converting a corn crib


6 Years
Sep 7, 2013
First off--Hello! I'm thinking about getting hens and trying to do some research on how to keep and take care of them. Mostly what I have come across is how they are oh-so easy and anyone can do it, but I'm not the type to just go out and get some and worry about the how-to's later. I need to know what I'm getting into! And I have a feeling there is a little more than just "Find chickens. Buy them. Now you have chickens."

I have a 6' x 11.5' metal corn crib. The ceiling is probably 10' at the high point and 8' on the low side. Roof is on a single slant. The door is on one of the 6' ends. The walls have vents every couple of inches from top to bottom.

I'm wondering about warmth in the winter (north-east Ohio), as well as set-up on the inside. I have basically read over and over again that hens need 2 to 4 square feet of space per bird, that the nesting boxes should be at least 2 feet off the floor, and that the roosts should be higher than the nesting boxes, and probably as high as possible. I know some people who have far less space than this, per bird, and almost no roosting space. But the birds do have free range of their property during the day.

As far as warmth, should these walls be covered? On the out-side, on the inside, only in the winter with plastic and removed in the summer? Will the chickens eat/destroy the plastic?

Is there a particular type of wood that should or should not be used for roosting branches or any other interior structures?

What would be an ideal set up for a long narrow coop? I'm thinking 4 hens, but I would not be opposed to more, or less. Are they uncomfortable in "too much" space at night? Or are they happy to have the room? Lets say there are 4 hens. Should the nesting areas be close together at the 6ft end, or spread more apart on an 11ft side, or on both sides?

The floor is wood. Would it be cleaned similarly to a horse stall? Does it need mats since it is not a dirt floor?

Please let me know what I'm not thinking of! I know nothing and am just starting to think about this venture! All I have is the empty corn crib. Thanks for any input.
Chickens can be pretty easy if you take care of the basics or they can be extremely complicated if you overthink it or go out of your way to make it complicated. We all have our own unique situation. We have different climates, set-up, flock make-ups, goals, management techniques, breeds, urban versus rural, the list of what makes each of us unique goes on and on. There is almost never one magic number for anything to do with chickens that is right or wrong for every one of us. It’s more what works in our unique situation. It’s great when people tell you what does or does not work for them, but you have to filter it to see if it might apply to your situation.

Northeast Ohio. Thanks for providing that information. It helps. Yeah, you can get pretty cold with nasty storms coming through. Most chickens can handle cold really well. You might run into a challenge with some of the decorative birds, but my standard full-sized dual purpose chickens go foraging with the temperature below zero Fahrenheit as long as the wind is not blowing. They do not like a cold wind at all, think wind chill. During the day they can pretty much find a place out of the wind, but at night on the roost is where they need protection from a direct wind hitting them. You’ll need to find a way to block the wind from over their heads when they are on the roost to the ground in the winter. In summer a breeze feels nice. Heat in summer is actually more of a threat to them than cold as long as you take care of the basics.

They will eat Styrofoam or insulation. I’d suggest maybe plywood or wood, plastic, or metal siding. It could go on the inside or outside. A tarp or heavy drop cloth will work. You might look at an easy way to remove some of it during the summer to provide more ventilation.

But they also need good ventilation in the winter. Two reasons. Their poop gives off ammonia when it is damp and not frozen. Ammonia can mess up their respiratory system. Ammonia is lighter than air. You need a hole above their heads so that ammonia can escape. High humidity can lead to frostbite. Warm air rises and holds more moisture than cold air. Again, openings above their heads helps get rid of humidity.

There is no magic number on how much space a chicken needs. That depends on the individual chicken’s personality and your management techniques. I find that the more space I give them the fewer behavioral problems I have to deal with, the less hard I have to work, and the more flexibility I have in dealing with problems. And it doesn’t matter if that space is in the coop, coop and run, or they free range and sleep in trees. The important thing is that the space is available when they are awake.

You might read my comments in this thread on nests. Post number 5.

The roosts do need to be higher than the nests. Chickens like to sleep as high as they can get. You don’t want them to sleep in your nests because they poop a lot at night.

I think the roosts need to be as low as reasonable. Some people really worry about a chicken hopping off the roost and hurting their legs. They are living animals and anything is possible, but I really don’t see that as a problem with regular chickens, maybe the really big ones like Jersey Giants or maybe Brahmas. They are going to fly down, not just jump and do a cannonball to the floor. The higher the roost, the more clear room they need for a landing area. You don’t want them hitting nests, walls, feeders, waterers, or something else on the way down. In your corn crib it should be real easy to provide a clear landing area. That’s a nice size for a few chickens.

The way I position my roosts is to start at the floor level. Position my nests, taking into account the height of the bedding. Then put the roosts about a foot higher than the top of the nests. That way they are clearly higher than anything you don’t want them sleeping on.

You will see some pretty strong opinions on what to use for roosts. Some people are even convinced that chickens are the only roosting/perching bird in the world whose toes don’t bend to grip what they are perching/roosting on. I think the roost should be wood. Metal or plastic is slick and can be a real good conductor. They can get really really cold in the winter. Stay away from metal or plastic. Some people are convinced you absolutely have to use a 2x4 with the flat side up so they when they squat down on the roosts their toes are covered. There is nothing wrong with using a 2x4 on its side. It works. Lots of people use a 2x4 with the skinny side up. That works also. I use tree branches, parts of which are about the diameter of the skinny side of a 2x4. When mine squat down on the roosts, their toes are covered. But still, there is nothing wrong with a 2x4 with wide side up. Say you will do it that way and you’ll make a lot of people happy.

If you do use a board, I suggest sanding the sharp corners off. Part of that is to make it easier for them to grip with those toes that don’t bend, but also to remove splinters.

The only wood I’m aware of that might cause any sort of problem is cedar, and that’s when it is shredded and used as bedding. Cedar gives off fumes that can harm respiratory systems. When you shred it, you create a lot of surface area so those fumes can build up. With lumber, you don’t have that much surface area, but I’d still stay away from making enclosures like nests out of cedar. Cedar is kind of expensive unless it is free anyway, but it would be OK for a roost.

They are not uncomfortable with too much space at night or any other time. There is no “best” way to set up a coop. Just make it as convenient to you as you can. The chickens really don’t care. It’s normally best to put the roost on the end away from the door so you don’t bump into it. The nests, feed, and water need to be positioned so they don’t poop in them from the roosts. Remember to leave a clear landing space when they get down from the roosts.

I suggest you put in two nests. You could probably get by with one for four hens, that’s a common ratio given on here one nest for every four hens, but an extra nest might come in handy if say a hen goes broody or you want to expand.

Yeah, the wood floor should be treated similarly to a horse stall. Some people might use mats, but I’d suggest pine or aspen wood shavings. I think you’ll have to clean a lot less often. A question though. When it rains does that crib get wet? You don’t want the bedding to get wet. A wet coop is a dangerous coop from a disease aspect, plus it will probably stink. You don’t want corn to get wet either so hopefully that is not an issue.

That’s enough typing. Remember that a lot of this is my opinion based on my experience in my unique circumstances, not necessarily laws of nature. There is some personal preference involved. Hopefully you can get something out of this that helps you in your unique situation. Good luck and welcome to the adventure.
Thanks for the info! great stuff to think about. to answer your question, the corn crib does not leak, although I'm sure in extreme wind/rain it may get wet in there from the wind blowing rain in. There is a window on the high side toward the roof that can have a screen or cover depending on the weather. Sounds like I may be able to keep the very tops of the walls uncovered for ventilation in the winter?

I'm sure chickens are easy when you understand them. But I don't want to totally stress them by doing things completely against their instincts. So its good to know that convenience is an ok thing to keep in mind for the set-up of the coop. I'm all for convenience in the horse barn--they aren't that picky either.

I would like to move the building, as it is sitting in the middle of a field. I want it closer to the barn, but this would put it next to/slightly in the woods. We have predators, but predators can get to them anywhere on the property. Other than the basic security against raccoons, foxes, coyotes, etc, is there anything else I need to worry about being near the woods? I have a friend that has her coop in the woods and the birds wander throughout the woods during the day. One disappeared on the day I was scheduled to put them up for the night while the owners were on vacation :( She purposely didn't tell me how many chickens she had because she didn't want me to worry, but I know! Probably a predator, but I'm wondering again if there is something I'm not thinking of.

If it helps for info purposes, I only want chickens for eggs. not interested in raising babies, or meat.

This brings me to the nesting boxes. Was heading to research a little about them, but while I'm here I might as well ask. I have several wooden boxes and crates ranging from 2.5ft long to 1 ft long and 1.5 wide. would these be ok for nesting areas?

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