Matthew Hayden’s “Hen Hilton” is designed like a house, complete with concrete slab, stain glass windows, gutters and insulation. A firm, level base of concrete is a great way to start any shed because it gives you a flat base to hose out.
There is a rat wall to ward off unwanted visitors. Rats will borrow underground to feed on chicken food and eggs and more rats mean more snakes! A 600mm deep trench filled with concrete should do the trick.
Running beside it is a spacious pecking run for the chickens to exercise in. Each end of the pecking run can be divided off allowing the grass to regenerate.
Its position in the orchard is to allow the nutrient rich chook poo to provide fertiliser for the trees and roots – another permaculture practise where you consider the longer term picture and design yourself out of work.
Tips for keeping chickens
1. Your shed structure needs to be weather tight, water proof, well ventilated and full of light during the day.
2. A 1.8m x 1.2.m shed will accommodate four laying hens. Use a standard of 0.3sq metres (4sq feet) of litter per bird.
3. If possible the roof should be insulated and timbers should be treated with oil. Treated timber and light discourages mites which can bring disease.
4. Allow a gap of 10cm on the roof to the top of the wall to be fully netted with 12.5mm of sparrow proof netting so that plenty of light and air gets through the building.
5. Birds need a squarish grip on the rungs to activate the special tendons in their legs that locks and keeps them from falling off when they sleep. A chicken roost of 50mm x 25mm of treated timber should do the trick.
6. The roost can be hinged and moved for easy cleaning and needs be no more than 0.6m off the floor. You will need 250mm of space per bird on a roost, keep the roost level or you will find birds will squabble for highest position on the roost during the night
7. A wooden floor that is at least 300mm off the ground is to discourage rats from nesting under it. The gap in the flooring also allows the droppings to drop through to a removable dropping tray underneath.
8. Two nest boxes are more than adequate for four birds. These can be made from metal treated wood 230mm wide and 350mm deep and fitted at about 0.4 m above the level of litter/floor.
9. Put a retaining plate at the front at about 100mm high to keep the nest litter in and a roof over them which slopes to the front at an angle of 45 degrees so that the birds do not try to roost on them.
10. Nest material can be wood shavings or straw and should be changed regularly. If using straw have only 100mm depth to start with then add to it as it packs down.
11. A dust bath is vital as hens like to clean themselves and reduce infestations of mites by having baths in dry dust. Make a structure like a kid’s sand pit in one corner of the shed with a retaining wall to keep litter out and dust in. Fill it with road dust or very fine soil. This will need to be serviced occasionally
12. Have a light in the shed to extend the daylight in winter so chooks continue to lay eggs. Fit it with a time switch so birds get early morning light.
13. Throw grain onto the litter so birds scratch it. This is an easy way to turn over the litter and aerate it.
14. If litter becomes wet it can cake and go sour. Fork it over or burrow it out and replace it often. Do not risk disease and stress by making birds live in damp, sour litter.
15. Hang bunches of fresh greens from the roof for chooks to pick at or, as a special treat, hang up a liver or some meat in a net to give them variety and interest. Just don’t let the meat scraps rot!
16. A trough with a ball valve connected to a tank will ensure chooks do not run out of water. Keep water vessel in front of the shed if there is an over flow or spill the water will not run through the litter. Chooks drink about 250mls of fresh water in a day in normal weather.
17. Dose their water with the chicken wormer Piperazine every four months to fight internal parasites.
18. An Isabella grapevine grown over the chicken run will provide shade and food in summer and allow warmth in winter.