Keeping hens has suddenly become trendy. Maybe it's another (slightly obscure) consequence of the strained economic times in which we live- downsizing and growing our own veg has become more common, and keeping hens for eggs is just an extension of that. Regardless of the cause, poultry lovers now find themselves in a growing minority and, as might he expected, the market is beginning to reflect this. The number of different hen houses that are available to buy is one example of how the market for hen owners is growing. We are going to have a quick look at the different types of hen accommodation available.
The golden rule when considering any hen accommodation is this: your hens need a clean, safe and secure environment in which to live. Your hens will need protection both from the weather (like most animals, hens don't live extremes of weather) and from predators- regardless of whether you live in a rural or city environment. Providing you get these basics right, the specifics of your hen accommodation is up to you.
Basically, your hen house can be one of two types- the traditional wooden type, or the more modern looking, trendy plastic type. This is very much a matter of personal preference.From a practical point of view, the plastic ones are certainly easier to clean. This is due to several factors: the smooth plastic surface needs less of a scrubbing than the wooden ones do; the plastic ones often have removable parts, to aid the cleaning process; and the plastic ones have fewer nooks and crannies in which red mites might be hiding. (For more on red mites, see below). However, there is more flexibility with the design of wooden hen houses- in that there are many more types of wooden ones on the market- and they can also be custom made for you and your chickens. Furthermore, you could even design and make a wooden one yourself!
Red mites: red mites are, arguably, the biggest problem you will have when keeping hens. They live in the darker nooks and crannies of hen houses, and feed off your birds at night. They are most active in the warmer months- although they are so small that it can often be many months before you notice them, by which time the infestation could have grown out of control.Red mites are a problem in any type of hen coop. Some manufactures of plastic coops might tell you that it is impossible to get an infestation in a plastic coop- and this is not true. It is, however, more unlikely that you will- providing that you take the time to clean the coop out regularly. As mentioned above, it is easier to clean a plastic coop thoroughly- and, as such, much easier to prevent an infestation taking place- and easier to get rid of one if you should be unlucky enough to need to do so.It is also worth remembering that red mites - or the possibility of them - will have an influence on the second hand market for hen houses. A plastic hen house will have a larger resale value, as the possibility of a red mite infestation will be much lower. And if you are planning to buy a wooden coop second hand, you must be vigilant in checking all nooks and crannies for the possibility of an infestation. One common place to find evidence of red mites is under the ends of the perch - lift one end up quickly, and any infestation will be likely to make itself obvious. Ventilation: it is vital to ensure that your hen house is adequately ventilated, to ensure conditions in the hen house are hen-hygienic! However, this is balanced with the need to ensure that the coop is secure - a fox (a hen's most persistent predator) can squeeze itself through the most unlikely of gaps. One good option is to cover all ventilation holes with chicken-wire - ensuring that the chickens are kept in, the foxes are kept out, and the air can circulate easily! Having your ventilation holes up nearer the roof of your coop is also a wise idea, again to lower the risk of a fox entering the coop. Ventilation holes also have the added bonus of letting the light in. This is advantageous for two reasons: firstly, hens are more likely to lay if they get a good amount of light, and secondly, red mite tend to thrive in darker conditions. Ventilation holes, therefore, perform several functions in one!Perches: hens have a natural instinct for perching at night - perching above the ground gives them an increased feeling of safety. Such is this instinct that, if you do not provide them with a proper, designated perch, they will perch on any ledge, shelf or equipment you have in the hen house - including their water bottles and feeders. Allowing them to perch in these areas is not wise, as they will cover the area below (including the food!) with their droppings - which is by no means pleasant. It is easy enough to provide a perch - a large stick or a broom handle will do (depending on the size of your coop, of course!) - just ensure that each bird has approximately 10 inches of perch space to itself. Access: The last point that requires real consideration is the accessibility of your hen house. Presumably, one of the main reasons that you have/would like to keep hens is for the laying abilities- and they aren't going to present the eggs on a platter for you! It will be up to you to enter the coop in order to collect the eggs- and as this is best done daily, it is sensible to choose a design of coop which makes this easier for you.If space allows, choose a coop in which you can stand up easily. This will also ensure that it is easier to clean and maintain your hen coop, which, as discussed above, is vital to maintaining healthy hens.