Housing Requirements

Backyard hens have specific living requirements. The minimum requirements are that you have a coop and a run. Be sure to check with your area's bylaw to see if there are any specific regulations.  You can check out some local regulations here .


Let's start by looking at the coop.


Coops are required for a variety of reasons.  Some of those reason include keeping your girls protected from predators such as  raccoons, rats, owls, hawks and cats, giving them a private place to lay their eggs, a safe place to sleep and protecting them from the elements (heat in the summer, cold in the winter, rain, wind, etc.).


When it comes to a coop, you have three options.  You can buy a coop, make one or rent one (complete with chickens).


  • Rent: There are two local companies that will provide you with everything you need, from the coop to the chickens for a set fee. You can rent them for a month or for an entire season, to try it out before making the full commitment.  To learn more about these companies, check here.
  • Buy: If you are buying a coop, make sure it meets all of the requirements discussed below – especially for space and try to take a look at the coop before making the purchase. Neighbours of ours ordered a great coop from the United States. which was marketed for 4 hens – it would have been very tight with four though, especially full sized hens! 
  • Build: If you are building a coop, only your imagination is your limit. Pick a design that fits your financial budget and suits your situation, while still making sure to meet all the basic requirements.

Space Requirements

When looking at space, consider how many hens you would like to have and then look at the minimum space requirements for different sized hens.  Remember that more is always better - to a limit!  The amount of space you give your girls can seriously affect their health!  For example, you want to allow an adequate amount of space in order to help keep the humidity level to inside the coop to a minimum, but you also want to make sure there isn't so much space that the birds body heat can't keep the area heated through the winter - we'll look at this in more detail later!

 As a rule of thumb, a coop should have approximately 1.5 square feet of space per full-size hen or 1 square foot per bantam. Remember that this number is geared towards confined birds – birds that can free range require less space. Also keep in mind that the amount of space you need inside the coop will depend on a couple of things, such as how much outdoor time your hen’s will have – given that Kitchener’s regulations require bird to be confined within their run at all times, you should look at giving your girls a bit more space.  Also keep in mind that larger breeds require more space than smaller breeds.  

Location

In my experience, having a short walk from your home to the chicken yard is a good thing - besides being able to hear potential predators and gather eggs, I like having them close for visits, especially in the winter.  There are several other things to keep in mind when picking the locations for your coop though.


  • Ensure that the coop is located on a high, well drained area, preventing prolonged dampness and water saturation, but also not on a hill where it can be caught in winds
  • Face the front of the coop, any windows and the outside of the run to the south, which allows the sun to warm and dry the coop and soil
  • Use common sense!  If your coop is going to be located within sight of your neighbours, be extra sure to keep it from becoming an eyesore!  All weeds and trash should be removed, as well proper landscaping can provide screening from the neighbours and help to muffle sounds from the birds.  Also try to use building materials that are easy to clean.
  • Keep in mind any setbacks as required by local bylaws.   In Kitchener, your coop must be located 1.2 m from the rear lot line and 2.5 m from the side lot line, although with neighbour consent it can be closer.

Lighting

  • If you choose to put a window in your coop, be sure you have enough of a roof overhang to keep the summer sun from beating through it. You’ll also want to consider putting the window on the south side if you live in a colder climate. They can be used as a source of heat in the winter and for ventilation in the summer.
  • Lighting is important for the hen since they can require 12-14 hours of light a day. The more the better.
  • The debate on whether or not to have artificial lighting is a hot topic. We personally have never used artificial lighting. Whether or not you choose to use it in your coop is personal choice. Either way, be sure you do your research and talk to chicken keepers who are keeping their flock in ways similar to how you want to do it.
  • Some people choose to install a regular lightbulb or Christmas light to provide this light.

Ventilation

  • Ventilation is of the utmost importance. The more chickens you have in your coop, the more moisture there will be in the air because of their respirations and poop.
  • Chickens have a high respiration rate because they can’t sweat. Instead, they exhale excess moisture. If there isn’t proper air circulation, litter will get wet which will result in a buildup of ammonia. The build up of ammonia in your coop can cause health issues with your birds including ammonia poisoning, damage to their respiratory systems, foot damage and more.
  • the coop must be dry and draft-free – this can be accommodated by building a draft free house with doors, and/or windows which can be opened for ventilation, which is important both to bring in fresh air and to allow excess moisture, ammonia or carbon dioxide to be removed as the stale air moves out of the house – dampness and ammonia building are a sign that there is not enough ventilation
  • failure to insulate or ventilate properly causes moisture to accumulate on the walls and ceiling in cool weather. Poultry can handle the cold very well if they are dry. However, cool and humid conditions can create health problems locate any openings on the side away from the prevailing winds – the south or east side is usually the best.