Chicken pens can often be a bit of a stumbling block when people are considering owning a flock of chickens – what do you buy? Or do you build one and if so, from a purchased kit or do you plan and construct from start to finish? I must admit, that when we are moving house and the time comes to think about the environment we will house our chickens in, we always start from scratch. My husband is very handy I’ll admit with construction (mainly steel) and has a shed which is full of various tools and equipment so this makes it much easier for him to lean towards construction from scratch rather than buying a ready made chicken pen or one in kit form. I just go with the flow as I definitely can’t sneeze at getting the job done. The other reason we tend to build our own pen is that when custom making a pen, it is possible to ensure that the actual pen area, as well as the roosting/nesting area are as big as we want. We live on a rural property so the two things that affect planning – size and appearance of the pen aren’t an issue. My small flock of 5 or 6 chickens (I often have more than this as well as other poultry) are very happy as they always have a lot more room than they ‘require’ and can forage without getting in each other’s way as well as get some exercise in the case where I may not have let them out for a day.
In planning the construction of our chicken pen, there are really two main areas we consider – the outside area and the inside/shed area. Within the inside or under cover area, we provide a space for nesting boxes to sit, and some perches for the chickens to rest on at night. The size of this ‘shed’ needs to be large enough to incorporate these features but also needs to be cost effective so some planning at this stage is crucial if you are building it yourself.
Normally, for a flock of around 10 chickens (which is plenty for provision of eggs for our family), we provide 3 or so nesting boxes. These are where the chickens will retreat one per day to lay their egg. We think about the location of the nesting boxes – should they be up high and how will the chickens access a nest box? Chickens like to lay in a private space that is preferably elevated so we usually fix the nest boxes at around 4 feet off the ground. Of course then it is necessary to provide access via a ‘ladder’ or some other stable object that can be used to jump on to gain height. You will be surprised just how agile chickens are. As far as perches go, it is easy to recycle a couple of old broom handles and mount them inside your ‘shed’ area, again in an elevated position. The chickens will roost on these snugly so provide enough space for your flock – perhaps one standard broom handle for up to 5 or 6 chickens. Note that wherever you position this perch, ensure that food and water is not located underneath as the chickens will quickly foul these with their droppings.
The outside run area of our chicken pens tend to be relatively large – about 10 feet by 10 feet or larger depending on the position. You can make this area any shape or size you like – the bigger it is, the more materials you will need which increases the cost (unless you are creative enough to find what you might need in someone else’s back yard or at the dump). The bottom line is that your chickens will appreciate every bit of extra space you can provide.