Urban Chicken Housing - Holland Hen Houses

I went house hunting recently. Not for myself, but for my future chickens. As of November 1st, urban chickens (three per household, no roosters) are allowed in the City of Sacramento.

I really didn't do much in the way of comparison shopping because once you've seen the best, that's all you can focus on. I had gone to the Eat Real Festival in Oakland last month and came across some hen houses that were attractive and the right size for a handful of fowl. Looking more closely, I could see that these were well-made coops that would last for years.

This is in contrast to my original thought - to have someone (handyman) build one in my backyard. I soon realized that this idea wasn't such a good one. They would probably slap something together without any real experience of what a coop should be. And quality would cost money.

No free products or discounts were given for this article.

That's not to say that Holland Hen Houses are cheap, they're not. The thing is, these are sturdy structures made by someone who not only has his own chickens, but grew up raising them as well. It's the classic tale of "you get what you pay for". Even better for us chicken newbies, Mario Klip shares his knowledge with you as he sets up the houses.

Mario stands with a smaller model, ready to be delivered to a customer (so it is not fully setup).
Mario Klip is originally from Holland, thus the name of his business. He's been in the United States since 2000 when he was transferred to work in the tech sector. In 2009 he wanted to get some chickens in his life again and started to look for houses/coops. He was disillusioned by what he found available and ended up constructing his own. Since then he's developed a thriving business building them for customers around the north Bay area.

The hen houses have become so well received that he's been approached by companies and parties wanting him to greatly expand his operation, even to have them made more cheaply in China. He's not interested. Each house is built by him in a shop he has in Sausalito. He transports and sets up most of them himself unless they are being shipped out of state. That personal touch is another attractive feature, which we'll get into more later.

The houses are only one of Mario's business ventures and yet he still is building about 20 per month. I was with him in Mill Valley at a friend's property where he displays the houses on the front lawn. Mario has about six different models that vary in size and whether they have a run or two.

One of the most important features of any enclosure is the wire caging. Mario explains that he uses 16 gauge wire with 3/4 inch squares. Any larger holes and you have to worry about predators reaching in. Last thing you want is come out in the morning to find that a raccoon has reached in, grabbed a leg, and pulled and pulled until they've ripped off a drumstick dinner. Half inch squares he feels are a little to small for viewing into the cage. The heavy duty 16 gauge wire is four times more expensive than cheap chicken wire. He showed me another old coop made with chicken wire and you could see it thin and rusting. In just a couple of years it would be brittle enough to crack/break open.

Remember that having animals is a serious commitment. Chickens need daily care and should be let out to run around for a while each day. You will need a hen sitter for when you are on vacation.
Most of the house is constructed with pine sanded inside and out. Mario explains that chickens are dusty creatures  and sanded wood is more sanitary. Some people will save money by using rough or recycled woods. The problem is that with all those crevices in the unsanded wood, the dust, particles, and filth will collect in the them. The roofs are also wood and covered with roofing paper for insulation and sound. As he explains it, you wouldn't want to try and  sleep in a room with a tin roof when the rain is pounding down on it.

"I've had customers who have bought other cheaper hen houses or tried to build their own. They come to me with stories of them falling apart or other issues and they realize they spent more money than if they had just started with one of mine." 

Mario shows me a removable roosting box for easy cleaning. The chickens will poop where they roost, so this is easy to remove, dump the waste, and then replace.

The property that the houses are showcased on belongs to his friend, Ken Kirkland, who owns Wooly Egg Ranch. Ken sells chickens and eggs and often supplies chickens for Mario's customers.

Mario explains. "For an extra $50 an hour plus the cost of supplies, I will come and set up the hen house, bring the chickens, the feed, feeders/waterers, the pine shavings and give a quick lesson on everything they need to know. This is a great service for people who are absolute beginners at chicken raising and don't know what to do. I'm at the feed store often enough anyway, so it's no big deal for me to bring everything they need with me so that they are set up right away."

There's an end-of-season sale of his current stock of hen houses because there are no chicks available during the colder months, so business slows down. "Chick nurseries start up in the spring because they ship chicks across the country. If it's too cold, the chicks will freeze and die while waiting on an airport tarmac. People need to remember that it takes a chick six months to mature enough to lay eggs anyway." I tell him that's not a concern for me. My co-worker has too many hens and is happy to give me three that are already laying.

Some important chicken facts I've learned:

Chickens' best laying years are the first two. They need lots of food and water because most of it gets put into that egg they lay each day. Think about how much fluid is in a raw egg. If your chicken is getting fatter and laying less, it's getting past its egg-laying life. Time to consider soup.

They are omnivores, eating bugs, worms, their own eggs. You can feed them kitchen scraps, but it should mostly be vegetable and you still need chicken feed to give them all the nutrients they'll need to put into their eggs.