Back-garden chicken coops are increasingly popular, particularly in Sussex and we see quite a few chickens every year at Heathfield Vets. Whether they are kept as pets or as an egg producing flock, chickens can make a wonderful addition to your family. If you are thinking of welcoming some feathered friends into your garden the first thing to consider is how to set up your chicken’s home properly.
The Chicken Coop
Chicken coops come in all shapes and sizes, they can be pre-made from wood or plastic or home made with old pallets and chicken wire. However they come, the basics of each coop remain the same. Chickens will need around 3-8 square foot of space per bird, it’s always best to over-estimate as flocks tend to grow over time! Coops should be free of draughts and leaks with plenty of ventilation to avoid the build up of gases and stop condensation in the colder months. Coops will rarely need heating but it is important they are kept dry, place your coop in a shady spot to avoid overheating in summer. If you decide to paint or use a preservative on a wooden coop be sure to use animal safe products and allow everything to dry before being used.
Remember you are the one who will be cleaning the coop so keep it as user friendly as possible! Avoid areas which will be hard to reach and seal any cracks to avoid parasite infestation. Your coop should be completely predator proof, be sure to check your hens cannot be attacked by roaming foxes.
You will need at least 1 box per 4-5 hens with each box being around 1 foot square in size and around 2 feet off the ground. You can get creative with these if making your own coop, old crates or baskets nailed to coop walls can be very effective.
Roosts or perches
Allow for 6-10 inches of space per bird, each rod used for perches should be narrow enough for birds to be able to wrap their feet around them comfortably. The perch should have a flat top about 1 – 1.5 inches wide with rounded edges otherwise the hens may develop pressure sores on their feet resulting in bumblefoot. The perches should be around 2 feet off ground level.
In summer chickens may be able to find a dusty spot outside to clean themselves in but in winter (or a rainy summer!) and dry spot can be hard to come by! A dust bath can help keep small lice infestations at bay and keep chickens healthy.
Chickens will need an area to exercise, usually in the form on a small fenced pen, the bigger the better. Again, you could buy a pre-made run or make your own. Runs you can move around are a good idea as this can save your grass and reduce the build up of parasites. Ensure that you run is predator proof, bury wire fences at least 8 inches (20cm) deep to stop foxes digging their way under and cover the pen roof. You may even need electric fencing for larger runs. To protect your hens from nighttime predators they should be locked in their coop at the end of each day, you can either do this manually or invest in a handy automatic door opener/closer on a timer.
Feeders should be easy to clean, plastic is the most common choice. Make sure you allow enough feeders for your flock to avoid competition between birds.
Water containers should keep the water clean and free of droppings and should not be easily tipped over. Chickens should always have access to fresh, clean water; allow a litre per chicken and a litre spare to last them all day.
Call us on 01435 864422 if you have any questions about chicken care.
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