One of the major requirements for farmers who want to venture into poultry and chicken farming is the need to house the birds. The poultry farmer must decide in what kind of housing to construct for their chickens, depending on scale and objectives of the poultry project.
In the early 1900s, there was not specified poultry housing like we see today. They were housed in barns with other animals or in a separate house. In Africa, they slept in the kitchen area and were left to forage during the day. The birds were not protected from adverse elements, hence mortality rate was as high as 40%. During cost seasons, they would suffer from the cold. Likewise, they would suffer from adverse heat during hot seasons.
During this period, poultry was not considered a major category of livestock. Attention to this popular livestock category began in the mid-1920s, which saw the development of specialized chicken housing, improvement in productivity. The mortality rate also dropped.
The need for poultry and chicken housing.
Poultry like any other living creature needs some kind of shelter. Whether the chickens are free-range, pastured or caged, the poultry farmer will need to house poultry so as to:-
- Protect the birds against adverse weather. This includes adverse heat, rain, and wind.
- Ensure proper feeding. The farmer is able to give enough feed to the chickens if they are housed.
- Provide a safe place to lay eggs.
- Carry out effective poultry disease control measures. The farmer is able to administer vaccinations and carry out bio-security measures if the chickens are housed.
- Protect the flock from predators and pests. Protection from animals that eat chicken or can spread diseases to the flock.
- Supervise the chickens in a better way. This includes measuring progress.
- Maximize production.
Types of poultry housing.
The type of poultry housing depends on the stage in life and also their purpose.
- Brooder – this is used to keep layer chicks for 0 to about 8 weeks of age.
- Grower house – Used to house layer chicks from 9 to 18 weeks of age.
- Brooder Grower house – Used to house layers from 0 to 18 weeks of age.
- Layer house – Used to house layers from 18 weeks to 72 weeks.
- Broiler house - Used to house broilers up to 6 weeks of age
- Breeder house - Used o house make and female birds in the proper ratio. The purpose of this is mating.
The above categories can be environmentally controlled (EC) so as to provide the optimal conditions for growth and production.
Design of the poultry house
The design of the open-sided poultry house should follow certain factors so as to ensure optimum productivity from the poultry farm.
Orientation/Direction of a poultry house
The length of the house should be in the east-west direction in order to prevent direct sunshine over the poultry
Overall Size of a poultry house
The full size of the house will depend on the number of birds you want to keep. If using the deep litter system, broilers will require one square foot while layers require 2 square feet. For example, if you intend to keep 5000 broilers in one house, the poultry house plan for the 5000 chicken should cover 5000 square feet. If you intend to keep 2000 layers, the poultry house plan for the 2000 layers should cover 4000 square feet.
Length of a poultry house
There is no limit to the length of the poultry house. This is determined by the number of chicken and the size of the land
Height of a poultry house
The recommended height of a poultry house is 6 to 7 feet (eaves) and 10 to 12 feet at the center. If keeping the bird n cages, the height is determined by the tiers of the cages. This can be 3 or 4 tiers.
Width of a poultry house
The width of a poultry house in tropical areas should not exceed between 25 feet, in order to allow for enough ventilation at the middle. If the width is wider than 25 feet, there will not be ample aeration when it is hot. If you intend to have a width of more than 25 feet, ridge ventilation with a proper overhang is required in the middle. In environmentally controlled houses, the width can reach up to 40 feet since exhaust fans control the ventilation.
Foundation of a poultry house
It is important to have a well-done foundation in order to prevent water from getting into the poultry house. The foundation should be concrete extending 1 to 1.5 feet underground and 1 to 1.5 feet above the ground.
The floor of a poultry house
The floor of a poultry house should be made of concrete and free from any dampness. It should extend 1.5 feet outside the wall so as to deter vermin like rats and snakes
Doors of a poultry house
The doors should open to the outside of the poultry house. The preferred door size is 6 feet by 2.5 feet. At the entry, there should be a foot bath.
Walls of a poultry house
The sidewalls of an open-sided poultry house should be 1 foot to 1.5 feet. The sidewall will protect the chicken from extreme direct wind and rain.
The roof of a poultry house.
The roof of a poultry house can be made of any cost-friendly roofing material. It can be on any design that allows good airflow and water drainage when it rains. The overhang of the roof should be at least 3.5 feet so as to prevent rainwater from getting into the house.
Lighting in a poultry house.
The lighting should be placed at 7 to 8 feet, hanging on the roof. Incascendent bulbs should have a spacing of 10 feet while fluorescent lights should have a spacing of 15 feet
Poultry housing systems
Based on factors such as type of climate, type of poultry farming, available labour, availability of land and cost of land, different poultry housing systems have been developed. They aim at achieving desired productivity levels in poultry.
Free-Range or extensive system
The free-range system is one of the oldest systems in poultry keeping. It is making a comeback as the demand for poultry organic meat and eggs grows.
Under the free-range system, poultry is free to move around the land, foraging for its own food. Water and shade are provided in the range. At night the birds can be housed in movable chicken tractors or temporary structures erected on the range.
Free-range fields can be used on a rotational basis after harvesting crops, where the birds are let forage on the field without crops. Under the free-range system, the recommended number of birds is 250 per hectare.
Advantages of the free-range system
Low housing costs
Birds fertilize the soil as they forage for their food
Birds need less food as they get most of their food from the land
Tastier meat and eggs as compared to other systems
Disadvantages of the free-range system
Diseases can be spread from wild birds to the flock
It is hard to control predators under this system
Loss of eggs as the birds can lay them in the bushes / tall grass
It is not possible to practice scientific methods of poultry keeping under the free-range system e.g controlling the environment
Under the semi-intensive system, the poultry farmer provides housing with attached fenced runs where the birds can forage during the day. The runs have plants where the birds feed on the plants and scavenge for worms and other insects.
The birds are provided for water and supplemental feed. The runs can be used on a rotational basis to allow for the growth of plants.
The recommended stocking density in the semi-intensive system is 750 birds per hectare.
Advantages of the semi-intensive system
It is possible to practice some scientific methods of poultry rearing.
There is a better utilization of available land as compared to the free-range system.
Birds can be protected for extreme weather and predators.
It offers a compromise between the free-range system and the intensive system, where it tries to take advantage of the benefits of both systems.
Tastier meat and eggs as compared to the intensive system.
Disadvantages of the semi-intensive system
There is a higher cost than the free-range system. This includes the higher cost of fencing and labour.
There is a need for extra labour as compared to the free range system
Under the free-range system of poultry keeping, the birds are confined in their houses, cages, floor or slats.
The intensive system is the most economical system of modern poultry farming because it supports the rearing of a high number of birds.
Advantages of the intensive system.
It is possible to practice scientific methods of poultry keeping for example culling, breeding, feeding, vaccination, and medication.
It is easier to identify, quarantine and treat sick birds.
This method has higher production levels as energy is saved by restricting movement.
The farmer requires less land than in other systems.
Disadvantages of the intensive system
All the required nutrients have to be provided to the birds as they are not exposed to sunlight and external feed sources
Diseases spread easily as the birds are kept close together
The welfare of the birds is affected as they cannot roost, spread their wings or scratch the floor.
Meat and eggs from the intensive system do not taste as good as from the free-range and semi-intensive system.
The intensive system of poultry keeping is divided into several categories, depending on the type of housing. These are :
Deep litter system
Slatted floor system
Slat floor combined with litter system
Deep Litter System
The deep litter poultry housing system, as the name suggests involves keeping the birds on the floor, with litter on the floor. The starting depth of the litter is 3 inches to 5 inches, with litter being added on top every time the bird’s droppings seem to exceed the amount of litter.
The litter material can be wood shavings, rice husks, peanut hulls, chopped rice straw, shredded sugarcane or any other organic materials that are good at absorbing moisture. This method saves on labour since the bird droppings are never cleaned out.
The litter needs periodic stirring. The most important activity in the deep litter system is keeping the litter dry.
Advantages of the deep litter system
Ease of management - hence less labour. In a well managed deep litter system, the litter in changed once a year. This means there is less labour required when it comes to cleaning.
Bacterial activity in the litter produces vitamin B2 and B12, which are beneficial to the birds.
The litter can be used as farm manure. The value of deep litter manure is considered to be 3 times the value of cattle manure.
The heat from the bacterial activity provides both cooling and heating for the birds. During hot seasons, the hot air rises and cool air comes in, giving the birds a cooling effect. In cold seasons, the heat from the litter provides warmth for the birds.
In a well managed deep-litter system, there is less risk of coccidiosis and worm infestations, as compared to the free range system.
Disadvantages of the deep litter system
When not well managed, the direct contact of the birds and the bird droppings in the litter can lead to parasitic and bacterial diseases
Dust from the litter might lead to respiratory diseases
Poor ventilation might lead to diseases
Slatted Floor System
The slatted floor system, also known as the slotted floor system or the wire floor system is an intensive system of poultry housing where the floor is made of slats/slots or wire mesh or metal rods. There are also plastic slats, made in modular form, where they can be joined to cover any desired area.
The floor is raised 3 feet above the ground, allowing for droppings to fall through the hole in the slats or wire mesh. Slats are wooden pieces 2.5cm to 5cm wide, placed 2.5 cm apart, running through the width of the house. The stocking density for the slatted floor system is 5 to 8 birds per square metre.
Advantages of Slatted Floor System
Reduced contact between the birds and their droppings.
Slats are reusable and can be used indefinitely. Litter must be added periodically and changed once a year.
Plastic slats are resistant to corrosion or decay.
There is less floor space per bird as compared to solid floor system.
Reduced labour as no cleaning is required.
Litter or soil-borne diseases are eliminated.
Disadvantages of slatted floor system
More costly to set up as compared to deep litter or free-range system.
Any spilled feed is lost through the slats.
There is reduced flexibility use of the floor space.
We will be updating this article to include:-
- Optimal conditions for broilers
- Optimal conditions for layers
- Optimal conditions for free-range and pastured chicken
- Choosing the location for the poultry house and the layout of the poultry farm
- Poultry housing systems
- Floor space requirements
- Sample poultry house designs
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