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Chicken winter greenhouse  RSS feed

 
steward
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Hello friends, I think I've posted about this before but I'm not sure I've fully described it.  This is a protected place for my birds to spend their time on cold winter days.  It was inspired by the wonderful work of Sean at Edible Acres.

My 16 birds have a nice pallet wood coop that is 8x10'.  There's an automatic door to let them out and lock them up.  The door opens up into a covered run (greehouse) that is about 16' long, 8' wide and 7' high.  There's a human operated chicken door at the end of the run to let them free-range.  All summer long I let the birds out whenever I get around to it and close it after dusk.  If I can't, the automatic door keeps them safe.

The plastic on the greenhouse rolls up on the south side in the summer.

The run is a multi-function space.  The long north side is a series of pallets standing on edge.  Big odd-ball sized pallets I get from a local business.  They wrap around the west side to the storm door that gives me access.  The pallets are there to give me more working height in the coop and to have a place to lean compost up against.  In the fall I collect 50-100 leaf bags and put the contents in the run.  I have a board running down the center (on edge) a couple feet off the ground.  The leaves all go on the north side of the board and are piled up to the ceiling.  All winter long the birds dig through the leaves and poop on them.  In the late winter the leaves start composting and giving off some heat.  By late spring the pile has reduced by 2/3rds and I can scoop it out for a rest in the garden compost bin before using.  I got about 4 cubic yards of chicken compost from this system last year.

This year I started adding 10 gallons of coffee grounds to the pile (dug in and mixed with the leaves) every week.  They started the composting process shortly after adding the grounds and were hot even through the polar vortex.  So even though it's 2 degrees in there, the birds have warm feet.

Later last winter (when I wanted to get/keep the pile cooking), I'd dig a hole in the pile and throw in some wheat kernels.  The main reason was to aerate that section of the pile.  By the time I worked my way to the end of the pile and returned to a given spot, the wheat had sprouted and the girls got a green treat.  The vertical board tends to keep the pile of leaves/compost to one side so I can walk the length of the greenhouse.  I periodically pitchfork up leaves from the ground and put them on the pile.

I suspended some hooks from the ceiling that I could stab apples on.  They were high enough that the birds couldn't peck them without hopping.  It was like chicken tetherball and the apples lasted quite a while before getting eaten.

I sited the run/greenhouse under a big white pine.  This way in the summer it's shaded and in the winter it has good sun.

I'm sure there are further improvements or adaptations to make this work in many other ways.  For me it gets the chickens outside during our long cold winters and gives me a lot of good compost come spring.

The last picture is of the pile as I removed the compost in spring.
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pollinator
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That is a great system.
 
pollinator
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I like your setup very much!

At a previous place we built a sun shed / chicken coop that worked pretty well for a small flock of chickens. The setup had its pluses and minuses, and had I stayed there I would have tweaked it significantly - a significant part of the problem was the design of the sunshed itself - I would never build one that way again - live and learn. We followed a blueprint we got at a home improvement center. The way the glazing was set up was designed to be high maintenance, to catch water at the bottom, etc. Though we kept adding ventilation, it was also not really designed as a plant growing house, and ventilation was another constant battle. It was an attractive design, but flawed for the purposes I used it for.

Our current chicken house is built on the south end of a barn. On the south wall there is a sally port into an enclosed, roofed chicken yard. There is more unenclosed space along the south side of that barn, where I currently have my composting set up. I want to put my new greenhouse there, and build the greenhouse immediately adjacent to the roofed chicken yard, so that I can allow the chickens into it during part of the year. Probably, the project will mean a rebuild of the chicken yard so as to match up rooflines between greenhouse and chicken yard. It’s a big project - one reason we haven’t done it yet! 😸

Anyhow, I like yours very much.
 
pollinator
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Mike, i am excited you implemented that system, I watched the videos and have been trying to figure out whether it would work here. I think it would with some modification for warmer areas. Edible Acres is great.

The chickens here are mobile, but that gets to be a pain when we start freezing, my automatic waterer broke. It is really only tough for maybe three months here (mid-Nov through mid-Feb), but I might make one of these right next to the Back to Eden gardens and let them live in there during that time. Just like Shawn I think they would have access to the old coop to lay in (hopefully) but have a warm party zone with lots of goodies, and a big scratching area for the warmer days.

Thanks for the pictures and information.
 
Mike Jay
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Thanks everyone!  I really like how it's attached to the coop.  Then it's a protected run in the summer if we're gone for a few days (just leave them locked in).  I haven't figured out how to do a full Edible Acres system with feedstock going in and compost coming out.  I'd also have to import a bunch of scraps to make that happen.  I am getting two buckets of food scraps a week that I put in there for the birds to pick over and to turn into compost.  But that's a far cry from what Sean is putting in.

Next year I may try to figure out how to store extra leaf bags.  Then in late winter I can add 40 more bags to make even more compost.
 
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Thanks for reminding me. I had forgotten the details, and this year being the first year I decided to keep chickens over the winter the usual questions cropped up: Keeping the water from freezing, and clean, but especially keeping the litter clean. I've installed a flat panel heater above their trough. It keeps them warm without getting them overheated and best of all, they cannot jump on top of it or poop there. But now that they are comfy, they may not want to go out as much.
I've used a push type shovel to clean up their yard outside, but that got old really fast.
I've cleaned their litter twice using the push shovel: I'd shove it under the litter, then pull it wherever I wanted it to feed some trees in the yard. Well, 2-4" of snow, no problem. Easy Peasy. Now we got more like 6" and are due for perhaps another 10", and that just will not work. Too late to fix it now. I'll just have to suffer
They are pretty good about keeping the poop under their perches but I was really looking for a winter run I would not have to shovel and where I could toss kitchen wastes, manure, leaves [Wow! you got a lot of leaves! How did that happen?]
Yep. Something just like that. Something I could open in the spring/ summer/ fall but keep winter tight too.I'll start to start looking for pallets in good condition. [Home Depot?, Lowes?]
 
Mike Jay
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Yes, with this system, the chickens are outside (in the greenhouse) all day in the winter.  I get my pallets from behind a local manufacturer.  They have beefy, odd ball pallets that weigh about 100 lbs and are SOLID.  Maybe Lowes or HD would have them.  Menards doesn't give theirs away, they fix and reuse them.  Check out industrial parks, manufacturers, outdoor equipment retailers and other places where businesses get stuff in on pallets and don't sell stuff on the pallets.

I get the leaves in town.  The nice people there must know that I need them because in the fall they bag all their leaves up and leave them at the curb for me.  I just put some pallets in the pickup angled out and drive around filling it up.  With the pallets I can pile quite a few bags in there (tied down with a rope).  When picking up bags there are several things to keep in mind:
  • If there aren't any weeds in the lawn, I skip that house
  • If the bag is really heavy it could be mulched up leaves (good) or full of rocks and junk (bad)
  • If there are a lot of pine needles the bag will be heavy and I usually skip them since I have enough pine needles at my place already
  •  
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    Hi, Mike. Finally going to be moving up to the N. WI, Douglas County farm in a few months. Love Edible Acres and Justin Rhoades. Our awful clay ground needs LOTS of help!
    Was planning to free-range layers and CornishX, starting in our orchard with a "chick-saw" for overnight safety.
    After the meat birds are butchered, I was hoping to be able to overwinter a small movable coop for 8-10 layers, place it under a movable hoop house to slide along a future raised bed in the garden area.
    Leaves are NO PROBLEM! Got about 60 bags in 2 weeks while visiting last October - had to pass up much more because I wasn't able to use the pickup.
    My question is about predators. We've got coyotes, etc - some say wolves! Very rural surround to our 105 acres.
    Even if the chooks were safe overnight in a little coop, wouldn't the coyotes,etc try to tear thru the plastic hoop house or dig under? I was hoping to be able to move that hoop house along as the birds worked their magic.
    Very little "woman/man-power" is going to be available on our place, LOL. Trying to be as efficient and safe as possible. Looking forward to hearing any advice from the permie "hive-mind"!
     
    Mike Jay
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    Hi Mary Beth, welcome to the northwoods

    I'd think that a coop under a hoop house would be very nice for them in the winter.  It would be possibly warmer than the set-up I have overnight.  I rely on electricity to keep their water from freezing and the automatic door.  Solar doors are available but water could be a challenge.

    If you're planning to move a hoop house in the winter, I think you'll struggle.  We have two feet of snow on the ground now with 8" forecast for tomorrow.  Moving that snow to allow a hoop to move would require a lot of man/womanpower.  I'd imagine a stationary hoop could be big enough to cover a decent chunk of ground.  Fill it with leaves and compost them.  Then in spring, shovel the compost over to wherever else you want your beds with cardboard or other sheet mulching beneath it to kill the vegetation.

    My run/greenhouse is covered with chicken wire and then the plastic.  Around the bottom is 3' of hardware cloth with the edge buried a bit.  I haven't noticed any digging or attempts to get in.  I'm rural but there are plenty of neighbors and activity.  I've seen moveable hoops for chickens that are pretty predator proof.  I think some of their success is that they move from time to time.  Leaving one sitting in one place could encourage the foxes and weasels to check it out a bit closer.
     
    pollinator
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    Beautiful chook home you have made there!
    I started with a chicken greenhouse and due to municipal interference, switched to a "chook wagon"

    Mary Beth If you really want to move the chickens around  over the winter,  I suggest two sets of hoops,plastic and  chicken wire.
    The chooks can live in one hoop house, doing their job.
    Set up the other on whatever patch of ground you want them to work next.
    If you move them every week,  you will have a week to set up their new home.
    During the warm weather you could  lay out where you want to go,  and drive rebar pins for the hoops to go over.
    Cap them,  with safety orange caps of some kind,  lest they get lost in the snow, and/or someone trips and impales themselves.

    As to storing leaves,  what if we built a hoop house,  and then built a fence as tall or taller than the hoop house along one to four sides ,then we pile leaves bagged or loose between the fences and on top of the hoop house.

    It's a mulch fence,  but it's also a shelter.
    The hoop house should have a mesh covering and could have a plastic covering as well, if you need it to be water tight.
    Maybe if we leave the bottom foot of hoop house uncovered we could draw leaves from there, with them sliding down as they are removed, a self feeding process.
    An A frame might be better than a hoophouse to be certain light would come in at the peak.
    A gambrel roof might be better still.
    If your going crazy,  build a "monitor " on top the first roof and add clerestory windows!

    OK,  dialing things back,leave the north side of the hoop house open at the bottom foot, enclose that side with fence, fill that space with leaves,and cover with tarps.
     
    master pollinator
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    That looks like a great setup. We could use something like that, especially on potential high predator days. It probably won't happen this year but maybe next. Perhaps if it also served as a greenhouse for plants I could justify the building time this summer or autumn. Currently we have more coop than chickens so it's not high priority. But if was for plants too ... hmmm. Stacked functions!
     
    Mike Jay
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    Thanks!  I had little mouse dreams about using it to start plants but I never pursued it.  The plastic is pretty dusty from the birds, I'd have to protect the seedlings from the birds and it barely exceeds the outside temp at night.  At least the way I built and situated it.  Being under the pine it starts to get shaded more and more as spring proceeds.
     
    Mike Jay
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    I received a question about the pallets and how to secure them.  They are very heavy pallets which helps in this situation.  I started with a row of cinderblocks just sitting on levelish ground.  My ground is sandy so frost isn't much of a concern.  Then I set the pallets on the blocks.  I started at the coop, attaching the pallet to the coop.  Then two more pallets got me to the corner and a shortened one got me to the door.  Then I ran some wood along the top to help tie them together and keep the middle pallet from bowing out.  And I braced the corner with a diagonal.

    I attached some more construction photos so you can see how it kind of went together.  The structural wood is mostly pallet runners which are 6' untreated oak 2x4s in this case.
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    Cécile Stelzer Johnson
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    Mike Jay wrote:I received a question about the pallets and how to secure them.  They are very heavy pallets which helps in this situation.  I started with a row of cinderblocks just sitting on levelish ground.  My ground is sandy so frost isn't much of a concern.  Then I set the pallets on the blocks.  I started at the coop, attaching the pallet to the coop.  Then two more pallets got me to the corner and a shortened one got me to the door.  Then I ran some wood along the top to help tie them together and keep the middle pallet from bowing out.  And I braced the corner with a diagonal.
    I attached some more construction photos so you can see how it kind of went together.  The structural wood is mostly pallet runners which are 6' untreated oak 2x4s in this case.



    Thanks for the awesome pics, Mike. I keep gleaning really good ideas from you. Here, having the south side going all the way down with the plastic is much better than what I was thinking of doing: They will keep warmer this way! (I was thinking of having the short wall all the way around- Not as good.)
    If I have the time I might pour a little cement in those blocs so they don't fill with melting snow and perhaps refreeze and bust the blocs[?] This way, I might also be able to sink rebars in those cinder blocks and have a way to really fasten the pallets. Although your pallets look like a charging bull could not topple them over. Lol
    I'm going hunting for good pallets now.
     
    Mike Jay
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    Thanks Cecile!  I do love these pallets.  If you're ever in my area I can hook you up with as many as you can carry home.  I didn't run the plastic down the outside of the pallet, maybe I should have.  The holes are mainly exposed to the leaves on the inside.

    I roll that plastic up to the first horizontal board during summer so there's more ventilation and it's cooler in there.  They only hang out there in the summer if we're on vacation and we've locked them in.  
     
    Cécile Stelzer Johnson
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    Mike Jay wrote:Thanks Cecile!  I do love these pallets.  If you're ever in my area I can hook you up with as many as you can carry home.  I didn't run the plastic down the outside of the pallet, maybe I should have.  The holes are mainly exposed to the leaves on the inside.
    I roll that plastic up to the first horizontal board during summer so there's more ventilation and it's cooler in there.  They only hang out there in the summer if we're on vacation and we've locked them in.  



    Yep. I'm not sure how many I could carry in my Nissan Murano but they sound like really good strong pallets. Maybe my hubby's truck, if I ask nice. I still would have to make several trips [I want a big yard].
    Rolling up the wall...I would want to do that too or they would be cooked in there. But then I have to abandon the idea of placing corrugated plastic panels on the south end. Where did you get your transparent plastic wall? Hard to tell but it looks like it has reinforcement fibers in it. Really good stuff. I may hunt for that too.
    Since my contraption will itself be *within* the present chicken yard, the short wall will give them a chance to go around the building and get shade on the north side when I let them out.
    As far as protecting the outside of that wall, This might be a good idea against the wind, which I would think can go in there easily, even if it is not too drafty? Would stop horizontal rain too.
    I've seen some super heavy tarps in, I think DePere, WI. They reuse billboard tarps, fuse 2 of them together. Nothing can go through these suckers! they are black or white on one side and on the other side, is the advertisement. I think I paid $50 for a 40' X 12' a few years back, delivered. They are heavy to handle too if you get a big piece. Much heavier than the standard tarps you can get at Fleet Farm or Menards of Home Depot. I cut them in long strips in between my strawberries. Not a weed went through!
    Hmmm. Nope. I can't find the one in DePere but here is one in MN that is pretty much the same thing:
    https://billboardtarps.com/product-category/billboard-vinyl/billboard-vinyl-13-16-oz/
    Those suckers are super heavy. I didn't see grommets on these but if we ask? maybe they'd install some. I'd love to have grommets: Much easier to nail/ screw/ bolt in place! I might make the whole north wall that way, in black. It would really concentrate the heat in the building and would probably come up to less  than these corrugated plastic panels 4' X 8' at $17 a pop.
     
    Mike Jay
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    The plastic I used was the cheapest 4 mil plastic from the paint department at Menards.  You might be seeing the chicken wire that's underneath the plastic.  When my local Menards did some remodelling I picked up a huge piece of heavier poly with reinforcing material.  I'll use that once this plastic gives up the ghost.

    I also put a piece of Dimpled Foundation Membrane that I got cheaply between the composting leaves and the pallets (and coop) so that the wood wouldn't rot.
     
    William Bronson
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    The best place I have actually scored heavy duty pallets at is behind a medical place that felt in scooters and chair ramps.
    The consistently have long pallets made of strong wood,, and they want you to take them.
    I have another place I found that advertised on Craigslist as an ongoing source,  but I haven't been by there yet.

    Menard's sells a 6mil plastic sheet with nylon reinforcement, supposed to last years, even on construction sites.
    It's less than $85.00 for 20'x50',not too pricey, especially  if it performs as promised.
    Solar pool covers are often considered some of the best available flexible glazing, as they are actually insulating.


     
    Cécile Stelzer Johnson
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    William Bronson wrote: The best place I have actually scored heavy duty pallets at is behind a medical place that felt in scooters and chair ramps.
    The consistently have long pallets made of strong wood,, and they want you to take them.
    I have another place I found that advertised on Craigslist as an ongoing source,  but I haven't been by there yet.
    Menard's sells a 6mil plastic sheet with nylon reinforcement, supposed to last years, even on construction sites.
    It's less than $85.00 for 20'x50',not too pricey, especially  if it performs as promised.
    Solar pool covers are often considered some of the best available flexible glazing, as they are actually insulating.


    Thanks for the great ideas. I had not thought about medical ramps for wheelchairs. That just might be the ticket if I can find a place like that. I know they will be sturdy!
    I saw the 6 mil sheet with nylon reinforcement. The Menards crew was using it to do their remodeling and it looked really nice but they disposed of it before I could get it. The kind I was considering is 12 mils, so it should be even stronger, but with that comes the weight and pulling it above the run might prove hard to do. Rolling it up and down with the seasons might prove a challenge. I'll check the shipping weight of both products and see.
    I'll have a look at these solar pool covers. The bubbly surface would add a little insulation too... but would the bubble catch on the frame? Hmmm...
    (I love this forum: Ask ye of little faith, and ye shall receive tons of very valuable info... for free!).
     
    Mike Jay
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    Cécile Stelzer Johnson wrote:(I love this forum: Ask ye of little faith, and ye shall receive tons of very valuable info... for free!).

    I think you pay it back with plenty of information of your own
     
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