Many families are interested in getting started with hens that they may produce their own fresh eggs and, if they’re brave, enjoy some meat as well. Unfortunately, they go online for coop design ideas and…it’s just crazy. On one extreme you’ll find coops made out of recycled farm debris and on the other, you’ll find designer coops built by professional carpenters. Why can’t there just be something…simple?
One thing that’s clear, living in a rural area, is that the older folks knew how to build simple and productive farm buildings. They didn’t have much money and needed to design buildings that just worked. I’d like to recommend one simple old chicken coop design that will serve most beginners very well. The following instructions were published by the U.S.D.A. for American farmers in 1923.
Poultry houses or other buildings where fowls are kept should be dry, well ventilated, free from drafts, with plenty of sunshine and room enough to allow the birds to move about with freedom and comfort. These are necessary factors, in fact much more important than the kind or style of building used, if the fowls are to be kept healthy, vigorous, and productive. Poultry houses are built in a variety of shapes and sizes, and often old buildings are built over or remodeled into poultry houses, all giving about the same results, which indicates that no fixed type of building can be recommended as superior to all others if proper ventilation, light, and other essentials here referred to are provided.
If new houses are to be built they should be located if possible on high or sloping ground and always on dry and well-drained soil. 1 Wet or damp ground means a damp house and a damp house not only means a cold one but invites sickness and diseases. Never build a house in a hollow, as water and cold air settle in low places and should be avoided. Have the house face the south, as it gives more sunlight and for a longer part of the day, especially in winter, when sunlight is necessary for the comfort of the birds. It also makes the house warmer, drier, and more cheerful and adds to the productive- ness of the flock.
The poultry house should be convenient, substantial, and inexpen- sive. Its size or dimensions depend largely upon where you live and the number of fowls you wish to keep. On a farm or where the birds can be out of doors nearly every day in the year, about 2-1/2 square feet of floor space per bird in flocks of 20 is enough, but in a village or city or in a climate where there is a good deal of snow, making it necessary to confine the birds closely, 4 or 5 square feet per bird should be allowed.
House for a Small Flock
The house pictures is a very satisfactory one for anyone who wishes to keep a small flock, as it may be used for breeding birds or for hens kept only for egg production. It is 10 feet long, 7 feet wide, 6 feet 2 inches high in front and 4 feet high in back, and will accommodate any number of birds up to 25. The following materials were used in its construction:
- (2) 4 x 6 x 12, for sills
- (3) 2 x 4 x 14, for joists
- (3) 2 x 4 x 16, for rafters
- (13) 2 x 4 x 12, for studs and braces
- 340 sq. ft. of 7/8-inch matched flooring for floors and sides
- 100 sq. ft. of 1-inch sheathing for the roof
- 1 roll of roofing paper
- 2 windows
- wire for windows
Common boards 1 inch thick may be used instead of matched flooring for enclosing the house, but in that case battens should be placed over the cracks. Boards as wide as possible should be used, as the wider the boards the smaller the number of battens required. The use of battens is somewhat cheaper and just as satisfactory, although the house is not quite so attractive.
Note: In some parts of the South “stick-tight fleas” are very troublesome. These fleas breed rapidly in the dry sand or dirt, but will not live or breed in damp places. Therefore, where dirt floors are used the poultry houses are often built in rather low damp places (not wet) in preference to a high, sandy, dry location.
In a climate where the winters are not exceptionally cold it is preferable to cut one large opening in the front of the house instead of 2 windows and the opening between them, as pictures, and to cover it with wire netting instead of putting in sash and glass. When this is to be done, cut the opening lengthwise of the building 7 feet long, 2-1/2 feet wide, and 6 inches from the roof. Such an opening provides an abundance of ventilation, fresh air, and sun- shine, which are very necessary. If it is too cold, a burlap curtain may be made to put down over the opening at night and on extremely cold days. A hen will stand a good deal of cold air, however, provided the air is dry, and plenty of ventilation helps to keep the air dry in the house.
The house pictured was built on runners so it could be moved to fresh ground occasionally, but if desired it may be put on a permanent foundation, and the runners left off.
Poultry houses may be built with or without floors. In either case they should be dry, as damp floors make damp litter, and dampness is fatal to both fowls and chicks.
If the house is on dry sandy soil, a dirt floor is usually quite satisfactory, but as a rule it is more damp than board or cement floors. Dirt floors should be scraped down to the clean soil and fresh gravel or sand put in once a year to keep them sanitary. If board floors are used they should be both tight and smooth so as to make them dry and easy to clean. If possible they should be 8 or 10 inches from the ground to allow a circulation of air and. to prevent rats from harboring under them.
Cement floors, especially for large houses, are quite satisfactory, as they keep rats out and also last much longer than board floors. They are also sanitary and easy to clean. A cement floor should always be kept well covered with litter; otherwise it is cold and uncomfortable for the birds.
The interior of each poultry house should be simple, convenient, and easy to clean. About the same arrangement can apply to any house, the only difference being that the larger the number of fowls kept the more nests and roosting room required.
Always place the roosts in the back of the house away from the windows or openings to avoid cold. To catch the droppings, build a platform or dropping boards about 2 feet or 2 feet 6 inches from the floor (never more than 2 feet 6 inches) and have the roosts about 8 inches above the dropping boards and 15 inches apart.
From 8 to 10 inches of roosting space should be allowed for each hen. The roosts should be built as shown in the picture and hinged to the back wall, so that they may be raised and both roosts and dropping boards cleaned and sprayed thoroughly. All roosts should be of the same height. Never build one above the other, as every hen will try to get on the highest roost and will fight and try to crowd the others off.
Figure 2 also shows at the end of the roosts a small coop enclosed with wire and having a slat bottom for confining broody hens. Such a coop may or may not be included with the other fixtures, as the club member may wish. If built it should be 3 or 4 inches above the platform, as shown in the picture, because it is easier to keep clean and also allows air to circulate underneath and through the slats, which is important in breaking up sitting hens. If this brood coop is not built, a small slatted coop or crate suspended from the ceiling by a wire or rope, allowing it to swing, makes a good place to break up broody hens.
There should be a nest for every 4 hens. Nests should be at least 15 inches square, and may be built singly or in rows and fastened to the side of the building or placed under the dropping boards, as shown in figure 2. If possible, however, nests should be somewhat secluded or darkened, as the hens seek such nests more readily and are also less liable to acquire the habit of eating their eggs. The entrances to the nests in the picture are from the back, the door in front being for convenience in gathering the eggs.
The floor of every poultry house, whether of dirt, boards, or cement, should be kept covered with a litter from 3 to 6 inches deep at all times. Oat, wheat, or rye straw makes the best litter, but if it can not be obtained sawdust, chaff, dry leaves, or pine needles may be used. As soon as the litter becomes damp or badly soiled it should be taken out and fresh, dry litter put in its place.
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