Types of Poultry Housing
Unless you have a spare building, housing is generally the largest single expense. However, a well-maintained unit should last for many years, so that annual depreciation is small.
If you are lucky enough to have a shed or similar outbuilding that could be converted, your outlay will be very much less.
Poultry housing does not have to be elaborate but it should at least provide dry, draught-free shelter for night-time roosting and for day-time use during bad weather. Failing this, the birds will be miserable and egg production will suffer.
In spite of this, poultry do not need coddling and it is essential to provide some ventilation even on cold winter nights. Lack of ventilation may lead to respiratory complaints, and the general health of the birds will certainly suffer.
Within the house you will have to provide nesting and perching space. Generally, too, the feeding and drinking vessels are placed undercover — for the convenience of the poultry-keeper, as well as for the comfort of the birds.
Even in town gardens it is essential to make the house fox-proof by fixing wire-netting across open windows and ensuring that doors can be securely latched at night.
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This, if you are short of space, is probably the best way to keep poultry. No separate run is required, and a floor space of not less than 4 sq. ft (0.4 sq. m.) per bird is sufficient.
The birds will enjoy dry and relatively warm conditions, whatever the weather, yet are assured of abundant light and fresh air if you fit a netting-covered frame in the doorway during daylight hours.
Depending on its size, a garden shed with only a few minor adaptations would be quite suitable for six pullets.
The diagram below shows a typical deep-litter house. Most of the floor is covered initially by a 12 in. (305 mm.) layer of chopped straw or wood shavings, or a mixture of the two. This will soon be broken down by the birds’ droppings and constant scratchings to a dry, friable material ideally suited to the habits of poultry.
In winter, the litter helps to maintain the house temperature.
Build a perching frame 3 ft (1 m.) above floor level, allowing at least 9 in. (230 mm.) of perching space for each bird.
Fit a droppings board 9 in. (230 mm.) below the perch, and clean this weekly, so that droppings do not accumulate in one place on the litter.
Construct a screen door of wire-netting behind the main door of the shed. Leave this open during the day-time, except during the coldest weather, so that the birds get all the light and fresh air they need. If you close the main door on winter nights, be sure to leave a window open for ventilation, Position the perching frame and droppings board away from the door so that the birds are not in a direct draught on nights when only the screen door is in position.
Ready-made houses and runs
An alternative to the adapted deep-litter shed is to buy a purpose-built poultry house, either new or second-hand. For an average small garden, choose the type with a covered run linked to the house.
A linked house and run of this sort, suitable for six pullets, need be no larger than 10 ft (3 m.) long by 3 ft (1 m.) wide.
A run 4 ft (1.2 m.) high is suitable for heavy breeds, but allow 6 ft (1.8 m.) for light breeds.
It is an advantage to have the base of the house raised at least 12 in. (305 mm.) off the ground. This extends the area of the run and provides a place for dust-baths.
In a large garden, you may wish to provide a more extensive run where the birds can scratch around in the open. In this case allow at least 6 sq. yds (5 sq. m.) per bird, to prevent the soil from becoming muddy and infested with parasites. If possible provide two runs, each giving 3 sq. yds (2.5 sq. m.) per bird, so that they can be rested in turn.
However, hens often appear most contented—and lay the most eggs — in a compact house and covered run, or in a deep-litter house, where they are protected from the weather and have a dry floor to scratch about in. At all costs avoid a small run that is open to the wind and rain.
For would-be poultry-keepers who are fortunate enough to have a paddock or a substantial orchard, there remains the possibility of very simple housing in the form of a fold or ark. Such units can be bought new, but you may be able to purchase one second-hand at much less cost.
Housing of this type was formerly used by many commercial poultry-keepers, but most now favour a more intensive system. Unfortunately, many of the disused units have been left in the open to deteriorate, so check for rot before buying.
Poultry folds provide a sort of controlled free-range system. The fold — which includes a roosting and a nesting section — is moved to fresh grass each day. This provides interest and a little extra nourishment for the birds, but they are prevented from straying or falling prey to foxes.
Arks give little more than night-time shelter, together with a place for the pullets to lay their eggs.
Both systems require a good deal of land if the grass is not to suffer and to prevent a build-up of harmful parasites. For instance, for a fold you need sufficient grass to move the unit daily without occupying the same patch of ground more than once in about five weeks. If an ark or similar small house is used, a dozen pullets need up to a quarter of an acre.
In both cases the birds will probably lay fewer eggs than in a deep litter house but they will find a little of their own food. Put their rations in a weather-proof outdoor hopper. Ensure that birds housed in an ark are shut in at night.
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