A good chicken house should shelter chickens from wind and rain, allow good ventilation, have lots of space, and be secure.
1) a dry floor area, out of the rain and wind
2) a way to let fresh air and sunlight into the shelter to act as natural disinfectants
3) enough space so the chickens are not crowded together, and
4) plenty of roost space and security from wild animals so the chickens sleep well at night.
With these things in mind, I am going to describe to you two very good and simple chicken pens I have seen.
One chicken house is built like a round hut with poles supporting the thatch roof. It is located on high ground with good drainage around it so that the floor will not be damp, even during the rainy season. The bottom 1.5 metres (5 feet) of wall around the hut is built with mud blocks. The space between the top of the wall and the roof is just wide enough so that it can be closed in with whatever size chicken wire is available. The chicken hut has a regular door and a mud floor. The owner cuts grass from his yard and field, dries it, and spreads it on the mud floor. The dried grass mixes with the chicken droppings, and keeps the floor dry. It is most important that this litter remain dry. If it becomes wet or even damp, it should be replaced with fresh dried grass; otherwise the chickens may become sick.
Roosts in the chicken house are made from poles built into the round walls about a metre above the floor. This chicken house provides the basic needs I mentioned earlier: protection from wind and rain with a dry floor, a way to let in fresh air and sunlight, enough space for the chickens, and security at night.
Another chicken pen I have seen is very small because it only provides protection and shelter for the chickens at night. It is small enough so that it can be moved easily by two people. It has a small door and sloping sides that come to a point at the top. You could say that it is the shape of a triangle and it is built out of scrap materials. The pen has simple roosts inside which go about half way up the walls of the shed. The shelter has no floor and is moved to a new spot of grass each day. This way the chicken manure never builds up, and diseases are not spread from one chicken to another through the manure. During the day when the chickens are out running around, the pen is turned on its side to let the sun and air disinfect it. It can easily be placed upright again for a daytime shelter in the case of rain. Because it is so light, it might be blown over easily by a strong wind. To prevent this, the shelter should be built on top of two long poles that are firmly attached to it. The poles are longer than the shelter so that, in case of a wind storm, something heavy can be laid across them, thus holding down the shelter. The poles can also be used for carrying the shelter or as skids for dragging it from one place to another.
You may have other ideas for building a shelter for your chickens that are just as good as these. Just remember that a chicken pen should protect the chickens from wind, rain, and wild animals. It should let in fresh air and sunlight, and give the chickens plenty of space.
1. This item was written by Network participant Harvey Harman. Some additional pertinent information which we would recommend for any farmer who might decide to build a chicken house has been added.
2. Other DCFRN items which refer to poultry housing and equipment are:
Keeping hens in a pen in the garden – Package 5, Item 1D
Bamboo chicken troughs – Package 6, Item 9C
Handling chickens – Package 7, Item 6
A safe place for hens at night – Package 8, Item 9B
The Wang Wun Shi family farm – a success story; part B, Wang’s success with laying hens – Package 20, Item 4 (this package)
Some information sources about poultry production
Practical poultry raising (2015 revised edition, 173 pages). Peace Corps Overseas Programming and Training Support, Knowledge and Learning Unit, Washington, D.C., U.S.A. https://pclive.peacecorps.gov/pclive/index.php/pclive-resources/resource-library/1280-m0011-practical-poultry-raising/file
Written by Harvey Harman, Community Development Worker, Transkei, South Africa