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Checklist for building a good chicken house

By Dr Watson Messo

Dear Dr Messo

I keep 500 layers in a space measuring 28 x 14 feet. This is their seventh month and only 45 per cent are laying. What am I not doing right?


Chicken house

Dear Henry

To quickly address the stocking density at your farm, one-layer bird requires two square feet of space for growing, development and production. In other words, for 500 birds, you need 1,000 square feet of space. The current space of 28 x 14 square feet (392sqfeet) can comfortably accommodate 196 birds only, if you put more birds in this restricted space, you will compromise a lot in terms of feed and water access, proper ventilation, litter condition is likely to be wet and muddy.

Overstocking will negatively impact on growth rates, feed conversion, nutrition and health and overall compromised immune response to field infections. This will delay sexual maturity of your birds, leading to late onset of lay (a well reared layer flocks come into production at 4.5 months), poor uniformity, in other words some birds will mature earlier than others.

Stocking density is a very important factor in poultry production that is frequently overlooked especially among urban and peri-urban farmers. The following factors need to be considered.

Bird size and breed type

As I indicated earlier, lighter breed of birds, i.e. commercial layers, kienyeji breed, Kenbro which are kept for a longer duration in the coop, need more space, at 2 square feet per bird. The heavier breeds or broilers kept for meat purposes need 1 square feet per bird or 22 birds per square metre. This density work well for fast growing birds that stay for 34-36 days before slaughter.

Feeder and water space

When calculating the space allocation, please consider a little extra space for feeders and drinkers, birds should never walk more than one metre before accessing a feeder or a drinker. Nipple drinking system and floor feeding are modern methods of creating more space to chickens for growth, development and production.

House dimension

In open sided houses with natural ventilation, the width of the house should not exceed 10 metres wide while the height should not be less than 2-3 metres high. The house should be constructed on an East West orientation, these dimensions and orientation will allow for proper ventilation, temperature control, humidity management, ammonia reduction, reduced light intensity, dry & friable litter maintenance.

Bird welfare

It is very important that birds are given enough space, provided with adequate nutrition, kept stress free according to the five animal freedoms a) Freedom from hunger and thirst, b) Freedom from discomfort, c) Freedom from pain, injury and disease, d) Freedom to express normal behaviour and finally e) Freedom from fear and distress.

Performance and economics

The most important aspect of poultry farming is the provision of ideal conducive environment to allow the birds express their genetic potential. Paying attention to brooding requirements, proper ventilation, good quality and adequate quantity feed, good chick quality sourced from reputable company, proper bio-security and immunisation programme coupled with a good technical backup will ensure that farmers prosper and reap exponentially from their investments.

For more information, contact any poultry center near you.

[Dr Watson Messo Odwako email or, Company Vet @Kenchic]

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