Chickens are hardy creatures and happy living outside. However, they must be provided with a sturdy and secure coop to protect them from predators such as badgers and foxes. It is also important to ensure their coop is weatherproof, so they can keep warm and dry. They need to feel safe and secure, so they can lay their eggs in peace.
As with all animals, always choose accommodation that is as large as possible, allowing an area of at least 45cm² per chicken. A large access door will make cleaning much easier. The house should also contain nest boxes, although there does not need to be one for each chicken. Removable perches about 50mm2 should be provided allowing about 30cm of perching space per bird, and should ideally be positioned higher than the nest boxes. Dust extracted shavings should be used on the floor of the house and shavings topped with soft straw in the nest boxes. Avoid hay as this can harbour mould spores.
The best coops have a droppings board underneath the perches, which makes cleaning much easier. Chickens will have access to the coop via a special door or ‘pop hole’ that should be closed and secured at night. It may be necessary to confine new chickens to their coop for a day or so before allowing them out into a small run, so they can get used to their new home. When they are familiar with their new coop, chickens will always return home to roost at night. They then need to be locked in after dark and released again when it gets light.
Putting old food sacks under the shavings in the house makes cleaning very quick and easy!
Ideally, your chickens should be allowed to roam in your garden, but if they are confined they need to have the biggest run possible. Small runs will need to be moved regularly otherwise the grass will be damaged and parasites can build up. They should have a variety of different areas within the run such as shrubs and logs for them to explore. Chickens also require areas of shade, a dry area or dust bath and lots of areas for them to scratch and scrape. As a rough guide for the run, allow about 1m² per chicken.