Keeping Chickens – Chicken Coop Design Considerations

A new laid egg from your own hens. What a joy this brings to the novice in poultry keeping. You get all this pleasure and excitement added to the very considerable profit that a few chickens will bring you, if you turn over a few square yards of your back garden to intensive poultry keeping.

Designing A Chicken Coop

How to begin? Well, first of all you survey your site and its possibilities. Half a dozen laying hens may be all you can keep in a small backyard in town. In rural districts you may be limited only by the amount of capital and labour you can provide.

chicken coop constructionBut suppose for the moment that you can spare a strip of ground 50 ft. by 6 ft.; in this you can have an intensive laying house which will accommodate six or eight hens. It is not advised that you build this yourself, unless you are very handy with tools. The Feathered World poultry house is a standard hen house, which can be supplied at a standardized price by a number of firms. This is built of 5/8 in. boarding at the sides, and ¾ in floorboarding.

The design of the chicken coop front is of special interest. It consists mainly of wire netting set at an angle, and protected by a wooden hood. This arrangement allows for the maximum amount of fresh air, together with a perfectly dry floor and litter. In very hot weather the protecting hood can be pushed back, but when necessary it is set so that all driving rain is kept off the inside of the house and the birds. Draughts are impossible, though the birds have all the fresh air they need. The birds roost on the right-hand side of the house, as you enter the door, and have three solid walls round them. Ventilation holes are provided at the roosting end of the house, but high up near the ridge. Two windows are provided in order that there shall be sufficient light, but these are not needed for ventilation, except in very hot weather indeed, A point concerning this excellent arrangement is that glass breakages are avoided.

Nest boxes are in the front, so that if desired extra house accommodation can be built on, and every experienced poultry keeper will appreciate this point. As the house is planned, it can conveniently be set against an existing wall, so that no space is wasted. The nest boxes are without hinges or other parts that rust can attack. They slide out for cleaning and when in position they are in comparative darkness.

This type of coop is one that I can thoroughly recommend to any beginner in poultry keeping, and particularly to the novice who wishes to keep a few backyard layers so that he can be sure of a supply of eggs throughout the year. It is better to start with a small stock, and to practise economy by using up all household scraps, than to attempt to make a fortune by investing capital in houses and appliances.

how to keep chickensAssuming that a much larger plot of land is available, a semi-intensive house and run might easily’ be arranged to accommodate about fifty layers. These would have a house 20 ft. by 10 ft., and also a grass run, or an earth or gravel run, in which the hens would be released on favourable days. Or a small house 6 ft. by 8 ft. might take a dozen birds if they have the use of an outdoor run.

There are, in addition, several other ways to house poultry. One is a fold-pen, which is a portable affair that can be moved about the garden each day, so that the birds are always on fresh ground. In rural districts it might be possible for a poultry keeper to rent from a farmer a piece of ground to be utilized in this way.

For all these varying types of houses there is a general rule to guide the selector: only undertake what you can reasonably expect to deal with properly. If your knowledge of poultry keeping is limited to the scattering of grain that you may have done to help a friendly farmer, begin in a very small way indeed, and only launch out when you feel you have mastered the business sufficiently.

A great many amateur poultry keepers will not buy their houses ready. Made. They will probably obtain illustrations, study friends poultry houses and then, with an idea of what is required, they will build their own hen houses. Here, then, are a few hints to those who take on the job. First use good’ materials. Weather boarding, creosoted, looks and wears well. Window frames look best painted with white paint, which can be easily patched or renewed occasionally. Paint to match the house decorations is an alternative, but white paint has much to recommend it.

If possible build the house in sections that are bolted together, as the purchased houses are made. This allows for it to be taken down and moved when necessary. Use bitumen felt for roofing: it does not need any additional tarring.

Set the house to face as nearly south as possible, as in this way the fowls will get the maximum sunshine. Sunshine is as important to them as to human beings or plants.

You can use a concrete flood laid direct on to the garden earth, or you , can pave or brick the floor if you wish. Better still is a wooden floor of stout floorboards raised a foot from the ground level. This keeps dry in all weathers, so that the litter provided lasts longer. The birds are better on a raised floor, and rats and mice cannot get in so easily as with a floor at ground level.


A dry floor is one of the most important things in poultry keeping, and the little extra trouble of building brick piers and putting the floor, down on these is well repaid in the extra health of the birds.

In shape and style poultry houses can be any of the types that we are familiar with in greenhouses, that is span roof, or lean-to, or the sort of hybrid between these that is generally called three quarter-span. Five square feet of floor, and 25 cubic ft. of breathing space is the usual amount for allotting per head of fowls, when kept intensively. The height of the eaves and ridge must be sufficient to allow this space, but it may usually, with advantage, be rather more, as it is best to be able to stand upright inside the house. Floor area may be reckoned on two floors, so long as the cubic space allotted to each bird is not less than 20 cubic ft. Where there is a roost with a covered run, allow z square ft., and to cubic ft. per bird in the roost, and a minimum of 3 square ft. in the covered run for each bird.

Roosting perches are provided for the birds, running not nearer to the back wall than 10 in. If two perches are used, they should be 14 in. from each other. These perches usually run parallel with the back of the house; a length of 8 in. must be allowed per bird.

Boards of metal or matchwood are set to catch the droppings. These should be 6 in. below the perches and high enough to allow the fowls room to scratch on the floor below them, i.e., not lower than 1 ft. 9 in. from the floor. It is, of course, essential that all these and other parts of the houses should be easily removable for cleaning.

In modern poultry houses the attendant is saved as much trouble as is possible. In some there are arrangements by which dropping boards can be cleaned their entire length almost automatically by means of scrapers that exactly fit. Such details the keen poultry keeper will work out for himself. Eggs are laid in nests that are provided, and for ease in gathering the eggs, these nests are usually arranged on the outside wall of the house, with an outside flap, so that the attendant has merely to raise the flap from the outside in order to gather the eggs.

Where cheapness is the first consideration, good nests can be made of empty fruit boxes, set on the ground inside the house in the semi-darkness. Twelve to 14 in. square is the size for single nests; colony nests may be 14 in. by 2 ft. 6 in. long. Floors and back of inside nests can be made of wire netting mesh. One nest to three layers should suffice.

Never place a nest against or above the roosts, or birds may sleep in it.

Ordinary sash windows that will open if required are the best for the poultry house. These can, however, be dispensed with if cost is a consideration, and in their place can be arranged a sliding pane of glass over a netted opening, or a pane of glass that falls back into hopper sides, and can be kept shut by a thumb catch. The largest windows would be in the front, which gets most of the sun, but it is important that there should be one or two side windows, low down, that will light the floor space. If the back is not against a wall, a small window under the roofs can with advantage be included in the design.

Three-quarter-inch wire mesh will keep out both sparrows and mice, and at the same time, confine the fowls, yet allow them plenty of ventilation, and all openings should be netted in this way. It is a good rule for the poultry keeper to remember that birds, like plants, are best grown hardy, that is they respond best to all the ventilation that their constitutions will stand. Windows should only be closed in the very worst weather.


Another point of importance is that sunlight should be allowed: dirty windows must not be tolerated in the hen house any more than in a private dwelling. A drop or two of glycerine on it soft cloth, used daily, will keep them in good condition if a weekly wash and polish are also practised.

Hens, like humans, have recently been allowed special sun parlours, with good results. These are really wire-floored runs extending along the house front and a ft. to 5 ft. in width. They should have the floor of this’ high enough to allow of droppings being cleared away, or should be provided with a droppings’ board. Sides will be of wire netting, and a hinged glass cover or netting cover should also be provided.

Any other arrangement by which hens can be given extra fresh air and sunshine and extra exercise will benefit the birds, and each poultry keeper is advised to exercise his own ingenuity in this matter.

The question of feeding poultry is one that has to be considered from several points of view. First of all it is the food that represents the bulk of the outlay to the backyard poultry keeper. He cannot allow his expenditure on foodstuffs to mount up until the cost of his fresh eggs is as much or more than he would have to pay for them in the shops. He has sufficient expense in obtaining the fowls and keeping up their home. Consequently he feels that any way in which he can reduce expenditure of foodstuffs is useful.

The fewer birds kept, the more ‘purchased food is likely to make a big hole in any possible profit there may be from poultry keeping. However, it is perhaps better that we should first consider the ideal methods of feeding, and then what alterations can be made in these ideal methods without unduly straining the birds or hampering their output

We have up to now been thinking merely of the poultry houses. When it comes to questions of food, other items have to be thought of, and these may be summed up as follows:—

1. Food troughs.

2. Water ‘supply.

3. Grit box.

4. Dry mash hopper.

5. Dust box.

6. Litter.

Food troughs.

A food trough is generally a V-shaped trough, half round or square, raised about 6 in. from the floor. A 2-ft. Length does for six fowls.

A very good substitute for the conventional trough sold by stores can be made from an old motor tyre. Cut this in half lengthways, i.e., round the circumference, and it makes two circular troughs. Raise these by nailing them to wooden blocks, and each trough will do for ten fowls.

In these troughs grain or wet mash can be fed to the birds. The troughs should of course be kept quite clean.

Water bucket. A simple device for supplying water is a slatted platform, into which is fitted an ordinary bucket. This platform should be raised from the floor sufficiently to avoid litter being scratched into it. A pan beneath to take the drips is advisable. Both pan and platform can be attached to a wall.

Grit box.

Grit is an essential part of chicken’s food: without it they are unable to digest other foods. A box of grit can generally be attached to a side wall, preferably by the water platform, as the grit is likely then to remain clean.


Another article of diet for fowls is greenstuff such as cabbages, or root vegetables. It is best for this, too, to be supplied at some height from the ground so that it does not get among the litter. Large roots and cabbages can always be spiked, on to a nail or hung on the water platform, but it is useful also to have a miniature hay crib “ on the side wall for odd leaves, etc.

Dry mash hopper.

If dry mash is fed to fowls in an ordinary open feeding trough, such as described above, the birds have a bad habit of hooking it over the edge of the trough. This is wasteful and insanitary, and dry mash hoppers are therefore generally fitted with a batten lip to prevent this. The hopper can be a simple box type, single or double sided, a small batten being set about I in. from the front and I in. down from the top, at an angle of 30 degrees. The length of hopper needed is a 2 ft. single-sided hopper for six birds, or larger in proportion to numbers. When these hoppers, or, the feeding troughs referred to above, are set in the houses, it is important that light should pass along them, and if there is only one window they should be set end on to it.

All sundriesmen sell other types of hopper, including the true hopper which holds a supply of food that is fed downwards, over a chute, from an upper receptacle.

Dust box.

Nature’s cleansing station for birds is the dust of the countryside. Birds kept in confinement are far more likely to be troubled by insect parasites than are wild birds, and wild birds are by no means insect free. It pays to keep a box of dust, that is, dry earth, in which the birds may take a natural dust bath when they wish. Ash from the house fires, and a little sulphur powder mixed with the earth, is useful; in addition, the birds may be dusted themselves, once a week, with a little sodium fluoride, which can be kept in a sprinkler tin for the purpose. The dust box should either be kept in a separate annex, where it can be used once a week, or it should be kept covered except for short periods at weekly intervals. If care is not taken in this way, the dust will be distributed all over the house.

A good way to prevent too much distribution of the dust is to fit the box with a lid, in which an opening sufficient for the bird to get in is cut. The dust does not then fly out so disastrously.


A depth of 4 in. of dry litter over the floor should be distributed in readiness for birds in the new poultry house. Wheat straw or peat moss will do for this. Sometimes materials are / available from local tradesmen for the fetching; among these are straw packing, sawdust, wood wool, shavings, wood turnings and dry ashes. Dry ash does well for a foundation with some other litter on top.

It is not possible to make a hard and fast rule about the changing of litter in the fowl house. It is a matter that depends on varying circumstances, on weather, the condition of the fowls, what they are feeding on, and other matters. What guides the poultry keeper is the condition of the litter. When it becomes damp, or smells offensively, or when it becomes so scanty that it does not hide the corn that is thrown on to it, and the fowls begin to scratch on bare boards—when any of these things happen, the litter must be changed.

For nests, straw or hay or both are used. These are, of course, available at corn chandlers’ shops if not elsewhere.

Artificial lighting.

I do not want to leave the question of fowl houses and requisites without reference to the question of electric lighting. The principle which governs the use of electric lighting in fowl houses is this. When fowls go to roost at sunset and rise at dawn, in the natural manner, they get a very short day in winter. When they sleep long hours and wake short hours, they eat less than they would do in the summer. When they eat less, they are less likely to lay eggs.

By using electric light, making the fowls stay up longer bows, they are induced to take an extra food supply, and they then lay more eggs. Winter eggs are specially valuable, and so they compensate for the extra cost of current consumed by the lamps.

To obtain the extra eggs, however, the food supply of the fowls must be increased, and extra time must be spent by the owner in attending to the fowls, unless, as in some large poultry houses, feeding and lighting are automatically controlled. For the small owner, lighting in the houses is of doubtful value.

Having decided on and installed the type of fowl house you can reasonably manage, how does a complete novice set about poultry keeping? The best way is to buy a number of pullets, ready to lay, or three months old. You can best buy these either from someone you know, or through advertisers in the journals devoted to poultry keeping. The Feathered World has a deposit system by which you can purchase birds from a distance with safety. As to the number, you will of course be guided by the size of the house you have, but it may be useful to remember at this point that six birds should give you an average of two eggs daily.

If you live in town, and keep the birds in a backyard, buy dark coloured birds—such as Black Leghorns, which are small, active and non-broody. Rhode Island Reds, Light Sussex, White Leghorns and White Wyandottes are other good laying kinds, but strain is always more important than breed, and that is why it pays to buy from someone who is already making a success of poultry keeping.

You want to be sure that your new birds are healthy and young. Here are some signs. A bird should have a bright head and glossy feathers, and look active. Handle it and you will find the body feels solid, the flesh firm and not flabby. Flabbiness means fat. The breast bone should be straight, and the back flat.

Moisture round the nostrils, or an unpleasant smell from them, may mean that the bird has a cold or roup. A dull eye, or water round the eye, is a sign of ill-health. Spots and white lumps on the comb, yellow patches on the tongue, accumulations of mucous matter on the tongue, sores or bleeding at the posterior, or a baggy abdomen may be taken as bad signs. An old bird will be heavy, dull and coarse about the eyes, with thicker bones and scales on the legs that do not lie flat.

If you are asked to choose your own pullets, turn down any that are abnormal in any way first. Then turn down any with loose feathers, with ruffled feathers just at the back of the combs, those that crouch, or are “ cow hocked,” those that carry the tail too low. Pick out then the pullets that seem firm when handled, and have tight feathering, bold prominent eyes, and a satin skin, with round, firm but greasy feeling shanks. Twisted toes, swollen joints, pendulous crops, are other faults that may be present.

A pullet should lay from the age of six months onwards, and March or April pullets , are best for the backyarder who wants eggs in winter. If young chickens are bought instead of ready-to-lay birds, they should be pullet chicks from sex-linked crosses.

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