You've decided to get chooks for the backyard, and you're ready for all the good stuff your new girls will have to offer.
Chickens are wonderful multifunctional additions to any permaculture system. They convert food scraps into nutritious eggs, produce garden fertiliser & assist with insect pest control. They are also friendly, quirky creatures that will make a great social addition to your home.
But before you bring your new chooks home, it's essential that you have safe and adequate housing ready for them.
No matter what design you decide on for your chook 'zone', here is a basic checklist to get you started.
1. Is The Enough Space?
- If you are keeping your chickens within a limited run, a good rule of thumb is to allocate about 1.5m2 interior coop space for 3 chickens, and at least double that in yard and run space.
2. Is It Predator Proof?
- To make the flooring of your chicken 'zone' predator proof, you can install a large mesh flooring. Using large mesh is important because it allows the chickens to still scratch the dirt beneath- important for chicken self expression!
- Alternatively, you can dig chicken wire at the bottom of the coop fence at least 50cm into the ground- this stops digging foxes from gaining access.
- Yard walls also need to be high enough, about 1.8 meters will suffice.
3. Is Clean Food and Water Accessible at All Times?
- A reliable, fresh water supply is critical to mainintain the health of your flock.
- A grown hen will drink about 500mL water daily, and potentially double that in warm weather.
- For a chicken 'waterer' to be adequate- it needs to be sturdy enough that it is not easily tipped over by chickens, or can have dirt or dust raked into it.
- Chickens need access to a high protein feed (usually pellets) to supplement kitchen scraps and whatever food they find for themselves.
- Treadle feeders that regulate the release of pellets are a great option to consider.
4. Does The House Have a Perch?
- Through their evoluntionary survival traits, chickens prefer to sleep perched high on a roost.
- To provide your chickens with the fundamental basics of a good home, you must provide them with a perch.
- Perches should be at least 30cm off the ground, and allow 30cm space per bird. A perch diameter of 40-50mm is ideal.
- While keeping your chickens happy & healthy, roosting helps to keep the chook house clean. Chooks do at least half of their poo at night, so having their perch situated above some kind of manure collection container or system helps to keep the house clean.
5. Is There A Sheltered, Comfortable and Well Ventilated Space in the Chook House for Egg Laying?
- The chicken house requires laying boxes filled with comfortable and insulating nesting materials (such as straw mulch, shredded paper or highly scented pruned herbs (e.g. rosemary or wormwood- the addition of scented herbs has the adidtional benefit of detering mites!).
- A good rule-of-thumb is to have one laying box for every 3-4 chickens.
- Keep in mind that the nesting material will need to be changed regularly as they will be with hen droppings. Not very problematic considering it makes such a great addition to the compost.
4. Is it easily accessible for you?
- Consider that you will need to easily access the coop to remove manure and eggs, as well as clean it in the event of any disease problems.
There so many design ideas and materials that you can use to build an economical chicken coop that provides safe and adequate housing for your chooks. Of course, the more upcycling/recycling/creativity that takes place, the better! See the 'Further Readings + Resources' section for some creative chicken coop design ideas.
Further Readings + Resources
Very Edible Garden (VEG): ;The Power of the Cook' and 'The Chook Files'
Good Life Permacultue: 'Chicken House'
Justin Calvery, CERES (2017). The Urban Farmer, How To Create a Productive Garden in Any Space.