Small Scale Poultry Housing


Poultry housing can be as crude or elaborate as you wish to build as long as you provide the following:


A good poultry house protects the birds from the elements (weather), predators, injury and theft.

Poultry require a dry, draft-free house. This can be accomplished by building a relatively draft free house with windows and/or doors which can be opened for ventilation when necessary. Build the coop on high, well-drained areas. This prevents prolonged dampness and water saturation of the floor of the coop and outside runs. Face the front of the coop, the windows and outside run to the south which allows the sun to warm and dry the coop and soil. Allowing adequate space per bird also helps keep the humidity level in the coop to a minimum.

Keeping poultry totally confined with fence and covered runs are your best protection from predators. If you are building a new facility, consider laying a concrete floor, and start the wall with one or two concrete blocks. This prevents rodents, snakes, and predators from digging under the walls and the floors. Windows and doors must be securely covered with heavy-gauge mesh wire or screening when opened.

With outside runs, bury the wire along the pen border at least 12″ deep, and toe the fence outward about 6 inches. This stops most predators from digging under the fence. Animals always dig at the base of a fence. By toeing the fence outward and burying it, the predator will digs down into more fencing and will be unable to dig under the fence. If you bury the fence with medium sized course gravel most animals are less likely to try and dig at the base of the fence. Some people run electric fencing around the outside of their pens 4″ off the ground about one foot from the main fence to discourage predators. If your outside runs are not predator-proof, you need to lock up your poultry before dark.

To prevent problems with hawks and owls, cover your outside runs with mesh wire or netting. A good ground cover of millet, broomcorn, sorghum or other tall leafy vegetation also provides cover for the birds to hide under. Planting a few shrubs that are low to the grown and provides good leaf cover also allows the birds cover and shade. Many times weaving a 3-4 ft. grid over the pen constructed of wire or twine will give excellent protection from flying predators.

Build your poultry house to prevent possible injury to your birds.

  • Remove any loose or ragged wire, nails, or other sharp-edged objects from the coop.
  • Eliminate all areas other than perches where the birds could perch more than 4 feet above the floor. Remove perching areas such as window sills, nest box tops, or electric cords whenever possible.
  • Be sure doorways are large enough for the birds to move through easily.
  • Make sure ramps have good traction for the bird. Use slats spaced three inches apart or a textured surface like a roofing shingle on the surface of the ramps to provide traction. Use ramps and walkways so the birds do not crowd over a high sill or jump onto hard ground from elevated doorways.
  • Do not use wire that is large enough or allow gaps in fencing or equipment that a bird can push its head through. Birds will often catch their comb in fencing or gaps and rip their combs. These type of gaps are also a cause for pattern feather damage on the birds neck or breast.

These extra measures could eliminate any injury to you or your birds and may prevent damage to the coop, as well.

To protect the birds from theft, lock your building and pens securely whenever you are not home. Have your neighbors watch for visitors while you are away. Some people actually have burglar alarms in their bird coops.

Adequate Space

Birds need adequate space for movement and exercise as well as areas to nest and roost. Space requirements vary with the type of bird you raise.

Table 1. Minimum Space Requirements

Type of Bird Sq ft/bird inside Sq ft/bird outside runs
Bantam Chickens 1 4
Laying Hens 1.5 8
Large Chickens 2 10
Quail 1 4
Pheasant 5 25
Ducks 3 15
Geese 6 18

Pigeons require a minimum of 4 square feet per breeding pair. One-eighth inch perch and two 9 inch x 9 inch nests per breeding pair are recommended.


Perches should not be used with large structured or meaty breeds of chickens to prevent leg joint damage and injuries when to jump off the perch.

With standard size chickens provide six inches per bird. Space roosts one foot apart, 18″ to 24″ above the floor.

Bantams (miniature chickens) only need four inches of roost space per bird and should only be place 12″ to 18″ above the floor.

Never allow chickens and turkeys to perch more than 4 feet off the floor to prevent leg, wing and other structural injuries from the birds trying to get up to the perch and when jumping down for the perches.

Place roosts away from nesting areas to prevent the birds from nesting in the nesting boxes. This will quickly contaminate your nesting boxes and increase egg breakage and dirty eggs.


For chickens nest should be at least 12″ x 12″. Increase the nesting area space for larger birds. The nest should be large enough for the bird to enter and sit comfortably. Never make the box too large or multiple birds will try to enter and increase egg breakage.

  • Provide two nests for the first four hens. Then add a nest for every four additional hens.
  • Always locate the nests at least 2 feet off the ground and at least four feet away from the roosts.
  • Have a three to four inch lip in the front of the nests to keep nesting material in the box and try to keep two inches of clean dry nesting material in the nests at all times. Pine shavings are preferred. Many eggs are cracked due to a lack of protective padding in nesting boxes. Some small producers will cut carpet pads and place in the bottom of their nests to prevent breakage. However, these can easily become contaminated with bacteria and harbor mites it not removed and cleaned or replaced frequently.
  • Place nests in darker, secluded area off floor and away from roosts. Never place across form bright sunny windows or near high traffic areas. Birds prefer a dim secluded area to lay eggs.

Easy Access to Feed and Water

Feeders and waters should be placed conveniently throughout the pen for birds’ access. Place the top lip of the waterers and feeders at the birds’ back height. This will keep the feed and water clean and prevent wastage.

If you choose to use nipple watering systems place the tip of the water nipple at a level just above the bird’s eye level. The bird should need to reach up for the water nipple to prevent water and wet spots in the pen. Plan to have 1 water nipple for every 6-8 birds in the pen.

Be sure that birds have free access to water and feed at all times. The pecking order determines which birds get to eat and drink in the flock. When you have inadequate feeder space birds at the lower end of the pecking order may never be allowed to eat. Provide at least 3 inches of feeder space per bird and if you have more than 25 birds place feeders in separate areas so all birds can reach feed.

Small birds like pigeons, bantams and quail, only require 1 linear inch/bird of feeder and water space and large birds require 3-4 linear inches/bird.

When possible, place the waterer in the outside runs, especially for waterfowl. This helps to keep the humidity level lower inside the coop.

Source of Light

If you wish to produce eggs from your flock year-round, you must have a source for electric light. One, low intensity electric light (40watt or less) every 40 feet at ceiling height is appropriate. Most small poultry houses do very well with one light above the feeding and watering area. A bird only needs one foot candle of light to sustain year round egg production.

Windows placed on the south side of the coop will also be a good source of light and warmth in winter and a good source of ventilation in summer.


Ample air movement without a draft is essential. Fresh air brings in oxygen while excess moisture, ammonia or carbon dioxide are removed the stale air moves out of the house. Dampness and ammonia build-up is a sign that there is not enough ventilation for the number of birds in the coop. For small coops windows or vents on one side of the house usually provide plenty of ventilation. However, do not allow the vents or windows to open directly over the birds perching area to prevent drafts. Well-ventilated houses must also have plenty of insulation and a good vapor barrier. Failure to insulate or ventilate properly causes moisture to accumulate on the walls and ceiling in cool weather. Poultry can handle cold very well if they are dry. However, cool and humid conditions can create many health problems. Locate openings on the side away from prevailing winds. Angle any air inlets upward to help the air to mix with the warmest (dryer) air as it enters the coop. The south or east side is usually best.


The appearance of any poultry house and outside run that is visible to the neighborhood should never detract from the over-all appearance of the surroundings. Structures should be kept painted and well-maintained. Weeds and trash should be removed from around all facilities. Proper landscaping can provide screening and also help muffle sounds from the birds. Unsightly structures are not good for the image of bird producers and may lead to new laws restricting the raising of birds in your area.


Allow space to store your feed and extra equipment. Planning a place to store a couple metal cans to store feed and extra clean shaving will prevent contamination and keep things dry and away from rodents. Poultry feed can be stored for up to a month if it stored in dry, cool non-sunny location. Direct sun light and heat will damage the vitamins in the feed and moisture can cause feed to mold. Also have a location to hang your cleaning tools so they are easy to access when they are needed.

Use Common Sense

When building a poultry house, use common sense in designing the structure. It is extremely important that the coop be built for easy access for cleaning and daily care or the birds. Build the roof high enough and situate permanent structures like nests, roosts, and feeders for easy access and to make it easier to clean all areas of the house. Use sliding windows rather than windows which swing in or out so that the birds cannot roost on them. Use building materials which will be easy to clean and disinfect. Make sure that the birds cannot pick at or eat insulation ( spray foam, board or loose insulation). Slightly slope the floor toward the door to prevent puddling in the building and make the building easier to spray out and dry between uses.

Reviewed by Dr. Gregory Martin