One essential of keeping chickens is that you have somewhere to lock them up at night to protect from predators such as foxes. In the daytime, chickens can also use their house to shelter from hot sun. Chicken houses, or coops, come in a variety of materials, shapes and sizes. You can opt to buy ready-made or if you prefer DIY, you will find a wealth of plans free to download on the internet. Whatever style you choose, there are some basic principles that you will need to follow:

Size: if you are buying ready-made, the manufacturers will give an indication of the number of birds that can be housed, but be aware that if you are choosing one of the larger breeds, such as the Orpington, you will need to go up in size for the coop.

Floor space: Not including nest boxes, the minimum inside floor area should be 30cm x 30cm per bird. 

Perches: Chickens like to sit when they sleep and a wider perch helps them to balance so reckon for perches around 4cm to 5cm, with rounded edges and 30cm per medium-sized bird. Chickens will often huddle together on a perch, but you still need to allow sufficient room so that birds lower in the pecking order can roost away from other hens. Some large breeds will not roost very high, so low perches, or a series of perches arranged like a sloping ladder, will be better.

Nest boxes: these should be set below the height of the perches so that the birds don’t roost in them. You will need a minimum of two, and should provide one nest box for every four hens. Nest boxes are usually added onto the side of the coop with an external lid so that you can collect the eggs.

Ventilation: although chickens can withstand cold temperatures, they do need to sleep in a coop that is well ventilated but free of draughts. Chicken droppings release ammonia which needs to be released by ventilation. Heat from the droppings causes the ammonia to rise, so have a vent at the bottom of the coop to bring in fresh air and one at the top to allow stale air out.

Cleaning: periodically, you will need to wash the coop out with detergent to remove organic matter and keep red mite under control. Make sure that your coop has easy access for cleaning and has as many removable parts as possible.

Chicken run: you might be happy to let your chickens have free range in your garden – but be warned, chickens are no respecters of lawns or flower beds. The alternative is to create a chicken run. You can make this movable although to make the run really secure from foxes, the ideal is to have wire netting buried at least 20cm into the ground to stop predators from digging under the fence and with a cover over the run.