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close this book Practical poultry raising
close this folder 6. Housing and equipment
View the document Free - range
View the document Contained, with limited range
View the document Contained systems
View the document Building a chicken house
View the document Making wire cages
View the document Use of cages
View the document Equipment


Equipment used in chicken houses can be made of local materials. This equipment receives heavy use and is cleaned often so it should be sturdy. Local wood and metal workers can help with design and construction.


Watering space - Whether you use a straight trough or round waterer, the length or circumference of the waterer's lip is important. Minimum lip length (space) is given below. Measure the lip available to the birds - when chickens use both sides of a trough, the lip available is twice the length of the trough. Additionally, the volume capacity of the waterers must be sufficient to meet the daily requirements of the chickens.

Minimum Water Space Requirements - 100 Birds

Very Important Note: In hot, dry climates, chickens may consume up to four times the above volumes of water. Therefore, watch the water consumption carefully. You may need to increase volume capacity. Never allow chickens to run out of clean water. Waterer design - The simplest waterer is a tin can inverted into a soup or pie plate, or the bottom of a larger tin can. Punch a hole about 2 cm (3/4 in.) from the open end of the tin can. Fill the can with water and cover it with the plate. With one hand on the plate and one on the tin can, quickly invert both. The position of the punched hole and the vacuum in the tin can will regulate the water level in the plate.

Inverted Waterer

Here are some other possible designs for waterers.

Other Waterers

Automatic waterer - Fit a large, clean oil drum with a faucet or other type of valve and a tight cover. Set the drum on a 1 m (3 ft.) stand of blocks, bricks or reinforced clay mud either inside or outside the chicken house. Run a hose or pipe from the faucet to one end of a galvanized sheet metal trough about 10 cm (4 in.) high and 12.5 cm (5 in.) wide. The length of the trough depends on the size of the flock; a 1.2 m (4 ft.) trough will serve 100 birds if they drink from both sides. Level the trough on flat rocks, wood blocks, etc., so that the lip of the trough is as high as the birds' backs. Fit an overflow hose or pipe 5 cm (2 in.) above the bottom of the trough in the side opposite the incoming water. Run the overflow pipe outside the house to a place where overflow water will not run back into the house. Adjust the faucet or valve so that the overflow of water is minimized. Protect the trough from contamination by birds, using a spinner (a bar that rotates so chickens cannot roost on it), or constructing a cover over it.

Automatic Watering System


A well - made feeder is:

• Durable - It must withstand frequent cleaning.

• Stable - It should not tip over when bumped by farmer or chickens.

• The correct height and depth - As birds grow, the feeder height and depth should be increased (see p. 106).

• Chickenproof - Birds can't get into or roost on it (using a spinner).

• Efficient - It should have a lip to prevent birds from "beaking" feed out onto the floor.

Distribute feeders evenly throughout the chicken house. No feeder should be more than 4.5 m (15 ft.) from a waterer. Adjust the height of the lip of the feeder to a level even with the backs of the birds. This will help prevent them from scratching contaminated litter into the feeders. In fact, the more they have to stretch their necks to reach feed, the less feed will be wasted.

Feeders with Lips to Prevent Waste

Except for the first three days with day - old chicks, feeders should not be filled more than half full, as feed will be wasted. One - third full wastes even less feed, but feed has to be supplied more often.

To reduce spoilage and mold problems try to adjust amounts of feed supplied so that the birds finish it at sundown. This will take practice. Supply the feed regularly at sunrise and about 2 p.m.; more frequently if the birds empty the feeder.

When feeding chickens supplemental vegetable matter, don't throw it on the floor - suspend it at beak level with a rope, put it in a hanging net, or place it in a wire or slatted hopper, a feeder made out of wire mesh. Feeder space (length) - As with waterers, feeder space is the linear distance of lip available to the birds - either the circumference of a round feeder tray or twice the length of a trough if the birds feed from both sides. Minimum space and depth requirements are given below.

Feed Requirements for 100 Chickens

Feeder design - This wooden trough feeder is designed for layers 15 or more weeks old. Dimensions of intermediate feeders should be - adjusted for the age and size of the birds (see feed space requirement table).

Wood Feeder

A spinner is made from a rod of wood with a metal rod attached to each end so it is able to rotate. The metal rod can simply be made from a nail by cutting off its head.

Bamboo feeders - Bamboo can be used for inexpensive feeders. To keep the birds out, use a spinner, or tightly wrap the feeder with wire, as shown below.

Bamboo Feeders

Dimensions depend upon the number and size of birds.

Hanging feeder - Hanging feeders have several advantages, including: rats have difficulty getting into them; they continuously supply feed at the proper height; it is easy to adjust their height. They can be made from large tin cans (sometimes available from restaurants), or from sheet metal.

Hanging Metal Feeder - Such a feeder with a tray of 40 cm (16 in.) in diameter is sufficient for 10 mature layers.

Grit Hoppers

Instead of teeth, birds have a muscular organ, the gizzard, to grind their food. To crush food well, gizzards must contain hard, small stones, or grit. Over time, the grit crumbles or dissolves and must be replaced. Country chickens, ranging free or in fenced - in yards, usually can find their own grit, but the farmer must supply grit to contained birds.

Good grit stones are about the size of small peas and have a rough surface. Small river gravel that is not smooth is excellent grit. Relatively inexpensive grit can be bought from commercial feed suppliers. Grit can be served in any container that the chickens can't enter and contaminate. A grit hopper that can supply 200 chickens for about a week is illustrated below. Keep the cover closed so the grit remains clean. Make sure grit always is available or the chickens will not digest their feed well.

Grit Hopper

Oyster and Egg Shell Hopper

Chickens need a source of calcium to maintain their bodies, and laying hens need extra amounts to produce strong egg shells. The usual calcium source is crushed oyster shell or limestone, purchased commercially. Powdered limestone does not work well because hens do not like to eat it. This can be supplemented with boiled and dried egg shells broken into very small pieces so that the hens don't recognize what they are eating and start to eat their own eggs. The egg shells from a flock do not provide enough calcium to meet that flock's requirements. Keep a calcium supply always available and the chickens will take what they need. Old hens require more calcium than young ones. Also, hens need more calcium in hot weather.

A calcium source can be included in a mixed feed, or provided separately in a container similar to the grit hopper. It may be convenient to use a two - compartment hopper for grit and calcium, as shown below.

A Two - comnartment Grit and Calcium - source Hopper


Providing nests for laying hens helps keep eggs clean and reduces breakage. Baskets, reinforced with sun - baked clay or cow dung, can be used for nests (see below). Usually clay is applied to the outside of the basket. Nests should be placed on the darkest side of the house, preferably where the morning sun will not hit them. Line them with fresh litter and keep it clean. Provide one nest for every five hens. In hot climates, nests should be well - ventilated.

Nesting boxes - With more than a few laying hens, the farmer probably will find that it pays to provide specially constructed nesting boxes. The concept is to enclose a volume of space about 0.028 cubic m (1 cubic ft.) per bird with wood, sheet metal, wire mesh, clay or mud bricks, woven mats, etc., and line it with litter. Well - constructed boxes will stand up to frequent cleaning. Boxes may be placed on the floor, raised by supports or attached to the wall. A set of boxes may have one, two or three tiers. Any boxes above the floor should provide a perch in front where birds can alight before entering the nest. Ideally, there should be a means of closing the nests in the evening so that birds don't roost in and dirty them. Two types of nest boxes could be used:

• Individual nest boxes are constructed so that only one hen will be able to fit in one compartment at a time.

Individual Nest Boxes

• Colony nest boxes are constructed large enough to allow four or more hens to lay at one time (4 sq. ft. or more of floor space without dividers). These are not recommended because more eggs will be broken than with individual boxes.


When they can, chickens prefer to spend the night roosting in trees. Contained birds don't need roosts, but the presence of roosts can help concentrate droppings, making sanitation easier. Building roosts takes time and money. If you use them, place a removable droppings board under them or screen off the area beneath. Clean the boards or the screened area often. Allow 20 cm (8 in.) of roost for each bird.