A little increase in the care
provided to a small poultry flock will improve livability, growth rate and
egg production. The goal is to improve productivity with only a small
increase in the cost for feed or the time spent to care for the flock.
Protecting young birds from rain and predators and giving feed supplement for
2 to 4 weeks will often double or triple the number of chicks that survive
from a hatch, compared to allowing them to scavenge with the hen as soon as
they are hatched. Vaccination against Newcastle disease and other infections
will also improve the health of the flock. Hens prefer to lay in a hidden
nest. If nests are provided in a darkened area raised from the ground, more
eggs are recovered.
Poultry are kept under a
variety of husbandry systems.
a) Scavenging. The
flock is made up of chickens of various ages of both sexes. The flock is
allowed to forage freely in the village, forest or fields and along
I. The lowest level of
husbandry is when no care is given and when chickens obtain feed and water
from the area where they live. They roost in trees at night. Hens usually lay
only one or two clutches of eggs each year in hidden nests.
II. Night shelters provided.
Small houses, coops or cages on stilts or raised off the ground are provided
for night-time protection from predators and the weather. These pens should
be well ventilated but openings should be small enough to exclude predators
and vermin. Wire mesh may be used for this purpose. The shelter should be at
least 60 cm high and roosts should be provided in the shelter.
III. Enclosed yard and night
shelter. The night shelter would be as in No. (II). Kitchen and garden waste
and water could be provided in the yard which would be designed to exclude
goats, pigs and other animals but would allow the poultry to roam freely.
b) Backyard flocks with
night shelter. Yarded or backyard flocks are confined to a large or small
fenced area where they receive more care and shelter. These may be flocks of
mixed age and sex but might also be groups of chickens raised for meat
(broilers) or hens kept for egg production. The owner may allow other birds
to scavenge outside the yard.
I. Partial scavenging. The
fenced area may enclose fruit or vegetable gardens or a field where the
confined birds scavenge for some of their feed. Water is supplied. Fresh feed
in the form of garden or kitchen waste, cultivated or wild plants, seeds,
industrial feed waste etc. may be given free choice, with the residue removed
each day to be fed to pigs, goats etc. Grain or other dried feed with or
without concentrate or commercial feed may also be provided.
For laying hens a darkened,
raised nesting area with nests containing clean nesting material should be
available. Nests can be in the fenced area or in the shelter. The entrance to
the nests should be through a covered passageway or tunnel in front of the
nests. If the nests are in the shelter the back of the nests should be
covered but may be made to open from the outside of the shelter for egg
collection. Hens will lay many more eggs if artificial light is available in
the morning and evening to give 15 to 16 hours of light each day. If most of
the extra light is given in morning (starting at 0300 hr.) many of the
chickens will lay before noon. Extra light should also be given in the
evening when days start to shorten so that total hours of light do not become
II. All feed provided. Flocks
may be confined to a large or small yard with shade trees and a shelter. No
feed is available other than that provided as fresh or dry feed.
c) Pens or cages. Chickens
may be confined to pens or cages for their entire life, or in the case of
layers when they approach laying age. Owners may hatch and raise their own
replacements or buy eggs from their neighbors to hatch under hens or in an
incubator. They can buy chicks from a hatchery or chicks or older birds from
I. Cages. Satisfactory cages
can be hand made from small sticks or sticks split in half or quarter, or
from split bamboo strips 1 cm wide. There should be a 1 to 2 cm space between
floor slats and floor slats should be outside (round side) up. The floor
slats are supported on large (5 to 8 cm dia) straight poles spaced 10 to 20 cm
apart carried by a wooden frame or posts set in the ground. Spaces between
slats may be wider on the sides and top. The sides, top and door can be tied
or fastened to form a grid or lattice or woven. Water and feed troughs can be
made from boards, or if available 5 to 12 cm diameter bamboo poles. Spillage
is reduced if only the top 1/3 of the bamboo is cut out (rather than having
it split in half). The feeder and waterer is usually placed outside the cage.
The opening to the feed and water must be large enough for birds to put their
heads through easily and should be horizontal bars. Fresh forage and other
fresh feed can be placed on a tray inside or outside the cage (residue
removed daily). Housed chickens receiving roughage or fibrous material
require insoluble grit (small hard stones) to grind the fibre. For layers the
floor of the cage can be sloped in the direction of the floor slats to allow
eggs to roll out of the cage to a holding area at the front or back of the
cage (as with commercial wire cages). Since hens prefer a flat floor only a
slight slope is necessary for eggs to roll out.
Cages can be small for 1 to 3
hens or large for up to 8 to 10 hens. Large cages can have roosts and
hide-away nests like small shelters. Cages should be 0.5 to 1.5 m off the
ground. The cages do not have to be in a building. They can be outside.
Outside cages must be covered to provide shelter from rain and sun. If the
cover is metal there should be a wood or cardboard ceiling under the metal,
with air space between, to stop radiant heat reaching the chickens. Cages may
be in a single row or back to back under one roof. Shelter from wind may also
be necessary. Water must always be available. Homemade cages are good for as
few as 3 to 5 hens or for several hundred birds.
II. Traditional buildings.
Round or rectangular clay, or clay and straw, brick walled houses with pole
and wood, metal or thatched roof are suitable for small poultry flocks in
many hot climates. There should be a ventilation and light opening of 0.5 to
1 m between the walls and roof and an opening at the centre or peak for
ventilation. These openings should be screened to prevent the entry of wild
birds and predators. The floor should be raised to prevent flooding. Dried
grass, straw or other material can be used to cover the floor. This type of
building can be used to house laying hens or broilers and can also be used as
a night shelter for chickens that forage or are confined to a yard.
III. Commercial or modified
commercial poultry sheds. Commercial poultry sheds should have a concrete
floor for chickens raised on the floor or a raised wire or slat floor where
the droppings fall through to the ground. The pen should be located in a
well-drained area to prevent flooding. Depending on the climate the sides may
be wire or the lower part may be wood, plastic, concrete or other material if
protection from cold or wind is important. Adequate ventilation is important.
If the roof is metal there should be a ceiling to prevent radiant heat from
striking the chickens. The roof may slope in one direction or have a peak in
the centre. The centre peak may be left open for ventilation and protected
from rain by a raised cover over the opening or one side of the roof raised
above and protruding over the other side.
Commercial broiler sheds have
all plastic or partial plastic sides that can be lowered on hot days or
raised for brooding young chicks to provide extra heat from the brooders and
at night. The sides can also be raised in windy or wet weather.
Laying hens may be kept in
commercial wire cages in open sheds, or in sheds with wire sides to exclude
wild birds and predators.