When starting a free range farm, planning the farm layout is very important. The hens will quickly destroy the vegetation inside your chicken fencing, and you need to be able to easily move the chickens to a new field while the old field recovers. According the the free range guidelines you will need fifty percent cover – this means half of the ground outside must have some kind of grass or plants growing. Easy in the first few weeks – but after this you will have a problem.
This farm layout is for a 12 meter x 6 meter layer house that holds 720 chickens. The poultry coop may not use layer cages – so either the hens will lay on the floor (not permissible in free range) or you will need to use nest boxes for the hens to lay in. The first diagram is with no field rotation and the second is with a field rotation. The size of the poultry house and the size of the land is measured in square meters. The coop will have to have free range openings on both sides and in two place on each side to allow the chickens into the ranging area. The figures are based on a stocking density of 5 hens per square meter out side the run and 10 birds per square meter inside the structure.
The guidelines when farming free range hens for eggs are as follows:
- 1. 10 birds / sq.m inside. 12 birds/sq.m if perches are provided,
- 2. 15 cm per hen with a gap on either side of minimum 1.5 cm.
- 3. Good, dry litter must cover 33% of the inside floor area.
- 4. Nest boxes – 1 nest per 8 hens.
- 5. 1 adult hen per 5 cm of feeder length access both
- sides (feeding troughs, chain feeders).
- 6. 40 adult hens per feeder (pan or tube feeders).
- 7. 100 birds per bell drinker.
- 8. 10 birds per nipple1.25cm per bird on a water trough.
- 5 birds / sq.m outside.
- 50% living vegetation present at all times. (green if possible)
- 4 square meters shade per 1 000 birds.
- Secure fencing with gate around run.
- Separate egg packing and egg sorting room. (outside poultry run)
You will also be restricted in what poultry equipment you use and the quantities of that equipment:
For 720 laying hens the equipment is as follows:
Poultry Equipment Quantities
- Nest boxes required (1 nest per 8 hens) – based on a 24 hole nest box = 4 x 24 hole nest boxes
- Perches required (15cm / hen) = 11 meters running perches.
- Bell drinkers required (100 birds per bell drinker) = 8 x bell drinkers
- Nipples required (10 birds per nipple) = 72 nipples.
- Tube feeders or pan feeders required (40 birds per feeder) = 18 x tube feeders or pan feeders.
- Trough feeders or chain feeders required (1 hen per 5cm- both sides accessible) = 12 x 3m troughs on legs.
These are quantities of individual components, you will need to budget for whole systems –
for example: the nipples require nipple pipes and a winching system. Both bell drinkers and nipple
drinkers need a water tank and manifold system. An automatic chain feeding system will need
motors, chains. bins and suspension.
Because free range chickens may not have their beaks cut (well actually burned) they are able to easily forage – while this is good for your chicken , it is a real pain for your fields. The hens will quickly destroy the vegetation – if they do not eat it they will just scratch out the roots looking for worms and grubs. In a short time your land will look like a desert! To allow your land time to recover you will need to move the chickens or the chicken house – moving the structure is possible with a mobile poultry house, but most farmers do not have this luxury. So the plan is to limit what fields the chickens can access, and when. Remember that the hens need a specified space to roam to call you operation “free range, and a certain amount of vegetation must exist if you want to stay inside the regulations. The method of field rotation requires that you have 4 times as much land as is required – and that the layer structure is in the middle of the land.
The chicken coop will have openings in 4 places – each able to close and open – and each as an entrance from the structure to the field. you will allow the hens access to only one field at a time. You will rotate as the fields recover – A savvy farmer will not just let these fields lie fallow. Free range chickens love vegetables, and chicken manure is great for growing crops. The poultry farmer will use the fields for growing food that chickens eat. Just remember not to cut all of your trees down – this will mean that you have to put up shade clothe or something similar to shade the hens – they will need 4 square meters per one thousand birds – more if you can.
The farm layout can vary as it suits your land and budget. The chicken fences can be added as you need the field, or you can use temporary chicken fencing on your free range farm. The fences should be at least two meters high – unless you plan to cut their wing feathers. The hens will live on a layer farm for 60 weeks – so they will esily be strong enough to fly over a low poultry fence. Broilers may not be able to as you will only keep them for 6 weeks.