The basics of chicken housing is they need somewhere dry and safe. There are two main parts to a chicken enclosure – the house or coop and the run.
If building a purpose built chook pen, consider head height (you will appreciate it the first time you need to clean it out!) and access to laying boxes. You can try and source recycled materials, but be wary of treated pine, as chickens can peck at the wood and ingest the poison that its treated with. Pens should not get too hot or too cold, so consider the location and the position of the sun in all seasons. A tree for shade is a great idea – fruit trees do well in runs, but put rocks around the roots or they will get dug out. Remember to make your pens fox-resistant. Either dig in the outer boundary to 30-40cm deep or lay mesh at least 30cm around the outside of the pen then backfill with dirt. Foxes will often dig close to the pen and this way they will only find mesh. “Chicken wire” is not fox-proof – foxes can easily tear through it, so you will need a stronger mesh wire.
The coop should be draft-proof for keeping warm in winter. Though chickens have feathers that will keep them warm for the most part, they won’t cope well with a freezing wind while they are sleeping.
Perches/ roosts for sleeping don’t need to be too high off the ground and should be nice and wide for big chicken feet (think the size of your ankle). Younger chickens may not roost properly for a while and may just sleep in a chicken pile. This is fine, they’ll work it out eventually, and will be warmer in the interim while they are small. Make sure chickens don’t need to jump too far or high to reach perches – heavier breeds especially can sprain/break legs.
There are a couple of different flooring systems each with different pros and cons. An earth floor means the litter has access to the ground and can break down and improve the soil over time. The enclosure will be need to be fully dug in though, or have wire coming out along the ground for at least 30cm to stop foxes burrowing in.
A concrete floor can be easy to hose out, but is obviously highly permanent and doesn’t allow for transfer of nutrients to the soil.
Wooden floors are an option, but they can warp in the damp environment and will also eventually rot away so will need replacing.
Litter goes on top of the floor. The litter needs to be dry – sawdust, pea straw, lucerne, sugar cane or rice hulls are a good option. Don’t use straw bales because mites can hide in the hollow straw. The deep litter system is where the litter is at least 30cm deep, and you only need to clean it out about once a year or so. The chickens turn the litter over and it is good mulch in about a year. Shallower litter will need mucking out much more regularly – like once a week to once a month depending on how many chickens you have.
Another option is a chicken tractor that can be moved around the garden or pens that can be rotated over the top of garden beds. These have the advantage of improving the soil all over the garden.
Have somewhere where your chickens can dust bath – dirt is fine. If you have an earth floor under the litter, the chickens will just dig down and dust bath there.
Feeders and Waterers
Hang these at chicken head height – too low and they will scratch the food out everywhere, too high and they won’t be able to reach.
Chickens will destroy pretty much anything you give them access to, so if you don’t want them digging up your garden you either need to fence in your veges if they are going to free range or build a chicken run. Flightier breeds will need higher fences, and some will need the roof covered over too. White bird netting over a polypipe structure should keep them in. This also has the benefit of keeping wild birds out, as they not only steal food but can carry diseases.
Another thing to consider when building your chicken house, is where you will store your feed and other chicken supplies. It can be useful to have these stored close to where you will need them, but remember to make wherever you store your feed rodent resistant. Spilled feed encourages mice and rats, which if not bad enough on their own, can then also encourage snakes.