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House hunting

PUBLISHED: 13:28 06 January 2011 | UPDATED: 14:05 06 January 2011

The Brahma chicken house  from P&T Poultry

The Brahma chicken house from P&T Poultry

Your Chickens

There are small houses for a trio of chickens and larger ones for the bigger flock. They may be moveable or static, have an attached run or be free-standing. Getting the right house is vital to the health and happiness of your birds

MATERIALS

Still the most commonly used material is wood (advantages: relatively cheap, strong and warm). It does need to be treated against damp, though, otherwise it will rot. The walls of timber homes may be of exterior grade plywood. match boarding or overlapping weatherboarding. In small houses, roofing may be of Onduline corrugated bitumen, boarding, or wood covered with bitumenised felt (Be warned! Felt roofing is more likely to harbour mites than the others). Larger houses may have Onduline, polyester coated pressed steel or aluminium sheeting. These will be insulated on the inside. The optimum temperature for a chicken is 21°C, a throwback to its jungle origins. If there is sufficient insulation on the roof and walls of the house to prevent excessive heat loss, the birds themselves will generate enough heat to attain this temperature.

Other options: Houses made from plastic and composite materials are becoming more common.

POP-HOLES

These are the entrance/exit points for the birds. Pop-holes may have doors that slide up or that pull down to form a ramp for easy exit. If the pop-hole is above ground, but does not have a pull-down door that forms a ramp, a separate ramp will be needed. A ladder type is suitable or a solid construction as long as it has strips nailed on for ease of access. If the house is inside a run, it is good to be able to open the pop-hole from outside the run.

VENTILATION

Warmth always needs to be balanced against ventilation, which is crucial to avoid lung infections in your birds. Common in both large and small houses is ridge ventilation - a ridge across the top of the roof provides an open space, allowing stale air to escape, but preventing rain from coming in. This type of ventilation is used in association with side vents which can he opened or closed, as required. In a very small house, the vents may be in the form of holes with mesh across them. In some houses there may be windows which act as side vents. Polycarbonate is a better option than glass – it’s warmer and less prone to breaking. Humidity should, ideally, be between 60-65°C inside the house and this is a good indication of how effective the ventilation is. Small humidity gauges are cheap to buy and can easily be installed inside the house, out of pecking range. If the humidity is over 75%, ventilation should be increased.

NEST BOXES

In small domestic houses, there should he one nest box for every three hens. If the nest boxes are off the ground, there should be an alighting perch to encourage and facilitate access. Nesting boxes need to he lined with sawdust, wood shavings, chopped straw or a plastic substitute. Egg collection should be an easy task, and houses should have nest boxes that open from the outside, unless it is a larger house with an internal walkway.

FLOORS

Floors may be solid, slatted or rigid wire mesh. Solid floors are warmer, but slatted ones allow droppings to fall through. Solid floors can be lined with a thick polythene sheet with wood shavings or sawdust on top. This makes it easier to keep the house clean because the whole thing can he removed and replenished as required. Alternatively, a droppings board, which can be pulled out, is an effective and quick way of clearing the floor area.

PERCHES

The chicken is a perching bird and needs access to such a support to roost at night. The perches should be slightly rounded at the top, with a width of 4-5cm (11/2-2”). Large birds, such as Brahmas and Cochins, may need slightly wider ones. The perches may be at the same level or in staggered rows, but the bottom one should be no more than 60cm (2’) from the ground if heavy birds are kept. This is to prevent foot injuries. No less than 15cm (6”) perch space should be allowed for average sized birds, while 20cm (8”) is better for larger breeds. (An average sized bird is reckoned to be an average hybrid). Perches should he easily removable for cleaning. Crevices are favourite hiding places for mites.

RUNS

Chickens need access to the outside, to forage and take dust baths. The area may be an attached run, part of a garden, an orchard, or a field. If buying a run, order it from the same supplier as the house so that it fits properly. Some suppliers have run extensions if you later wish to enlarge the area. Small commercial houses will be in an area of grassland that is surrounded by electric poultry netting. Despite all sorts of claims, this is the only effective way of keeping out the fox. (Note that this is fencing specifically for free-range chickens, not for sheep or other livestock). The grazing area must be changed frequently, to avoid damage to the pasture or lawn, and to reduce the incidence of pests. A good rule of thumb is to move the house or birds as soon as the grass is eaten down or scratched up. The timing will obviously vary depending on the scale of the enterprise. As a guideline to flock density, a minimum of one sq metre per bird outside is required by legislation if the term ‘free-range’ is used as a description. When there is flooding some chicken keepers can have difficulty keeping their birds high and dry – a household with a small flock is in the most difficult position. Digging a soakaway hole and filling it with stones will help the drainage, while a thick layer (at least 15cm (6”)) of wood chippings, not bark, can be used to absorb water within the run to prevent a mudbath. It may be more appropriate, however, to house the birds temporarily in a garden shed until the weather improves. Alternatively, consider a house and run on stilts that are well clear of rising water. Some houses have a roofed run with a pull-out droppings hoard. The long ramp can be used to let the chickens range further afield when the weather improves. Once an area has been vacated by chickens, it should he raked to disperse the droppings, allowing rain to wash the residues into the soil. Applying lime will then help to counteract the acidic conditions and to deal with parasites (about ¼ kilo or ½ 1b of lime per 0.8 sq metres or 1 sq yard).

MOBILITY

A mobile house is designed to be moved periodically to a new area of ground, giving the previous area a chance to recover. Houses can have carrying handles, skids or wheels. The latter are undoubtedly the best for the garden keeper, and many suppliers now sell them as optional extras for their range of houses.

Quote - In really cold weather, it is important not to have a house that is too big for the number of birds; otherwise they will not be able to keep each other warm. An average density of birds in the house would be seven per square metre

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