How to house your new chickens

Rehoming chickens can be a fun and rewarding experience. Chickens are very inquisitive birds and often have their own quirky characters, with many owners regarding them as a part of the family. Here are some tips on how to get your garden or small-holding ready for chickens.

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Creating the right environment for your chickens

Your chickens will need a generous outdoor space to allow them to express their natural behaviours. These include digging, scratching, running, stretching up, bathing in dust, roosting and preening. Make sure their environment helps them feel safe and secure, adapts to the seasons and is easy to clean.

Give your chickens a predator-proof run or free-range space in the daytime – but shut them away in a secure coop at night to protect them from predators such as foxes, stoats and rats. Ideally, connect the run and coop or position the coop inside the run.

Coops and runs

Runs and coops can be purchased or homemade. Either way, it’s important they’re sturdy, safe and secure for your chickens all year round.

Make sure all doors, lids and nest boxes have sturdy bolts on them rather than easy- to-open latches that a predator or young child could open.

Often, low-cost pet shop or internet coops are made with thin, flimsy wood and usually fall apart within a year or so. When choosing your shed or coop, make sure it’s well built, and well ventilated, without allowing the area to become damp.

If your coop and run are wooden, paint them with pet-friendly paint or a safe creosote substitute to deter red mite infestation. These blood-feeding critters live in cracks and crevices in chicken houses.

What size coop do I need?

The ideal sizes we recommend for a group of three chickens to sleep and move around comfortably are:

Coop: Four feet by three feet for three hens
Run: Ideally, chickens should be free-range, but if they need to be in a run, we recommend no less than 10 feet by 5 feet for three birds.

You will need one nest box per hen and enough perches for them all to roost on. These can be long enough for several chickens to be on at once, so you may only need a few.

If your chickens won’t have access to their coop in the day, provide some shade and shelter in their open areas or runs to protect them from the weather. Nest boxes, parasols and garden chairs all provide good shade and shelter.

Keep your chickens safe

If your coop and run will be a permanent structure, ensure that the fencing and mesh is dug well into the ground so nothing can dig under. Also make sure it’s high enough so your chickens can’t fly over and escape. Clipping your chickens’ wings will help prevent them escaping.

Placing purpose-designed electric fencing around your chicken area is a good idea if you’re at risk of foxes.

Choosing the right bedding materials

Using shavings and wheat straw to bed your chickens on is an easy and affordable option. Take care when choosing the right bedding – dusty and fine bedding such as light sawdust can irritate your chickens’ breathing.

Avoid using shredded paper as it can’t be composted in large amounts, and can be very messy. Chicken manure can be used mixed in with your compost heap to make a great plant fertiliser.

Place wood chippings, soil and old dried leaves in cat litter trays for a great activity for your chickens. Chickens love to scratch around looking for tasty worms and bugs. The soil has the added benefit of being used as dust baths by your chickens – this is their natural way of keeping clean and removing parasites.

If you plan to have your run in one place, you may need to consider suitable flooring. Your chickens will dig up the ground and your lovely, green grass will vanish quickly. Rubber, pet-friendly chippings make a perfect base for the run and are also more hygienic compared to bark chippings.

Things to remember:

  • Your chickens will need lots of space, as well as dust baths, scratching trays, nest boxes and perches to keep them occupied
  • Spot clean your accommodation daily, but thoroughly clean it at least once a week – including boxes, trays and perches – to prevent illness and red mite
  • Check nest boxes daily for eggs to prevent your hens getting broody.