Giving chickens the right environment and living conditions is important. If you get it right, the result will not only be happy hens but regular fresh eggs as well as reduced maintenance. Chickens need somewhere dry to lay their eggs and a place in which they can shelter from bad weather, the intensity of summer heat and the cold of a winter’s night. Usually chickens are provided with a roofed house that has laying boxes built into it. It is recommended that a hen house with a floor space of 2 square metres can support between 4 and 6 hens. Give your hens plenty of room, an over-crowded chicken house will result in stressed hens and poor egg-laying.
If your garden or land is large enough for your chickens to roam free outside the hen house during the day then that’s ideal, if not then you’ll need a chicken run. A chicken run is an area that is enclosed with mesh to keep the chickens in so they can forage and roam freely whilst at the same time keeping predators out. Some trees and shrubs can be a useful part of a run – providing shade and perches. It helps to keep any unpleasant odours from building up if you replenish the floor of the run with straw, leaf littler, pine needles or wood shavings. Often chicken runs are enclosed from the top as well as from the sides – this helps to reduce feed being robbed by hungry neighbourhood birds. Setting up a hen house and building a run can take a bit of time and money but once it’s all in place it should last for some time. It is worth the effort if you are serious about keeping chickens and making it a functioning part of your garden. If you don’t provide your chickens with adequate living conditions and space then they’ll just degrade your garden and it will end ugly and smelly and in all likelihood you will have mite-infested, diseased chickens that don’t lay many eggs.
If you intend to let your chickens roam free you may need to protect some of your garden areas. Chickens are great for rootling around in an orchard but if let loose in a vegetable they can wreak havoc, stripping plants of leaves and grubbing around in beds eating all the worms and ripping up plants in the process. Mesh fences should be at least 1m tall – leave the garden gate open at your peril!
Even well-looked after chickens can smell a bit so think about where you’re going to put your hen house and any enclosure. Putting it in the corner of your garden might place it close to a neighbour’s house - which may not be appreciated. Chickens need to be able to find shade in summer and general conditions are improved with good ventilation and cross winds. Vermin such as rats are inevitably attracted to chicken houses and runs – as they are to compost bins. They may even attack chicks and eat eggs as well helping themselves to chicken food. It pays to think about how you’ll manage this problem. Many chicken keepers use regularly baited traps.