## What kind of structure do you need for free range poultry farming?

Free range chicken houses are very similar to intensive farming houses. The major difference is they have opening along the length of the free range poultry house. These are to allow the hens or broilers access to the outside. There are a number of factors to consider when opting for this type of farming. What most people do not factor in is the fact that they will need nest boxes (if doing layers) and perches. The regulations state that each hen or bird needs 15cm of perching space. They also need to have a nest hole for every 8 hens. While the regulations also state that you can place 1-0 birds per square meter – one needs to be careful as this excludes space taken up by the nest boxes.

While most nesting boxes have perch space -it is unlikely that there will be enough perching space for the entire flock. A standard 24 hole nest box has two rows of perch space on each side (these are actually for the hens to gain access to the nests – but can be counted as perch space. The trick is to calculate how many birds can perch on the nest boxes, and then calculate how many more perching meters you need for the rest of the flock. A 24 hole nest box has 7.2m of perch space – this equates to perch space for 48 hens per nesting box. One would then have to calculate how many nest boxes are needed for the flock – multiplied by the number of hens that can perch and subtract that from the total number of chickens in the flock. You would then multiply the number of birds left by 15cm – this will give you the require amount of running meters needed for the balance of the flock to perch.

When it comes to calculating the amount of floor space you need for your hens you will need to take the footprint of the nest box multiplied by the quantity of nest boxes and subtract this from your total floor space. Divide this by 10 (which is what the guidelines state as the placement figure per square meter for free range birds), and you will have how many birds you can fit in your house.

The outside range is the other thing to consider. The regulations state that you must have no more than 5 birds per square meter outside, and you need to have 4 square meters of shade per 1000 birds. You will also need 50% living vegetation in the outside range. This regulation (50% living vegetation) is easy when you first place your hens or broilers – but soon becomes a real problem.

The free range birds do not have their beaks cut, and have a real mean set of claws. Their love of foraging soon turns your lush outside range into a dust bowl. Within a week or so most of the grass will be gone, and shortly thereafter the roots. The range needs to be rotated before the roots are gone. *What this in effect means is that while regulations state 5 birds per square outside – you are actually going to need about 4 times that.* Your layout and house will need to be designed in such a way that it makes it easy to rotate the ranges.

Both sides of the houses will need free range flaps that can be opened and closed as you allow the chickens access to that range. The house will be placed in the middle of your total range and suitable fencing will need to be used to cordon off the areas.

### Free range rotation fields

As you can see, the structure is in the center and you can close off 3 fields while leaving one field open to the birds. You will need to water the recovering fields. What I do on my farm is I plant quick growing vegetables like spinach in the unused fields, and leave the stalks for the hens. If you are doing broilers you will need to follow the same procedure. If a particular piece of land is really being hammered by the chickens I lay down steel chicken wire / mesh and weight it down with bricks – this stops the hens from digging down too deep – while leaving them access to the surface. Some farmers put down welded mesh on top of the grass or gardens – this allow the birds to trim off the top of the vegetation without allowing them to get to the roots. Setting up a **free range chicken house** is easy if you think it through first. Remember you will need access to all the fields – and the door of your free range poultry house. If you need help with quantities and poultry equipment send me an email and I will give you a quote.

So you actually need a lot more space for free range hens than you think? – I mean the regulations say 5 birds per square meter – but then also say you need 60% covered ground (in vegetation), which get hammered pretty quickly if you are not rotating your ranges.

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