Build a Hen House
How to Build, Install and Maintain Your Hen House
- Flax straw (1 50-pound square bale usually makes 5-7 tunnels)
- Flax may not be available in your area, so substitute with the most durable grass or straw you can find. Wheat and barley straw is too light and doesn’t work well.
- Grass hay for nesting material
- Delta has had success with brome hay and other grasses. In Minnesota and South Dakota, flax has been used with success for both the exterior and nest material.
- 8-foot long base pipe (1.5” square tubing)
- 30-inch long adjustable insert pipe (1” square tubing)
- 18-inch long cradle support pipe (1” square tubing)
- 7’x3’ section of welded wire fencing (2” by 1” mesh with 14 gauge wire) – this is double rolled with flax to form the Hen House
- Wire must be firm to prevent tunnel from bending (i.e., no “chicken wire”)
- Two 20-inch lengths of ¼” steel rod, bent to form cradle
- 12 hog rings and 1 bolt or wire-lock pin to attach insert to post
Total cost will vary with location, steel prices and quantity purchased. In Winnipeg, Manitoba, the cost was approximately $50 for one Hen House in 2013.
Steps for Assembly:
- Drill two to three equally spaced holes along the 30” insert pipe for height adjustment. At the same time, drill one hole in base pipe, about 8” from the end.
- Weld insert pipe to the 18” cradle support pipe, midway along, forming a T.
- Bend ¼” rod pieces into semi-circles and weld one at each end of cradle support pipe.
- Roll up three feet at one end of 7’x3’ wire fencing and hog ring in 3-4 places to form inner tunnel.
- Spread approximately 2” of flax straw (or equivalent) on remaining 4’ of fencing and continue to roll tightly. Hog ring end of fencing to complete the Hen House, providing an 11-12” diameter opening on each end. Try not to exceed 12” as Canada geese may use larger Hen Houses.
Steps for Installation: (suggested distribution of nest placement)
- Where ice is present, drill hole with auger in desired location.
- Pound post into wetland bottom, making sure post is not easily dislodged.
- Slide insert pipe into base and adjust height so that bottom is at least 3 feet above ice or water level.
- Place tunnel in cradle and attach with galvanized wire or hog rings (plastic tie straps eventually break so they are not recommended).
- Adjust grass inside Hen House so that it is one-half to two-thirds full, but you should still be able to see through tunnel. Nest material will settle over time, so it is better to have too much than too little.
- Record GPS location (if available).
Steps for Maintenance:
- Revisit every year a month or two prior to the nesting season.
- Check for and record nesting activity from the previous year. Look for a nest bowl with down, egg fragments, egg membranes, or whole eggs.
- Repair exterior by replacing missing flax straw (hens often remove straw and add to nest bowl).
- Remove old nest remains and add new grass to the inside of the tunnel. Make sure Hen House is one-half to two-thirds full of grass.
Hen House Frequently Asked Questions
I’ve seen Hen Houses with and without landing platforms - do you need them?
The original design had an 8 to 10 inch extension at either end of the tunnel for a ‘landing platform’. Because platforms required additional time and money, Delta compared 25 Hen Houses with and 25 without landing platforms in 1996. The use and nest success rates were no different between styles, so landing platforms were removed from the design.
We do not have flax straw in our area. Are there any alternatives?
Yes, flax straw is available in the northern prairies, but is more difficult to find in other areas. In other parts of North America, rice straw, Bermuda hay, and timothy grass have been used for the Hen House exterior with success. For nest material, Delta recommends grassy/leafy hay.
Are there any other ducks, besides mallards, that use Hen Houses?
Yes, we’ve seen or heard of diving ducks (canvasback, goldeneye, redheads, scaup) using them in Manitoba and Minnesota, wood ducks in Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Ontario, and gadwall and teal in Utah. If the inside diameter of the tunnel is larger than 12 inches, we’ve even had Canada geese use them.
I’ve seen a plastic roll and thought that would be a lower maintenance design – are these as good as the original Hen House using natural materials?
Delta has studied a variety of different designs including plastic, wicker weave, outdoor carpet and others. While these other types are used, they’re not used at the same rate as the original, more natural appearing design. There is also some concern with over-heating in darker or non-porous materials.
How much does one Hen House cost?
Price will fluctuate with commodity prices, location and quantity purchased, but the cost for one Hen House usually averages around $50. Those with connections, a knack for scrounging, and some ingenuity can build one even cheaper. The tripod design is also cheaper, but may require more annual maintenance in colder climates.
How many Hen Houses should I put out on my property?
If you’re installing Hen Houses in a completely new area with no history of nest structures, Delta recommends taking a conservative approach initially. Test a variety of locations to see where Hen Houses work best on your property but don’t install more than you can easily maintain each year. Install two Hen Houses in each wetland with up to 3 acres of open water. On larger wetlands, install 1 or 2 Hen Houses in protected pockets of emergent vegetation or in small coves. If you find most of the Hen Houses have nests in them, you need to put up more!
I didn’t find a duck nest in my Hen House the first year. What did I do wrong?
It often takes some time for ducks to start nesting in Hen Houses, so don’t be concerned if you don’t find nests the first year. Make sure to keep the Hen House in good shape and in open water (not surrounded by cattail or bulrush), and there is a good chance ducks will start to nest in it. If you don’t find any use after three or four nesting seasons, it might be time to move it to a different location or wetland.
Hen Houses with two tunnels, or doubles, should have more potential duck production without the cost of another post and insert. Why doesn’t Delta Waterfowl use double Hen Houses?Though double Hen Houses do increase the potential nest sites, nest success in doubles is typically lower because abandonment is higher. When you add in the additional time involved for maintenance and installation, research in Minnesota concluded that single Hen Houses were likely more cost-effective in the long run. Though Delta doesn’t use them, double Hen Houses are still productive and provide very safe nest sites for mallards.