The South African Poultry Association or SAPA has in place some guidelines that should be followed when it comes to the construction of free-range chicken houses in South Africa. But just like everything else, with a little innovation, you can get better results. This is useful when it comes to the construction of free-range poultry structures.
Over 90% of poultry production in South Africa is still commercial. That means it is reliant on closed structures with cages inside which maximize on spaces and resources available. For free chicken farming in South Africa, it is all about the open space.
If you are planning to produce your eggs or meat in a free-range or even organic way, then you have to invest in free-range chicken houses which should be built in a certain way. The chickens will need to have lots of access to the outside environment. This allows them to be pasture-fed, and to get plenty of sunshine and wind and simply grow freely in an open atmosphere like they used to before the advent of factory farming.
More South African consumers are becoming health-conscious and they are concerned about the source of their chickens and the production cycle that was used. They want to make sure that their favorite poultry is free of chemicals and hormones and that they were reared ethically in the best of conditions. The cost of producing free-range products, be it eggs or meat, is very high in South Africa but the health benefits are equally great. They are increasingly proving quite profitable for many free-range chicken farmers in South Africa as supermarkets such as Woolworths put more premium on free-range based products.
When it comes to housing free range chickens in South Africa, farmers use various standards to construct chicken houses although South African Poultry Association recommends 10 birds per square meter. Some farmers generally house 12-15 birds per square meter. Concrete floors are generally desirable although farmers can use any flooring materials which allow for ease of cleaning.
The right stocking density for your free-range chickens will allow the birds to bring out the normal behavior. Overcrowding of the birds generally leads to an antisocial behavior in the birds. Try to maintain the SAPA standard of 10birds per square meter at the very maximum. The floor space that you allocate for the free birds will exclude the space that you have reserved for egg collection as well as the service area of the poultry house where you carry out various miscellaneous activities such as putting feed in the feeders.
If you have put in place perching or roosting installations in the free-range chicken houses, then you can accommodate up to 12 adult birds per square meter. When providing the perches, allow for up to 15sm per hen. The perches should be such that the hens can grip them without injuring their claws.
Chicken House Ventilation
The open-house designs are generally the more desirable in free-range chicken farming. If the house is closed, mechanical ventilation aid can be added such as fans. Litter should be provided in order to dilute the droppings and keep the house cleaner for a longer duration of time. The litter also allows the birds to dust bathe although this can also be accomplished if the chickens are allowed to roam out and about in the range.
If you will be keeping free-range layers, allow for sufficient nesting areas. These will ensure that the chickens do not lay eggs on the floor. When providing individual nests in the free-range poultry house, add at least a single nest for every 8 chickens. For communal nests, consider having 1 square meter nesting area for every 125 adult hens.
Have a lighting system capable of providing a minimum of 9 hours continuous lighting over 24 hours. The best way is to simply let them out in order to enjoy enough sunshine. Allow at least 8 hours of darkness so that the chickens can rest adequately.
Chicken House Designs
A house should be tall enough so that you can walk through it without any hindrance. Consider a height of at least 7feet. The bottom part can be made of steel while the top up made of wire mesh which is covered with curtains. The steel section should be a mechanical structure which can be raised in order to allow the birds to exit or enter the poultry structure. Check the pictures below of free chicken housing structures in South Africa which you can adapt for your own free range coop.
Additionally, the range area where the chickens graze should be fenced with chicken wire that is at least 2m tall so that they do not stray outside their designated chicken run and are not exposed to other vile predators. There are companies in South Africa which also specialize in the construction of free-range chicken houses. If you are not able to do it yourself, you can contract these in order to assist you with the construction of the best housing structures for your poultry.