So you’ve chosen your hens and now need to think about where you will keep them (if you haven’t read my previous blog on choosing your chooks you can catch up here).
Now I’ll be honest, I’ve had two lots of hens. Back in the day I believed that the hen coops sold in garden centres, pet shops and the like were robust enough to keep out predators (i.e. foxes!) and actually they did, for a couple weeks.
We originally purchased this wooden variety, it looked “cutsie” and fit the space. Perfect. We ear marked a section of the garden for the hens and that was that. It didn’t end well. The fox had a very easy time sliding the wooden tray out which sits on the bottom of the coop and merrily munched his way through all three of our little hens. It was the most horrific thing to wake up to the next day, feathers everywhere and bits of our precious pets found in neighbouring gardens.
Our mistake is really the purpose of this blog. Hens may come cheap but their lives should not. If you decide you want to keep hens then you need to give due consideration to their wants and needs.
What a Hen Needs to Thrive
- Feed: hens should be given good quality layer pellets as their main source of food. Don’t skimp and get the cheapest one out there, if it smells off to you or is dusty and fine then chances are it is a substandard product. Not only will your hens not enjoy eating it (yes they do know what good food is!) their eggs won’t be good quality. What goes in to your hen comes out in her egg. Remember that.
- Supplements: if you keep hens you should endevour to mimic their natural environment as much as possible. Allow them access to, or provide within their coop, additional ‘extra’s such as insects, grass, seeds, berries, and herbs. Corn and wheat products should be kept to a minimum
- Scatter food: hens naturally forage, that’s what they do for the majority of their day; however, it’s important to keep the ground free from faeces otherwise you will very quickly have worm infested chooks
- Ample space and clean ground: if you don’t give your hens sufficient space to explore, grass to munch and dusty patches for mud bathing you will have unhappy and unhealthy hens. Hens who are left to wallow in a small muddy area are not happy, never mind thriving. They will no doubt begin to fight, feather peck and get sick
These pictures show some of my happy hens, they have wanted for nothing and thrive to this day. I cannot express how much joy hens can give you, how individual their characters are and how much they love their little comforts: mud bathing, scratching for worms, eating all the best vege you’ve attempted to grow along with the finally ripe berries. Mine like a lush breakfast of natural yogurt, a mid-day snack of worms and an evening meal of canned corn and perhaps a bit of leftover rice (both these in moderation!).
Choosing Your Chicken Coop
If you are serious about keeping hens then you need to be serious about their welfare, and that means investing in a proper coop for them and hen proofing the area you plan to allow them to free roam.
“Free roam you say? I was planning on keeping 4 of them in a little igloo run, what’s wrong with that?” SO MUCH! Keeping hens in a tiny enclosure is not what animal welfare dreams are made of (and frankly I believe it to be downright cruel). Hens are foragers and thrive on being able to explore their environment, picking up tasty morsels as they go along. If you are unable to give them a safe place to sleep at night, and plenty of garden or land to explore, then you shouldn’t be keeping hens. Period.
So back to where we went wrong.
The fox got our first batch of hens and we were distraught with our poor choice of hen coop – we learned the hard way but it was the hens who had to pay the price. We thought about using our shed, but even that is not really secure as a fox can dig underneath the, often loose, wooden floor panels and get to them. Eventually we found Woodenart, a company who specialise in hen coops, hen runs, cat enclosures, dog houses and more. Their creations are bespoke and can be designed to suit your specification.
The Woodenart hen coops don’t come cheap. Truth be told we had to save up for a bit before we bought the coop and our next lot of hens. However, the investment was totally worth it. We went for the James Cooper Extra, retailing at £560, back in 2010 and it is still faultless to this day (after numerous position changes and house moves). Our hens have been 100% safe all these years and when we’ve had to leave them locked in for a day due to garden works we could rest easy knowing they had enough room to walk around comfortably.
The mesh is fox proof and that, along with the base of the coop and run, is the most important element. You can of course make your own coop similar to this design but if you do ensure that you buy chicken mesh and that the gaps are small as shown in the picture below. These coops are designed this way for a reason and they keep foxes out up and down the country because of it.
The James Cooper Chicken House with large walk in Chicken Run by Woodenart is suitable for keepers who are unable to let their Chickens free range due to predators or garden restrictions, an easy clean fox proof Chicken Coop
- Fabulous woodenart quality and innovation
- A very easy to clean Chicken House with the floor and nest boxes set at the perfect working height
- The House is a very spacious 3 feet wide x 3 feet 6 inches deep, is well ventilated and suitable for 6 – 8 Chickens. The House stands 5 feet 6 inches tall at the highest point , has 2 removable perches for cleaning and there is a large door at the front for easy access and cleaning. The additional Chicken Run underneath the House is meshed as standard
- The sliding pop hole door is a very neat system that slides on internal runners and is operated outside of the Chicken House by a pull cord
- The roofed Chicken Run is 5 feet 8 inches long and is 6 feet deep. The Run roofing stops the run becoming a mud bath in the Winter and is of Onduline and matches the Hen House roofing.
- The Run extends underneath and at the back of the Hen house to give an effective Run length of 8 feet 8 inches , the Run stands 5 feet 6 inches at the front giving easy access into the run. 2 mid height perches are fitted to the Run
- The Chicken House, Chicken Run and Nest Boxes all have Onduline roofing which is the preferred roofing for Poultry as it does not harbour parasitic red mite unlike felt plus it wears much better than felt roofing, it also allows vital air circulation through the Housing
- The Nest Boxes are each a huge 15 inches wide x 14 inches deep with access outside of the House for egg collection via a drop down door and are set at a height that makes for easy egg collecting and inspection
- The Chicken House and Chicken Run assembled together gives a footprint of 8 feet 8 inches long x 6 feet deep, the Nest Box overhangs by another 14 inches. The whole assembly is mounted onto tanalised bearers
- All framework is smooth square planed Redwood and is screwed together for strength and durability
- The House Run and Nest Boxes are treated with minimum of 2 applications of a high quality preservative in a beautiful rich Golden Brown colour as standard
- The mesh used on the Chicken Run is 19 gauge galvanised weld mesh for strength, durability and fox protection