For some time now I have been weighing up the pros and cons of buying a new house… one with more space, one that’s easier to clean, one that hasn’t had its roof repaired with an old bath panel…
… for the hens, not me!
Five years ago we were chicken newbies, with no experience. Of course, what you do in these circumstances is search the interweb and learn as much as you can, before launching in, thinking you know what you are doing when, in fact, you are completely unprepared.
At that time, I understood from my research that, if I just wanted a few hens, a hen house with integral run would be ideal… we would be able to keep the chickens in it all the time and move it around the garden to wherever we wanted, allowing us to use the chickens to clear raised beds, mow the lawn and generally keep the pests under control. So, I shopped around and found a coop that was suitable for three or four hens and came complete with a feeder and water dispenser.
The coop arrived and Mr Snail assembled it with minimal swearing – result. We went off and bought three point-of-lay hens and inserted them into the coop along with the drinker and the feeder. Once all these things were in the outdoor part of the run, there was very little space for poultry manoeuvre, but the hens seemed ok.
It soon became clear, however, that there were issues with our chosen coop. First, the space in it did not allow our hens (supposedly happy outdoor birds) to run around, stretch their wings or even scratch about very much. Second, whilst in theory the coop is portable, it actually turned out to be really difficult to move about – one end is heavy (where the nest boxes are), whilst the other is light and getting a secure grip on it is difficult. In addition, you can’t move it with the hens inside, unless you shut them in the house… and anyway the ramp into the house kept getting in the way and finally became detached and we had to use hooks to attach it so that it could be removed when we were moving the coop.
And then. in the second year, we started to get red mites and had to use insecticide. Even when we thought we’d solved the problem, they kept coming back. After some investigation, we discovered that the roof had a cavity in it that provided an ideal mite refuge. We removed the original roof and replaced it with the aforementioned old bath panel – unsightly, but blessedly mite-free. Eventually, we decided to leave the door to the run permanently open and we started to use poles and garden netting to fashion a much bigger run for when we need confined hens… much of the time, however, they are free to roam about as the garden is generally chicken-proof (well, most of the time). Finally, the newly constructed pallet-gate means they can enjoy one half of the garden and the vegetables can remain safe in the other.
And so, we have continued to make the best of a bad coop. But now, laying has declined and we may have to increase our flock size a bit, so the original house is not big enough and a replacement may be in order. Thus, I have been researching eco-friendly hen houses that will not harbour mites, will have a long life, do not have a built in run, but do have to possibility of attaching a run (so we can safely leave the hens to their own devices overnight) and will house up to six girls. And the answer, it turns out, is recycled agricultural plastic. It’s not cheap, but it ticks all the boxes, plus it’s made from a waste product. And that’s what I’ve ordered – it’s from a firm that specialises in making animal housing and it is being made to order. It won’t rot, it will be easy to keep clean and pest-free and it comes ready-built, so Mr Snail won’t be forced into any sort of diy activities. It’s going to take up to a couple of weeks to arrive, but I’m hoping it will be the last hen house I ever have to buy.
Hmm… I wish I’d known all this stuff five years ago… and I haven’t even mentioned useless food and water dispensers… maybe another day…