Housing should provide protection from all kinds of weather, predators, injury, and theft. Consider the location of your poultry house on your property. Locate the building in a well drained area, with access to water and electricity. Your job is to keep the birds comfortable at all times. The house should be tight, well ventilated and insulated. It is important to provide adjustable ventilation for adequate air movement in cold and hot weather. Permanent or temporary housing are two options to consider. A permanent house will remain in the same location on the property. Temporary or portable housing can be moved frequently throughout the property.
Temporary or portable housing is typically used when birds are raised on pasture. Pastured poultry includes raising chickens or other poultry on pasture rather than raising them indoors. Typically, the birds are raised in bottomless pens directly on pasture and provided feed and water daily.
Depending on the breed of poultry, you may want to consider outside run areas. Outside run areas can be fenced with temporary or permanent fencing and overhead netting to protect the birds from predators. Bedding is material such as shavings or sawdust spread on the chicken house floor. The floor can be concrete, wooden, or dirt. Use a (½–inch) mesh hardware cloth over windows to keep out wild birds, rodents and varmints.
Birds need adequate space for movement, nesting and roost areas. Space requirements vary with type of bird.
|Type of Bird
|Sq. ft./Bird Inside
|Sq. ft/Bird Outside Run
Newly hatched chicks need heat during the first few weeks of rearing. There are many types of chick brooders that can be adapted to a small flock. Standard hover brooders can be used for starting a flock of up to 1,000 chicks. The common infrared lamp is an inexpensive way to brood a small, 25-to-100 chick flock. The heat lamp should be at least 18 inches above the floor. In winter, make sure the room is insulated so heat lamps are effective in producing enough heat for the chicks. A two-lamp unit provides safety in case one burns out during cold weather.
Start brooding chicks at 90-95 degrees Fahrenheit (F) for the first week, reduce the temperature gradually by 5° F each week until the chicks are five weeks old and the house temperature is 70-75 degrees F. It is a good idea to hang a thermometer at chick level to monitor brood temperature. The behavior of the chicks is a better indicator of their comfort. If the chicks have loud, sharp chirps and they bunch near the heat source, they are cold. If they are panting and bunched in the corner away from the heat source, they are too warm.
A circular barrier called a brooder guard, usually 15 to 16 inches high and made of cardboard or other solid material, confines the chicks. This guard also reduces drafts of cold air, and keeps chicks near the heat source during the first seven to ten days.
Manufactured chick-feeder designs vary from the commercially used cardboard or plastic feeder lid to the metal trough type. Homemade boxes, egg flats and similar low, open designs are acceptable as long as the chicks have easy access to the feed, and feed waste is controlled. Provide enough space so that nearly all the chicks can eat at the same time. To avoid feed waste, gradually change chicks to regular tube or trough feeders so that open feeders can be removed when the chicks are 10 days old.
Hanging tube and trough feeders for all ages are available from farm supply dealers. Hanging tube feeders are adjustable and can be used for chickens from one week through adulthood. Trough feeders have a limited capacity for adjustment, which makes it necessary to use at least three different sizes of feeders during the growing cycle of the birds.
A feeder can be built from scrap lumber, but it is critical that it be designed to avoid feed waste. The feeder must have a grill or other device to keep chickens from roosting on it or scratching in it and a lip to keep the feed from being spilled out. It is also essential that the feeder be the correct height (the back height of the chickens). Allow 2-3 inches of feeder space per bird for a laying hen or a meat bird.
It is important that chicks have easy access to water at all times. Manufactured chick waterers (also called drinkers) are usually gallon or quart jars that screw onto special bases. Once filled, the waterers are inverted and the chicks drink out of the base. Another type of waterer is called a poultry fountain. The poultry fountain maintains a constant water level in the pan by a vacuum and the top is designed to prevent roosting. A five gallon waterer can accommodate up to 75 hens. Height of waterers should be two inches shorter than the back height of the chickens. Allow 2-3 inches of drinker space per bird. Clean waterers and replenish with fresh water daily so chickens have access to clean water at all times.
Chickens kept for egg production should have access to nests at 19 to 20 weeks of age. Giving young pullets the opportunity to find nests one to two weeks before they start laying helps prevent them from developing the habit of laying on the floor. Nest boxes and roost areas should be placed 24 inches above the floor. One 10 inch x 10 inch nest box per four to five chickens will be adequate. Keep one to two inches of clean, dry nesting material (straw or pine shavings) in the nest. Make sure nesting areas are separate from the roosting area so birds don’t roost in the nesting boxes. Nesting boxes will become very dirty if hens are roosting in the nesting boxes.
The best way to understand a chicken is to remember that most birds roost in trees. Roosts or perches provide comfortable sleeping for hens. Roosts can be rods or tree branches at least two inches in diameter. Allow at least 6-7 inches of roost space per bird. Keep roosts higher than the nesting boxes. Hens will roost on the highest point in the house.
Dropping pits help with litter bedding and manure management; they catch a good portion of the bird’s feces as well as water spillage. The dropping pit should be wire covered and at least 12 to 16 inches off the floor. Clean the dropping pit regularly, particularly if wet conditions develop and ensure a modest flow of air over bedding and manure to suppress the growth of bacteria such as E. coli and Salmonella.
Artificial light benefits all types of poultry. Adequate lighting will maximize production of birds. One 25-watt incandescent bulb will light 40 square feet or one 40-watt incandescent bulb provides adequate light for 200 square feet of floor space. If the ceiling is painted white or a light reflector is used, the quality of light is enhanced. Proper artificial light during the fall and winter months will stimulate and maintain egg production in laying hens. A combination of natural and artificial light to give laying hens 14 hours of light is effective in maintaining egg production throughout the year. Usually broilers and roasters grow well with 24-hour light, but can be grown with only 8 to 10 hours, such as that provided by natural light. Installing an automatic timer is an inexpensive and easy to install tool to help adjust the amount of artificial light provided in the house.