Life on a small farm is both science and art. Designing shelters for animals, poultry, or other livestock is based on good thinking, local custom, and what you have to work with. In this case, I’m using all three and we’ll see the outcome.
In Storey’s Guide for Raising Chickens, there is a simple shelter for free range chickens depicted on page 39. Its basically a lean-to or half gable structure open on the front and side.
Interestingly, as I scouted around the Internet chicken sites, I don’t find many shelters like this. Robert Plamondon’s site on building chicken coops and shelters has many designs, but none like this.
As I considered housing for 50 meat chickens, I schemed an idea to be able to build a dual use shelter – that could be a brood house for a few weeks, then re configured to be a night shelter from aerial predators like owls and hawks. The entire shelter and pasture could be fenced with electric netting, keeping out or slowing down, raccoons, possums, and skunks.
I sketched several designs, based on a couple of limiting factors:
- I had left over roofing panels from the metal roof from the cabin. They measured 10’4″ so that became my angled roof dimension.
- I wanted to use 4′x8′ ply for the brood house floor, and also use a half sheet 2′x 8′ as the front and back panels
- I was willing to take a few risks to learn from my mistakes
What resulted is something for day ranging , a concept designed by Andy Lee. Unlike a chicken tractor, in which the chickens are confined in a movable cage every day, this allows the chickens to range (not quite free range) in a 40 x 40 pen that can be moved as they graze. At night, the chickens return to the shelter. As of today, I am undecided about whether or not to “lock them in” at night.
During brooding, the chicks will be in a brooding box built using the structure as a framework. The floor is covered in bedding and paper towel to start the chicks. The side walls are poultry wire and will be covered with foil bubble insulation to protect both from drafts and occasional rains. The front opening is sheltered by the roof and is open for ventilation.
We’ve had a cool July, actually, the coolest on record. I expect the heat will rise in August, so ventilation is important, but so, too, is keeping the chicks warm in the night. A 250 watt infrared brooder bulb will be mounted inside. The chicks ought to be able to find their comfort spot.
Once the chicks feather out, I will take the back wall and floor out of the shelter, and line the floor with thick bedding. The front door is still uncertain, but the top 2 feet of the opening will be covered with poultry wire, slowing down predatation.
The chicks arrived this week, and are in a short term brooder in the cabin. I hope to move them outdoors in the next day or so. And then we see how this works out.