Today feels like we’ve taken a real step towards scaling up – we’ve bought a shed! When I say shed, I mean coop, and this seemed the most cost and time effective way to have strong and secure housing for the first group of 50 hens. Going forward I’ll build the housing, but initially, using a shed will give us 90% of a hen house.
We live close to a factory shop for Rowlinson, a garden product manufacturer, and the shed we bought was classed as ‘seconds’, but only because of discolouration, and because we’ll be painting it a soft green, the discolouration doesn’t matter. The shed itself is an 8′ x 6′ shiplap wooden shed. Ideally we’d have something slightly bigger for 50 hens, but that size was about the largest we could fit onto the trailer, and will allow us to start re-homing larger groups. We wanted shiplap rather than the cheaper overlap sides as shiplap should stay stronger and not warp in the warmer and cooler weather.
Now a shed isn’t a coop, and will require some changes before we can house the new hens inside and over the next few weeks I’ll be researching and planning the changes that will be needed, but initially in my head, I’ll need to consider the following.
The floor is OSB (a type of wooden particle board formed by gluing pieces of wood together) and this will need treated on the underside as it’s close to the ground, though I will be putting the shed on concrete bearers to create an air gap as well as making the space under the shed more open, to try and discourage rodents nesting there. The OSB will need strengthened though to prevent anything underneath getting in – should it breach the electric fence, and I want to do something with the indoor side of the floor to prevent excessive moisture from the hens droppings penetrating the floor. Gloss paint may be an option for this that would then allow a proper clean, or some kind of plastic. If I’m strengthening the floor by sandwiching two boards together it would make sense to add a layer of weldmesh between the boards for added security.
The roof is OSB also, and fairly thin, and roofing felt has been supplied to cover the boards. The main concerns with a hen house roof are protection from moisture and security. Fitted well the felt should be okay, but ideally I’d use bitumen sheeting, such as Onduline, that we use for the current coop. Felt is a haven for red mite, but an option is to start with the felt and see how that goes, it can be easily replaced if needed. The security element is important too, and I’ve seen pictures and heard tales of foxes ripping through cheap thin wood. I need to think about this carefully, but the shed will always be behind an electric fence so the roof shouldn’t be directly exposed to predators. Deciding on the roof opens up options for a canopy to be part of the roof, as the hens will need shelter from sun and rain, and if the roof is being strengthened there is an option to use larger sheets of wood to create a covered area directly beside the coop.
Ventilation in a coop is very important, in particular to release the ammonia smells and fumes from the hens droppings, to remove dampness and humidity, and to keep the coop cooler in the summer. Our current coop has an attached weldmesh run, with a weldmesh rood and floor, meaning that we can leave the pop door open all the time, increasing ventilation, and the hens can get outside as soon as they like.
We won’t have an attached run to the shed, so need to provide a decent amount of space at the top of two opposite walls that can be covered with weldmesh. At this stage my thoughts are to cut out a strip that will run most of the length of the two larger sides of the shed (the 2.4m sides), and maybe 300 – 400mm wide to create weldmesh windows, with some kind of shutter or variable cover. This should give decent ventilation for the space, but I also need some way of making sure that rain doesn’t get in – a coop needs to be dry.
A nesting area or nest boxes are important, as whilst the hens may not lay a lot of eggs, from experience, they will lay some, and they need a private, safe area to do so in. There are two options that I’ll be considering, both with pros and cons.
The first option is to create an area inside the shed that is sectioned off, either with dedicated nest boxes, or (as the old poultry books have documented) to put a board against the wall for the hens to lay their eggs in. Indeed, when we had Eve, Ivy and Merry in the barn for a few months when they first arrived, we used this method to give them a private space to lay eggs – we did have to change though when they used the top of the board as a launchpad to get over the fence that was enclosing them!
The second option is to build dedicated exterior nesting boxes. This would give the hens more overall space and would mean that the eggs could be collected without going into the shed. We’ll still need to go into the shed each day to clean, but exterior nest boxes would make egg collecting easier. Also, despite having ample roosting perches, we’ve found that the rescue hens often like to sleep on the floor or in a nest box, and even use the nest box as a quiet place to get away from the other hens when they’re ill. This does mean keeping on top of cleaning, but we tend to clean the coop first thing in the morning anyway. Having external nest boxes will take time to build, and must be built correctly to allow rainwater to fall away without entering the nest box or shed.
The shed has a decent door for humans and hens to use, and apart from swapping the black ironmongery with stronger galvanised hinges and fixings, the door is fine. What will need to be added though is a pop door for the hens to use, that is on a timer, for their safety, and this could be added a side of the shed or to the door itself. It may make sense to add the pop door to the side of the shed that has the canopy, so that the hens can get in and out for food easily without the main door needing to be opened.
Hens need somewhere off the floor to perch at night and for the current coop I’ve build removable perches, and my initial thoughts are to do the same for the shed. Fixed perches could be added easily, as I make the perches from 50mm x 50mm pressure treated timber, but where the perch joins to the wall is an ideal hiding place for red mite, and I’ve doing that making the perches removable allows them to be cleaned or replaced easily.
A lot to think about and do over the next few months!