There are two things to be kept in mind:
- The basic needs of the chickens must be covered.
- Functionality for the own work in the hen house should be ensured.
Above all, the basic needs of the chickens must be taken into account and furthermore the work in the hen house such as cleaning, mucking-out and fetching eggs should be done with as little effort as possible. Therefore, it is advantageous if everything is clearly arranged and easily accessible. It is recommended that all furnishings are easily removable for cleaning.
Basic Needs of the Chickens in the Barn
In any case the following should be present in any stable:
- good feed and clean water
- a perch with manure board or manure pit
- absorbent bedding
- laying nests
- an opportunity for activity in the rain, e.g. bound millet or similar
Good chicken feed, clean water and grit etc. must always be available for the chickens. Also perches, laying nests as well as manure pit, -board or -tub. Furthermore, it is advantageous if the chickens have a sand bath at their disposal. This can be a box filled with sand, dust or wood ash. Dried, grated camomile or ferns can also be added. If the winter garden is always accessible, it is advisable to move the sand bath there. This saves space inside the barn and causes less dust pollution. For the sand bath, a size of 60×120 cm and depth of 20 cm are completely sufficient for 10-15 chickens.
The floor should be covered with as absorbent bedding as possible, which encourages the animals to scrape and pick. Wood shavings or finely chopped straw are suitable for this purpose. To prevent boredom caused by continuous rain and ground frost, straw bales and millet, which is bound to the wall, are ideal.
Laying nests are indispensable in a chicken coop. Without them, the chickens would lay their eggs somewhere in the barn or run or even at the neighbour’s house. Since the chickens also change their oviposition sites regularly, you would have a lot of work finding the eggs. Without laying nests, you would always be looking for eggs – and in the long run that would only be fun at Easter!
That’s why nests have to be built. These should be furnished in a somewhat darker, quiet corner. However, the stable as such must still be bright. Basically, a crate of chopped straw, some hay or sawdust would suffice. However, it can then happen that the chickens damage the eggs when jumping in. If the crates are tilted sideways, the chickens carefully enter the nest and the eggs remain whole. A low board screwed in front of it prevents the nest insert and the eggs from falling out. Nevertheless, one should prefer built-in nests.
A size of 30 x 40 cm is sufficient. For dwarf-chickens 30 x 30 cm are sufficient. In any case a soft bedding is to be provided again and also the board before the opening is not to be forgotten. In order to remove the eggs without bending down, the nest can be built somewhat higher (approx. 80 cm). If the nests are set even higher, however, a chicken ladder must be installed. Here previously mounted approach rods make it easier for the chicken to get into the nest without any problems. If these can even be folded up, it prevents the chickens from staying in the nests overnight and contaminating them.
Chickens like to lay their eggs in company. Therefore one should furnish several nests, which lie as close to each other as possible and not one above the other. As chickens always prefer the higher nests, the lower nests often remain empty. There should also be a large community nest. For this you need at least ½ sqm egg laying area for approx. 25 chickens. With 50 chickens correspondingly more – i.e. approx. 1 sqm. Access to the nest must be possible from the front or the side. The bar should not be forgotten here either. With a larger nest two entrances are to be provided, to avoid crowd building in front of the nest. For a few chickens, however, the above variant with the wooden crates is sufficient. For 10 hens one counts on three nests. This corresponds to 1 ½ fruit boxes. But here even two nests are usually sufficient.
What are Roll-Off Nests and are they Recommended?
Practical, but less species-appropriate, are the so-called roll-off nests. These have no litter, but a hole in the middle of the egg laying surface through which the egg falls onto a surface sloped to the front or a wire mesh attached underneath. The eggs then roll forward to the edge. Now the chickens can no longer reach the eggs, which is advantageous for egg eaters but less suitable for the chickens. They can no longer busy itself with the egg after laying and may leave the nest immediately. Now, however, the cesspool does not have enough time to recede. The hanging out cloaca now arouses the interest of the other chickens, which begin to peck afterwards. That is what is known as cloacal cannibalism. With an interspersed nest the chicken is still busy with the egg until the cloaca has receded. The above problem does not arise at all.
An Anteroom for Larger Hen Houses
If the barn is large enough, an anteroom can be divided by a partition wall. A wooden or wire mesh door should be installed in the partition wall. The nests can then be placed in it or hung on the partition wall so that the eggs can be taken out from behind. The chickens reach their nests from the stable room. Thus, space has been created again and the eggs can be removed in the shortest possible way without getting dirty shoes.
Perches can consist of round bars, roof battens or even branches. In the case of roof battens, however, unevenness and the edges must always be planed off so that the chickens do not injure themselves. There are several ways to attach the perches. For example, recesses can be cut in bearing timbers that are attached to the wall. The perches are then inserted into these recesses. You don’t have to nail them down. They should be installed at a height of approx. 1 m. The perches should be easy to remove for regular cleaning. When reinserting, make sure that the poles are free of mites. After thorough scrubbing, we recommend oiling the rods. Maybe you can paint them once in a while. In doing so the pores of the wood are closed and the mites cannot nest.
The sitting area of the chickens should not be too wide, otherwise manure removal is too time-consuming. A length of 1.5 m is ideal. Anything that goes beyond that is hard to get outdoors for cleaning.
The Ideal Resting Place for the Chickens in the Barn
As already mentioned above, chickens also need a place where they can withdraw undisturbed. This is particularly important at noon, when the egg shell begins to form and disturbances can lead to deformed eggs. Raised perches are best suited for this. Even the ancestors of our chickens looked for an elevated resting place in trees, especially at night. From this instinct an elevated resting position is always sought. Chickens give most of their feces at night. It therefore makes sense to mount the perches on the wall and install a manure board or manure pit underneath. This prevents the whole barn from being contaminated. If the dung board is placed as close as possible to the lowest perch, you prevent chickens running around on the dung board.
Avoid Quarrelling with Equally High Perches
The perches should be approx. 35-40 cm away from the wall. The perches should have the similar distance to each other. If these are placed at the same height, fights over the higher seats are avoided. This arrangement does not correspond to the natural behavior of the chickens, since chicken No. 1 has all prerogatives in the barn. It chooses the highest seat. The higher-ranking animals want to sit above the lower-ranking ones. Since the higher-ranking hen does not necessarily go to bed earlier, it drives the lower-ranking hens away if they have already retired. This creates controversy and excitement in the stable. Equally high poles create peace in the barn and the chickens get used to the same height quickly.
Of course, attaching the perches at the same height is only possible with few animals. In the case of larger herds of chickens, it is unavoidable that the poles are also placed one above the other. A manure pit is recommended in any case, as the amount of manure produced is greater.