Backyard Poultry Housing

Backyard Poultry Housing

Purchasing or building a Chook house is the first operation in successful poultry keeping. The design, location and operation of your poultry yard will greatly influence health, and therefore the production from your enterprise.

Unfortunately there is a very large number of Chicken house sellers out there on the market, many of which seem to be sacrificing Chicken health and comfort for the sake of easy install and cheap prices. Pleasse consider building your own and asking an experienced poultry some advise. Some lanscapers are beginning to make good chook houses as well.

Firstly, check with your local council to ensure that your operation will conform with local by-laws. This may influence the type of Chicken Coop you buy or build. Usual regulations deal with distances from boundaries, distance from dwellings, vermin proofing and the amount of area  used.

Secondly look for the alternative sites that the house may be located on. The ideal Chook pen site has several features:

  1. Northern aspect. This means that the shed should preferably face the north. With good shed design this will mean that the summer sun has no access to the inside of the shed but the winter sun has full access, so the inside of the shed is cooler in summer and warmer in winter. The litter will also stay drier in the winter. Other directions may be necessary if prevailing weather patterns produce high winds from the north especially when those winds carry a lot of rain. Many older books recommend east facing sheds but these may need shade or blinds in summer.
  2. Afternoon shade in the summer. This usually means trees on the west to south western side of the shed (Victorian locations). Some eastern shade may also be desirable. If possible a windbreak on the side of the winter cold winds is helpful also. Shed design in most of Australia is more concerned with the worst case conditions in summer rather than the winter. If the shed temperature is less than ideal in winter, then the birds will usually just eat more and produce less, assuming that the birds are not exposed to high winds.
  3. Well drained soils in the runs. This is important as wet soggy runs have bad long term effects on the birds. If the roof water is not collected by gutter, make sure that the water is diverted away from the run area.
  4. The runs should be as large as possible. I recommend a minimum run size of 36 sq. metres (400 sq. ft) of run space per bird if the birds are to have continuous access to the run. Even with this area, the run can be a little ragged. If less space is available then limit the time the birds have access to the run.
  5. Size of Chook pen.  Height wise if you cannot walk intot he pen it is difficult for you to get in and clean , it is difficult to check out a sick chicken quickly, it is difficult fullstop.  Many portable chook houses are too low and also many become very poor permanent chook houses when the owner gets sick of moving them arround. A well built chook house located nicely in the backyard is an assett to your property and can really set off the landscaping.
Shed Operation for small scale poultry keeping

The best type of Chook shed operation for the small hobbyist and for backyard Chickens  is a deep litter house. This is where the shed floor is covered with thick layer of absorbent material such as wood shavings. These are usually available cheaply and if not overstocked, require changing only every six months to yearly. The shavings develop a beneficial bacterial action with the droppings, resulting in the locking up of the ammonia from the droppings into the shavings. This means that the litter has almost no smell as long as it stays dry. Rice hulls and shredded newspaper are two other alternatives to the shavings, but we have found that straw and hay are not as good as they are not as absorbent and so tend to smell more.

If odour is a problem because litter is difficult to obtain, or when keeping ducks, then digestive enzymes may assist with odour reduction. This deep litter shed is usually sufficient size to keep the birds in all the time and the run is then able to be rested if so required. The birds can also be left locked in during absences from them. The poultry house should allow about 1.5 sq metres (4 sq ft) of space per bird.

When designing a Chicken Shed remember that open space is more important than closed area in the majority of Australia's climates. Open area can be closed in winter by doors and flaps, but if the chook pen is designed without adequate ventilation, it is difficult to add it later. Sheds deeper than about 1.2 metres (4 feet) require rear ventilation as well as an open front. Eave overhangs should allow adequate weather protection as well as summer shade and winter sun access.

The shed fittings should include clean continuous water supply, food supply hopper, and nesting facilities. Perches can be added as required.

Nests. The most important features  of nests location, and cleanliness.

Nest location should always have two features.

1/ Egg Laying Nests should be lower than perches. The birds should have access to the nest only during the day until they have the habit of perching. Once the perching habit is established, the birds are much less likely to sleep in the nests at night. The common preactice of having a nest box on top of the perches guarantees lots of dirty and broken eggs. A Chicken coop for sale that has perches lower or on the same level as the nest is a poor chicken shed. IF this basic design principle is overlooked one should be careful about whether other principles havbeen neglected or are simply not understood by the manufacturer or seller.  Sometime a manufacturer has to engineer other functions to try to mitigate this design flaw.

2/ The laying nests should be located so that they appear in the darkest part of the shed. This means when the bird looks at the nest, the nest appears dark. Placing a nest in the darkest place in the shed may not achieve this as the bird will almost always be looking at the nest with the light behind the bird. This makes the nest actually look light. However if the nest is placed so the bird is looking at the light of the open side of the shed, then the nest will in fact appear dark. Most causes on unwillingness to use a nest are light related.

Note on Ducks, an idea for Ducks is to have a wet area gradiating from very wet through gravel or even better poultry slats or litter and trying to go to poultry slats before your nest, all this in an attempt to keep mess on one side and eggs on the opposite side.

Chicken Coop Cleanliness. This is achieved in part by the location, ie do not place the nest in a way the bird sleeps there. 40% of the manure is exceted at night. The other part is achieved by lots of clean shavings in the nest, or by the newer plastic nest bowl and astroturf designs.

Perches. This article is writtem mostly for Chicken coops, Some ducks can perch up high, so please read with the knoweldege this is not writte for all poultry types.

Firstly a  No-No----Please please please for the sake of your chooks, absolutely no round sticks as perches, its bad for the feet of chickens, sur eyou see this online etc etc etc, but its bad practise .

Perch Location. Put your perches at least 40 cm from a wall, no more than a metre high, about 60cm in fact, but if you have a really large breed they may not like things too high but 60cm should be fine.  Give the perches length  at least 30sm for each chicken ,at least.

Chicken Coop Perch size, You can use pine or hardwood perches, planed smooth and arrased on te edges for comformt---absolutely no splinters please. We have seen recycled plastic created to be the correct dimensions.  PErches should be about 75 mm across and 35 cm high perhaps a little smaller for bantams. but this is a good rule of thumb.

Chook house Perch location of multiple perches.   Too many Chook sheds have perches located like ladders with Chickens perched up from lowest levels to highest levels. This makes for a bigger fight than neccessary every night. Chook houses should try and reduce the natural tendency for chickens to fight over the top locations on a perch, literally a fight over who gets to the top perch... So build Chicken Coop Perches all at the same level.


​Tips we will roll into the article one day

Rollaway nests can work to help if you have make your nests higher than your perches , plus they are a good idea anyway. They are easily integrated into your chook shed design.

If you can make a concrete slab for your chook shed, it prevents mud and desease and if you seal the concreate wis very easy to clean up.

Join an understanding Poultry Club in your area


Interesting Web links 

The older fashioned, and good,  ideas still apply NSW DPI has a good article on Chicken coops , there are newer chook drinker ideas and newer chook feeders ( although the old ones are still good),  to make you like easier but the principles matter for Chicken coop design .

Rollaway Nest construction

Where to buy Bellsouth Chicken Feeders 

Where to buy Bellsouth Poultry Drinkers

Where to Buy Bellsouth Rollaway nests 

Consider Subscribing to Australasian Poultry Magazine or buying it from your local newsagent , lots of examples of what other are doing sometimes with commentary and explanations as to why its done