I wanted the hen house to have a vintage appearance as if it had been there for years. We intentionally built it right next to an existing tree so that the chickens would have some shade. We laid some landscaping fabric and pea gravel around the house to make it easier to mow the grass around it. We planted climbing rose shrubs under the front and side windows. We're hoping they will do well and eventually grace the hen house with some beautiful blooms.
Our hen house is 6'x8'. A friend of ours who owns an antique store donated the old doors and windows which really add to the vintage look. By hanging the windows with hinges "awning style," we can prop them open even when it's raining.
Good ventilation in the hen house is very important for circulating the air and releasing heat and moisture. Chickens give off moisture from their respiration and droppings. If the coop is not ventilated, this moisture can cause freezing conditions in the winter. The droppings can give off ammonia if the moisture begins to decompose it. Ventilation (usually screened openings) should be placed above roost level on opposite walls of the coop to provide cross-ventilation, allowing moisture to escape and fresh air to replace the old. The more chickens that are in the coop, the more ventilation you need. We placed four ventilation openings (two each on front and back sides) cut into the underneath side of the overhangs and covered with screening material and register covers. This house is not insulated and has no electricity (no heating), but stays comfortable year-round for the chickens because it has good ventilation but no drafty openings. The tree provides shade in the summer, and the four windows (one on each wall) provide some solar heat in the winter.
The perches where they roost at night are on the right side. Under the perches is a "poop pit." Chickens poop a lot when they are sleeping. 99% of their droppings will be under the perches. We surrounded it with chicken wire so they can't walk in it. You can see a half-door on the back wall behind the poop pit that is an access for cleaning it.
The rest of the hen house floor stays relatively clean. We use a thick layer of straw on the floor and replace it only twice a year. The perches are hinged to the back wall so we can lift them when we are cleaning out the hen house.
- Update: I can't stress enough how effective the poop pit is for keeping the hen house clean. No one likes to look at poop, but nevertheless, I added this photo taken several months later to show you proof of how the droppings are contained in the poop pit while the rest of the floor is clean. Because the droppings are protected in the pit, they stay dry and there is no foul odor in the house. It's only when the droppings get wet that they release the over-powering smell of ammonia. (Look how much the Chickie-Babes have grown!)
The feeder is sitting on top of a concrete block to raise it to a comfortable height for the chickens. It is secured to the ceiling with a chain. The combination of the chain and the block helps to keep it stable and in place. We drilled a hole in the bottom of a plastic coffee container and slipped the chain through it. Hanging something above the feeder keeps the chickens from jumping up on top of the feeder and pulling it down.
The back of the hen house has a half-door that opens so that we can periodically clean out the poop pit. We just rake it out into a wheel barrow and dump it onto a compost pile. Chicken manure is an excellent fertilizer, but you have to let it sit for a few months before using it or it will burn out your plants.
The poop pit is a wooden frame wrapped in 2"x4" chicken fencing with a loose board laying on the floor. We can slide out the floor and the framed fencing through the access door to give them a thorough cleaning. It is not attached to the perches.
This is the back of the hen house showing the half-door access to the poop pit. On the side of the house there is a hatch opening with a ramp that goes down into the attached outdoor run On the left side of the run you see a swinging gate where we can enter the run when necessary (albeit bent over).
The wooden box in the run has sand in it. The chickens eat this "grit" to help digest their food. They could also use this box of sand for their dust baths, but they prefer to dig a hole in the dirt instead. Chickens love to roll around in the dirt (dust bathe) which actually does clean them by getting rid of excess oils, fleas and mites.
This is a front view of the attached run. It wraps around the tree so they get the benefit of the shade. There is a perch for them in the front of the run. We also dragged a sturdy branch into the run that they love to climb on. We attached a small roof above the hatch opening to keep rain from going inside the house.
The nesting boxes are on the left side of the hen house, along with the water feeder. I made curtains out of old seed bags for the nesting boxes, because they do like their privacy when laying. I placed a golf ball in each nest to train the new flock where to lay their eggs.
This is an inside view of the hatch that leads out to the run. The hatch has a door that slides up and down and is attached by a rope to pulleys. I can just reach inside the front door and grab the rope to open or close the hatch door.
This little backyard flock enjoys their home, and we sure enjoy them! Keeping a backyard flock is not hard once you get everything set up. It takes commitment to visiting them daily, replenishing their food and water and gathering the eggs. Because our chickens have regular access to the outdoors as free range chickens, and because of our "poop pit" and deep straw litter system, we only have to clean out the house every six months. We find the work to be minimal and the rewards to be huge: namely, fresh nutritional eggs and a friendly flock that entertains us.
More articles on keeping chickens.