the legal requirements before you start building your hen house.

It is recommended to check with the local building authorities whether and from which size a building permit for the barn is required. The building authority can also provide information on whether the property is located in a purely residential area and which local conditions apply.

To avoid unpleasant disputes with your neighbours, it is advisable to contact them beforehand and, if necessary, find out about the provisions of neighbouring law. Early involvement in one’s own plans has a preventive effect and the prospect of eggs from species-appropriate husbandry has already soothed many neighbours.

Solutions can also be found for the crowing cock. He should be in the barn between 7:00pm and 8:00am. A well isolated hen house helps absorb the sound of the cockcrow.

Once all this has been clarified, planning begins. Careful planning of the chicken coop is particularly important, as construction errors are usually very difficult to rectify. As already mentioned, you don’t want to be annoyed about your own mistakes every time.

The Choice of Location for the Hen House

Our red painted hen house amidst a beautiful green garden with trees.
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The more suitable the location, the better your chickens feel.

Since we want the best for our chickens, special attention should be paid to the choice of location, the orientation and the surrounding area of the hen house.

  • Light is important! The best orientation of the window surfaces is therefore to the south and east. Pay attention to the heat development in summer.
  • The stable should be dry, not on a damp wall or similar. This increases the durability of the hen house, especially if it is made of wood.
  • A sheltered position is necessary to avoid draughts! Draughts can lead to illness.
  • The area under the hen house and in the immediate vicinity should be and remain dry.
  • The chicken stay should be set up for everyday use and should not obstruct it.
  • Before buying the chickens, discuss the location of the barn and the plan to keep the chickens, with the direct neighbours. Maybe a few good eggs for breakfast a month can calm the spirits.
One egg on a hand.
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Who would not want to have a fresh egg for breakfast?

The orientation of the hen house has an effect on the climate in the barn. In the case of wooden stables, the durability is also important. If the barn is moist, wood can rot more quickly or must be extensively protected.
If possible, the window side faces south, so that the stable is enlightened, when the sun shines in. This is especially important in winter, when chickens cannot go outside, because chickens need sun to stay healthy. 
If this is not possible, the front of the stable could possibly also point southeast. An orientation to the southwest is rather unsuitable, as the solar radiation then becomes too strong in the afternoon and the stable could overheat inside. The southern or south-eastern orientation is the best way to keep the barn dry. Your chickens will feel comfortable thanks to the sunlight.
Even if the mentioned window orientations cannot be created, one should not be discouraged from building a henhouse. You can customize the windows accordingly or offer the chickens more exercise.

Equally important is a position sheltered from the wind. Depending on the breed, chickens can be sensitive to draughts and become ill.

However, if the location doesn’t fit all the theoretical requirements, it is better to make a compromise than to do without chicken farming completely.

Chickens will make more mess and scratch especially in the vicinity of the barn. Keep in mind, therefore, that the lineup matches your walking paths.
The most important thing is that the chicken house is set up for everyday use, which means also for you to be able to walk in the chicken coop. It needs to fit in with the farm or the terrain. It is better to allow the chickens to live in a good environment and make compromises at the location than to give up the desire for chickens.
It is a good idea to have some deciduous trees close by so that the barn can be shaded in summer and in winter, when the leaves of the trees have fallen, the sun can shine through the bare branches.

Light and dark chickens are scratching on the ground in front of a barn.
Chickens love to walk and scratch outside.

When choosing the location for the hen house it can come to disputes with authorities. Our hen house including the chicken run, for example, borders on a nature reserve. Here, too, it is better to ask the responsible environmental authority and, if necessary, submit an application.

And last but not least, the topic with our dear neighbours. Even if it is a nice attempt, to offer a few good breakfast eggs often doesn’t help. The thought of the rooster’s crows in the morning, the “dirt” and the “stench” may frighten one or the other. In such a case, the Neighbourhood Act applies. In rural areas it is certainly easier to reach an agreement. In urban areas you might consider renting a garden in the immediate vicinity, which causes less trouble with the stubborn neighbour. Otherwise it helps the peace to keep chickens without the rooster.

The Ideal Size of the Hen House

When calculating the size of the barn, the planned number of chickens and the size of the breed are important. The rule of thumb is: one square meter for three to four medium-sized chickens. So the more chickens, the bigger the barn.
It should be high enough that the chicken farmer can enter the hen house in an upright position. Collecting the eggs and cleaning the barn in a bent position is quite tedious.

  • Roughly one square meter applies to 2-3 normal-sized chickens.
  • At least one third of the total area of the barn should be a scraping area and a maximum of two thirds of the manure pit/dung board.
  • Cleaning and collecting the eggs should be possible in an upright position.
  • From a chicken herd of 20 or more animals, a firm foundation should be laid or poured.

It is up to you whether you use concrete, bricks or quarry stones. For example, 50-60 cm deep into the ground, 30 cm above ground level and approx. 25 cm wide would be completely sufficient. It is advisable to place insulating cardboard on the foundation to prevent moisture from rising into the walls. A solid, frost-proof concrete slab is also recommended as a basis to keep your chickens warm in winter.

Which Material to Use for a Hen House?

In a workshop with workbench, tools and wood.
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You can build a chicken coop out of a lot of things.

Which material you use for the walls depends on your own taste. One wants brick walls, the other prefers timber construction. The same applies to the shape of the roof. Whether pitched or flat roof, wood or bricks – it all depends on your preferences and possibly your craftsmanship. The main thing is that the stable is wind- and weatherproof and dense enough that no predators (martens, foxes etc.) can enter.

For a few chickens, a barn entirely made of wood is sufficient. The wooden floor should then be laid on stones. However, the boards should be removable so that they can be cleaned from parasites and vermin that like to hide in the cracks of the boards of chicken coops every once in a while. It would also be possible to lay a floor of bricks or terrace tiles on gravel or scree with a layer of sand. Grouting the stones with lime mortar helps to avoid cracks as a hiding place for parasites and still allows easy air circulation. The heated barn air triggers a suction that draws fresh air upwards through the foundation from the outside. This ensures that the soil remains beautifully dry and that the faeces, together with the bedding, dry off better and with less odour due to the increased atmospheric oxygen.

In any case, the floor should be slightly higher than the floor outside the barn so that it does not get wet in the rain. It is also very helpful if the ground has a little slope and a drain to the outside. It has also been proven to install a wire mesh under the floor, making the penetration of rats and mice more difficult.
In order to bring the interior temperatures in winter to a tolerable level, it may be necessary to insulate the outer walls. It is important to ensure that the inside of the insulation layer is covered again so that the chickens cannot pick on the insulation material.

The Hen House as Solid Construction

If someone is skillful in the walling of walls and has the appropriate building material on site, he will most likely opt for a solid chicken house. This also makes sense for a larger herd of chickens.

The Hen House Made of Clay

Alternatively, you can build your hen house in clay. Here again, a distinction must be made between building with clay bricks or rather with stomped clay. It should be noted that clay walls must be plastered from the inside and outside. This prevents the clay from being washed out by the rain on the outside and the chickens from picking it out on the inside. Although this is harmless to health, as the clay acts like healing earth, the walls become unstable over time. In addition, vermin can nest in the resulting holes easily. When plastering, care must also be taken to ensure that the air circulation is not impaired. Cement plaster is therefore not suitable.

Excerpt of our wooden hen house with fron door and window.
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One of our selfmade hen houses.

The Wooden Hen House

However, most DIY chicken houses, like ours, are made of wood. Beams and boards can be purchased in any DIY store or from a sawmill. It is best to place a wooden frame on the existing foundation, wh1ich is connected to the foundation with an angle iron or with the anchor screws previously cast in the foundation. This wooden frame is covered from the outside and inside with boards or panels. The inner boards should be planed smooth to make nesting of vermin more difficult and cleaning easier. Rough sawn boards can be used outside. This allows better moisture exchange from the inside to the outside. The outer boards should always be installed in a way that the rain can drain off well – preferably horizontally or vertically overlapping.
Painting your boards with a ten percent soda or borax solution before application, reduces the infestation with vermin or fungi. Borax also makes the boards more fireproof. This solution should be applied at least two or three times.

Everyone knows that conventional wood preservatives are toxic, so please do not use them. Not only the chicken farmer, also the chickens inhale the poison. It can also settle in the eggs. Who wants to eat poisoned eggs or the meat of contaminated chickens?

The Walls of the Hen House

Part of a red barn wall with a screw.
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Solid barn walls protect chickens from the weather and intruders.

Regardless of what material you choose, the walls should be breathable and fundamentally insulated!

  • A possibility would be to build the walls out of clay.
  • Cement plaster impairs the air circulation in the stable and is unsuitable for plastering. This is relevant for barns with many chickens.
  • Ten percent soda-borax solution makes the boards pest-free and fireproof.
  • Lime and disinfect the walls of the hen house at regular intervals.
  • Bio MAXAN was recommended against mites directly on the chickens. You can find more information on this on our Chicken Diseases page.
  • When colouring the walls, it is best to use only environmentally friendly paint.

No matter if you build a solid or wooden hen house. It must always be as breathable as possible and provide basic insulation. This means that in summer it does not get too hot inside and in winter the heat of the chickens cannot get out too quickly. In winter, the inside temperature of the barn must not fall below 0° C, otherwise the drinking water will freeze.

The final decision is up to you! Every chicken farmer has his preferences in terms of building materials for the homemade chicken coop.

The Roof of the Hen House

A chicken coop should adapt to the surrounding buildings if possible. This also applies to the roof. In rainy areas, the pitch or saddle roof is certainly preferred, which has a gradient so that the rainwater can drain off well.

A roof corner with stapled insulation
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A good roof insulation in all weathers.

Whether saddle roof and tiles, pitch roof, cladding roof and green roof – the material and type play no role. The main thing is, that the roof of the hen house is weatherproof and does not allow enemies to enter.

  • However, at least a slight inclination is recommended to prevent rainwater from collecting. In some cases, especially with a wooden roof, this leads to a faster rotting of the roof.
  • The roof of the stable should be adapted to the roof shapes of the region.
  • In rainy regions, the pitch or saddle roof is the best choice.
  • Visually particularly beautiful but also particularly elaborate, is a straw or wooden roof. Those who are interested in nature conservation can work with a green roof of the chicken house.
  • Always plan a cavity between the roof edge and the roof cladding.
  • A rain gutter on the roof prevents rainwater from collecting too much around the stable.

Apart from tiles, which naturally offer the most beautiful looks, you can use roofing felt, corrugated iron, wooden shingles or straw. Those, who love it completely natural, can also green their roof. However, this is a somewhat more expensive and complex variant.
In any case, the roof should be provided with a gutter so that the surrounding surface is not softened during heavy and prolonged rain. To ensure good ventilation of the roof, a cavity should be planned between the roof edge and the roof cladding, which can be filled with insulating material. Thus moist air, which is not discharged by the ventilation, has the possibility to escape upwards. In addition, the hen house is insulated from above against cold and heat.

Ventilation in the Hen House

With a small herd of chickens, there is no need for an elaborate ventilation system. Here it is sufficient that windows and doors can be kept open. At night, however, the door must be kept closed to protect the chickens from predators. In front of the windows, if they remain open, a fine-meshed wire should then be attached so that martens and foxes cannot penetrate. With larger barns and more chickens, however, adequate ventilation must be provided. If possible, two ventilation pipes should be installed under the roof in a way that it doesn’t get draughty on the perches or nests. Fresh air is then introduced through ventilation openings above the floor. This penetrating cooler air then displaces the warmer used air upwards. There it can be led to the outside via the ventilation pipes.

Doors and Windows of the Hen House

Detail of a door with a hinge.
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Windows should allow a lot of light in the henhouse, because chickens love light.

It is very important to equip the barn with windows so that daylight can enter. For chickens to stay healthy, they need sunlight. It increases their vitality and has an effect on the laying performance of the chickens. Especially in winter, when the chickens have to stay in the barn, the few rays of sun should be able to penetrate into the barn.

  • Windows in a chicken coop are an absolute must, unless there is a winter garden directly at the coop. Chickens need daylight to stay healthy. A stable without windows is definitely not appropriate for the species.
  • Experts recommend a window area that corresponds to 1/3 of the floor area.
  • The windows should be facing east to south, otherwise it could get too hot in the barn.
  • If optimal lighting of the hen house is not possible, then it is better to help the chickens to run out more than to give up keeping chickens altogether.
  • For the winter, attach folding shutters to the windows to protect them even more from the cold. The more expensive variant is insulating glass.
  • The doors to the hen house should open outwards.
  • For better cleaning and entering the barn, the door should be at least 190 cm high and 90 cm wide. Of course, this does not apply to the mobile hen house.
  • The optimal barn door should not be accessible through the outlet, but from outside.
  • The door of the hen house must be well lockable to protect it from martens, foxes and other enemies.
Our red hen house from the side with a small window.
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Lateral light incidence in the chicken house with protection against intruders

The windows of the hen house should be hinged so that the barn does not overheat on hot summer days. However, it is advisable to fold outwards, as otherwise the chickens use the window as a seat and contaminate it with excrement. Here, too, it is essential to avoid draughts. It should also be considered to insulate the windows in very cold winters, when they are simply glazed (e.g. with shutters or similar). You want to avoid frostbite of combs and/or gills in your chickens.
As already mentioned above, the windows should face east or south. If this is not possible at all, larger windows may be installed or the chickens may be able to run freely in the garden. If the windows are installed as close as possible to the floor, the front part of the stable receives a lot of sunlight. However, care must be taken that the lower edges of the windows are at least 40 cm from the floor so that the chickens do not damage the windows. In any case, the windows must be cleaned and possibly repaired from time to time to ensure that they remain functional for a long time.

In the case of larger herds of chickens, it is essential to install quieter, dim corners somewhere in the barn. The chickens need these to rest and to be able to clean themselves undisturbed.

The doors of the hen house are practical, especially in regard to cleaning. Therefore, the door should, if possible, be planned at least so wide that a wheelbarrow fits through it (about 190 cm high and 90 cm wide.) The produced manure can thus be removed much better. A door that opens outwards, helps prevent injuries to the chickens. The danger is particularly high, when doors open inwards and chicks are trapped. In addition, a door that opens inwards takes up space that is needed elsewhere, e.g. for setting up the nests or perches. If it is not possible to install a door of the size mentioned above in smaller stables, it is advisable to install a flap above the manure board or manure pit to make cleaning easier.

If the door is made of tongue and groove boards or overlapping boards, these can be doubled and the gap can be filled with insulating material. Thus the thermal insulation is also given here. A door should be lockable and must not be levered out. Alternatively, it can be equipped with a bolt. A hook attached to the outer wall also helps to keep the door open so that the door does not always fall – something you will appreciate during cleaning work.

The Loophole in the Hen House

Bottom of the hen house with a loophole where the chickens can enter or leave.
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A loophole allows the chickens to enter or leave the barn at any time.

The loophole in the hen house is an important facility of the chicken coop. It allows the chickens to enter or leave the barn at any time.

  • A chicken loophole is necessary in every barn.
  • The more animals the more loopholes so that there is no traffic jam. Up to 15 animals one loophole is sufficient.
  • The size should be at least 30×40 cm.
  • Loopholes with a trapdoor from above can cause injury, if the door falls down.
  • However, the chicken loophole must not be too big either, otherwise draft can develop in the barn.
  • Automatic and time-controlled closing and opening mechanisms are available in stores.

The loophole should be about 50cm from the ground, with a small chicken ladder, 30cm wide and 40cm high. The loophole should not be put higher, because chickens do not like to climb a higher gradient. Older or sick animals would find it very difficult or impossible to get up. In the case of larger chicken populations (more than 15 animals) there should be several loopholes. Here, too, care must be taken to prevent draughts. Therefore, do not place the hatch opposite the door. A windbreak outside, in front of the opening, makes sense in any case.

Three boards are sufficient for building a windbreak: two boards are mounted on the left and right side of the wall, the third board is placed as a pent roof on the two side boards.

It must be installed in such a way that the rain runs off to the outside. If the windbreak is additionally equipped with a wire mesh of the same height, you will have a winter garden. There, the chickens can be in the fresh air even in winter or in pouring rain and do not have to spend the whole day inside the barn. Behavioural disorders of the animals, such as feather pecking, can thus be reduced, but not completely avoided. In the time of avian influenza, chicken farmers were ordered to keep the chickens indoors or in an enclosure with a “protruding, sealed cover secured against entry at the top”. In this case the regulation would be kept with the winter garden. For the chickens to get from the winter garden to the run, a door can be installed, which is also used by humans at the same time.

By installing a winter garden, your chickens will be able to be outside, even in bad weather or during a time of influenza.

It is practical if the chicken loophole can be opened from the stable vestibule. You don’t have to walk through the chicken manure in clean shoes. The simplest way would be to pull the closure flap upwards with a line that is guided over rollers to open and then to fix the line to keep the loophole open. If the hole is to be closed again, it is sufficient to loosen the line. The weight of the flap then pulls it down and the hole is closed again. There is now an electronically controlled version available in specialist shops, which is switched by a timer or light sensor.

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