Today, I’m going to take you through the steps of choosing the ideal poultry house for your farm.
- Whether layer or broiler farm…
- Small scale or large commercial size…
- Any country…
- Any climate…
This guide is the handbook for making a well-rounded decision on the best structure for your business.
A categorical read.
Now, let’s take a walk through the process step by step…
Poultry houses: chicken behaviour & housing – a matter of best fit
Chicken farm houses are an artificial accommodation made for the purpose of housing either:
- broiler or;
- local breed chicken
The idea is that the poultry housing provides the following benefits for the chicken (which the chicken couldn’t have gained otherwise in it’s natural environment):
- a discrete laying nest
This poultry house should be constructed to fulfil all of the above.
Depending on the core competencies of your start-up poultry farm business, you might choose to either build the poultry house yourself…
Or defer to hiring some expert help.
Regardless of how you build it, or the type of chicken you are rearing, the root of getting our poultry house right, is to prioritise the behavioural pattern of your birds.
The following are typical behaviours and habits of poultry which your chicken house ought to accommodate for the best rearing results:
- dust bathing
- tolerance of high temp
Poultry housing selection tips
The following is a breakdown of these natural chicken behaviours & their benefits which should be accounted for when selecting poultry housing for chicken:
Chicken enjoy pecking around in the dirt. FACT.
But what are the benefits of accommodating for this liberty when planning your poultry housing?
According to Jeff Mattocks, a livestock nutritionist with decades of experience:
“…gathering data from year to year and producer to producer, I have come to the conclusion that pastured poultry eat five to 20 per cent [of their diet] from pasture, depending on type and age of poultry, and the quality of forage growth”.
This would equate to significant savings to your poultry farm. Remembering that up to 70% of all poultry farm costs/overheads come from feed costs.
Where you could:
[A] …save the equivalent of 3.5% – 14% of your overall operational costs, by allowing your birds ample pasture foraging time replacing manufactured feed consumption,
[B] …reduce need for vitamin and mineral supplements, as pastured foraging provide a kind of ‘back-up bank’ of critical nutritional substances like Calcium for example, used biologically for shell and bone production. This is protection against deficiencies,
[C] …reduce protein supplement requirement, “…experience has shown that hens purposefully fed
protein-deficient diets, increased their consumption of pasture forages compared to flocks fed
a ration with adequate protein levels (Horsted, 2006). The same behaviour was exhibited by broilers fed a protein-deficient diet (Eriksson, 2010)”
[D] …increase nutritional value of product i.e. egg or broiler meat, “…evidence is emerging that the poultry products from grass-fed flocks tend to have less cholesterol, more vitamins A and E, multiplied Omega-3 content, and a healthier ratio of Omega-3s to Omega-6s”
Laying hens do prefer by nature to lay eggs in more secluded or discrete locations – ideally in nests or nesting boxes.
Nesting boxes also provide a dedicated place for egg collection which easily accessed by farm staff and often results in a much lower breakage rate than otherwise.
According to poultry behavioural experts:”…[dust bathing] acts as a natural insecticide and helps to keep parasites and other nasty creepy crawlies at bay, so it is important for their health!
The information above grants us just a little more scope for understanding the overall benefits of enabling your chicken a little more variety in their poultry house.
Something to bear in mind.
Now, to take a look at some other factors which should support your decision making surrounding poultry housing for your farm.
Other factors determining your choice of poultry house
Whilst behavioural traits are certainly an influence on your choice of poultry house.
There are also other factors which you ought to have in mind.
Here are a few to think about:
Scale of poultry farm
The scale of your business will greatly affect your choice of poultry farm.
Backyard poultry operations for example need much smaller and less complicated housing structures, than large scale commercial farms.
Everything from materials used, to standards and protocols for assembly are widely different, mainly due to imposing building regulations and planning permissions.
Health and safety standards are also an obligation especially when erecting the larger commercial structures.
These stipulations ensure the working environments for workers are suitably managed to minimise risk of injury or harm.
The larger the operation…
The larger the housing & the greater to the scope of potential risk or hazard.
The more complex the building process.
Further reading: Example risk assessment for a poultry farm – Health & Safety Executive
Climate & poultry housing
Your climate will play a large part in poultry housing decision.
Climate will dictate the levels of:
…which your birds will be exposed to.
To accommodate your birds and grant them the optimal conditions for rearing…
You will select the most advantageous features for their poultry housing to keep them having the best potential for peak production.
Further reading: Poultry housing for hot climates – WattAgNet.com / Poultry farming in the cold, arid Himalayan region of India – Research Gate
Production systems and poultry houses
Your choice of poultry house will be secondary to your choice of production system.
Said another way…
The commercial goals of your poultry farm will direct selection of housing.
Broiler vs. layer housing
Whilst there are housing features which will be common to rearing both layers and broilers…
There are some features which are peculiar to one type of farm vs. another (layer vs. broiler):
- nesting boxes:
- ….for hens to laying eggs…
- distribution of houses in rearing system:
- …1 brooder house, 1 grower house & 5 layer houses…
- controlled lighting:
- …16 hours total lighting – optimal conditions for layer flocks
…for example, all features listed above are peculiar to a layer poultry farm.
Further reading: Layer Poultry Housing – Roy’s Farm
Type of rearing style and poultry housing
What kind of rearing style do you plan for your poultry farm?
Whatever your slant on how you birds ought to be raised, your poultry housing will likewise follow suite:
- Free range/Pastured poultry houses:
- Hens are given freedom to roam open grassy fields and forage for naturally occurring nutrution.
- Pastured poultry farms are typically complemented with a variety of summer house designs, yurt pens or mobile pen structures.
- Novel engineering and some rudimentary carpentry skills will most likely get you by for kitting out your pastured poultry set up.
- Deep litter poultry houses:
- Deep litter poultry farms provide an open floor space for birds to occupy.
- A deep litter system birds more exercise exposure than caged birds. Yet this comes with it’s own unique challenges…namely, manure management.
- On open floor space manure is absorbed and cold insulated by a certain thickness of litter material.
- In many cases this material could be pine, groundnut hulls, straw or sawdust.
- By this your birds will be kept dry, cushioned and warm whilst given liberty to enjoy the floor space of their housing.
- Caged poultry housing:
- A caged system is different still from the aforementioned systems.
- Keeping the birds contained within a cage system will impress a different set of circumstances again upon the poultry housing.
- Cage systems keep your flock condensed within their house, rather than distributed across the floorspace. This means smaller floor space needed.
- Cage systems often come with manure trays to collect manure of birds whilst in the house.
- And in layer cage-based farms, the cages also come with egg collection troughs which provide an easy collection method for the farmer.
Image courtesy of: Nation.co.ke (Cages: Ideal system for poultry farmer with small space)
Further reading: Hen welfare in different housing systems – Oxford Academic
Next, we’re going to break down the elements of poultry house design.
A basic introduction to poultry house design
The overall design of a poultry house should be chosen on the basis of functionality.
In other words, design should facilitate (be a helper to) your productivity & profit.
Each design feature offers it’s unique set of pros (benefits) vs. cons (costs).
Take your time to evaluate carefully before ploughing in your investment.
Weighing up the options takes consideration, it never profits to cut corners.
Need some practical examples of what we mean?
Always, our pleasure to help.
The following pointers are your roadmap to planning the optimal design for poultry house:
Choosing the ideal site for your poultry house
The location and aspect of your poultry house is a primary factor for deriving the optimal results of production.
Advice from Dr. Dhia Alchalabi, poultry industry expert states the following:
“Houses must be oriented in a direction to take advantage of prevailing airflow patterns.
Orientation must also be considered relative to solar heat transfer into the building from exposed roofs or sidewalls. Pullet-rearing areas should always be located upwind from adult birds.“
What can we take away from this?
No matter the scale of your operation…
Choosing an optimal poultry house location affords the following benefits:
- exposure to prevailing airflow patterns
- more efficient solar heat transfer
- lower inter-flock communication
This of course is especially important if you chosen style of poultry house is an open structure vs. closed.
For a more detailed itemised list of location factors affecting poultry housing…
A useful resource is this interview of Charles Goan, Professor, Animal Science, University of Tennessee:
- Consideration should be given to your neighbours – whoever they are that your poultry farm will only cause the most minimal amount of change to their general routines.
- Obtaining planning permissions or informal approval from local neighbours in advance can avoid future clashes and difficulties.
- …the distance between your poultry farm and other local features also needs to be considered with regards to odours, dust, feathers, noise and water quality. Such local features are:
- wells etc.
- Gradients, where your site has a slope, are to be overcome for your farm to be on an even keel and this is expensive work.
- Low lying lands which are in floodplains carry the additional risk of flooding out your enterprise.
- Ensuring the long axis of the poultry house is in a east-west direction will minimise the direct sunlight adversely affecting your birds.
- Storm Water
- Adequate storm water run-off is required to prevent damp setting in to the poultry housing structures and affecting the comfort of your birds.
- Grass covered grounds will also minimise soil erosion
- Transport is an important operational feature of any poultry farming business, for the following reasons:
- If there are any problems with vehicular access to and from the farm, like difficulty of access during poor weather conditions, this will hamper your business.
- Expansion potential
- What if you want to grow the scale of your operation? Have you left yourself enough room for growth?
- Ensure your planning accommodates expansion potential, addressing the practicalities.
- Other buildings
- Your poultry farm will not only host poultry houses. What is the optimal layout and proximity?
- Ensure ample space and layout of land will favour making the most of your production.
- Litter utilisation
- Do you have plans to recycle your poultry litter as fertiliser on-site, or will your be exporting this off-site?
- Ensure ample space is given and convenience planned for the processing of litter.
Further reading: Site Selection Factors for New Poultry Facilities – University of Tennessee
And, now to begin looking at the actual features of poultry housing.
Type of poultry house
Depending on your climate, you’ll need to adopt a particular approach to the type of poultry housing built.
In tropical climates, open-sided poultry housing is common.
What is open-sided poultry housing?
To illustrate the point, let’s take a glance at this sketch by CV Agro (India):
It is what is reads like…
Open-sided poultry houses are outhouse structures with sealed ends, but open sides.
Zinc sheets at the bottom of the sides prevents the birds having direct communication with any external elements, like pests or worse…predators…
And above the zinc sheets, held by wooden beam uprights is a wire mesh – again to the exclusion of external threats and for containment of your flock.
…the overall advantage of open-sided poultry houses?
Stated simply by FarmersJoint.com:
“Open-sided poultry houses are suitable for tropical climates where the weather is hot. It is also cheaper to construct than poultry houses in cold climate regions where the sides have to be closed and insulated.”
The PoultrySite.com say the following:
“Open-sided broiler houses are commonly found in areas with high daytime temperatures, or where extreme variations in temperature can exist and seasonal effects such as monsoons or cooler winters can occur.”
Summarised in a single phrase:
“Regulation of temperature and airflow.”
Temperature and ventilation, as we’ll see later on in this guide, play a large part in conditioning birds for optimal farming performance.
But bottom line for a tropical climate when it comes to poultry housing is:
Well constructed open-sided structures are more accommodating to your birds and cheaper to build.
How does closed poultry housing compare?
An example of a environmentally controlled closed poultry house.
What a difference!
What’s your preference, considering the nature and scale of your proposed poultry farming project?
If the weather is accommodating and budget is minimal for building construction, then open-sided will be your ideal option.
However, open-sided housing, as it suggests leaves your bird rearing environment relatively exposed to the outdoors continually.
This reduces your ability to control to a more finite degree the internal environmental condition of your poultry house.
For greater handling on internal conditions, a closed-sided poultry house system is preferred.
Drawbacks here though here are the total loss of external assistance from the weather
- i.e. natural breeze for ventilation and heat from the sun.
To overcome the benefit transfer of this loss of external exposure with closed sided poultry housing…
You would need to install artificial systems which mimic the natural ventilation and heating of your external environment:
- mechanical ventilation system
- heating system
…putting the controls in your hand to manipulate for the desired effect on your flock.
The commercial trade-off between the two approaches is this:
- more control = more cost (for systems to monitor and influence the internal environment).
- less control = less cost (because no need for systems)
But which is more profitable?
With a little ingenuity and diligent care in ventilation & temperature management…
Open-sided poultry houses can produce greater profitability than close-sided, for the listed reasons above.
Their lower cost methods of achieving the same results are more labour intensive (needing muscle power – being cheaper and more economically productive than using electricity/gas)…
Yet less cumbersome overall.
Poultry house dimensions
“How big should my poultry house be?”
It really depends.
Mostly, the number of birds is the principal factor. Referred to as ‘minimum floor space allowance per bird’ (otherwise known as, stocking density).
Followed thereafter by type of feeder and watering equipment which are designed to accommodate a maximum number of birds use at one time.
The corresponding poultry house size therefore will depend on flock size and types of feeding & watering equipment.
The Colorodo State University Extension have a very well articulated guideline, presented in a simple tabular format:
*H. L. Enos, CSU extension associate professor poultry science (revised 8/1/79)
From the detail above we can see the width and length of a chicken house, according to minimum floor space allowance is primarily dependant upon age of bird.
…if mature layer birds require a minimum floor space of 2-3 sq.ft. each …
…a layer hen farm capacity of 1,000 birds, for example, would need to offer more than 2,000 square foot of equivalent floor space.
…under subscribe floor space and increase bird stress from:
- lack of ventilation
- over heating
…ultimately leading to decreased productivity (and profitability):
i.e. reduced bird body mass and lower egg output.
So, that’s floor space…
But what about the width, length, height etc. of the poultry house?
What’s advisable here?
He quotes the following recommendations in his study called: Poultry Housing Design.
“The width of the open-sided poultry house should be about 30 ft (9.8 m) and no more than 40 ft (12.2 m) wide. Houses that are wider will not provide ample ventilation during hot weather. Wide houses also require additional interior supports that may interfere with equipment or manure removal.”
“Most open-sided houses have a stud that is 8 ft (2.4 m) long. The stud represents the distance from the foundation to the roofline. In areas where the temperature is exceptionally high throughout the year, the stud length should be increased to 10 ft (3 m). High-rise houses, with manure storage areas below the cages or slats, should be as high as 14 ft (4.3 m) or more at the eaves.”
“Poultry houses may be almost any convenient length. The terrain on which they are to be built often determines the length; rolling land means more grading before construction can start. “
Further reading: Poultry Housing Design – Research Gate
Again, we can clearly perceive from Dr. Alchalabi’s study that the dimensions of your poultry housing has to work to the benefit of providing optimal:
- temperature and;
…for your birds, especially if you live in a hotter climate.
That’s it for dimensions…
And now features.
Poultry house features from the bottom up
The features of a poultry house are many more than we would expect.
Each having a knock-on effect on your overall ability to operate your poultry farm at optimal levels for maximum profit.
Poultry house construction
How your poultry house is made is makes a big difference to it’s function.
It’s function directly impacts the production of your birds.
Let’s take a look at the features of poultry house construction:
Common features of a poultry house layout plan
Poultry house floor plans and layouts are a staple start for any new farm start-up project.
They traditionally have maintained their common features over the years, even despite technological developments.
Take a look at these plans published in 1930 by the Department of Agriculture (Canada):
The detail in this typical cross-section of a poultry house from the 1930 shows us the following features:
- special features
- opening radius (window)
…how does this kind of cross section compare to a more modern version?
Take this diagram from an article called:
“Small-scale poultry keeping – housing layers” published by – NSW Department of Primary Industries (2007)
Spot the difference?
It doesn’t seem like much has changed in nearly 100 years of small scale poultry house construction.
Perhaps even the older plan contained greater detail – especially in the area of composition of walls & roofing.
What about floor planning?
From the same study as the figure above:
“Small-scale poultry keeping – housing layers”…
The picture below gives us an example floor space (aerial transect) for poultry house:
The features in this floor layout above gives us insight into the relative spatial arrangement:
- alignment &;
- opening radius
…of the components of the poultry house.
Keen planning in this area should provide the most optimal arrangement for having effective & convenient production farming operations – taking into account both staff and livestock use.
Once you are decided on the best layout for your poultry house…it’s time to consider laying a foundation to last.
The integrity of your poultry house foundations are critical for ensuring overall structural safety.
Get the foundations right and the remaining components of your poultry house have a solid head start.
The following are key factors for consideration when laying poultry house foundations:
Principal factors affecting integrity of a poultry house foundation
The professional advice on building…
Concrete stem poultry house foundations (as quoted by experts like University of Georgia Cooperative Extension) states a minimum depth of 12 inches below the frost line.
If you are planning post house foundations (wooden post construction), the corresponding advice is that you lay the foundations at 36 inches in firm soil.
Why the difference?
By nature, upright wooden posts carry loads very differently compared with concrete…
And distribute the weight differently, hence the advice for wooden post foundation being 3x the depth of concrete.
Should you choose wooden post foundations, use naturally durable wood or wood treated with an artificial preservative to protect against…
The bottom end of the foundation posts ought to be embedded in concrete for be results.
- Rainwater which doesn’t successfully run-off away from the poultry house presents the problem of soil saturation.
- Where soil becomes saturated it has the propensity to allow vertical and horizontal movement of the foundation.
- Soil shear strength (soil integrity) decreases considerably when soil is saturated
- Good drainage features will ensure that rain water is moved quickly and effectively away from the foundations
- Protection of the external portion of the foundation against erosion is key to keeping your poultry house safe and sound
- ‘Scouring’ is a great enemy of buildings and structures of all types…particularly where the potential for water movement over the foundations is high.
- “But what is scouring and why is such a threat to poultry housing?”
- “Simply put, scour is the engineering term for the erosion of soil surrounding a … foundation.
- …scour occurs when fast-moving water around a [building] removes sediment from around the […] foundation, leaving behind scour holes.”
- Where copious amounts of rain water runs off from the roof and falls immediately to the ground at the feet of your foundations – soil erosion can occur
- When soil is displaced and is moved away from your poultry house foundation, the foundations lose strength and your building can fall
- The answer?
- Guttering on your roof with down pipes to pass the water away from your foundations
- Rocks around the base of your external walls help to pack down the soil to promote integrity
Can your poultry house foundations be disturbed from the inside?
Take care to adopt a hygiene maintenance & interior cleaning routine that avoids erosion of the foundations from within.
Do you see cracks in your concrete foundation?
Experts disclose the two common faults of foundation cracks are:
- uneven settlement – i.e. the ground upon which your poultry house foundation was laid, if uneven, can produce imbalanced stress at points in the foundation
- wall rotation – i.e. the walls of your poultry house twisting because of sandy soil composition
…once identified, seek professional help for a remedy.
Further reading: Factors Contributing to Poultry House Structural Failures – University of Georgia Extension
Wall structure & wind safety with poultry houses
High winds are a significant risk of damage to poultry housing.
The uplift (upward force) that is generated when a high wind passes over the roof of a poultry house can convert into significant upwards pulling force.
This force behaves exponentially:
- i.e. a doubling of wind strength produces a fourfold increase in this force.
In order to protect against the calamity of collapse, it is advised that the wall and foundation be integrated.
In concrete block wall houses, it is advised that the sill plate:
“…bottom horizontal member of a wall or building to which vertical members are attached…”
is “…periodically connected to the foundation through the use of anchor bolts or straps…not less than 4 inches and not more than 12 inches from the end of each member making up the sill plate…”
If your wall frame is not continuous, but made of connected pieces, it is advised that member pieces are “…positively connected together through the use of lumber, straps or clips…to ensure a continuous load path…”
What’s a continuous load path?
Let’s take a look…
At the base of wall, we can see a thin black pin which penetrates and unifies the sill, sill block and foundation.
The black pin is known as a J-bolt.
The stud, or wood beam of the wall is structurally reinforced both internally with ply wood and externally with a metal sheets.
The truss (roof beams) and the truss plate are tied in to the whole combination by a hurricane strap (metal brace)…
See that neat blue coloured join on the internal part of the wall connecting the roof to the wall at the top?
…it makes a kind of triangular shape?
This is known as knee brace.
It is a structural support (…much like it’s name sake…) that reduces the potential for lateral movement which in this case could occur to your poultry house if high winds prevail.
The end result of using all the supports mentioned above?
A structure which should hold it’s integrity under the stress of high winds and roof uplift…
And not being plucked from the roots.
Concrete block walls and litter damage
Litter damage is the equivalent of tooth decay to internal concrete walls in poultry houses.
A pH imbalance produced by the ammonia of poultry litter…
Combined with salts and moisture can degrade the strength of concrete walls….
Where the litter meets the wall, forms a precipitate layer or crust (…for want of a better word…)…
Leaving the wall prone to cracking under pressure.
Where block walls are eroded significantly, you will need to replace or repair to ensure continued safety.
Poultry house roof trusses and how they connect to the wall
As we’ve seen in earlier sections, structural integrity is key to building safety.
Especially where you have individual member pieces connecting together – it is critical that you make sure of continuous load path.
In other words, where there are structural joins, like between the roof and tops of walls…for example…
…You must make joins firm, or else these points of weakness when stressed by wind will be locations of structural damage.
One such joint, and potential area of structural vulnerability is the point where the roof meets the top of the wall.
This is known as the ‘Truss‘:
“…truss is a structure that “consists of two-force members only, where the members are organized so that the assemblage as a whole behaves as a single object…” – Wikipedia
The picture above shows the predominate method accepting in poultry housing construction for connecting the wall
…by straps, clips or connectors made of corrosion resistant material not less than 0.040 inch in thickness…
…to the roof.
These straps firmly bind the roof and wall together making one single firm structure.
As the name hurricane straps suggests…
These structural aides are manufactured with the intention of preventing roof lift off during unusually high wind speeds.
Poultry house ventilation
Poultry house ventilation is a key aspect of keeping your hens health and at peak production.
Both airborne particles and pathogens, as well as in appropriate airflow can threaten the livelihood of your flock.
Good levels of ventilation, whether naturally sourced or artificially, if managed well can be a good support to you achieving your poultry farming profit goals.
The main functions of ample ventilation:
- Consistent delivery of fresh air
- Removal of excess heat, moisture and ammonia fumes from manure
- Release harmful gases
- Increased oxygen for respiration
With these benefits in mind – it’s time to choose your preferred method of delivery…
As the name suggests, this method simply involves harnessing the wind blown in the external environment of the poultry house…
And using it as a source of airflow.
Does your farm have any wind breaks on-site?
- I.e. structures on-site which could interrupt the movement of wind reaching your poultry house?
Plan to erect your poultry house at least 100 ft. away from such wind break obstructions.
How does the natural airflow enter into poultry houses?
Take a look at this diagram…
Further reading: Different types of poultry housing system for tropical climate – Indian Council of Agricultural Research (Pragya Bhadauria)
What if natural airflow will not be sufficient?
If you need to increase the airflow having already installed your poultry house…
Simply opt for some additional internal fans.
Forced (mechanical) ventilation
Positive air flow ventilation system
In push ventilation systems, fans are positioned in the walls and used to draw in by fresh air from outside…
Causing positive air pressure within your poultry house…
Which in turn, forces stale air out of the building via exhaust vents.
The exact amount of output from the fans is controlled centrally by computerised environment control mechanisms.
Negative air flow ventilation system
On the contrary, these systems achieve the same goal of air exchange by a converse method…
Rather than blowing air out via wall mounted fans…
They suck/draw in clean air from outside into the poultry house.
An important prerequisite for achieving the desired results with this method of ventilation is:
- a tightly sealed poultry house
Just as with any other vacuum action function, a tight seal ensures maximum extraction.
For much larger scale poultry housing, tunnel ventilation is appropriate for high volume air exchange.
What does tunnel ventilation look like?
Whilst there are many variations of the theme…
The idea is shifting large volumes of fresh air in and stale air out at the same time – maintaining optimal air flow for large scale commercial poultry operations.
Further reading: Indian Council of Agricultural Research Pragya Bhadauria – Different Types of Poultry Housing System For Tropical Climate
So that’s that on ventilation, which brings us to a close on the structural features of poultry housing.
Now over to you…
Want some ideas to get you going?…Here’s a comprehensive poultry house picture scrapbook!
For a user-friendly visual guide of poultry houses pictures and photos, we have produced a digital repository of poultry house design examples via our Pinterest account:
…these examples are of poultry houses from around the world.
It’s a work in progress.
The pictures are curated & categorised into boards identified by country name.
Feel free to browse…
Generally use this as a service to find exactly what you need.
For now, we hope you have enjoyed the read…
And we wish you well in your project to build you own poultry house.
Are you in need of more detailed advice on designing & building your own custom poultry house?
Have you experience in building poultry houses for farm projects?
Share with your peers below.
Are you a construction professional specialising in poultry house projects?
Are you a poultry house building material supplier?