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henhouse design with ecological perspective

 
Adam Klaus
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I thought I would share my henhouse setup with the forum. I understand that vast pros and cons to permanent versus mobile henhouses. Having worked with several different variations on each theme, I have settled on a permanent henhouse for my layer flock.

The henhouse is located between the garden and the barnyard. The hens spend most of their time foraging in the barnyard. There is a lot of goodness from the cow manure, hay droppings, etc. In many ways, the barnyard seems to be the perfect foraging environment for hens. Occasionally, when it benefits the garden, they get access to the garden.

As for the henhouse itself, there are several key design components-

-Deep litter, sawdust floor. I put down the sawdust a good 18 inches deep, on top of the native soil. The sawdust is deep enough that you cannot easily dig down to dirt. As bird droppings get incorporated into the sawdust, it becomes a compost floor. There is a lot of little bugs and such that the hens can peck and scratch for. The sawdust deep litter floor emulates the deep litter of a rich forest, the environment chickens evolved in.

-Log roosts overhead. Chickens love to be up in trees. When mine are not foraging, they spend almost all of their social and resting time up in the overhead roosts. I used oak logs, and laid them across the rafters. There is a huge network of logs there, a chicken jungle gym. Since the roosts are overhead, they take up no floor space. The entire square footage of the henhouse is roosts. The walls of the henhouse are 7 feet, so the roosts sit at that height. There are a couple of lower perches that allow the hens to climb up into the roosts. They love it.

-Sheltered nest boxes. They should be covered to prevent any droppings from soiling the nests. Finding a good balance between social and private seems to be a key factor in the hens enjoyment of the nests. They do not need to be fancy. I have had all sorts over the years, including nests that you access the eggs from outside, and even the facny roll-out nest boxes. Rustic is the way to go for nest boxes. Entering the henhouse to gather the eggs makes you pass your farmers eye over everything, which is always beneficial. The nests are filled with sawdust for cleanliness, and I always keep a golf ball in each nest in case the hens forget their job.

-Feeding whole grains broadcast into the deep bedding. This keeps the hens occupied. If idle hands do the devil's work, then idle hens become the devil herself. Keep em busy. In the process of pecking and scratching, the hens aerate and mix their manure into the sawdust. No feeders, feed troughs, or commercial ground feed. No way. Never again. Use an old chest freezer as an excellent, rodent-proof, grain bin. Sprout your grains in all seasons except winter, it increases the feed value and saves you money.

-Ventilation. Lots of it. You do not need to worry about cold unless you live in Siberia. I am in the mountains of Colorado, and cold is not a problem for the hens. I have good cross-ventilation from east-west, which picks up my daily and nightly breezes. I also have a vent in the peak of the roof, to discharge warm air. The gable end is mostly wire, allowing lots of air movement. Chickens are creatures of the air, make sure they have lots of fresh air.

-Frost free spigot in the henhouse. Hauling buckets of water every day for a decade gets real old, real fast. Water right on tap makes chicken chores so much easier.

-Keep a tub of wood ash for dust bathing, and a tub of oystershell meal for calcuim. Easy things to do that really benefit the health of our hens.

-No lights. The henhouse is off-grid, no electricity. Hens need the reality of seasons. Dont screw with their evolved instincts by trying to have them lay in December like its May. I ususally get few eggs in December, but even by now, in mid-January, we are getting a steady increase in eggs.

-Secure perimeter to keep out digging predators. A combination of partially buried chicken wire and rocks will keep skunks, raccoons, etc from burrowing into the house. You really dont ever want to have to shoot a skunk who has holed up in the henhouse. Trust me.

-Tall walls so you can walk around comfortably underneath the roosts. You dont want to be hunched over every day. Over the years, you will spend a lot of time in the henhouse, keep it comfortable.

-A good door on the garden side of the henhouse to facilitate compost removal. I shovel out ever two years. It is a big pile, ususally 5 yards of compost. A good door that you can bring a wheelbarrow through will be much appreciated.

-Generous square footage. My henhouse is 24x24. I have functionally housed as many as 150 hens in there. A happier number is more like 75. The overhead roost area makes higher numbers possible, but dont push it. If you are good at sourcing building materials, the cost of construction is worth having a comfortable and efficient henhouse. Cramped henhouses are no fun for the hen or the farmer.

Finally here are a couple pics, hope they are illustrative and save me another thousand words. Any questions feel free to ask!
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log roosts and sawdust flooring
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log roosts and sawdust flooring
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compost pile maturing in the adjacent garden
 
John Polk
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I completely agree that the coop needs to be big (and tall) enough for the humans to work in. I know too many people who have cramped, tiny coops. They never spend time inside the coop, which allows things to get out of hand quickly. If we need to go in there each day, we will quickly spot anything that needs our attention.

The high roosts allow the hens to feel like natural chickens, rather than controlled egg machines. It helps provide them with security, while at the same time opening up floor space. Given a choice, hens much prefer to be 'up in a tree' when it comes time for a little shut-eye. While I am a firm believer in open fronted coops, having roosts up in the rafters is an excellent way to allow them their cozy, warmer spot to roost.

The higher roof increases cubic feet per bird, which is just as important as the square footage requirement. This helps with the air circulation, which is crucial to chicken's health. Studies at Miss. State have shown that if ammonia levels are high enough to detect with a human nose, the mature birds will average 1/2 pound lighter. I know a guy who raises 200 meat birds per year, that claims the smell "isn't that bad". He gave me a funny look when I pointed out that he was losing 100 pounds of finished product each year.

 
Adam Klaus
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Location: 6200' westen slope of colorado, zone 6
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and here's the not-at-all super deluxe nest boxes-

I have tried them in many positions, and I really think the hens like them best on the ground. Wasnt my first guess, but then again, I'm not a chicken.
IMG_1169.JPG
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nest boxes
 
Paul Cereghino
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I like the ideas... I had similar but different ideas about double decker, but put removable wire floor panels on the coop, and put the whole thing on posts, so under the coop is part of the locked run. I like the idea of roosts in the rafters. I bet it is nice and cozy up there.

I put the predator wire like a skirt facing out, having been told that animals will go the fence and then try to dig... an assumption that hasn't been well tested yet.

I have never heard of ash for bathing! diatomaceous earth yes, but not ash, do you just have a box in a dry place? What kind of box?

I have reflexively tried to keep feed out of the litter... do you do any proactive management of parasites?

Here's my chicken get up: http://www.stewardshipinstitute.info/wiki/index.php?title=The_chicken_kingdom
 
David Livingston
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Hi Adam
I notice from your pics that you seems to have a breed of chicken known as Ducks how well do they get on and where do the ducks lay ? Roost ?
I hear what you say about roosting and hight but I am thinking of only having three hens to provide eggs for two people so it seems a bit of over kill for me .

David
 
Adam Klaus
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Paul Cereghino wrote:I like the ideas...
I have never heard of ash for bathing! Diatomaceous earth yes, but not ash, do you just have a box in a dry place? What kind of box?

I use a rubber tub in the corner. As they bathe, the wood ash blows around and gets minutely incorporated into the litter, which is good for the nutrients in the compost later on. Super simple. We have ample wood ash from the stove, and just store it in a metal trash can through the year. Ash works well for the hens.

Paul Cereghino wrote:I have reflexively tried to keep feed out of the litter... do you do any proactive management of parasites?

The theory on parasites and deep litter feeding is that the deep litter is a compost pile, rather than a poop depository. The compost pile has its own diverse microbiology, so that while pararsites may be there, they are held in balance by all the natural antibiotic critters that are too. The only anti-parasite measure I take is feeding the hens raw milk in the spring-fall. I very rarely see any signs of parasites in my hens. I believe that it is a very healthy system, holistically speaking.

Nice website too Paul. Thanks for sharing the link.
 
Adam Klaus
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David Livingston wrote:
I notice from your pics that you seems to have a breed of chicken known as Ducks how well do they get on and where do the ducks lay ? Roost ?
David


The duck breed of chickens are the messiest and most manic of all poultry breeds. Crazy little buggers. Ducks just cuddle up on the ground to sleep, and lay their eggs in a corner of the coop. They really are on a totally different program than the chickens.

The biggest challenge with ducks is their lunacy when it comes to water. With the deep litter, ducks dont aerate it at all. They splash water everywhere though. So I have found that I have to keep the duck:chicken ratio very low, like maybe 1:10. Otherwise the duck factor really 'ducks up' the deep litter, especially in winter with the splashed water freezing the surface of the bedding. I love the duck eggs too much though, so having a few ducks for eggs is worth the mess, but I definitely would be ensuring disaster to have more than the few that I do.
 
Kevin MacBearach
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Location: Beavercreek, Oregon
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Anyone ever bury logs under the deep-litter floor? Wouldn't the decomposing wood help the biological activity in the floor and create extra warmth in the winter?
 
leanna jones
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Location: Pennines, northern England, zone 7b, avg annual rainfall 50"
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hi, love the design, it's helping me clarify as i want to do something similar

i will use branches in the rafters of a lean-to cow shed, also at about 7ft height. does anyone have tips on how to incorporate hens into this cow shed? floorspace is 32x16ft. roof will slope from 13ft > 7ft. will contain 4 cows with calves at feet. i will start with 10 chickens.

the main issue is that the shed would not be predator-proof. the two predators we have are foxes and stoats. if you know about foxes and stoats please tell me if my ideas are crazy.

i am planning to let the chickens let themselves in and out as they please. i would not be clipping their wings so they can get up and away from foxes. but stoats are more of a threat, as far as i understand. stoats can climb high, and they can stretch themselves and balance well so i can imagine them being able to get up any pegs that are put in to help the chickens get up to their roost. but it must be possible to design something that chickens can jump/flap up which stoats can't? any ideas? the uprights of the shed will be wooden telegraph poles and the sides plywood sheeting (i'm not designing or building it but i get to put my chickens in it). i fear stoats might find this easy to climb. i'd like to try and somehow cover the wood with plastic sheeting or something that stoats can't get a grip on!

i would not be able to have nest boxes on the floor, was planning to have them as high as possible - how high would the chickens accept? i know they have to be lower than the roosts.

also are there any issues i should be aware of in terms of mixing cattle and chickens?
 
Isaac Bickford
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I like the thoughts here! My own coop in the tropics is very simple - a tin roof held up by posts, butted against a concrete wall. It keeps them dry. Warm is never a problem. We have relatively low roosts, however, which make it a pain to clean out the sawdust litter. Hopefully when I'm settled in a more permanent place, I will build a coop more like what you have here.

+1 for nest boxes right on the ground. We tried putting ours higher, but the chickens would just make their own nest out of leaves in the run. Now our boxes are on the ground. A few of the hens still lay in their own nests instead of using mine. Meh, I figure they know better than I how to be a chicken.

@Leanna - we have our chickens in a concrete walled run, and as a result don't have any problems with ground predators. Our roo keeps a good eye on the sky and will give a special warning when something flies over. The hens all run for cover when this happens. Roosters do a great job of protecting from daytime predators, but you really should have a closed in coop to protect from nighttime predators. Chickens are tragically helpless at night, hence the tendency to roost as high up as possible.
 
henry stevenson
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I currently have a bought house and run but it's not big enough so I am designing my own.
Your description and pictures have been a big help.
 
April Swift
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Location: Texas
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Adam,

I saw on another thread that you feed raw milk yogurt. But here you also say you feed raw milk. I fed raw milk to my chickens and they got the runs. What did I do that you didn't do? I fed cream and milk. Do you just feed skimmed milk? I had thought when I read the other thread that maybe letting the milk ferment into yogurt is what helped. Also, how are you sprouting the grains. I have a very small set up that I am planning to expand(only 11 hens and 2 roos right now) so I am sprouting lentils in quart jars but would like to sprout more grains. I am feeding a commercial grain right now with the supplement of a quart of sprouted lentils a day and all our vegetable scraps from the house. I also pick weeds/wild hay and leaves for scratching pleasure of the chickens. But I would love to sprout more grains and get away from the commercial feeds.
My husband and I are new on the forums and new to permaculture so we are trying to convert things over. Also are your chickens able to come and go or are they fenced into the barn area? Where do you get the sawdust from?


I read Paul's article on the different chicken systems and am really thinking about what new system will work for us. All your answers are appreciated.....and if anyone else wants to, feel free to chime in too
 
Adam Klaus
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Hi April,

I always skim the milk before feeding to chickens. The butterfat is the most precious food produced on our farm, so it all goes to the farm family. Plus, chickens do not need fat in their diet, so feeding butterfat to chickens is specifically wasteful. The skimmed raw milk is generally fermented into yogurt in buckets, but not always. They do just fine on raw skimmed milk. I really don't know why your birds would scour from good quality milk.

I sprout the grains in two five gallon buckets. A solid one that they soak overnight in, and one with holes.drilled in the bottom for drainage that the grain sits in for a couple of days until it sprouts. Very simple system, that I learned about elsewhere in the forums here if you search about. I am just barely sprouting the grain, not making fodder, fwiw.

Get away from commercial feeds, period. Right now, with no milk from the seasonal dairy, and no sprouts due to freezing weather, my chickens are getting half whole wheat and half whole corn, that is all. This ration wouldn't work for growing meat birds, but for mature laying hens, it works great. The eggs may be fewer, but they are cheaper and more nutritious. It is an easy choice.

The chickens are not fenced into the.barn area. They can wander as far as they want. I fence them out of the garden and berries, and can close the henhouse securely at night or as needed. Otherwise they are free, but stick around.

I get sawdust from a local mill. I bring in a big load every two years, but you could just as easily add a pickup load every few months. You definitely need sawdust, not wood chips.

Hope that helps! Please be sure to search around through the forums and my previous posts, there is a real wealth of information here.
Good luck!
 
April Swift
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Thanks Adam. That is great. I eill by whole corn and whole wheat. I am in Texas so it is probably warm enough to sprout all year long.


 
April Swift
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Adam(or others using the deep mulch system) when you are using sawdust, what type of trees is it from? I live in the piney woods of East Texas and if I get sawdust from the sawmills around here, it will be prominently be pine and cedar. I want to use the material after it comes out of the henhouse for mulch but am concerned about it being pine. Do you tgink this is a problem?


I also thought about using straw/hay but am worried about pesticides. What are good sources of mulch and bedding for chickens?
 
Juanita Colucci
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April Swift wrote:I also thought about using straw/hay but am worried about pesticides. What are good sources of mulch and bedding for chickens?


I am also interested in a sawdust replacement for deep litter. I live in the desert, so rain is not much of an issue here. Getting sawdust, however, is proving difficult.
 
michelle salois
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love this post, so to the point and clear a newbie could get started!
I have similar principles for mobile coops, I need to get it in writing an post it.
 
Adam Klaus
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April,
My sawdust comes from pine, no problem. I think any wood would work, but cedar would be the most likely type to be problematic in terms of inhibiting biological action.

Straw simply does not have anywhere near the carbon content of sawdust. Sawdust works so well because it's extremely high carbon levels balance perfectly with the high nitrogen of the chicken manure. Additionally, the granular texture of sawdust stays much better aerated than straw would. If you have ever bedded livestock with hay, you find that it tends to mat. It then forms a sheet like surface layer, which is undesirable. Sawdust from a commercial lumber mill is really the way to go for a deep litter hen house.

Good luck to all,
Adam
 
michelle salois
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I've never seen this on any site, but I have discovered that OAK LEAVES are the best bedding of all; ; NO smell, even with small amount of oak leaves and lots of chicken manure. I can leave my coop floor uncleaned for MONTHS! they never get matted/saturated, just more and more finely ground.
 
Anna Hopping
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leanna jones wrote:hi, love the design, it's helping me clarify as i want to do something similar

i will use branches in the rafters of a lean-to cow shed, also at about 7ft height. does anyone have tips on how to incorporate hens into this cow shed? floorspace is 32x16ft. roof will slope from 13ft > 7ft. will contain 4 cows with calves at feet. i will start with 10 chickens.

the main issue is that the shed would not be predator-proof. the two predators we have are foxes and stoats. if you know about foxes and stoats please tell me if my ideas are crazy.

i am planning to let the chickens let themselves in and out as they please. i would not be clipping their wings so they can get up and away from foxes. but stoats are more of a threat, as far as i understand. stoats can climb high, and they can stretch themselves and balance well so i can imagine them being able to get up any pegs that are put in to help the chickens get up to their roost. but it must be possible to design something that chickens can jump/flap up which stoats can't? any ideas? the uprights of the shed will be wooden telegraph poles and the sides plywood sheeting (i'm not designing or building it but i get to put my chickens in it). i fear stoats might find this easy to climb. i'd like to try and somehow cover the wood with plastic sheeting or something that stoats can't get a grip on!

i would not be able to have nest boxes on the floor, was planning to have them as high as possible - how high would the chickens accept? i know they have to be lower than the roosts.

also are there any issues i should be aware of in terms of mixing cattle and chickens?





i am not sure what stoats are. but as of you question about how far chickens can fly up. without aid. if your chickens do not have their wings clipped they can fly up into a tree. i have see a hen in a tree in our yard with her wings over 2 chicks good sized. she even wing cover them when they were big. i do not know how
the chicks got up there. you could put up your roast and then if you see they are having difficulty add down ward. design as you go while observing.

we had cows and chickens. the chicken were loose and so were the cows. and they did great together. i do know you have to be careful with goats. you have to keep the chickens poo out of their feed pans or they can get some illness. but again we had both running loose and had not problem. you would not want chickens to roost and poo on the hay too much. chicken make a great behind the cows to pick up the undigested grain or spilt grain if you grain the cows. and to clean up the magits in the manure. really reduces the fly population.
 
Anna Hopping
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thank you so much for your sharing about your chicken house ideas. and the why you chose them. i will make use this info.

i plan to use ducks as well. i found they are great to seal ponds so they hold water. i had planed to house them separate but i may think that again. also the ducks are great on grasshoppers and insects. without scratching up the soil. if you are wanting to avoid that. and they do need to bathe. i keep a large water container just big enough for their bath. but when i get my pond built that will be taken care of when it is not frozen.

 
It's in the permaculture playing cards. Here's the link: http://richsoil.com/cards
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