Requirements for South Portland permit

Coop Design Considerations

Gallery of henhouses & coops


Requirements for South Portland permit-

You're required to have both a building permit for the coop ($25 one-time charge) and an annual permit to keep the hens ($25 per year).

The first step is to plan your chicken coop and run. You'll need a drawing of your lot with setbacks to the henhouse labeled, as well as elevations, plans and finish materials of your proposed coop. Take these with you to the South Portland Department of Planning and Development, 62 E Street to apply for your building permit and chicken permit. It's preferable to make an appointment first: call 767-7603. Also remember that you are responsible for renewing your chicken permit each year!

Please read the full text of South Portland's ordinance here to be sure you understand the requirements. Here is a brief summary:
-Only hens allowed, no roosters. Limit to 6 per property.
-Pets only: no commercial purposes, no slaughtering.
-Hens must be in fenced enclosure at all times, in solid henhouse at night and in enclosed pen (or fenced yard with supervision) in daylight.
-Coops must be kept clean, dry and odor-free at all times. Coops must be predator-proof (see below for tips)
-Henhouse: must have locking doors and windows. Opening windows need wire of less than 1" opening. Adequate ventilation is required (see below).They must be aesthetically pleasing (no scrap-board or -metal) and painted nicely, and kept well-maintained. See the Coop Gallery for some lovely examples. Henhouses must be in back yards except on corner lots when they may be in side yards. They must be 20' from the property line unless you have the approval of all abutters.
-Enclosed runs or pens are required. They must have wire fencing on the walls (no standard "chicken wire") buried at least 12" in the ground, and a roof, either solid, wire, or aviary netting.
-You must keep the coop very clean; no odors at property lines. No loud noises. See the ordinance for requirements on feed storage, waste disposal, etc. Basically, with sound chicken-keeping you'll be fine.


Coop Design Considerations

Light and Exposure: Selecting Your Site
Coops need access to light and air. In summer, the hens need airflow and access to shade. In winter, as much sunshine as possible is best; think passive solar.
The outdoor run/pen should be in a spot with good drainage, where it will not be inundated during heavy rains. Ideally, a south facing, gently sloped area will give the coop the advantage of the light and the drying effects of the sun, provided it will not bake too much in the summer. You will need to access the coop to feed, water, and clean. Proximity to a year round water source may be convenient.


You want to protect your hens
from the elements and from predators (we do have fisher cats, coyotes, raccoons, skunks, and hawks in addition to cats and dogs!)
Hens need a dry, draft-free house. Windows that can be opened in good weather, with sturdy wire screening (1/2" hardware cloth) are ideal. Build on high ground with good drainage. Wetness is extremely bad for chickens, causing disease and making the coop smell bad. Think about positioning: south-facing windows and run will take advantage of the sun's drying power in wet months and solar heat in winter. In our cold climate, many people insulate their henhouses. If you choose very cold-hardy breeds you may be able to get along without insulation, but the water will freeze and need refilling several times per day. Most people insulate (you'll need to cover the interior walls so they won't eat the insulation) and also use either a heat lamp over the waterer or a heater in it. Heated dog bowls are easy to find but must be cleaned out often. Poultry waterer heaters are available. Any of these can be plugged into a thermostatic plug to come on when temps dip below 32 degrees.

Protection from predators is more important than you might think; suburban hens have been lost to raccoons and others. Windows and doors must be securely covered with heavy-gauge mesh wire or screening when opened. Any opening doors/windows (including the "chicken door" into the attached run/pen) need locks that a toddler can't open (raccoons are very clever), or be high enough that a raccoon can't reach it.

To keep animals from digging under the run fencing, bury it at least 12" deep, turning the bottom edge outward. Don't use standard "chicken wire", which raccoons can pull apart. Welded wire fencing is a good choice and easily available at Home Depot, Lowes, lumber yards and feed stores. Raccoons have also been known to reach through large-guage wire and grab a chicken's head and rip it off; many people recommend using smaller-guage wire for the bottom of the run, such as 1/2" hardware cloth.

To keep your hens safe from hawks, and to eliminate contact with wild birds who might carry disease, the run must be covered by either wire, aviary netting, or a solid roof. Solid roofs are great since they also keep the run drier: wetness is the enemy of a healthy, odor-free coop. Inexpensive translucent panels called SunTuf can be ordered from Hillside Lumber, and the big-box building supply places have pretty metal roofing panels in nice colors.

When building, remember to keep the hens safety in mind. Don't leave loose or half-pounded-in staples that they might peck and swallow. Remove ragged wire, nails, etc.

Adequate Space:
Your hens need space to be happy and excercise. On-line you may find smaller space requirements quoted, but these are often for commercial birds where money -not the hens' happiness- is the prime concern. Among pet hen owners, the consensus minimum space requirements for standard-sized hens seem to be:

Henhouse interior floor space (not including space for feed/water and nest boxes): 4-6 square feet per hen.
Outdoor run space: 10-12 square feet per hen.

Roosts/Perches: Provide perches in the henhouse, ideally 10" per hen, about 15-18" away from the wall. In our climate, a 2x4 on its side (wide flat side up) is ideal as it lets the hens tuck their feet underneath and keep them warm in winter. If the 2x4 has sharp/square edges, sand them down to round them a bit. To keep the floor clean longer, many people fashion a "droppings board" or "pit" under the roost. That way, the night's droppings can be cleaned up each morning rather than tracked around the coop. A droppings board could be a plank (covered with a piece of vinyl flooring/linoleum for easy clean-up, or with newspaper) mounted 6" or so below the roost. A droppings pit is a wire mesh-covered box on the floor below the roost. The hens won't like to walk on the wire, droppings will fall through and can be cleaned out regularly. This takes up more floor space, though.

Nests: You'll need to provide 1 nest box for every 4-5 hens. If it is inside the henhouse, build a steeply slanted roof over it to discourage perching (and pooping) there. For standard size hens: a box 12" wide by 14" deep and at least 14" high, with a 3" lip to keep nest materials and eggs in and a perch out front. (A piece of burlap over the opening will discourage perching on the lip if this becomes a problem.) Hens seem to prefer darker, more private boxes, although some people simply use open plastic storage baskets from Wal-mart on a shelf or on the floor. Access doors from outside the henhouse into the nest boxes allow you to gather the eggs without going into the hen house and getting your shoes dirty.

Feed and Water:
Local feed stores carry poulty feeders and waterers which keep the food and water cleaner longer than plain bowls (chickens have no qualms about pooping in thier food.) Feeders should be hung at the level of the chickens' backs and rigged to prevent roosting on top. Waterers can be raised to the same level on a shelf, bricks, or other pedestal. In summer it's good to have a second waterer in the shade in the outside run, but keep the food inside to pervent attracting mice or other pests.

Artificial Light:
This is somewhat controversial...for best year-round egg-production, many people set a small electric light (40 watts) on a timer to come on in the early moring and provide the ideal 14-hours of daylight hens need to lay their best. Some people feel this disrupts the hens natural cycles. If you choose to use a light, it can be positioned over the waterer to help keep it from freezing. South-facing windows will also help with light and warmth in winter (and ventilation in summer.)

Ventilation and Preventing Wetness/Odor:
Ample air movement without a draft is essential. Fresh air brings in oxygen while excess moisture, ammonia or carbon dioxide are removed as the stale air moves out of the house. Dampness and ammonia build-up are a sign that there is not enough ventilation. For small coops windows or vents on one side of the house usually provide plenty of ventilation. 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. Hens 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. The south or east side is usually best. For the floor, consider using linoleum or vinyl flooring for easy cleaning. Whatever the material, cover it with bedding. Straw/hay is OK but holds dampness. Wood shavings (pine, not cedar which is harmful to chickens) are cheap in big bales at the feed store. Feed stores also carry a product called "Stall Dry" or "Sweet PDZ" which can be used under the shavings to absorb ammonia and odor. Wire flooring (like a rabbit cage) is not recommended as it is bad for the hens' feet and also too cold in winter.

The appearance of the henhouse and outside pen/run should be pleasing to the neighborhood and not detract from the over-all appearance of the surroundings. Exteriors of 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 backyard hens. We all fought hard for this opportunity, so let's not give the city any reason to take it away... Take a look at the Coop Gallery and browse the links for more ideas.

Material Selection and Green Design:
Consider using sustainable and reclaimed materials, as long as they are in good condition and aesthetically pleasing. Children's playhouses can be easily converted into really cute henhouses, as can small sheds or a part of an existing shed or garage.

The Portland Habitat for Humanity Re-Store is a good resouce for new and salvaged windows, doors, hardware, linoleum flooring, and wood. If recycling painted wood, be aware of lead paint hazards. Chickens will peck at anything. Keep painted items out of pecking reach, and make sure that old paint does not flake onto the floor or soil around the coop.
Avoid using pressure treated wood. The chemicals used in treatment of these products are likely to leach into your soil, your birds, and your eggs. Yuck.
Design your coop to use the least possible material, and use materials and construction methods that will be durable. Use screws instead of nails so that the coop can be deconstructed if modifications or rebuilding become necessary.

Think about site placement, shade, and sunlight to decrease or eliminate using electricity.




Large Coops (for up to 6 hens)

For more photos and details of the South Portland coop above, constructed inside an existing garage, click here.

for more photos of this awsome coop above, click here

for more photos of the coop above, click here, and here

for more photos of the coop above, click here

for more photos of the coop above, click here

for more photos of the coop above, click here

Medium Coops (for 3 hens)

for more photos of the coop above, click here

Small Coops (for bantam sized hens)

The "Eglu" can be ordered with or without chickens. It's designed to be moved around the yard to let the hens "graze". Below are some homemade versions sometimes called "chicken tractors". The only problem with these is that they do not seem to as provide much winter protection.


Here are more ideas about henhouse, coops and chicken housing:


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