Building a hen house in an area with varmints at night.

Discussion in 'Coop & Run - Design, Construction, & Maintenance' started by bartonlynch, Nov 18, 2010.

  1. bartonlynch

    bartonlynch Out Of The Brooder

    Nov 18, 2010
    Hi! I was recommended to this website from a friend. I am really excited about getting chickens, but I don't know much. I live in an area with woods around it, so there are predators. I was wondering what kind of safety I would need to keep my chickens alive.
    Also, I don't know where to buy or how to make a hen house, and I don't know what kind of design would be ideal for my want of about 6-8 chickens. If I could get any sort of help with this, I'd appreciate it! Thanks in advance, and I'll ask back throughout my process of getting/maintaining my new chickens.
    If you all need any more information, I can provide anything. I have a big-ish yard.
  2. patandchickens

    patandchickens Flock Mistress

    Apr 20, 2007
    Ontario, Canada
    *Are* there areas *without* varmints at night? LOL Welcome to the world of chickens, you're in the same boat that allllll the rest of us are in [​IMG]

    Your safest bet is to lock them into a predatorproof henhouse by dusk, and not let them out til after dawn the next day... every night, without fail, no matter how safe you *think* your run is.

    The general standard for predatorproof henhouses would be having a varmintproof popdoor (the little door the chickens use), having a raccoon-proof latch on the people door, overall construction sturdy enough that coons can't pull things apart at the seams (ie. tight and secure carpentry), and well-secured 1/2" hardwarecloth on all windows and vent openings.

    A secure run generally involves HEAVY GAUGE galvanized wire mesh fencing of no larger than 2x4" spacing (smaller is definitely better), and the bottom 2-3' should be even smaller mesh than that. One popular budget-friendly option is to use 2x4 or chainlink for the main run fence, but then add 1/2" hardwarecloth (*also*) along the bottom. Or you can make the whole dern thing out of 1x1 welded wire, or hardwarecloth, but that's a lot more expensive.

    To keep out digging predators, it is awfully smart to have either buried the base of the run fence at least 18" into the ground, or (much much easier, and just about as effective) take some of the same wire mesh you're using for your run fencing, 2-4' wide, and lay it flat on the ground just outside the run fence, securely attached to the base of the run fence and with the loose edge pegged down well. You can either leave it atop the ground there for the grass to eventually grow over, or cover it in pavers or rocks or gravel or whatever floats your boat.

    A secure run would ideally have a top on it (a real roof, engineered properly for snowload etc, or a roof made of the same mesh as the run fencing (see below) again with sturdy support), but that is expensive. In an area with little snow (or if you're willing to take it down for the winter) you can put various sorts of netting across the top of the run to at least keep chickens from flying out and hawks from flying IN, which is better than nothing. Or you can have an open-topped run and just hope for the best. Chickens can fly over just about any height of fence (especially if the top edge is very visible), although it is hard to predict whether they WILL fly over a particular run fence... but certainly you would not want anything less than 4' high.

    As far as space goes, because chickens get grumpy and cannibalistic when crowded, you're safest allowing AT LEAST 3-4 sq ft per chicken indoors and 8-10 sq ft per chicken in the run, but more ample quarters are better (personally I won't keep them at less than 10-15 sq ft apiece indoors, plus ample run, because they are just behaviorally happier and sanitation is easier too). Also, chances are good that in future you will want more chickens. So I know this is not the kind of help you were really LOOKING for, but the best advice is probably "build as big a coop as you can". I promise it will turn out to have been a good idea [​IMG]

    Your best bet would be if you can find someone selling a used shed on craigslist for a couple hundred dollars. Move it to your place, cut a popdoor and some extra ventilations, tack up a roost, and hey it's a coop. New sheds are also an option if you're in a higher price bracket, or get a "how to build a shed" book from the library and do it yourself for a bit cheaper. Purpose-made commercial chicken coops are IMHO usually a bad buy, most are poorly designed anyhow (except from a profitability standpoint) and they are all TOTALLY DELUSIONAL in the number of chickens they claim to hold. ("Holds up to x number of chickens" tends to mean, you can cram them all in there, not necessarily that it is a good IDEA to do so [​IMG])

    Beyond that, you will learn a tremendous lot if you just spend a few days (or weeks [​IMG]) browsing this forum. Not just the 'learning center' articles, tho they are good too, and not just the coop design pages, ditto -- but just browse thru threads on this forum that happen to catch your eye. You will quickly get a sense of what common challenges are, and common solutions to them [​IMG]

    Good luck, have fun, welcome to BYC [​IMG],

  3. bufforphfan

    bufforphfan Out Of The Brooder

    Jun 14, 2008
    Flock Mistress has given you good advice. I have 8 hens that roost in a 2x2x8ft elevated coop. There is a ramp leading from the run, up to the entry door. The door is hinged at the top and held open by a heavy cord. At night it is shut and a metal bar is run through two pipe hangers to secure it from racoons. The ventilation ports are at the top, just beneath the coop roof and are guarded by horizontal metal framing studs. The two elevated service doors are covered with metal hardware cloth. There are two double nest boxes hung on the service door side of the coop, at each end. The doors to the nests can be lifted to retrieve eggs and gravity makes sure they are closed. They are secured at night, so that racoons cannot open them. Racoons are very clever and use their paws like hands! I have also put up a two strand electric fence around the run and coop. I thought my coop was secure until a racoon got inside one night. After that, I installed the bar across the door and installed the electric fence and guards fro the ventilation ports. If you are unable to secure your coop every night, then you might consider investing in an automatic door ( about $180) that shuts itself at night and opens at daylight.
  4. mulewagon

    mulewagon Chillin' With My Peeps

    Nov 13, 2010
    We're in a wooded area too. I credit the survival of our chickens to our dog. We have a sturdy coop and run that will keep most things out, but there's no way they could have escaped all the varmints he drags in: skunks, raccoons, armadillos, dozens and dozens of opossums... we're running out of places to bury them in the thin soil! He's smart enough not to chase coyotes, either, but keeps to the yard and roars at the pack until they go by.

    Our next-door neighbors have had their chickens wiped out at least three times - once by raccoons, then a bobcat, and now weasels. They didn't have the chickens sleeping in a completely enclosed coop at first, and the bobcat got over an eight-foot fence.

    Things the dog can't stop:
    Hawks. We have big trees and stuff in the pen, and they may be blocking them. They circle, but haven't attacked yet.
    Foxes. They sneak in wherever the dog isn't. We had to stop free-ranging when there was a fox in the neighborhood. Maybe the coyotes got it.
    Weasels. These are my nightmare - they just slaughtered all my neighbor's chickens. Maybe the dog smell is keeping them away from us (knock wood!) They can sneak into tiny, tiny openings. Search this forum for weasel traps!
    Snakes. They can get into tiny openings, and steal eggs. I had at least ten eggs vanish from under a broody hen! Next year I'm building a special smaller broody coop, that will be bascially all hardware cloth.
    Rats. They'll get eggs, too. The dog catches them outside the pen, but some still get inside. I have the feeder set up away from the coop, so as to at least not encourage them!
    Owls. Locking the coop at night keeps them out.

    Don't be discouraged by the list, though! It's not like everything attacks at once. And good planning usually does the job - the only chickens we've lost were free-ranging. But whatever got them hasn't gotten past the dog and over the fence.
    Last edited: Nov 18, 2010

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