The magic hen house

The new hen house arrived about an hour before I set off on my travels last Thursday. This allowed just enough time for me to help Mr Snail get it unpackaged and round the back of the house. The only construction required was attaching the laying boxes, sliding two doors into place, slotting in the perches and attaching the mesh run. Of course, the old run had to be dismantled and the old house moved out of the way. Mr Snail said he would do all this whilst I was away so that it would be fully installed by the time I returned home. And, thus, on Friday morning I was able to see a picture of the house in situ via Facebook and by Friday evening Mr Snail was able to report that the run was attached. There was a slight issue with attaching the drinker and feeder, but snipping a couple of pieces of wire allowed these to be attached and removed the need for a stand to support them.

The girls spent their first night in the new house last Thursday – sleeping on the floor rather than on the perches, but that is their choice and not a problem – there is plenty of space. The house is lovely – there is a big door at the back to allow easy cleaning, two perches, an adjustable vent and two nest boxes. The pop-hole at the other end from the big door opens into a run with another pop-hole in the solid end of this through which they can exit into the garden. The run is about a metre long, so I wouldn’t want them to be confined in there all the time, but it will provide a secure space for them should we wish to leave them safely overnight at times when our neighbours are not available to put them to bed.

The house is made of recycled agricultural plastic (old silage wrap, feed buckets, silage clamp covers, dumpy bags, fertiliser bags etc), so uses a resource that would otherwise simply be dumped. Hopefully we will never have to replace it because it won’t rot and should any component break, the company who made it will be able to make a new one: each house is built to order anyway.

Rare as hen's teeth: a Lorna egg

Rare as hen’s teeth: a Lorna egg

In addition, the people who made it appear to have added some sort of magic ingredient because yesterday, Mr Snail discovered Lorna sitting on one of the nest boxes, and when she stood up she revealed an egg. Her eggs are very distinctive and cannot be confused with eggs from any of the others. This is amazing, because the last time she laid an egg was June 2013. Having not produced anything for a year and being one of our oldest girls, we assumed that she had just run out, but clearly we were wrong. And just to prove that it wan’t a fluke – she has laid another one today! It was a very expensive way to get more eggs from her!

My theory is that because the new house is black inside and has no window, her laying has been triggered by her experiencing a very distinct difference between day and night. The only other possible explanation I can think of  is that I have recently started giving the girls a little of my homemade apple scrap vinegar in their water and it must be better than the commercial stuff, but I can’t believe that would trigger such a major effect. Either way, we’re happy and clearly Lorna is too!

A new house

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 original coop under construction

The original coop under construction

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…

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