Comfortable Quarters for Chickens

Second Part

A dustbath is used for care and cleaning of plumage and enhances the well-being of chickens. They prefer to dustbathe in groups. If the dustbath is provided outside, it should be roofed and should give protection from drafts. Quartz sand with charcoal and flowers of sulphur added is recommended as a dustbathing substrate.

Nesting behavior of hens includes nest investigation, scratching and pecking at the nest material, choosing a particular nest and entering it, forming a hollow, laying an egg, rolling an egg under the body, and brooding.

Hens prefer to lay their eggs at sheltered places where manipulatable materials are available. During the pre-laying phase, the hen leaves the flock and looks for an adequate nesting place. She investigates different places or nest boxes before deciding where to lay her eggs. A hollow is formed at the chosen nesting place. After 10 to 30 minutes, the hen gets up and lays an egg which she rolls under her body. She stays in the nest for a short period of time before joining the group again.

Appropriate housing for chickens must take the animals’ species-specific behaviors into account. A room may be readily transformed to suitable housing for chickens by placing a wire-mesh covered dropping pit on one side of the room and installing perches along the wall at different heights over the pit. The horizontal distance between two perches should be at least 35 cm (13.8 in.). The total perch-length is determined by the number of chickens and should be no less than 18 cm (7.1 in.) per animal.

Chickens naturally live in a stable social group. This photo shows a hen with almost-adult chicks and a cock.

A scratching are is an imperative to allow chickens to exhibit species-typical foraging behavior. A thin layer of sand covered by approximately 10 cm (3.9in.) of chopped straw provides a suitable substratum for this purpose. The scratching area should take up at least half of the floor area of the hen house.

Hens need adequate nest boxes, preferably with manipulatable material, like oat husks or chopped straws. One nest box should be provided for each 5 hens. Its dimension should be approximately 40x40cm (16x16 in.). If larger family nests are used, a nesting area of 1 m² (10.8 sq. ft.) per 50 hens is recommended.

Group size should not exceeded 80 animals, as chickens are only able to distinguish between 40 to 80 members of their own species. Stocking density should not exceed 5 birds per square meter (10.8 sq.ft.) of available surface area to avoid stress from overcrowding.

A variety of food should be offered to the chickens. If only meals or pellets are fed, the animals consume their ration too fast and do not spend enough time foraging. Bad habits such as feather pecking can easily develop under such conditions. To prevent this, grain should be provided in racks or in baskets hanging from the ceiling, so that the animals can pull and peck at the contents and keep busy.

  • 1. Water
    2. Used air
    3. Fresh air
    4. Family nest
  • 5. Food trough
    6. Nipple drinker
    7. Litter
    8. Perches
    9. Dropping pit
  • 10. Drainage
    11. Drainpipe
    12. Covered run with basket for greenstuff and extra space gained through use of third dimension

Chickens should have access to a box filled with sand so that they can take dustbaths. Dustbathing is a social activity which is usually performed by several chickens at the same time. The sand box should therefore be relatively spacious, i.e., 80x80 cm (31x31 in.).

A bad-weather run should be provided so that the chickens have exposure to natural daylight and seasonal temperature variations throughout the year. The run should have a roof so that chickens can have access to it even in bad weather, and wire-mesh walls so that the animals are protected from predators. It should be about half the size of the hen house and have a concrete floor covered with a layer of straw and sand.

1. Hen house
2. Gravel or wooden slats
3 & 4. Rotational runs
5. Electric fence
6. Dustbathing places

Gravel or wooden slats in front of the hen house.
Whenever possible, chickens should be able to use an outside run covered with vegetation. To keep the turf intact, the outside run has to be divided and to be used alternately, otherwise the much-designed green is soon destroyed through pecking and scratching (3 & 4). The area can be divided with an electric fence (5). Ideally, the windward side is sheltered by hedges and structured with trees and bushes that give shade. Low bushes make it possible to put up netting to prevent birds of prey from catching chickens. If the pasture is not evenly used the old grass has to be cut down; it is therefore advisable when planting trees and bushes to make sure that the outside run can be maintained with machines (if big enough). In front of the hen house should be a layer of gravel or wooden slats, with drainage underneath, to assure that at the surface stays dry at this highly-frequented place. Dustbaths near bushes complete the outside run.