What have you been dreaming of lately? I’ve been dreaming of coops and greenhouses, garden beds and greywater systems, passive solar and root cellaring… In Designing Your Homestead Vision, I listed seven topics for us to consider when envisioning your future homestead: poultry flock, poultry management, animal housing, horticulture, permaculture, sustainability, and other. Last week, I shared my ideas for my chicken coop with you. This week, I’d like to discuss points to consider when planning your own chicken coops and animal housing.
Animal Housing: Coop and barn designs, appearance, utility, ease of use, maintenance cost, required upkeep, environmental impact, ventilation, lighting, storage, distance from house, location relative to wind and sun exposure, water access, water collection, electricity, safety
Designs and appearance are often matters of personal taste. Where appearance is highly valued, such as in a suburban backyard, outbuildings are often designed to match or complement the house. Where cost is the primary issue, buildings are designed to utilize the materials at hand, and materials often dictate the design. We have a lot of small trees on the property. The material on hand is logs, not lumber. For this reason and for its insulation value, we’ve chosen cordwood construction, and cordwood is best applied to a circle. A circle also has the added benefit of maximizing the area with a minimum of circumference – max square feet for minimum of wall materials.To minimize maintenance, the roof will most likely be metal. I’m currently planning a 4’ drop over the 20’ length of the roof, but I may make it steeper to encourage the snow to slide off. Litter management is an important aspect of coop upkeep. I will use deep litter to reduce upkeep, provide additional nutrition to the flock, and take the edge off of the cold in the winter by generating a small amount of heat. To provide a better substrate for the deep litter, I’ll use the dirt floor (which eliminates the cost of flooring but adds to the cost of the footing, and all doors and pop doors will be 8” off of the ground to keep the litter from spilling out of the house.
When designing the utility and use of the space, it’s helpful to list all of the tasks the space will be used for. This helped me to realize that I needed to include a significant storage area as well as isolation pens for broody hens, new birds, and so forth. I wanted a table to work on and pens which could be easily separated or conjoined to allow flexible groupings.Runoff and water pollution are the number one consideration when considering the environmental impact of animal housing. Animals’ yards should be arranged so as not to allow runoff to pollute water sources. I had considered building the coop in a clearing overlooking the pond but decided to move it to prevent potential runoff from the chicken yard from adding too many nitrates to the pond water. Keeping the yard well-mulched will limit the amount of runoff, but I will also build the coop in its own clearing. Another significant environmental consideration, especially with chickens, is the impact on the indigenous flora. Chickens can kill plants by continuously scratching the same ground. Making sure that chickens will be moved to different areas or have the freedom to graze on new ground helps to minimize that impact.
We will discuss ventilation, lighting, storage, distance from house, location relative to wind and sun exposure, water access, water collection, electricity, and safety later this week. In the meantime, what are your thoughts on design, appearance, utility, ease of use, maintenance cost, required upkeep, environmental impact of coops and animal housing?