Introduction: Easy-Care Henhouse
I moved a while back, and one of my first priorities was building a henhouse. I have built a few henhouses, and I incorporated lessons I learned from previous efforts. It gets cold here in the winter, so this henhouse will be insulated. I also wanted the henhouse to be low-maintenance, and it had to be secure from predators. The henhouse needs to fit in a small area, but still be large enough for a dozen hens. Features include: an outside nest box, a storeroom, a moveable roost, a watering system, a built-in feeder, and an automated pop-hole door. The henhouse is six feet wide (not counting the nest box) by ten feet long. There are also a number of security features that I hope will keep the hens safe.
With the exception of the plywood, I bought all the lumber for this project from a local sawmill. They had excellent deals on boards that had a bit of bark still on them, or which were not quite up to the mill's standards. With most of the boards costing only a dollar or two, I was able to do the framing and siding for a fraction of the cost of shopping at a home improvement store.
Two sheets of 3/4-inch tongue and groove plywood flooring
6 sheets 1/4-inch plywood (interior walls)
6 sheets 1/2-inch plywood (roof)
6 sheets of Lexan roof material (12-foot)
3 roof crown pieces of the same material
1 roll roofing felt
2 2x8s, 16-feet long. (for the skids)
About 80 2x4 studs. [My original estimate was that the whole project would need about 40 studs for the walls, I ended up using twice that number for additional framing around windows and doors, adding blocking inside the walls and ceiling, and making the nest box and shelves.]
36 2x6s, 8-feet long, for the floor joists and roof trusses.
2 2x6s, 10 feet long for the long side of the floor joists
19 16-foot 1x12s for the siding
10 8-foot 1x12s (I came up a few boards short for the exterior, and I needed more boards to rip for trim and battens.)
About 1,600 3-inch nails (I have an impulse nail gun, but you could build this with screws instead.)
2 7-inch long 5/8-inch bolts for the roost
2 4-inch, 5/16-inch bolts and fender washers for the swinging legs
25-foot roll of 1/2-inch wire mesh (36-inch wide) (to varmint-proof the underside and windows)
About five rolls of fiberglass insulation
Partial roll of linoleum flooring
Mastic to glue down flooring
2 quarts of water-based Varithane to seal the interior, plus a roller and paintbrush
Air compressor and staple gun
24-inch by 36-inch piece of sheet metal for the feeder
Welded wire panel (2-inch squares) to armor the windows
Bolt cutters (for the welded wire).
Various hold-downs for mounting the PVC pipe and welded wire window coverings.
4 cinder blocks for the foundation
7-gallon water tank
Pan to catch any drips (optional)
Barbed "T" fitting to fit the tank
Barbed straight fitting to connect vinyl tubing to the PVC Pipe
1-inch diameter clear vinyl tubing (about 7 feet)
2 ten-foot lengths of 3/4-inch PVC pipe, glue, and fittings for the water system.
20 water drippers for the chickens to drink from
20 "T" fittings for the drippers
Arduino Mega 2560 microcontroller
L298N motor controller
24 volt DC motor
2 light duty pulleys (20 pound) for raising the pop-hole door
1 sheet of plexiglass (1/4-inch thick) 11-inches by 14-inches (for pop-hole door)
2 heavy duty pulleys for raising the roost
Plastic Box to hold the electronics
[I'm sure I'm forgetting some items.]
Step 1: Plan Your Henhouse
At the outset, I decided that this henhouse would be six-feet wide by 10-feet long. I was basically aiming to get the most out of 2 sheets of plywood flooring. Yes, I could have made it 8 by 8 feet, but I wanted the 10-foot length to accommodate storeroom at one end and still have enough wall space for a row of nest boxes.
In addition to the storeroom, the henhouse needs to fit roosts, nest boxes, a feeder, watering system, and a pop-hole door. Three feet of the ten-foot length is taken up by the storeroom. I considered various alternatives for where to put the door to the henhouse. I finally decided to have the entrance go through the middle of the storeroom, making sort of a vestibule. I found a good solid wood outer door at a second-hand store, and I was given a nice interior door for the entrance to the roost area.
With insulation in the walls, the interior walls need some sort of paneling. Drywall wasn't a good option, as the hens would eventually start pecking holes in it. I settled on 1/4-inch thick plywood for the interior paneling.
I also wanted the hens to have lots of ventilation during the summer, so there is a big front window (4 feet wide by 3 feet tall), and a smaller window on the back end of the henhouse.
When I was a kid, we had a henhouse with a long row of nest boxes, and I'm incorporating a similar row of nest boxes for purely sentimental reasons.
Step 2: Skids for the Foundation
I may want to move the henhouse in the future, so I'm building it on skids. These are just two-by-eight boards placed on edge, and tapered at the ends. The skids are kept vertical and held tightly together with a couple of 2x4 cross members. Diagonal corner supports keep things square. Having the henhouse on skids also makes room for the hens to hang out underneath during hot days.
Half-inch wire mesh hardware cloth, tacked on top of the skids keeps rodents from getting into the insulation. 2x6 floor joists on 16-inch centers complete the support for the plywood floor. I adjusted the spacing a bit and added blocking to get support under the seams between the sheets of plywood flooring.
I added fiberglass insulation between the floor joists before nailing on the plywood flooring. Sorry I didn't get a picture of the floor joists and insulation before nailing down the subfloor.
Step 3: Framing the Walls
Wall framing is pretty standard. I have adjusted the spacing of the studs around the nest boxes, but otherwise everything is on 16-inch centers. I am embarrassed at how far off my calculations were for the number of studs used in the henhouse. I thought 40 would be enough, but I used nearly twice that many in total. The extra studs went to things like blocking (to make places to nail paneling to), and extra framing around the nest box and windows.
Step 4: Trusses for the Roof
I was debating whether to use a ridge-beam, or trusses for the roof. I chose trusses, and have only regretted it a little. For one thing, they were very heavy, made from two-by-six lumber. That's certainly overkill, but these boards were ridiculously cheap.
I used scraps of plywood left over from the roof sheeting to make gussets for the trusses. These were glued and stapled to complete the trusses. Note, I made the eaves of the henhouse longer on the nest box side to keep rain and snow off the nest box. The trusses are 5 1/2 feet long on the front side, and 6 1/2 feet long on the back side. The polycarbonate panels are 12 feet long, so that limits the length of the sides, unless you change the pitch of the roof.
These trusses were heavy, so I used some of the boards I bought for making fence panels as a ramp to slide the trusses up on top of the walls. These were too much for me to handle alone, and thankfully I had lots of help installing them and the other roofing parts.
Step 5: Sheeting and Polycarbonate Panels for the Roof
The roof is fairly straight forward, half-inch plywood sheeting, with roofing felt, topped by polycarbonate roofing panels. I used six sets of the "closure strips" (wavy plastic parts that support the polycarbonate) under the panels. These give support under the polycarbonate panels so the screws won't squish the panels. They make special roof-crown pieces to fit these polycarbonate panels, but I couldn't find them in any store. I wound up buying five of them on line, and I'm using the extra parts for another project. I do wish I had taken a heat gun to the roof-crown parts to get the pitch to match my 12:12 roof pitch. The material bends easily enough, but it was hard to line things up correctly.
I also added metal flashing at the ends and edges of the plywood to give the roof a finished look.
As previously mentioned, the eaves are a foot longer on the side over the nest boxes. The front and back eaves are also different, with the front extending 16 inches to cover the door, while the back eaves are only 8 inches deep. Our weather comes in from the front direction, so I wanted more protection on that end.
Step 6: Windows and Doors
I found a cheap window for the back of the henhouse on Craigslist, and bought the big front window at a home improvement store. The front window is 4 feet wide by 3 feet high, and the other window is about 4 feet wide by 20 inches high.
These windows provide good ventilation, but a large predator could get through the screens, even with hardware cloth mounted over the screen. The half-inch hardware cloth will hopefully keep out weasels, and for larger predators I put welded wire mesh (two-inch squares) that I found at a steel yard over the whole window. This mesh is mounted to the window trim with stainless steel hold-downs, fastened with four-inch deck screws. The bottom edges of these panels are attached with half-hold downs that are loose enough that they can be rotated out of the way, so the grills can be raised for cleaning the windows.
Step 7: Nest Boxes on the Side
The nest boxes are in a row along the outside of the henhouse. I didn’t want to hassle with trying to arrange the nest box openings around wall studs, so I decided to just space the studs a foot apart along that section of the wall. That way, there is a stud between each of the nest boxes.
I didn't want seams in the bottom of the nest box, and I was trying to figure out how to manage that, when I stumbled on a16-inch wide cedar board (1 1/2 inches thick) at the sawmill. The nest board is notched, to fit around the studs, and pounded into place.
I made cardboard templates for the dividers between the nests, and cut the parts from 1x12s. The dividers are just tacked in place with staples. Recycled Styrofoam is fitted between the framing boards for insulation on the back and sides of the nest box, and the nest box has regular fiberglass insulation underneath, held in place by a piece of 1/4-inch plywood.
This nest box has to be predator proof, so there is a sturdy locking mechanism for the lid. The lock is simple, just two boards that are hinged to the wall, above the nest box. The locking boards swing down to "lock" against stop-blocks screwed to the lid of the nest box. The hinged locking boards are connected with a piece of metal conduit, so they can both be lifted up and swung out of the way at the same time. Screws, in the underside of the locking bars (left sticking out a half-inch) hold the lid open while you're collecting eggs. It isn't too inconvenient to deal with the lock, and even if it isn't really necessary, it gives me peace of mind.
Step 8: Exterior Siding
I was initially planning to use plywood for the siding, but the sawmill made me a great deal on a stack of 16-foot 1x12 boards that had been sitting around for a while. It worked out equivalent to buying plywood siding for $10 per sheet, but the inch-thick boards are much better than plywood, and I like the look of the boards much better.
The stack of discounted boards was nearly enough for the siding. Some of the boards were a bit crooked, but I was able to use most of the crooked parts by cutting them in short pieces to fill in around the nest box and windows.
Before mounting the 1x12 boards, I tacked roofing felt to the studs. After nailing on the boards, battens (narrow strips of wood) are nailed on top to cover the gaps between the boards. I came up a few boards short to finish the last side, and I bought more boards to rip in pieces for trim and battens.
Step 9: Interior Paneling
Confession time: We bought our chicks way too early, construction on the henhouse hadn't even started. By the time the siding was on, the chicks were 7 weeks old and driving me crazy. They were flying around and could not be contained in their little chick pen. Yes, I should have made them a pen in the workshop, but then I'd have two big messes to clean up.
I was in a mad rush to get the chicks moved into their new home, and I didn't get photos of putting in the insulation or tacking on the interior paneling. Putting insulation between studs is not very difficult or interesting. With all the windows, and the short stud spacing around the nest box, there was a lot of cutting and tucking strips of insulation.
The 1/4-inch plywood panels are easy to cut with either the table saw or the jigsaw. Tacking them in place was also a breeze with a staple gun. Paneling also went on the inside of the nest box. It goes fast as long as you measure and cut carefully.
As it was, I had to move the chicks into their new home before sealing the wood paneling or putting in the flooring. That meant having to clean everything before painting and laying the linoleum.
Step 10: Chickens Need a Roost
I saved several of my best 2x4s to cut in half for the roosts, and I cut a 2x6 in half to make the side pieces that the roosts are mounted between. The roosts are about two-inches square, and I ran them all through the table saw with the blade at a 45 degree angle to take off the sharp corners.
The sides of the roost are mounted to the walls at the upper ends with big bolts that act as hinges (I added extra studs inside the walls for these big bolts). A rope and a couple of pulleys allow the roost to be raised for cleaning, and a loop at the end fits over a hook mounted next to the door to hold the roost out of the way.
Because the henhouse is less than six feet wide on the inside, the roost has a zig-zag that sort of works as a ladder for the hens to make their way up to the top roosts. A pair of swinging legs attached to the front "elbow" of the roost make the roost nice and solid.
After building this, I'm not thrilled with the roost design, but the hens don't seem to mind having to change directions as they work their way up to the top roost.
Step 11: Linoleum for Easy Cleaning
Cleaning the henhouse is a chore nobody enjoys, but it's easier if there are fewer nooks and crannies. I found a partial roll of linoleum in our garage when we moved in, and it was almost long enough to cover the floor of the henhouse. I ended up having to fill the gap with a scrap of linoleum that doesn't match.
Before laying down the linoleum, I ripped some 2x4s at a 45 degree angle to make triangular corner-fill boards and stapled them around the perimeter of the floor. Since the hens have an indoor water system, the linoleum is really needed to catch drips from when they drink. The drippers don't actually leak, but the chickens dribble while they're drinking. It's not enough to make a big mess, but it's enough to ruin a plywood floor.
The linoleum is stapled to the corner boards, and glued to the floor where the two pieces are joined together. A strip of duct tape on top helps keep the edges of the seam from unraveling.
Around the perimeter of the floor I used caulking to fill in any gaps between the linoleum and the wall.
Step 12: Indoor/outdoor Water System
I wanted a system that would store enough water for a week and be easy to refill. I'm using a 7-gallon tank that came with a spigot screwed into the cap. I removed the spigot and inserted a barbed "T" fitting. The upper leg of the "T" fitting goes through the front wall of the henhouse, where it can be filled with a hose nozzle. The vinyl tubing from the lower leg of the "T" connects to the hen's PVC water system. A PVC pipe runs through the wall of the storeroom, into the roost area. The pipe runs along the front wall, just below the window, to the back corner, then down to about a foot above the floor. A row of drippers runs the length of the back wall. I spaced the drippers 6 inches apart, but that's a lot more drippers than they need. In fact, I'm planning to eliminate about half of the indoor drippers as soon as I find plugs.
At the end of the row of drippers, there is a valve, before the pipe passes through the wall to the outside. A second row of drippers runs the length of the outside wall, so the hens don't have to go inside to get a drink. The valve allows the outdoor part of the system to be drained for the winter.
To refill the water tank, you just squirt a garden hose into the fill-tube on the front wall. When the tank is full, water squirts out the 1/4-inch drip-irrigation tubing that is attached to the vent-hole cap. I used some leather tools to punch a 1/4-inch hole in the rubber gasket and the plastic vent cap that came with the tank. The short piece of 1/4-inch drip irrigation tube fits neatly through the hole in the vent cap and is routed through the outside wall. I used a heat gun to flare the end of the fill-tube a bit, but it really wasn't necessary.
I don't have any drill bits long enough to drill through both sides of the wall, so, I just measured carefully and drilled holes from each side to get the tubes through the wall.
I've tried the little drinking cups (which the hens seem to like), but there was always some crud getting into the cups and contaminating their water. These little dribblers are cleaner, and the hens get all the water they need from them. They seem to enjoy the higher pressure from having an elevated storage tank compared to drippers attached to a water jug. There are a few drips when the hens drink, but the linoleum keeps it from making a mess.
Step 13: Hens Need a Feeder
The storeroom is pretty small, so the only place to mount the feeder was on the door to the roost area.
In the past I have used rabbit feeders for our hens, but I wanted something larger and I couldn't find a feeder that I liked. I got a piece of sheet metal for free from a sign shop that had lots of scraps, and bought an inexpensive sheet metal bending tool for folding the edges. There wasn't enough sheet metal to make a back for the feeder, so I'm just screwing the sides of the hopper to the door and letting the door be the back of the feeder.
I sketched the design for where to make the bends right on the metal, and used a pair of tin-snips to cut out the shape. The sheet metal tool works pretty well for bending the edges. For the big bends, farther from the edge, I clamped the metal to my workbench, with a hardwood board on top. I used another board, from underneath, pressing (pounding) upward till the metal was at the correct angle.
To lock the feeder in its final shape, I drilled holes where the bends needed to be held together and used pop-rivets to hold the shape. On the sides of the hopper, the turned-out, edges fit up against the door, and holes are drilled for screws. To keep feed from leaking out the sides, I mounted strips of double-sided tape to the flat edges of the hopper, and I left the plastic covering on the door-side of the double stick tape so the feeder can be removed. A scrap of plywood taped to the door works for a lid.
I don't know what gage this sheet metal is, but I wish it had been a bit thinner. The material was pretty difficult to cut and bend.
After filling the feeder, it seemed like the trough was too full, so I put a little plywood baffle inside the feeder (up against the door) and just taped it in place to restrict the flow of feed to the trough.
Note: The feeder adds weight to the door, so I added some longer screws to the upper hinge to support the added weight.
Step 14: Automatic Door Opener and Closer
One of the most demanding things about raising chickens is having to get up early to let them out of the henhouse, and having to remember to close the henhouse up every night to keep them safe. The pop-hole door is fitted very snugly in its tracks, and against the wall, so there is no room for weasels, raccoons, skunks, or foxes to get their claws or nose under the door. The door is plexiglass, and can be raised by pulling a string that runs through a pair of pulleys. A loop at the other end fits over an inverted coat hook, mounted to the entry door frame. The tracks that the door slides in are made from hard maple, with rabbets cut in the edges for the door tracks.
I'm automating this door with an Arduino microcontroller, so I installed the magnet part of a reed switch in the plexiglass door, just inside the part that rides in the track. The other halves of the reed switches are mounted in the wall of the henhouse, one for the lower (closed) position, and one for the upper (open) position. Wires for the switches (along with wires for the motor, the indicator lights and the light sensor) were run through the wall and up to the control box.
The motor has a 6mm shaft, and I found an aluminum pully wheel that fits the shaft. All that's needed to make this wheel into a take-up reel is to drill a hole through the side of the pulley, so the door string can be tied to the reel. This reel is small, so I'm using 2mm nylon string to raise the door.
I made a little box for the indicator lights by ripping channels in a 3-inch wide board. A piece of 1/4-inch plywood (drilled to mount the indicator lights) fits into the channels on the front side, and a blank piece of plywood fits into the back channels. I'm gluing three sides of the box to the front piece of plywood (with the lights), and leaving the top piece un-glued, so it can be pulled off and the back piece slid out for accessing the wiring connections. The plywood fits snugly in the channel, so it doesn't need glue on all four sides. The light box sits on the window sill, and the wires come out the side of the box and go into a hole drilled in the window sill, to be routed along with the other wires to the control box in the storeroom. I can see the indicator lights from the house, so it will be easy to see whether the door is closed or not.
For my last henhouse, I used the design and code for the automatic door from Mr. Dave Naves' excellent post on his automated henhouse. I like the fact that it operates based on light levels, rather than a timer.
This henhouse has the same mechanism and code as the previous one. I had a difficult time getting this setup to work and it took a while to find the problem. In the end, the problem turned out to be a bad ground on the connection to the power supply. Once that problem was sorted out the door operated correctly. I have also installed a kill switch above the door. This shuts off the power if one of the switches fails or there is a loose connection somewhere that keeps the door from stopping where it should. The kill switch keeps the motor from overheating in case of a jam.
Step 15: Stairs for People and Hens
The henhouse door opens outward, so we need a nice front porch to stand on while opening the door. I had lots of 2x6s left over so I made them into a set of stairs. Stacking 2x6s on edge (in tiers) is easier than cutting angled boards with notches for steps. Also, since the henhouse is is supposed to be moveable, the stairs need to stand alone.
The sides of the stairs are just boards set on top of each other 5-feet long (for the base), 4-feet long, and 3-feet long (for the porch). The sets of side-boards are just laid out on a flat surface, and nailed together with a couple of cross members to hold them together (sorry for not getting pictures). Once you have the sides nailed together, you just stand the sides up, and hold them square while you nail diagonal supports to the cross members. You need diagonal support going both directions. 2x6s are nailed on top for the stair treads and the porch. It's an easy one-hour project that I wish I had done first!
For the hens, I made a little ramp for their pop-hole door. They were slipping on the ramp, so I added triangle boards (left over from filling corners in the henhouse) to make little chicken treads. The ramp rests on a piece of 2x4 nailed below the pop-hole. The ramp is left loose in case it needs to be raised to get over a snow bank.
Step 16: Storeroom Shelves
The last thing this henhouse needs a place to store feed and bedding materials, and also a place to mount their water tank. I made simple but sturdy shelves by mounting 2x4s to the back and sides of the storeroom walls, and also under the front edge of the shelf. The shelves are plywood scraps left over from sheeting the roof.
On the left side, the lowest shelf is high enough above the floor for a metal trash can to fit underneath. This can holds two feed sacks, so I can store a sack of their daily feed, and a bag of scratch that I give them for a morning treat. The metal trash can is supposed to keep mice out of the feed, but the henhouse is pretty tight and I doubt that a mouse could get inside. With lots of grain in the storeroom, meal moths could become a problem, so I placed a moth trap in the storeroom. After a few days the trap has caught three male moths. You just have to hope that the males get caught before they mate.
Note: the metal trash can interfered with opening the door to the roost area, so I replaced it with a tilt-out feed bin that fits fully under the shelf when it's rocked back.
The two shelves on the left can store six sacks of feed. The shelves on the other side are for the water system and storing odds and ends. I mounted the bottom shelf on that side high enough to fit a bale of hay or straw underneath. I wanted to raise their water tank a bit higher, so I built a small "table" that sits on the shelf, raising the tank another foot. A drip-pan fits under the tank, but it isn't really necessary.
The next shelf needed to be high enough to make room for some of the electronics (which I ended up moving anyhow). The shelf is a bit high to be very useful, and I may move it later if I need more storage.
Note, I started out using alfalfa hay for bedding, but the hens don't turn it over much, so droppings just piled up on top. I switched back to using pine shavings, which work better on the floor. I still use alfalfa in the nest boxes, and throw the hens a flake of hay every now and then. They eat it up.
That's the henhouse, I hope it will be keeping hens comfortable and providing eggs for years to come.
Second Prize in the
For the Yard