We have three almost identical houses that the laying hens live in and they have a few key features that make them unique.
First they need a place to lay their eggs everyday. We use community style nesting boxes that are about four feet wide and one foot deep. They have a slanted floor that rolls the eggs to the front of the box where we collect them. The really nice part about these boxes is that the eggs stay really clean and the chickens can’t get to them. Once in a while you can get a hen that likes to eat eggs and not only does that hurt your production numbers but it makes a big mess.
Another advantage of this style nesting box is that the eggs are easier to collect and much faster. The red flaps on the front give the hens a little privacy and that encourages them to lay in the boxes.
The house is also where the hens get all their food and water. The water will only freeze when the temperature falls in the low 20’s. All the chickens give off enough body heat that keeps it really cozy even in the dead of winter. The red waterers in a bell shape work off a low pressure system that keeps them full of fresh water all the time. Every morning the chickens get about six five gallon buckets full of fresh non-GMO feed. That works out to about a quarter pound of feed per bird per day. The goal is to give them enough so they don’t waste it and that the hens don’t get over weight. Also the feed formulation changes as the birds get older.
We work directly with a poultry nutritionist that comes up with the best formulation for their age and dietary needs.
Another key feature in the chicken house are the lights. Hens require sixteen hours of daylight every day to keep laying. In the summer that isn’t a problem. But come fall and winter when the daylight is shorter we have to supplement light on either side of the day. It doesn’t take much but just enough to keep them laying strong all year long.
The basic structure itself is a greenhouse frame that a Mennonite in Penn Yan built for us. It is covered with a single layer of white plastic to help keep it cooler in the summertime. Also in the summer we remove the metal skirts on the lower three feet of the house allowing air circulation on all four sides. It can get hot in the summer so we have added a large fan for cooling.
Lots of pasture is available year round.
We can rotate fencing around the house giving the chickens fresh grass and letting other sections rest and regrow. We have portable fencing that allows us to move them to new areas as needed.
This house has been empty since the end of November and while it was empty we made a few improvements. We installed a new water hydrant because the old one would no longer shut off. No fun having hard well water that wrecks all your plumbing! We rebuilt the door and added metal siding on it so hopefully it will last longer and looks nicer too!
Last, we made a huge door (5 foot by 10 foot) on the other end that serves a couple different purposes. First it will allow more air circulation in the summer and a nice shaded patio on the hot days. Second it will allow us to back the manure spreader inside so we don’t have to pitch the manure all the way across the house.
We are refilling this house next week with young hens to meet the early springtime demand of eggs. Once Easter hits and the weather gets nicer that demand just grows and grows.
I hope this was helpful and if anyone ever has a question don’t hesitate to ask.