Monday, February 25, 2008

How far is far enough? How close is too close?

Seventy-five feet? Thirty feet? Attached to the house? Underneath the porch?

The title of this post gives the impression that I'm about to write an article on relationships, doesn't it? But, no. These are all minimum distances and locations I have read about for building chicken coops and hen houses. This conflicting information has left me a bit stymied as to how to proceed on my own hen house and coop.

To build a hen house 75' from our house seems awfully far away. Perhaps this is for the larger chicken-rearing operations where smell would be a bigger factor? I'm planning to start with just ten or twelve hens and "keep a clean house" - if that's possible in the chicken world.

Since I won't be attaching it to the house, and under the porch isn't even remotely an option, the 30' distance is sounding pretty reasonable right now.

Unfortunately, we are very delayed in building our hen housing. Here it is, almost March (chick time), and we've yet to even start. In our defense, we did only just move in one month ago. Still, the first chicks are being delivered to my local farm and feed store on March 6th. That's a week and a half from now! I'm not sure I'm going to be able to make this date, but I sure as hell am going to try.

The pictures below show where I've decided I want to put my hen house and run. This first photo is looking south. You can barely see our house on the left and, if you enlarge the photo, you can see my barn up the hill, also to the left, in the distance:

The three logs in the photo above (I rolled these UP the hill in frustration when I realized how much help I'm going to need building this coop) indicate where the ground starts to become level. There are five logs there now (the frustration just wouldn't dampen) and I was really sore the next day.

The photo below is looking north. You'll need to use your imagination to envision a cute little home for chickens, because I know this land here doesn't look like much now. The building on the right of this picture is our detached garage.

This area is one of three fenced fields behind our house. And they aren't really fields...they're more...fenced off areas for horses. This is what this property was before - a home for 2 horses. Nothing, really, is growing here that can be called sustenance for anybody other than, maybe, a few goats. Oh, and chickens. There are definitely a lot of bugs out there. But I digress.

My hen house. The location I have chosen is the only flat spot in any of the fields. We really have some hilly pastures! It's also close enough to the house, that if (when) predators show up, I'm going to hear about it and be able to see, relatively quickly, what's going on.

There are two potential problems - or concerns- to situating the hens here, though.

Issue #1: The proximity to the house. Hence the title of this post. To all you experienced chicken keepers out there, is this too close? The climate here is very wet...we average 36.3" of rain a year, so the humidity and mold-factor is quite high. My chosen site is approximately 57 feet, diagonally, from the downstairs door of the house. I was surprised when we measured - it actually looked much closer, but my son and I measured, and double-measured, this morning. Perhaps I am worrying about this for nothing, and the distance is sufficient.

Issue #2: There is no gate or entrance to the field from where I want to build. This is a hard one. It is DARK out here at night. The current gate is a good distance from the house, so I'm imagining myself walking out there at night, in the dark, opening the gate, and then walking back the same way I just came, but on the other side of the fence, to get to the chickens. Moving wheelbarrows, carrying feed, lugging water in winter, etc. will be a frustration very quickly.

So, here's the gate currently (if you click on the photo to enlarge, the arrow may show up better):

Here's where it needs to be:

Because the fencing is electrified, this makes any alteration complicated. And expensive. It's going to cost about $600 just to put in a small, new gate, sink new posts, rewire, recap, and reground the fencing.

Yet, amid all the complexities of getting my project going and mulling it all over in my head, a very bright spot happened today: my friend and fellow blogger, Ms. In-Between, (a.k.a. Mindi) came for a visit. She was in town on business and wanted to see our new place. Mindi and I used to work together, but I haven't seen her in probably two years. Having her over was like having a ray of sunshine in my house! She is so upbeat and supportive and there is constantly a smile on her beautiful face. She, my son, Aidan, and I talked chickens, coops, compost, gardening, etc. for at least a couple hours and it was heaven!

Here are Aidan and Mindi giving a lot of thought to coop placement (it's so sunny you can hardly see all those damn logs I rolled up the hill):

Before Mindi left to drive back home to Central Oregon, she left us some of her yummy-smelling, homemade soaps. Mmmmmmm.....

At least we'll all smell good while we're building our first chicken house!


  1. You are getting so close! You will have someplace to keep those chicks come March 6th - I just know it!

    Are chickens loud? Could that be why you might want them further from your house?

    Your chosen site looks perfect to me, bit what do I know???

  2. Sorry I cant be of more help. I am still trying to figure out how to start my own covert chicken project in my subdivision! But, I just know you will get it all done. Easy for me to say, right? I have faith in ya!

  3. Oh Danni that was such a fun visit! Your place is gorgeous and I can already visualize all of the animals who will have a home there. (Aiden I'm still pulling for your horse!)Hope to see you all again very soon!

  4. Chickens? I guess I wouldn't know. Our neighbor has them right outside the back of the house and it doesn't seem to smell. But, what do I know? I'm a goat. Just don't give the chickens any Peanuts. Take my advice and save them for the goats.

  5. Only since you asked for my opinion am i going to give it. Don't rush building anything, move some heavy items in your wheelbarrow where you are planning the coop to see what you think. Take some after dark/rainy walks to the spot to be sure. You have to like going there.
    In the mean time can you put in a temporary coop in one of your barn stalls? Garage? Chicks take a couple months before they require a proper house anyway. When they are little, a big cardboard box, heatlamp and a safe place is all they need. I hope this helps.

  6. I just typed you a long thoughtful comment and just erased it. Crud. I'll try again, but don't expect much this time, I'm spent.
    Don't rush to build. Chicks for the first month can live quite well in a large cardboard box that has a heatlamp and is secure.
    I'd load up a heavy wheelbarrow and take the route you would require get to the coop spot, good weather and bad. Also the distance to the compost spot and back, I didn't contemplate that one myself. I hope this helps.

  7. No need to rush. The chicks will have wingtip feathers but otherwise be covered with down. They'll need a small space to live in for a few weeks. I second Kelly's suggestion of pushing around the wheelbarrow.

    The distance is fine. As long as the hen house has good circulation and stays fairly dry it won't smell.

  8. Hey Danni,

    I enjoyed seeing pics of your home and land. You've got such a beautiful home that fits very well into the environment.

    If you've read back over my old chicken posts in my Blog, you'll see where I stand on coop placement. haha!

    For me, our chickens are more than just egg layers, so I knew I wanted them to be somewhere where I could see them and check on them quickly and easily throughout the day. I also considered my health in the factor, because some days are not so great and I can have difficulty walking up and down stairs and hills.

    So, for those reasons we didn't build a coop up our hill near our barn.
    I agree with what sugarcreekstuff said, too. Before we even stuck a nail into wood I spent many hours and days walking our property, laying out chalk lines and rope, taking pictures, drawing layouts, and daydreaming.

    I changed my mind several times based on the requirements above as well as convenience (I also wanted the coop to be close to electric so I could keep a heat lamp on in the winter months so their water wouldn't freeze). It was important to me that I could basically just walk out of my house and take a few steps to gather eggs, too.

    So our coop is only about 8 feet from our house. But, in my planning I made sure that the chicken coop would be downwind from our windows. All of our wind blows in from the north and west, so even if we get some hot days, the wind should carry any odors away from our house.

    Like I replied to you on my Blog, I think you're right on track if you have a small flock and you intend to clean it at least every 2weeks, more in the summer.

    If you've been around any number of coops, it's the large scale chicken farming that reeks: many chickens living too close together, and living areas not being raked up or cleaned and disinfected.

    With your humid and rainy weather, you'd probably be wise to build your coop farther from your house than my coop, of course. But with all of your steep hills, much of the chicken manure will probably be washed away (Imagine how rich your soil is going be down hill from the coop!).

    And with your land being steep, you'd want to choose the flatest area to build, unless you want to dig out a platform on a hill. Lots of work, but it could be a very pleasing set-up.

    I personally like the spot you've chosen because it seems far enough way and yet you can still enjoy your chickens from the house.

    The gate issue and distance from the house/garage will just be something you'll have to decide if you can live with or brainstorm some new ideas (And with your creativity and enthusiasm, I know you'll come up with great ideas!).

    Don't stress about the chicks arriving in 2 weeks, because, like others have mentioned, they don't need a coop or henhouse until they are at least 6-8 weeks old.

    If you check out my chicken posts on my Blog you'll see that our chickens lived in our garage until they were about 11 weeks old! haha!

    I wouldn't suggest that, though. They do create ALOT of dust!

    But we ordered our chickens online with a friend even before we had closed on this house and then winter set in, so our coop plans kept getting put on hold and it was too cold for the chicks to be outside anyway.

    I'm glad now that we decided to get our chicks in the fall, because while everyone else is raising chicks in the Spring and early summer, we are gathering eggs. :o)

  9. Good luck with the chicken house. It looks like you've picked a great location with a good combination of sun and shelter. And if the soap isn't enough motivation to get building, think of all those fabulous, bug-fed, free range eggs. Yum.

  10. Ahhh...a subject I think about about every other minute. What I've the coop on the higher side of a slope, on a level piece of ground. Each bird needs 3 sq of personal space, 1 1/2" round roosts (I use branches I pulled out of the woods), the windows need to be south facing for the warmth of the sun and egg production, and most of all a comfy, cozy, safe, secure, protected shelter from predators. Another thing you might want to consider, I just ran into this recently...snow, how much snow will you be shovelling? Up hill, down hill (down hill is no fun here, it turned to ice!) We use hay in the shed, fluff it once a day (deep litter method). I'm almost wondering if we are going to build a new coop or not. Or just use tractors and the shed for the night during the warmer months. Not sure yet. Hope this helps. I just copied out of books and added my own mouthy thoughts!

  11. I'm with the rest of them. You won't need a coop right away anyway. A stall would work great for now.
    Before I had a brooder I used a large dog crate with a heat lamp. Worked great.
    Have fun!

  12. To answer your question, if you mean keeping the chicken house clean...sure, with a lot of work! Chickens make A LOT of....mess. (wink, wink)
    I don't know what to say about the technical stuff...How old will your chicks be when they come? Ours were a few days old-we ordered them and they came in the mail from Texas. We kept them in a big wooden box in our laundry room for about a month...I don't know how long. Then my dad built our "moveable coop". It works well-it can roll every few days in the summer to new 'pasture's'. They eat off the grass, and then they get moved. They firtilize the grass VERY well. They don't remain stationary...
    I'm a kid, I'm not much help. ;-)

  13. When I started raising chickens for eggs, I read a lot of books on the subject. I recommend these 4:
    "Chickens in Your Backyard" by Rick & Gail Luttman, "ABC of Poultry Raising" by JH Florea, "Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens" by Gail Damerow, & "The Chicken Health Handbook" by Gail Damerow. I got them all on Amazon. You have probably already read them, but I listed them for you or others who may want them. Also, I made friends with my local feed store owner and then asked her a lot of questions about raising chickens from tiny day-old chicks. She was very helpful and made me feel much more confident. The other comments are true, the chicks need to stay inside and warmed with a light bulb (I use a 100 watt yellow bug light in a metal work light dome when they are really little. They will move nearer or farther away from the heat as they desire as long as they have the room to do so in their enclosure. For an enclosure, I use a wire rabbit cage (the big dog carrier would work fine too) and keep them in my kitchen raised up off the floor on a table or countertop. Yes, they do make an incredible mess that needs cleaning at least daily. They scatter chick food and poop and straw everywhere! They don't go outside to the hen house until they are about 6-8 weeks old as someone already mentioned.

    My coop/hen house is located under a large Live Oak tree for shade in the summer, snow/rain protection in the winter & visual protection from passing hawks. Hawks are not a problem if you enclose the entire coop in chicken wire, including the top. This also keeps out possums, raccoons, foxes etc. I didn't enclose mine the first few months and lost one of my young chicken friends to a hungry fox. It was devastating to me as I grow very attached to my animals. My feed store owner also told me that brown, black and tan chickens blend in better with the ground and are not as visible to the hawks as white chickens are. Since I wanted brown eggs anyway, this was no problem for me. I have had Buff Orpingtons, Rhode Island Reds and Silver Lace Wyondottes.

    Your chosen hen house/coop spot looks fine to me. I am not sure what all the worry is about distance from the house unless it is a property ordinance in your area or something like that. Mine is about 50 feet from my house and slightly downhill. My coop/house does not usually smell and I rarely clean it. Sometimes in the wet weather of winter it can get a bit smelly inside the wooden house, but all it takes is a few minutes of turning the straw litter on the floor to clear than up. I do clean all the old litter out and replace it with new straw periodically. I never use harsh chemicals or disinfectants in my hen house, but then again I made sure to provide enough space for my small flock of hens. 1-2 inch diameter roosts (I used tree branches too) & one nesting box (for them to lay their eggs in)for every 2-3 hens.

    Chickens are not very loud except when scared or at the moment when they have just laid an egg. They like to announce the new egg by telling you about it! "Hey come look! I just laid an egg for you!" Roosters, on the other hand, can be quite noisy especially at sunrise and sunset. Lovely sound though. Very farmy.

    This chicken house post is wonderful. Makes me think about when I first got chickens (about 8 years ago). The baby chicks are so sweet and fuzzy. It's such a thrill when you go out there and discover your very first egg! Keeping chickens can be fun, rewarding and also challenging at times. I am excited for you.

  14. I totally forgot to tell you how wonderful that homemade soap looks! I love natural soap. I sell natural soaps. Soap made by other people...I want to make my own some day.

  15. Oooh, thank you for all the wonderful comments and suggestions. The support and wisdom I gain from you all is incredible! specific questions and points:

    Judy - chickens can be chatty, but I'm actually looking forward to that! :-) Also, I'm thinking when they squawk up a storm, it will be because somebody is bugging them and I had better get out there quick!

    Thanks, frugalmom - can't wait to hear more on the covert chicken project (or the CCP as we say under our breath!)that you've got going on! :-)

    sugarcreekstuff - you crack me up. and no, I don't think you need were just...confused for a minute ;-)
    i like your suggestion about spending some time in my proposed chicken plot, because that's exactly what i've been doing. i really like the feel of that location -and- I will be able to oversee them from my deck and living room windows, when i'm not actually down there with them!
    Regarding using a stall in my barn - I wish I could...but I have no way of locking my barn up at night...not sure if you noticed, but there's no door on the entrance and each of the stalls has cut out windows with no screens or anything. It would take major modification here, too, to make it hen-worthy.

    Thanks, Robin - I know you know your stuff, so your confirmation means a lot to me.

    Twinville - I *love* all the info you left me today!! I've read ALL your posts on your hens and love the way you've done things. You put so much love into your girls! And I recall our conversation about how dry (and high) you are, and so you weren't as concerned about having them so close and smelling.
    So, I've got a reprieve of at least 6 to 8 weeks after I get them to finish my coop, huh? COOL!!! :-D

    Thanks, Cathy - Great tips! I knew the personal space amount, and knew my house needed windows, but didn't know that the south side would help them lay better!

    Hey goatgirl, as I was mentioning to sugarcreekstuff, my barn, unfortunately, isn't hen worthy - too many open windows and lack of a main entrance door. No safety for the girls in there, that's for sure!

    Hi Mellimaus, I know you aren't too fond of your hens, so for you to comment on my post entirely about chickens is very kind of you! :-) :-)
    Oh, and by the way, don't discount yourself...just 'cause you are a "kid" (as you say), you've made many interesting and informative comments on my blog posts and your own blog is wonderful!

  16. I left a long comment (maybe too long) earlier today with some good chicken info in it for you, but I guess it didn't go through. Please let me know if you want me to recreate it for you. I have been having some computer troubles tonight, so maybe that's what happened. I do wish you well with your chickens.I know how fulfilling they can be.


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