Airy and Light Living Spaces
Our chicken house is popular with visitors and the chickens are happy. It rarely stinks, is comfortable and safe for the hens, and has easy access to the eggs. You can see the plans here and read on to learn how it works, what goes in and what doesn’t go in.
- It is raised off the ground to deter rats
- The floor stays dry. This reduces the smell and keeps the bedding dry.
- The chickens are happy to scratch, turning the weeds into mulch.
- The manure can be harvested to use as fertiliser in the garden.
- Access doors let us clear it out from different angles. The design would be improved by having an extra door that opens along the full width of the back so it could be raked out without us ever needing to enter the house.
Dry Bedding Is Essential
The bedding that goes in to the house are weeds and the material that comes out of through the house floor is fine fertilised dust 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.
Catch the Bonus
Chicken manure is rich in nutrients. It contains higher levels of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium than cattle, sheep or horse manure. So how do we utilise the manure? First up, apply the mix of dried weeds and manure on top of a patch of weeds. Fresh manure will burn the weeds. Then cover that patch with cardboard or hesian and let it stew. This will help to suppress weed seed. After a few months, dig into the patch and plant things that like a lot of nutrients: pumpkins, leafy crops, tomatoes.
A barrow or trailer 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 fertiliser and mulch slowly rolls down hill into an orchard below. There are two access doors for the keeper so that the keeper will rarely need to go inside. We pull the bedding material out with a claw-like rake and it falls onto a canvas tarp. We then drag the tarp to where we need it.
Prevent Bird Lice, Naturally
There are mites and lice in the wild bird population and sometimes, especially during dry weather, chickens can catch these bugs from the wild birds in the garden. Having a dust bath and a clean house helps.
Chickens like to roost at night. Set the roosts at various heights and angles for social reasons. The higher a chicken is on the social ladder, the higher up they will roost. Our roosts are easily removable. Ideally, the roosts are made from tree branches about the thickness of 3-6cm so the chickens feet can clutch the roost comfortably whilst they sleep.
The best roosting branches are eucalypti or pine branches. Eucalypts and Pinus have natural disinfectant qualities in the oil of the timber. These roosts are replaced half yearly so there is no build up of pests such as mites or bird lice. There is little need for chemical treatment. The branches can be used in the garden later as teepee to grow climbers like beans or chopped it up for fuel in the stove.
Chickens Love Dry Baths
Happy Chickens Like to Party On!
The most important way to keep your chickens healthy is to provide constant access to clean water. We have a self-filling water dish in the house and in the garden there are small dishes to catch rainwater. Water can also be collected from the gutters. Pipes can feed water into the chicken house to run 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 eggs in a dark place, they feel safer. If a chicken goes clucky, we put her into a separate enclosure. We put our chicken-mothers in separate enclosures where they are safe, fed and undisturbed.
Insulation and light
The roof is insulated. In cool climates, you can add old windows, 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 supply of water, a layer of straw-like material (eg. dry 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.
Keep It Snug
Keep the chicken house light and airy. The chickens will be healthier when they have sunlight upon them. Also, any fungi, mould or germs in the chicken faeces can also be sterilised by the sunlight. Whilst the sunlight is pouring in, the nesting area under then window needs to be snug and dark. This gives privacy for the nesting hens. In winter, we also give our hens boxes to hide in if they are feeling cold. But we are mindful not to have deep boxes that hatchlings may get trapped inside.
Keep It Cool
Hot days in the tropics will be stressful without shade. So, you can use recycled timber slat or bamboo blinds on the window and put a vent in the top of the house. This will limit harsh light penetration but allow cooling winds to flow through.
Extreme or sudden temperature fluctuations, stress from predators and reduced light exposure affect a chicken’s capacity to lay eggs. At best, a deciduous shade tree provides shade in summer for the chicken house and garden.
Integrate and They will Thrive
Chickens thrive in a secure environment with fresh pickings of weeds, soil and grubs. Chickens are not vegetarian but they are generally peace-loving if they are not stressed.
Birds are not like other pets, they will rarely complain or show discomfort. They just suddenly die. This is the natural way of birds. In the wild, it is the bird that is limping or slow that it targeted by predators. Unfortunately, this stoic nature makes it tricky for us to observe when they are suffering.
Where do Chickens Run?
Chickens love to hide. Do you the saying about someone being chicken? Chickens are scared of lots of things! Give them places to hide. Keep a pile of sticks in the garden. Provide nooks and crannies for them to run to. Some of their common predators are Eagles, Dogs and Foxes. Dark bushes and strappy plants are great camouflage.
Keep the Dogs Out
Dogs and foxes are the biggest killers of poultry. If you want to keep a dig, make sure you train it to care for the chickens. We have geese for perimeter patrol. They have a run that surrounds most of the chicken yard. If you don’t want a dog or geese, install good perimeter fencing.
You Don’t Need A Rooster
You do not need a rooster to have laying hens. 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 are locked up every night to be safe from foxes and dogs.
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