Housing the Flock
For those who haven’t read it, I duplicate below the section on housing in “Poultry 101: Starting a Small Flock of Chickens”. See also the article on deep litter, perhaps the most important housing issue, and on a feeding strategy designed to minimize rogue rodents in the poultry house. ~February 2007
I will share pictures and design details of our two poultry houses as soon as I can get to it.
Housing for chickens can be extremely simple. If you already have an existing shed or outbuilding, it can probably be modified to serve quite nicely. The fundamental requirements are that the birds be protected from the wind or heavy drafts; and that they be completely dry. Chickens have a strong instinct to roost; so will be more content if furnished with some structure on which to roost.
It is important not to overcrowd your birds. Allow a minimum of three square feet per bird, up to an ideal five square feet or more. Of course, if the flock has constant access to the outside, they will do fine with less space in their “sleeping quarters” inside.
Whatever shelter you give your birds should protect them from wind and sharp drafts, but at the same time should allow for adequate ventilation. I installed solid outer doors and inner frame doors with wire mesh. This configuration allows me to open up the house completely to airflow, while still keeping the birds confined and protected when desired. Also, the birds are able to sun themselves in the direct sunlight coming through the mesh doors and windows at various times during the day.
Please note that, if their shelter is tight and dry, chickens are very cold hardy. It is not necessary to provide artificial heat, and it could be detrimental to do so. [Occasionally single-comb cocks will get some frostbite on combs or wattles. If this becomes a serious problem, you could keep breeds with rose or pea combs instead.]
You will of course design your housing with predator protection (especially at night) in mind. But don’t anticipate threats like dogs, raccoons, and foxes only—a least weasel can get through any opening large enough for a rat! (I once lost 19 young chickens to a least weasel.) And speaking of rats: Remember that they can be a serious threat to chicks. Half-inch hardware cloth is a great thing.