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You don't know what you're missing until you enjoy a delicious, fluffy omelette made with eggs fresh from the hen house. If you don't have the space to erect a coop for a few laying hens, your eggs will have to continue coming from the grocery store. But it's worth giving up a bit of backyard space and a little of your time in exchange for an ongoing supply of eggs.
Size of the House
Determining the size of hen house you need is kind of like a "chicken and the egg" quandary. You need to know how many laying hens you'll be housing in order to build the coop, but you have to have a coop before you can bring home your hens. The amount of space available for a hen house might dictate how many hens you'll end up with. Build your hen house first then figure out how many laying hens you can have. Since 2 1/2 to 3 square feet is the amount of floor space each of your hens will need, divide the square footage of your coop by 3. The resulting number is the maximum number of laying hens you should have.
The Laying Parlor
A house for your laying hens is more than a dry, secure place to keep them. Your chickens' coop should be divided into separate areas just like your house is. The laying parlor is an important feature for your hen house since you'll be keeping hens expressly for the purpose of laying eggs. This area should take up about 1/3 of the total house. Provide at least one nest for every four hens you have and elevate the nests 4 to 24 inches above the ground. This can be done either by building a platform to place the nests upon or by nailing them to the wall. You don't have to place a dividing wall in the coop, but you can lay a 2 by 4 on the ground at the threshold of the parlor to designate the laying parlor from the rest of the hen house.
Roosting And Living Areas
The biggest part of your hens' house will be like a great room. Your hens will have 2/3 of their living space for roosting, eating and exercise. It doesn't matter how you arrange the roosting and living areas of the coop, but one way is to place rails 18 to 24 inches above the ground on the opposite end of the coop from the laying parlor. Use 2 inch dowels or pieces of wood that are 2 inches by 2 inches. Depending on how many laying hens you have, you may need more than one rail, as each chicken should be allowed 6 inches of space to roost upon. If you require more than one roost, space them 14 inches apart from each other. A food hopper and water fountain can be placed anywhere else within the living space.
Dirt, Wood Or Concrete Floor?
Hen houses don't require a specific type of flooring, provided that the coop protects your chickens from predators and any type of weather. It can even have a dirt floor if the house itself sits on concrete footings or other secure system that would prevent a raccoon or other marauder from getting in to steal eggs and harm your hens. Your chickens enjoy taking a dust bath occasionally, so if you asked them they would definitely vote for dirt flooring. If you opt for a wood or concrete floor, count on laying in a supply of sawdust or wood shavings to use as litter. No matter what type of flooring you use, you'll have to sweep up droppings and keep the floor of your hen house clean.
- The Joy of Keeping Chickens; Jennifer Megyesi
- New Mexico State University: How to Keep a Small Poultry Flock
- University of Connecticut: Basic Management of Small Flocks
- 4-H Guide to Raising Chickens; Tara Kindschi
- Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images