For those looking to start their own chicken farm, the task of properly housing all those birds can be intimidating. There are many factors to be considered such as the size of the space, heating requirements, ventilation, and so much more. In order to effectively raise poultry, an individual must have a decent grasp of the necessary components of poultry housing.
Pasture-raised vs Free-ranged
In today’s world, there is much discussion about free-range chickens vs those that are pasture-raised, therefore an understanding of the differences between these rearing styles is necessary for anyone looking to care for or house chickens of their own.
Pasture-raised refers to chickens that are allotted 100 square feet or more of roaming space. These chickens are typically let out to pasture in the mornings, and then returned to their coops at nightfall. Their diet will consist of some feed but is mostly comprised of grass, bugs, and anything else they can find in the field. Many farmers opt for mobile houses for pasture-raised, small coops that are easily relocatable. This allows for an open grass floor that the chickens can graze on while in the coop. This type of housing is generally reserved for areas with warm climates, as mobile coops don’t provide the kind of insulation necessary in colder climates.
At one time, “Free-ranged” referred to a very hands-off way of raising chickens that included minimal fencing or restrictions to the birds’ movement. This has changed however in the modern world, as commercial chicken farming operations have adopted and twisted the term to include any chickens that receive any outdoor time, no matter how small. These new free-ranged operations offer their birds a meager few square feet of living space, typically opting for small cages to maximize the use of their spaces.
While it may be true that these chickens do receive some outdoor time, this is somewhat insincere phrasing. At some of these large operations, a few minutes outside on a gravel patch constitutes ample outdoor time for their chickens. These types of operations tend to house their chickens in cage systems commonly used for layer chickens, which are described in more detail below. Their outputs are much higher, though the chickens themselves are likely not as comfortable as those that are pasture-raised.
Housing For Chickens
Chickens will need different housing requirements based on the reason that they’re being raised, for example, chickens being raised for their meat, known as “broiler chickens,” will need a different kind of housing setup than those that are being raised for their eggs. It is very important to know what kinds of housing requirements are necessary for each type of chicken so as to effectively meet each bird’s needs, thereby increasing yield.
The hatching process is the first stage of any chicken’s life and necessitates a variety of specific housing requirements. Firstly, eggs are placed in a cooling room for about 10 days. These cooling rooms maintain temperatures from 55-60 degrees Fahrenheit and ensure that the eggs will be kept at the correct temperature before they progress in the hatching process.
The next stop for eggs is a short stint in a warming room to dry them off and regulate their humidity. Then, the eggs are moved to an incubator and remain in this stable environment for approximately 18-20 days.
The final destination for these eggs is the hatcher, a machine that provides all the necessary conditions for chicks to emerge from their shells. It is important to consider the volume of eggs that a hatcher can handle at a single time, as only half-filling a hatcher that is meant for 50 eggs will not yield as many chicks as completely filling a smaller hatcher will.
Broiler chickens are those that are specifically raised for their meat. Compared to egg-laying chickens, broilers typically have a much shorter lifespan ranging anywhere from 36-65 days. For broiler chickens, a solid housing structure is generally recommended, as the added insulation will cut down on heat loss. These structures vary in size depending on the flock but are typically at least 40’X400’, opting for a longer and narrower shape.
Bedding or flooring for broilers is relatively straightforward. Most flooring for broiler housing consists of a dirt floor that is then covered with bedding materials such as wood shavings, or rice/peanut hulls. These materials create an affordable and comfortable bedding area for broiler chickens.
Heating is important for broiler housing and is generally approached in one of two ways. The first means of heating would be to use forced-air furnaces to heat the air in the building. The other would be tube-heating which runs along the ground. It is advisable to use both of these methods since they will heat both the air above the chickens, as well as the ground below them.
The final component of broiler housing to keep in mind would be ventilation. Adequate ventilation is important for both temperature control and air quality regulation. Both heat and cold ventilation should be considered, to ensure that the chickens aren’t experiencing either extreme temperature. Additionally, ceiling fans can be used to prevent hot air from being trapped against the ceiling, therefore aiding in the heating of your structure.
Layer housing is typically reserved for egg-producing chickens and necessitates more space than broiler housing. This is because egg-laying flocks tend to be larger than broiler flocks.
In today’s industry, most layer chickens are housed in cage systems in order to maximize space, and therefore egg production as well. These cages are stacked on top of each other, and allow the farmer to easily retrieve any laid eggs.
Layer housing also has similar ventilation requirements to broiler housing, however, ventilation tends to be more of a concern with layer housing. This is due to the larger number of chickens under a single roof, and the increased risk of gas buildup that a larger number of birds creates.
Possibly the most important aspect of layer housing that needs to be addressed is lighting. Lighting is of the utmost importance to layer housing, as inadequate lighting conditions can severely impact egg production. Layer chickens generally require 16 hours of light each day to maximize their egg production. By failing to provide enough lighting for their chickens, a farmer could be unknowingly leaving eggs on the table.
Ventilation and temperature management are key components in the production of healthy broiler chickens. That’s why in the last several years, poultry farmers have taken steps to improve their chicken houses for better poultry production. Chicken houses have gone from including a couple of fans and drop curtains to today’s setup with multiple fans, cool cells, vent doors, and curtains or solid walls.
These additions have certainly improved ventilation systems and temperature management. But when it comes to using curtains or solid walls, which one is better for poultry production? There is a divergence of opinion among farmers on this question.
There are some chicken farmers who prefer drop curtains to solid walls. The biggest benefit of using curtains is that they can drop in an emergency such as a power failure due to a generator malfunction. However, curtains are less efficient in the use of costly propane.
Solid walls save on fuel costs and provide more efficient airflow. However, unlike curtains, they can compound problems during a power failure accompanied by a generator malfunction.
Some farmers have “walled up” the north side of the broiler houses, leaving the south side with curtains. Some integrators, such as Tyson and Sanderson, prefer solid walls over curtains and may require them for a farm to qualify for top pay from the company.
It should be noted that many states have specific requirements for things such as poultry housing, ventilation, permits, waste disposal, and more. Anyone looking to house poultry on their property should absolutely consult with local and state entities pertaining to poultry production to ensure that they are following any and all necessary guidelines.