Our chicken house is raised off the ground to 1. deter rats 2. enable the floor to stay dry which reduces the smell and keeps bedding dry and 3. utilise the natural scratching habits of the chickens to turn weeds and dry material into mulch. The material that goes in to the house are weeds and the material that comes out of the house is fine fertiliser for the garden.
The floor is made with strong metal grid (reinforcing bar for cement slabs). There is 12mm wire sitting over the rio. Manure and dried weeds and straw can fall through the floor but foxes can’t get in. The grid floor is strong enough for the keeper to walk on.
A barrow or trailor can be kept underneath for collection and distribution of the mulch or the whole house can be built on a slope, as ours is, and the mulch will slowly roll down hill into an orchard below.
There is an access door for the keeper on every wall, so that the keeper will rarely need to go inside.
Most importantly there is an opening up very high. An external fox proof chicken ladder leads to this opening. The ladder has to be wide (min 1.5m) and the rungs far apart (1m) to be fox proof. The chickens can fly from one rung to the next whereas the fox can’t jump and then stand on each rung. There also needs to be adequate overhang of the roof (0.5m) over the opening to ensure the fox can’t get in from above.
Internally there are roosts at various heights and angles. They are removable. Ideally, they are cut tree branches about the thickness of 3-6cm. They are preferably eucalypt or pine branches for the beneficial disenfectant qualities in the oil of the timber. These roosts are replaced half yearly so there is no build up of pests such as mites and no need for chemical treatment. The branches can be used in the garden later as bean teepee or chopped for fuel in the stove.
Water is collected from the gutters and runs along a trough or into a bucket inside the house for the chickens to access it and when it reaches the lip of the trough it then runs to a tank outside and downhill. Ball valves work best for taps with low-pressure plumbing systems.
The nesting boxes have lids for easy access by the keeper. The keeper simply lifts the heavy lid on each box. You can add a stick to support the lid if you need to. It needs to be heavy enough to deter foxes. The nesting boxes have no sunlight shining into them. Hens prefer lay in a dark place, they feel safer.
The roof is insulated and in cool climates, you can add old windows or lattice wood panels or bamboo blinds around the base on the sides to limit cold winds. Cold winds are not a problem if you keep a good layer of straw or dying weeds on the hen house floor. We made the mistake of insulating with shiny material, when the geese used this house they peeked angrily at the shiny walls and ripped them out.
All the walls are dark except the front wall. This means the active chickens are all looking out to the sun from their perch and can’t see any hens in the nesting boxes. In the tropics you can have shade cloth on additional open walls, to limit light penetration but allow cooling winds.
Extreme or sudden temperature fluctuations, stress from predators and reduced light exposure affect a chicken’s capacity to lay eggs. Chickens love security and fresh pickings including soil and grubs. Chickens are not vegetarian but they are generally peace-loving if they are not stressed.
The top rung of the fox-proof ladder is close to the roof so that the rooster is discouraged from crowing early in the morning. You do not need a rooster to have laying hens and having a rooster makes the chickens harder to catch and less compliant.
In cool climates such as Canada a chicken house benefits from being connected to a greenhouse, having trombe walls, snow insulation and water warming measures.
We use geese to protect the chickens from dogs and foxes during the day. Our Geese need to be locked up every night, we don’t yet have a self managing system for the geese. If you have advice on geese we would love to hear it.
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