This is for the birds: Poultry basics


• Birds should be protected from weather, predators, injury and theft
• The building should be relatively draft-free; windows and doors can be opened for ventilation when necessary
• Build the structure on high, well-drained areas
• Facing south allows the sun to warm and dry the building and the soil
• Allowing adequate space per bird helps minimize humidity
• Fencing and covered runs provide protection from predators
• Construct walls, floors and fences so that rodents, snakes and predators cannot dig under them
• Open windows and doors should be securely covered with heavy-gauge mesh wire or screening
• Prevent injury to birds by removing loose or ragged wire, nails or other sharp objects
• Eliminate all areas (other than perches) where birds could perch more than 4 feet above the floor
• Remove perching areas such as window sills, nest box tops, or electric cords when possible

Adequate space

• Birds need adequate space for movement, exercise, nesting and roosting
• Space requirements vary; for example, bantam chickens need 1 square foot per bird indoors and 4 square feet in outdoor runs, while large chickens need 2 feet inside 10 feet outside, and laying hens need 1.5 feet and 8 feet
• With chickens, always provide 6 to 10 inches of perch space per bird, although perches are not usually used with meat chickens
• Always provide at least one nest for every 4-5 females in the flock

Easy access to feed and water

• Feeders and waters should be placed conveniently throughout the pen
• Place the bottom of the waterers and top lip of the feeders at the birds’ back height. This will keep the feed and water clean and prevent wastage
• Small birds like bantam chickens only require 1 linear inch of feeder and water space per bird, while large birds require 2-3 linear inches per bird
• When possible, place waterers in outside runs to keep down humidity inside the coop

Light sources

• Year-round egg production requires that the barn be electrically lighted
• One electric light every 40 feet at ceiling height is appropriate
• South-facing windows are also a good source of light and warmth in winter and of ventilation in summer


• Ample fresh air movement — but without a draft — brings in oxygen while removing excess moisture, ammonia, carbon dioxide, and stale air
• Combine good ventilation with ample insulation and a good vapor barrier so that moisture will not accumulate on the walls and ceiling in cool weather
• Poultry can handle cold very well if they are dry, but experience many health problems in cool and humid conditions

Common sense

• Build the roof high enough and situate permanent structures (nests, roosts, feeders) for easy access and cleaning
• Install doors to open inward
• Since birds can roost on the sills of swinging windows, use sliding windows instead
• Use building materials that are easy to clean and disinfect
• Slightly slope the floor toward the door to prevent puddling and make the building easier to spray out

Source: Philip Clauer, “Small Scale Poultry Housing,” Virginia Cooperative Extension, 2009

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