How often have you been lying in bed in the evening and realised that you have forgotten to shut the chooks up safely? Then comes the choice to stay snuggled up warm in bed and hope there are no foxes, dogs or cats lurking or taking yourself outside to close up the hen house. An old farmer shared this idea for a door to the hen house that lets the hens go in and out but keeps four legged animals out.
From the outside of the hen house the door just looks like a hole.
On the inside there is a box that the chooks walk through to get into the hen house. The box has a chook sized hole on each side. The holes are at diagonally opposite corners of the box. A two legged chook can negotiate the turn between the two holes but a fox-sized animal with four legs cannot bend their spine to get through the doorway.
We started using these doors 15 years ago after all of our hens were killed yet again by an urban fox. We think that it is a simple idea that works well since we have not lost any hens roosting in a henhouse to foxes at night since we started using the door even when we do not shut the chook run up.
It seems to take about two weeks for adult chooks to learn to use the door. At first you need to go out each night when they are sleepy and push each chook through the door into the henhouse. After a few days they will start to get the hang of getting out the door in the morning. Putting some seed inside the box to entice the curious can help with this. Once one or two of them get the idea the rest will follow. In a few more days they will start using the door to go in to roost as well. Young chicks may need some checking at first but will generally learn from the mother hen to use the door. It is only adult chooks that need to be trained.
Strangely, our biggest Sussex Light rooster is convinced that he cannot exit the mobile henhouse using one of these doors. He goes in through the door every night and then gets stuck inside in the morning. He can get out of another hen house that has an identical door (the one that he learned to navigate when he was young). It appears to be all in the mind - a psychological limitation rather than a physical one but he is a mighty fine fellow who looks our for his hens so we humour him.
The size needed for the box depends on the size of your chooks. Small breeds such as bantams, silkies and Isa Browns can use a smaller box which will keep them even safer (we had one 23cm high x 20cm deep x 48cm long with 15cm wide holes when we had smaller birds). Larger birds (especially space challenged roosters) will need a bigger box. Our Sussex roosters and hens are using entry boxes 40cm high x 20cm deep x 58cm wide with 18cm wide holes. We used to build the boxes from corflute and cable ties which was an easy construction method but not as robust as the water resistant plywood that we have used more recently.
Postscript: We had a young (nimble) fox get into the hen house one morning - the first time in about 14 years and a sorry sight to behold. The chooks that survived were the older hens and roosters. Last seen the fox was sailing over the top of the 'fox proof' electronet fencing. We are working on a new, improved version of the door that incorporates one more 180 degree turn.