We have continued to plan the details of our chicken hen house/chicken runs. I had mentioned in an early post called Chickens - How Much Space? that I was looking at a design that involved 1 hen house, attached to 4 chicken runs/pastures.
Each of the pastures will be 10'x10' (100 sq feet). The entire chicken area will be 400sq feet which should be plenty of room for the 20 (or so) laying hens that we plan to keep.
We spent this weekend discussing the specifics of this setup:
- Hen House Design/Size
- Nesting boxes
- Water Source
The chicken Run, we have pretty well figured out. It will consist of a 20'x20' (400 sq ft) pasture that is divided into 4 sections that are 10'x10' (100 sq ft) each. There will be a single hen house in the center, that will allow the chickens access to only one pasture at a time. I will be planting clover, and sunflowers in all of the pastures, and rotating the chickens as needed to allow for the grass, clover, and other plants to recover, and to avoid over foraging from the chickens.
The hen house still needs a bit of planning to fully come together. This is where things get confusing. The more time I spend calculating space required in the hen house, vs the chicken runs the more confused I get. Some sources say 1 square foot per chicken - but more commonly it says about 3-4 sq feet per chicken.Then if you continue to read, you'll find that in colder climates where chickens will be confined to the hen house, you want more room for the chickens. Indiana tends to have a pretty mild winter (with the exception of this year). So, I am leaning toward 5 sq ft per hen. That means I need 100sq ft hen house. I figure the best way to do this is a 10'x10' hen house. This is not a "small project."
Nesting Boxes: My research has indicated that I need at least 1 nesting box per 4 chickens. Since I plan on having 20 laying hens year around, I will need a minimum of 5 nesting boxes in my hen house. I am planning for 8 nesting boxes, which would allow for up to 32 chickens... more than I need. This will be useful should I get a broody hen that doesn't want to leave her nesting box.
I would like to have my nesting boxes stacked along one wall of the hen house, similar to these pictures:
The measurement for each nesting box will be as follows:
Height: 14 inches
Width: 14 inches
Depth: 12 inches
The entire size of the combined nesting boxes will be:
Height: 2 feet, 4 inches
Width: 4 feet, 8 inches
Depth: 1 foot (plus the platform for jumping/flying up)
The lower of the two nesting boxes will be placed about 2 feet from the floor.
Now, I'm not likely to find cool cat litter type boxes that will fit perfectly into my boxes, so I am planning on lining the floor of my chicken box with linoleum to make for easier cleaning. After reading this post on backyard chickens, I am planning on using pine shavings for my nesting box, as pine shavings are safe for chickens and had rave reviews for composting.
Water: We have been discussing the best way to bring water to the hen house, and how to deal with the freezing temperatures during the winter. Our plan is to dig a trench that will allow us to bring water up directly into the hen house. From there we will use a pipe to setup Chicken Nipple Waterers, which are cleaner, easier, and healthier for the chickens (according to my research). Oh! Did I mention it's also inexpensive? You can get 50 of these poultry nipples for around $15.00 We will combat the freezing winter temperatures by using heat tape that will automatically kick on if the temperature drops below 38 degrees Fahrenheit (3 degree Celsius) and turn back off if the temperatures reached 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius). This should work wonderfully for the laying hens that we will keep year around. The broilers in the chicken tractors will need something slightly different. From what I have been able to find about DIY poultry water fountains, it seems that you want 1 poultry nipple per 3-5 birds (big variance!), and that the nipples should be spaced about 8" apart. I think we will probably go with the average of 4 chickens per nipple, which means that I need 5 nipples - spaced at 8" each means that it will take just a little bit under 3.5' of fountain.
Here is a great article about the advantages of chicken poultry nipples.
Here is a picture of the poultry/chicken nipple fountain:
Of course, I mentioned before that we also plan to raise around 25 broilers per season. They will be kept in chicken tractors that are moved daily. That means, we won't be able to have their water fountains directly connected to running water. But that's no big deal! Using the same type of poultry nipple, we will utilize a 5-gallon bucket to provide water, similar to the one pictured below. Since we won't be raising the broilers over the winter months, we don't have to worry about the water freezing. It does mean that I will have to refill these buckets on a regular basis, though. The other downside is that these buckets have a tendency to grow algae and the like... after doing some research I found that adding 1 tbsp of Apple Cider Vinegar per Gallon of water is great for a number of things chicken related... AND it prevents that gunk from growing in the water buckets! The downside: research has shown that this can cause broiler chickens to gain weight (slightly) more slowly, and it should only be used 1 week per month. That means, I'll still be cleaning buckets!
Feeders: There are some key things to keep in mind when you're planning your chicken feeders. You don't want your chickens to be able to climb into the chicken feeder, or they'll just start scratching about and kicking all that good food right out of the feeder (wasted). If they can climb into/onto/over the chicken feeder, they're likely to poop in it - no good. For me, I also want my feeders to be small, so that they're not taking up too much space in the hen house. I have found a number of chicken feeders made from PVC pipe that I like.
This one is probably one of my favorites. It's a "Simple PVC Hopper Type Feeder" and the link provides instructions on assembly. My only "criticism" about this feeder, is that I'd like for the trough to be a little bit smaller. But I love the fact that you could line several of these up along a wall to include several for feed and some for supplements (Calcium, Grit, Phosphorous, Kelp).
Here is another DIY PVC Chicken Gravity Feeder. This one takes a little bit more work to put together, but I like the size of the trough. Again, you could line several of these up along a wall, and offer a variety of feed and supplements. This link also provides step by step instructions, and it also includes the DIY instructions for a similar gravity waterer.
Perches: The rules of the perch as stated in the The Backyard Homestead: Guide to Raising Farm Animals "An ideal perch is about 2 inches in diameter. Allow 8 inches of perching space for each chicken." "Place the lowest perch 2 feet off the ground and the second one 12 inches higher than the first one." The book also goes onto state that I don't need a perch for my broilers. Now, I thought leaning ladder style perch was the way I wanted to go -- sounded easy..Turns out that chickens will argue over who gets the highest perch... so, instead, I am thinking of doing a 16"wide ladder, that will be laid horizontally across the backside of the chicken house. Similar to the picture below. I also seemed to catch on to the fact that the chickens will create lots of poop while on the perch - so, I am going to find an easy way to capture all of that poop so that it can be taken out regularly and added to the compost bins.