If you are considering building a chicken house yourself, there are many factors which you should take into account before you begin. Whilst a DIY chicken house can be a great alternative to buying an expensive ready made version, getting it wrong can prove costly in terms of wasted materials, wasted time and unhappy and possibly unhealthy hens. Done correctly though, a DIY pen makes excellent economical sense and can work out at a fraction of the cost of a pre-built one.
Although building housing is not as simple as hammering some wood and wire mesh together, it can be surprisingly simple providing you follow some tried and tested chicken pen plans. You need to consider which materials you will use, whether insulation is required, what ventilation is needed, where you will site it, the design and positioning of nesting boxes, perches and protection from the extremes of the weather and predators.
Suitability of materials is important when considering building a DIY chicken house. With regard to the wood used, it should be strong enough to withstand the harshest of weather and if it is pre-treated, you should ensure that the wood protector is animal-friendly. Any mesh which you use should not be of the flexible, thin type as this can easily be bitten through by foxes and other predators-indeed you should be seeking out the heavy gauge variety.
When you are building a chicken house, the siting of it is very important. It needs to be near enough to the house so that feeding and egg collection are too not too much of a chore, but just far enough away that the inevitable smells and flies in summer are not constantly entering your house. In addition, you may wish to ensure that it catches the sun for part of the day as this will help eliminate any dampness caused both through cleaning and through inclement weather.
Ventilation is an important consideration and you will find that most pre-built coops have circular drilled holes at the rear of the sleeping/nesting end which are very often meshed for safety. The ventilation is important not only for keeping air circulating in hot summer months, but is important for preventing a harmful build up of gases from the hen’s waste products.
With regard to the nesting box, you will need roughly one nesting box for each 4-5 hens (don’t make the mistake I did when first keeping hens when I carefully tried to squash 6 nesting boxes into the coop-one for each hen!). This should be something which is easily cleaned. One good solution for those making a DIY chicken house is to use a sturdy old cardboard box, which can be changed and disposed of every week or so. Another good alternative is to use a plastic cat litter tray which can be hygienically cleaned each week and will last for years.
As hens naturally love to perch, it is essential to provide a simple roosting pole in the sleeping/nesting area. In addition, you might like to consider placing a large branch in the outdoor section of the pen for them to perch on.
As a chicken keeper and retailer of chicken housing myself, I was looking for ideas to incorporate into my own designs and this lead me to a book by Bill Keene, a fellow chicken-lover! His designs were so simple that they were almost as easy to construct as my own self-assembly coops were to put together! I have since recommended his book to numerous customers who were looking for chicken pen plans themselves and all have been delighted by both the simplicity and quality of the designs.