Keeping Chickens: Housing Requirements?

I have been kicking around the idea of keeping chickens.  I am thinking of building some form of chicken housing.  What I have been researching what are the critical housing requirements that chicken have.  I don’t have all the answers yet and I am hoping through the power of blogging that visitors to this site my contribute with ideas and first-hand experiences.

UPDATE 25 March 2018 – see my chicken house/shed/coop in action in my latest post.Care for your Chickens while on Holiday

UPDATE 23/9/2012 – have made some updates based on comments received and research made.

I have obviously a lot of research to do and I will need to do some reading.

I am currently thinking of converting a shed I have in my garden into a chicken shed and the constructing a run.

I would welcome any ideas or experiences passing readers might have 🙂

21/9/2012 UPDATES:

Nest box.

Various advice that it needs to be 12 x12 x9 inches, so the chicken can go inside, squat and lay. If the box is too big the chicken could stand up turn around and eat the egg.  Not sure how prone chickens are to eating their own eggs?

Other advice I have had is to use an old wooden fruit box.  This seems a very good cost-effective idea.  But does the box need minimum/maximum dimensions?

With nesting materials, pine bedding is a no no.  But I am making the assumption that straw, hay or stredded paper would be suitable?

Feeding and Watering

courtesy of

Various methods from nipples to containers.  Both need to be kept above ground level but accessible by the chickens.  The advice I have received on containers is that they can be changed every other day but the chicken must have access to water. Don’t let the water go slimy!

‘Gravity fed nipples’ is a great term to stick in a search engine, especially if you search for images only!  The nipples appear to provide water to the chickens automatically and cleanly.  I wonder if you have to train the chickens to use the gravity fed nipples?


Foxes appear to be the main culprit with chickens.  Some bloggers have erected chicken runs with fencing buried into the ground.  In the River Cottage book its says:

‘eventually the same patch of bare earth may start to harbour parasites and disease.  A chicken run that is scratched to bare earth should be relieved, and re-seeded annually’.

Another blogger’s idea of a chicken tractor would probably solve that problem.

ladder system for chickens

I have found in my research the ‘ladder system’.  The photo is from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s book ‘The River Cottage Cookbook’, 2001 edition, p213.  I guess, predators would not be able to get to the chickens, although the poor old chicken-keeper would need to clean and collect from the chicken house via a ladder.  The author of the book says you have to train the chickens to go up their ladder and I presume because the chicken’s ladder is more flimsy, the predator would not be able to follow?

Why was fox hunting (with dogs) banned in England? 😦

Another piece of advice was not to keep the chicken too close to the house.  I am making the assumption this is to do with smells and that rats are attracted to the chicken house?


23/9/2012 UPDATES:

mumbleys farm chicken shed
Chicken-shed at Mumbleys Farm

Falling In Love

In Country Small Holding magazine, I read an article by Jules Moore of Mumbleys Farmhouse.  Now the article was not related to chickens, but there was a photograph with the most beautiful hen house I have seen.  I emailed Jules and she provided the link to the supplier of this chicken shed, which is called a ‘Standard 10 Poultry Housing’.

Anyway, what has made all the difference to this hen house was the choice of colours Jules had applied: Cuprinol Fence paint – Country Cream and a sage green.  I have fallen in love with this chicken shed.  Jules also suggests putting the shed on wheels.

Nesting Box Dimensions

More on the nesting box dimensions.  Countingdownfromzero says her nesting box dimensions are 12″ x 12″ x 12″ (30.5cm x 30.5cm x 30.5cm).  Another interesting point from Countingdownfromzero, was that 2-4 hens can use the same nesting box.

On page 19 (1953 edition!!!!!!) of ‘Fowls and How to Keep Them’ by Rosslyn Mannering’, she says

‘Fourteen inches, cubic measure, is a good general size for the nest-boxes with a front rail at the bottom of the box, 4 inches high to keep in the straw nesting material’.

Hens Pecking Their Eggs

More from Rosslyn Mannering on hens pecking their eggs.  She says:

‘The openings, or fronts, of the boxes should face the back wall of the house, since secluded nests are most attractive to the hens, and eggs laid in raised semi-dark nests of this kind are less likely to tempt the mischievous beaks of the potential egg-eaters in the flock’.


At this point in time I am thinking about drawing-up plans based along the lines of the Mumbleys Farm chicken shed.

Thanks to the kindness and generosity of all of those who left comments and contacted me on this subject.  Please keep them coming – I have a lot to learn!


52 thoughts on “Keeping Chickens: Housing Requirements?

  1. We have no first-hand experience unless you count having one of another beekeeper’s chickens perch on a shoulder. That said, we have been looking at a ‘chicken tractor’ as a way to some day let garden and chicken help each other.

    1. Charlton Estate Trust 19 September 2012 — 10:06 pm

      What is a chicken tractor?

      1. It can be briefly described as a mobile, floor-less coop plus run. The chickens eat the bugs and plants in the area, till the soil by digging, and apply natural fertilizer. After a day or few days the tractor is dragged to a new location and the old used for planting. No need to clean chicken manure out of the coop or spread it over a garden bed. The birds handle it directly. One fellow built his tractor to ride atop some long raised beds.

      2. Charlton Estate Trust 19 September 2012 — 10:25 pm

        That sounds a great idea!

  2. How exciting. I’m a huge chicken fan. I got my 3 Isa Browns in late March (that’s autumn here in Australia). I had a steep learning curve, but the truth is they are so easy to care for, most of my research was unnecessary. I blog about my garden, the chickens feature prominently, and through that I’ve found there are a lot of us chicken-loving crazies out there.

    I’m going to give you a few links to my blog with posts that I think might interest/help you in your chook adventure. Here they are:

    – Preparing the coop and run –

    – This is the day I got my girls. You can see the coop set-up. We added a 2nd nest box but all 3 roost together on one roost and lay in the same nest box. They are flocking animals.

    – A discussion of watering systems, what we tried and what the girls use. The truth is their absolute favourite place to drink is from the watering can. We make sure we leave one filled to the brim under the rainwater tanks so they can always go there for a drink. You ask about how often you have to fill it? I wash mine out every couple of days – when they get slimy. I’ve never let one get anywhere near empty. Chickens are keen drinkers so I give them several places to drink.

    – Our home made chicken tractor. We’ve added wheels. Honestly, we rarely use it but it works as a remote feeding station for our free range hens even if we don’t lock them in it often. Since these photos were taken, we have added wheels. We tried using a lawnmower grass catcher as a nest box but the one time we locked the girls in before all 3 had laid, the one chicken who hadn’t laid, didn’t lay that day.

    You also ask about grain feeders – we use the same plastic milk jugs (4 strung together) that we use for water. We top them up daily (the chickens eat voraciously after a top-up) and dump the grit from the bottom ever few days. The chickens tend to eat the bigger grains and the fine stuff settles to the bottom. But we don’t waste it. We mix it with a bit of water until it’s the consistency of mashed potatoes then we add a few greens or mix in some yoghurt (their favourite food) and serve it on a plate – the girls love it.

    I can’t say enough about chickens. They are great little creatures. They have a sweet temperament and are definitely pets. They like us and we like them. I’ve heard there are more aggressive breeds but Isa Browns are sweet hearts.

    If you do decide to give it a go, I’d be happy to share as much advice as you have the patience to listen to.

    1. Charlton Estate Trust 20 September 2012 — 6:50 am

      You are the best! Thanks for all your advice 🙂

  3. I’m pretty new to chickens, myself, but have been quite successful. I started out with six hens I bought from a local Amish family back in March. I’ve added six more over the last few weeks. We’re getting 8-11 eggs a day. Here’s a link to my post on the run and henhouse I built. My land is a bit different … my property is on a hillside. So I built mine with the contour of the land for good drainage, up underneath a stand of pines. It’s worked great for us!

    1. Charlton Estate Trust 20 September 2012 — 6:48 am

      Thanks – I shall follow your progress and learn! You have a great site! 🙂

  4. I can’t believe that I am only your second rss feed read subscriber! I LOVE finding great blogs cram packed with quality information. As a penniless horticultural student hippy your blog is my kind of sustainable homesteading porn! Consider yourself added, read and most probably commented on regularly and all because you dropped by and lusted after our cake. There’s plenty left. The son and heir and his new American sweetie only ate a sliver each and even after giving half of what remained to my darling daughters (you have to watch out with tech savvy kids with tendrils all over the net…its THEM that are going to choose my home! ;)) there was still too much for Steve to manage on his own so feel free to mentally imbibe as much as you like :). Again, cheers for liking and commenting on my post and an even bigger CHEERS for having such a wonderful blog for me to subscribe to and learn from. Bees are our best buddies here on Serendipity Farm and a few hives dotted around the place are not too far into the future 🙂

    1. Charlton Estate Trust 20 September 2012 — 6:46 am

      Bless you. I think we are people who are probably moving in the same direction and we probably have similar values. I hope we can collaborate in the future. Big thanks 🙂

      1. I would be honoured to learn from your wonderful website 🙂

      2. Charlton Estate Trust 20 September 2012 — 9:11 am


  5. I’m on my second batch of chickens (keeping them since 2010). I just received the chicks yesterday, I’ll post videos and pictures of the coop again. It’s like Fort Knox to tell you the truth.

    1. Charlton Estate Trust 20 September 2012 — 6:44 am

      Please do. Thank-you:)

  6. Also just something I found with mine, my chickens are allergic to pine bedding which a lot of keepers use but mine had to switch to straw.

    1. Charlton Estate Trust 20 September 2012 — 6:42 am

      Thank-you, I shall at that to my notes on chickens. 🙂

  7. We converted the old wood shed into a chook (chicken) run that now houses 28 chickens. The best chicken waterer is a thing called gravity fed nipples. Look it up online and there are many retailers. We found a plan online for a chook feeder that works a treat but we combine it with putting our chook food into an old drawer from a chest of drawers. We made nesting boxes out of old wooden fruit boxes with some hay in the bottom. They work! You give your hens water daily and make sure to clean out the water container and feed them when they run out. Ours are free range all day and come out of their coop in the morning and return all by themselves at night when we shut the door. We made an outdoor enclosed run for our hens and it served us well when we initially purchased them as we shut them in the coop for a week till we were sure that they knew where to return home at the end of the day. This isn’t an issue if you aren’t going to let them out. We have been lucky and bought duel purpose chooks that are old breeds so we got eggs right through winter. Letting our chooks out allowed them to carry on with a routine and even when it was cold and rainy they liked to fossick around and having a rooster (not wise in a town setting!) kept them happy all winter long. Good luck with your chook (chicken) keeping. They are very easy to look after and have a surprising amount of character.

    1. Charlton Estate Trust 20 September 2012 — 1:13 pm

      Thanks for the advice:)

  8. We’ve kept chickens for years. They are easy keepers, kitchen waste eaters, bug getters, and fertilizer suppliers. Can you tell I like them? I especially like that they scratch the soil thereby cultivating it as they go.
    Here’s one of my blogs about our chickens:

    Here’s my favorite site about chickens:

    Hope you enjoy your research as much as I did. I had no idea that so many folks were so crazy about chickens. Now I count myself as one and I can see why. Chickens are loads of fun.

    1. Charlton Estate Trust 20 September 2012 — 1:11 pm

      Thanks for the feedback and the links 🙂

  9. I think you should convert an outbuilding, really Chickens are easy and as long as it is dry, relatively draft free and as safe from predators as it can be they will be happy and safe. I converted the back 8 foot by 5 foot ection of my garage into the chicken house I just boxed in a corner and made it 6 foot tall so I could walk in to clean it out. they are happy as could be.

    1. Charlton Estate Trust 20 September 2012 — 1:10 pm

      Thank-you, that’s great advice! 🙂

      1. Honestly, I will be less expensive, and here in New York we get some pretty bad snowy freezing windy weather and my ladies have always been fine, and I dont heat the chicken house either… They are pretty hardy animals, just get the right bird for your area…

      2. Charlton Estate Trust 20 September 2012 — 1:19 pm

        WordPress is proving so useful in doing chicken research and I so impressed with the feedback I am getting. People are so generous!

      3. Check out she has a wonderful blog and it has so much information that is accurate.

  10. We adapted an off the shelf run when we found it was too small – there’s a pic on this post
    They are much happier now 🙂

    1. Charlton Estate Trust 21 September 2012 — 8:39 am

      Thanks for the blog link – it was very useful! I shall add this to my notes 🙂

  11. Foxes were for us the main culprits for vanishing chickens. Seeing feathers about was a bad omen. The local farmers used to put fox bait out which was supposed to keep the numbers of foxes down during lambing season. It killed our curious dog as well.
    We finally had to keep the chooks locked up and boy did they lay eggs. Our extenede family never ran out of eggs. I could never kill my own chooks though even though we love eating chicken. Odd, isn’t it? I suppose after having given us all those eggs, it would be a bit over the top to then eat them as well. I was never a ‘real’ farmer.

    1. Charlton Estate Trust 22 September 2012 — 6:05 am

      Thanks for the adivce! 😉

  12. Hi there! my best advice to you is once you’ve decided what type of chickens you want, find a good breeder. For my Pekin Bantams I found a local breeder who gave me all the advice you are looking for and ongoing too! We laid our coop on concrete slabs so that foxes can’t burrow underneath and highly fenced the area off too. Mind you they make a real racket if they don’t have full access to my garden and veg patch!

    1. Charlton Estate Trust 22 September 2012 — 6:03 am

      That’s great advice – thank-you! 🙂

      1. no worries! if I get any more feedback from twitter or facebook I will let you know! happy chooking!

  13. What perfect timing! Just as we’re discussing having chickens and how to house them, I read this! Thank you so much. It’s really useful!

    1. Charlton Estate Trust 22 September 2012 — 3:37 pm

      I hope we can learn together 🙂

  14. How lovely! I have had my four girls for nearly a month now and I would never look back. Even though I have already had to deal with a bad bout of sniffles and escapees, I adore these hens!!! The hen house you are looking at looks fantastic. I painted my henhouse with cuprinol ‘sunny lime’ it looks lovely against the ginger/red colour of two of my hens. Today I got the confidence up to let them out into the bigger garden area and they loved it!! Whatever you do don’t give up. It is the most rewarding hobby/pastime/commitment ever!

    On the subject of ‘chicken school’…You know it isn’t a bad idea..I got so much more confidence from a 3 hour saturday morning session with experts before I took the plunge, it also gave me a port of call for the inevitable questions later. I got to hold a hen and was immediately hooked! Now I think my chickens wish I would leave them alone…I just love holding them.

    Good Luck…you can see regular pics of my coop and my chooks on my blog.

    1. Charlton Estate Trust 23 September 2012 — 6:13 pm

      I will follow you and you can hold my hand (in the virtual sense). Thanks! 🙂

  15. I know nothing about chickens but I did want to stop in to say thanks for the ‘like’ on my photography blog. Appreciate it!

    1. Charlton Estate Trust 24 September 2012 — 6:03 am

      Thank-you! 🙂

  16. I think you may be over analysing it a bit here, hens are not complicated and just need room, food and water, shelter and security like the rest of us. They only learn to eat the egss if they lay thin shells and break them so nest boxes just need to be secluded and comfortable or they will lay out. For your comfort the shed and laying boxes need to be easy to clean and you need to shut them in at dusk. Good thick roosting perches, the size of your forearm, are best as they can sit comfortably on them. All commercially produced stock is innoculated as chicks, that is as far as it goes. The water needs to be changed and container cleaned regularly. Personally I like to feed them morning and evening but you can just fill a feeder although you will mainly be feeding jackdaws and doves. They don’t need a posh shed although one on wheels is certainly useful if you have lots of room to move them around and dry enough land, not common here in Wales. You should also scatter oystershell grit around for them to keep their calcium levels up, don’t put it in a pot. I’ve had hens for 30 odd years, at one point hundreds of rare breeeds, and I am missing them. I’d recommend Black Rocks for your first efforts as they are tough, lay well and have real character. A tip with all stock is choose one book and follow it. Do not read any others until you know enough to have your own opinion otherwise you end up toally pulled in all directions. We did this with beekeeping having been swamped with so many ‘right’ ways that we did not know which way to turn. We lost our 4 hens a fortnight ago to polecats in broad daylight. Upsetting as they were 7.5 years old.

    1. Charlton Estate Trust 24 September 2012 — 10:39 am

      Brilliant comments!!!!
      Thank-you ever so much 🙂

  17. If it’s any help do check out our Ten Top Tips for Keeping Chicks:

    I hope it’s helpful?


    1. Charlton Estate Trust 25 September 2012 — 3:23 pm

      You are a fantastic person! Thank-you 🙂

  18. This is a wonderful post that I’ve referred back to many times over the past month, as we recently took on chickens ourselves, but I realize that I never took the time to comment here. Some wonderful ideas and links here – it’s been a great resource.

    1. Charlton Estate Trust 12 October 2012 — 9:56 am

      Thank-you for your kind comments.

      I am in the process of hunting down disused timber from dumpsters (skips) and from friends to build the chicken coop.
      Once built, I plan to place it on the single storey extension and train the chickens up a chicken-ladder. We we see whether this will be successful 🙂

      1. Best of luck!

  19. We’ve been keeping half a dozen hens for 4 years now and love to see them foraging in the garden. We’ve tried the plastic drinkers and they go brittle in the sun and break. We now use a galvanised steel one that has a big inverted glass jar. Works well and easy to keep clean. The best feeder (for a small number of hens) we’ve used is one with a conical lid so that the food is kept dry. Look forward to seeing the finished coop.

    1. Charlton Estate Trust 13 October 2012 — 6:48 am

      thanks for the comments 🙂

  20. You might want to check out Joel Salatin’s book on raising chickens. If you let your fowl eat bugs and have access to fresh grass then they should not need vaccines or antibiotics to stay healthy.

    1. Charlton Estate Trust 13 October 2012 — 2:11 pm

      Thank-you, I shall visit Amazon now. 🙂

  21. Looks like you’re really doing your research. That’s great! We kind of just jumped in and have been learning as we go. Internet research definitely helps, as does the farmer that donated the chicks to our school classroom, and the local feedstore is a great source of supplies and information as well. I love your blog! Thanks for posting on mine so I could find yours, I’m sure I’ll be back soon! ps. baby chicks are SUPER fun, and getting them at that age is a great way to hand tame them. Plus, you can keep them in a brooder in your house for 8 weeks while you’re building your coop. (we used a large guinea pig cage for our 5 chicks.

  22. PPS… I don’t know how far down you made it on my blog, but I have a lot of posts / photos / videos about our experiences raising them from 2-day old chicks, if you’re interested.

    1. Charlton Estate Trust 14 October 2012 — 2:49 pm

      thank-you I will have a look. 🙂

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