I'm working on a design for a compost and chickens business model. I'm thinking 500 chickens to start with, and am wondering if anyone knows of where I can find an appropriately sized chicken coop for this many chickens? A place to lay eggs and sleep. They would be foraging food scraps outside the barn.
where are you and are you planning to do this year round?
eggs or meat birds?
if eggs, how do you want to collect them?
how are you going to move the manure from under the sleeping spots (tractor, gravity, slave labor)
how do the compostables get brought in?
site conditions (flat, sloped, drains, doesn't drain, etc.)
Using that info, systems that make sense emerge: if it is a fair weather system on a slope for meat birds, you could design a structure where you dump the compostables upgrade, roost the chickens under a pavilion and scoop out at the bottom. If you are planning to raise layers in a heavy snow fall area that gets muddy, the solution will necessarily look quite different.
Edited to add: I see you are planning egg layers. The rest of the questions still pertain.
I am planning to do this year round in Southern California, in the Los Angeles area. They would be egg layers. The fresh food scraps would get mixed into a fresh pile for the chickens to feed on - feedstocks would be brought in on dump trucks. I imagine the eggs would be collected by hand. Manure would be moved by tractor/bucket loader. I don't have a site at the moment, but I would want it to be on fairly flat slope with well-drained soil.
In Northern California, I do something similar to what you're planning, though the scale is smaller (120 chickens, 3 coops of approximately 100 sf each). Vermont Compost Company does something very similar on a larger scale-- 1500+ chickens last I heard, and they sell both eggs and compost.
As for the coop itself, there are lots of companies that will build steel buildings or wooden sheds for you. I don't of any company that builds in a more permaculture style. Lots of farmers building permaculture-style animal shelters, though.
Location: Torrey, UT; 6,840'/2085m; 7.5" precip; 125 frost-free days
Lynn Wu wrote:I am planning to do this year round in Southern California, in the Los Angeles area. They would be egg layers. The fresh food scraps would get mixed into a fresh pile for the chickens to feed on - feedstocks would be brought in on dump trucks. I imagine the eggs would be collected by hand. Manure would be moved by tractor/bucket loader. I don't have a site at the moment, but I would want it to be on fairly flat slope with well-drained soil.
Shade - just a pavilion, no side walls. I think Harvey Ussery is spot-on, ventilation is the key to good chicken health, and in your case, low odors.
Electrified perimeter fence for predators of human and animal varieties. A simple steel pole barn ought to do it, like a hay shed. Sometimes you can even buy used ones.
Build a free-standing nest box system that lets you access and clean from the back, maybe an alley down the center with boxes on either side. Wide enough access to pull and get around a chore wagon and push a broom. Layers will appreciate roosts, but these can be simple. Figure a foot linear space per bird. Hang them on chains from the rafters so you keep as much of the ground clear for tractor work as possible.
High roof so you can push your equipment all the way through, turn arounds for the dump trucks. Best would be a loop that circles the building, feed stock in on the east, say, pushed through the structure to the west, bagged compost out on the opposite side into waiting trucks.
Plumbed watering system, nipple waterers on PVC should do. Consider how you would store and deliver supplemental feed (if the trucks don't run for some reason).
Permie bonus points if you can do something useful with the roof water. Otherwise in the winter it could be a stinking mess.
I'd actually prefer something of a slope. Use gravity to move materials where possible.
Are you going to sell this compost on-site? That leads to additional complexity for public access/safety/hospitality/sales. Might need a simple shed.
Getting this permitted in SoCal ought to be entertaining. Good luck to you.
Have you thought about how you are going to brood up/acquire 500 layers? That's almost got to be a separate facility.
And how are you going to cull/upgrade your hens? Can you find a way to legally butcher and sell the retirees and occasional cockerels?
I like the idea others have used of alternating breeds every year, say red sex linked one year, black the next, so you know that ages of the birds and which ones need to be replaced each year. If you do half the flock each year, that's still 250 chicks to raise.
Depending on your supply of compostables, it may be worthwhile not to cull your chickens. If you have a near-unlimited supply of feedstocks for free (or, in some cases, that people are paying you to take), older chickens can still be valuable compost producers even if they're laying fewer eggs. In that situation, an older chicken PLUS a younger chicken is more valuable than just a younger chicken. If you have fairly limited space or feedstocks, though, it would make sense to cull.
So far, we haven't had to cull, and we're looking profitable enough per acre to just keep adding land instead of subtracting chickens.
Lynn Wu wrote:I'm working on a design for a compost and chickens business model. I'm thinking 500 chickens to start with, and am wondering if anyone knows of where I can find an appropriately sized chicken coop for this many chickens? A place to lay eggs and sleep. They would be foraging food scraps outside the barn.
I would think that the manure and compost would be far more valuable to improve the soil to grow more forage, and use the eggs as the primary income stream. A secondary income stream could be stewing hens to high end restaurants potentially. I guess it depends a whole lot on market prices for eggs and compost. But I seriously doubt you could beat the eggs.
The problem when you start selling both eggs and your manure/compost, is that you start cutting into the fertility potential of the land. In severe cases that can start a downward spiral to your profit potential. Now if you are feeding these chickens with lots of outside low cost inputs, it could work, but you would need to watch it closely. You don't want more fertility leaving the farm than the farm regenerates.
As far as the coop, I definitely recommend a portable design like the Salatin designs above. But there are also coops commercially made that can either stay in place or be portable as needed. For your size operation this is probably the best bet.
"Permaculture is a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted & thoughtful observation rather than protracted & thoughtless labour; & of looking at plants & animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single-product system."-Bill Mollison
we have a simular (much smaller setup), we collect compostables from 3 resturaunts and allow 30 chickens to help process teh compost. we also add all the waste generated from the vegi garden. we have the coop loctated below the compost area connected by a small corridor (chicken moat), that way we can keep the birds out if we want. they do a great job spreading the material out, so we cover the finished product with plastic. we turn every 2 weeks and get a finished product in 6 weeks (+ 2 weeks under the tarps).
we bring fresh materail 3 days a week. the days that they did not get fresh garbage, we feed them a couple cups of cracked corn.
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