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Poultry: Equipment for

ATTRA Alternative Production

A Publication of ATTRA - National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service 1-800-346-9140

By Robert Plamondon This publication describes some of the basic equipment needed for small-scale chicken ocks, espe-
For technical cially ocks on range. Major topics are addressed in detail, including watering and feeding equipment,
questions, contact fencing considerations, and roosting and nesting boxes. References and resources are embedded in
Anne Fanatico, NCAT the narrative.
Agriculture Specialist
2006 NCAT
Introduction Big Dutchman

llowing poultry access to the outdoors
provides challenges not encountered
Contents in indoor production. The roof and SKA
walls of a connement house protect both
Introduction ..................... 1
the equipment and the chickens. With the Gillis Agricultural Systems
Waterers............................. 1
chickens and equipment outdoors, there will
General Issues ................. 1
be new problems from weather, predators,
Types of Watering
Systems .............................. 5 interaction with other livestock, and sheer Waterers
Sources for Piped-
distance. The equipment for an indoor ock
The labor of watering poultry by carrying water in
Water Systems ................. 7 doesnt need to be strong enough for goats
buckets is tremendous and not to be considered in
Types of Waterers ........... 8 to jump on, for example. any up-to-date poultry plant. Watering must be
How Many Waterers? .. 10
Working on a small scale also calls for dif- accomplished by some articial piping system or
Feeders ............................ 10 from spring-fed brooks.
ferent management decisions than modern
Issues With Feeders large-scale operation. You probably wont -- Milo Hastings, The Dollar Hen, 1909, p. 62.
on Range ......................... 11
be adding a pair of diesel backup gen-
Kinds of Feeders ........... 13 The issue of waterers is far more important
erators or drilling new wells just for your
How Many Feeders? .... 16 than people realize. A poorly conceived
pastured chickens, though this is common
Fencing ............................ 16 watering system will stunt or kill your birds
enough in conventional broiler farms. Some
Predator Issues .............. 19 while at the same time consuming an enor-
of the equipment used by the big boys is
Roosts ............................... 20 mous amount of labor. On hot days, a fail-
great for small-scale operations, and some ure in the water supply will start killing
Nest Boxes ...................... 22 isnt. This publication helps you gure out
Types of Nest Box ......... 22
broilers almost at once. A reliable source of
which is which. water is absolutely essential.
Collecting the Eggs ..... 24
Each issue (water, feed, fencing, roosts, and
nest boxes) has a variety of solutions. Some- General Issues
times equally good solutions are almost The water needs to be drinkable to begin
opposite in approach, such as setting up a with, and needs to stay that way once its
pressurized water system vs. having your poured into the vessel that the chickens
chickens drink from a brook. I will try to be drink from. This can present problems on
ATTRANational Sustainable
Agriculture Information Service
clear about which considerations steer you both ends.
is managed by the National Cen- towards one or the other, and which ideas
ter for Appropriate Technology
(NCAT) and is funded under a I have actually tried, and which Ive only Cleanliness
grant from the United States heard about.
Department of Agricultures The chickens themselves are part of the
Rural Business-Cooperative Ser-
vice. Visit the NCAT Web site
Some of the larger manufacturers offer problem. They poop in the water and
( equipment not detailed in this publication. scratch litter into it when given the opportu-
html) for more informa-
tion on our sustainable
Those considering a larger operation might nity. Dont give them the opportunity. Pro-
agriculture projects. nd the following sites useful. Check out: vide some kind of guard to prevent them
from getting where they shouldnt be. Puddles and Wet Spots
Many commercial waterers provide this by
Chickens do not appreciate clean water and
design. Bell waterers, vacuum founts, and
will drink from manure-soaked puddles if it
many other designs have a narrow water
saves them a single step. Thus, one aspect
bowl and a large, roost-proof central dome.
But with other models you may have to roll of providing clean drinking water for your
your own. chickens is to prevent puddles where pos-
sible. Often, these puddles are caused by
Because a chickens crop doesnt have a spillage from the waterers themselves. They
valve at the top, if they have to bend down provide a nasty disease vector, since water-
to drink, some of their crops contents will ers get a lot of trafc and are the ideal spot
run into the water. Yuck! Keep the water- to exchange pathogens. Also, most patho-
ers high enough that the water is above
gens prefer damp environments to dry ones.
crop level. (In poultry publications, this is
So take that spillage seriously.
rather misleadingly called as high as the
chickens backs.)

hickens do
not appre- Source Water Quality
ciate clean Its popular these days to say that you should
water and will never give livestock water that you wouldnt
drink from manure- drink yourself. I dont go that far, since I
soaked puddles if it wont drink from streams myself, but dont
saves them a single mind if my livestock do. But, at a minimum,
step. your water should be as uncontaminated as
springs or creeks ever are.
Obviously, some contaminants are worse
This installation from the 1930s uses a simple wire-
than others. The chickens dont care if the
covered platform to prevent wet spots.
water supply has sand or newts in it, but
arsenic or high bacteria levels are another This is much less of a problem for daily-
story. It wouldnt hurt to get your water move pens or any method which involves
tested, wherever it comes from. It might moving the waterers frequently (unless the
be instructive to make two tests; one lled leakage is really large), because the waterer
at the water source and one lled from a moves and the wet spot dries out before
waterer. If the waterer is loaded with bacte- the pathogens really get established. Its
ria and the source is clean, youll know you an enormous problem inside permanently
have some work to do with the waterers and sited houses. With permanent installations,
distribution system! its a good idea to think about some kind of
drainage system, especially if you can come
Many farmers have reported improved up with one that can handle the total failure
results with low levels of disinfectants in the of an automatic watering system and pre-
drinking water (such as using chlorinated vent the house from ooding.
city water), presumably because the resid-
Many such systems basically involve hav-
ual chlorine kills bacteria in the waterers ing some kind of porch or alcove outside
and prevents transmission from one chicken the chicken house proper, with a wire oor.
to another. Adding chemicals to the water Spilled water thus falls harmlessly outside.
sounds like too much work to me, but it Another system is to have a pit with a drain
drives home the point that waterers can be inside the house. Litter can clog the drain
reservoirs of infection if youre not careful. in the latter case. Keeping litter out can be
Page 2 ATTRA Poultry: Equipment for Alternative Production
tricky, though keeping the area higher than Freezable systems work best in areas where
the litter (and providing access ramps for daytime temperatures are generally above
broilers, who dont hop well) can work. freezing, so the system will thaw and start
working sometime during the day with-
Freezing out any attention from the farmer. This is
my situation. But freezable systems are
Winter is a nasty time for the water supply. useful in any climate, as a way of
People keep telling me that chickens will eat preventing equipment damage if the
snow, and I suppose thats true, if you hap- system freezes up in spite of your best
pen to have snow. But can they eat enough freeze-proong methods.
snow to be highly productive? I doubt it.
There are two basic approaches to dealing Freeze-Proof Systems
with freezing. One is to have a system that To prevent freezing altogether, you need
can freeze solid, but will work again when it some combination of water ow, insulation,
thaws. The other is to prevent freezing. or heat. One method is to put your water-
ers in a house that never drops below freez-
ing inside, and supply it from buried pipes.

Freezable Water Systems
Or you can use heating tape to prevent the reezable sys-
I have seen plastic pans split from freezing,
system from freezing, even in a cold house. tems work
but not galvanized ones. A simple freezable
If you cant use outdoor piping, a reservoir best in areas
watering system consists of two sets of gal-
inside a warm house could provide water.
vanized pans or (for full-sized birds) buck- where daytime tem-
ets. You take warm water out to the chick- It is not very difficult to build chicken peratures are gener-
ens in one set, and bring the other set back houses that never fall below freezing, pro- ally above freezing,
home with you, allowing whatever ice is at vided that they have an insulated roof and
so the system will
the bottom to thaw before its time to water controlled ventilation. Normal stocking den-
sities will ensure that the hens themselves thaw and start work-
the chickens again. This is simple, reliable,
and far too much work! But its the tradi- provide most or all of the needed heat, and ing sometime during
tional if all else fails backup system. the deep-litter system will generate more the day without any
through composting. However, this works attention from the
Freezing is a nuisance for all types of auto- best with relatively large ocks; its much farmer.
matic waterers, but it is especially hard on easier to get this effect with ve hundred
low-pressure waterers with valve assemblies chickens than with fty. With small ocks,
that are at least partly plastic. These tend to the problem is that a house large enough
split if they freeze solid, resulting in a ood for the farmer to work in comfortably is too
when they thaw. Bell waterers, nipple water- large for the ock to heat. In this case, using
ers, and cup waterers generally fall into electricity to heat the water pipes rather
this category. than the house will be most efcient.
Waterers with all-metal valve assemblies I have used two kinds of heat for watering
tend to survive freeze/thaw cycles without systems: heating tape and bucket heaters.
any ill effects. Heating tape (available at any hardware or
plumbing supply store) is an electric cable
PVC piping tends to split when frozen. I that runs off AC power and is designed
have had excellent results with ordinary to keep pipes from freezing. Make sure
garden hose, which never seems to fail from you buy an outdoor-rated product, even if
mere freezing. I believe the elasticity of the you are using it indoors, because chicken
hose absorbs the swelling in the system as houses are a harsh environment, and follow
it freezes, preventing damage to other com- the instructions. In some cases, such as Lit-
ponents. I have much less experience with tle Giant bowl waterers, the warmed pipes
poly irrigation tubing. So far, the tubing has will heat the valve portion of the waterer
always survived, as have plastic T-ttings, and prevent the system from freezing at this
but plastic ball valves split in hard freezes. critical point. ATTRA Page 3
Bucket heaters (and their smaller cousins, Youll notice that all the above assumes that
birdbath heaters) are immersion heaters you have AC power available. What if you
that go right into the water. These arent dont? Other than the possibility of using
suited to any kind of poultry waterer that kerosene or propane space heaters, I dont
I know of, but they work ne on big pan know of anything very useful. Temporary
waterers like the Little Giant Everfull Bowl freezing can be prevented to some extent
waterer, which is just a galvanized pan with with insulation.
a oat valve. Bucket heaters need to be
grounded to prevent stray voltages that will Continuously owing water can also prevent
keep the chickens from drinking. This is freezing. If you have lots of low-cost water,
no place to use the old extension cord with this is an option. The simplest version is of
the missing ground pin! (More about stray course a brook that runs through an area
voltages later.) the chickens have access to.
These are available from pet supply stores. The alternative to all this is to keep chick-
Personally, I think that the 1,000-watt ens only during the warmer months. This
heaters are ludicrously overpowered, and is practical with pastured broilers, but not
even the 200-watt units are questionable. with hens, because hens must generally
Yes, they have a thermostat to turn them be overwintered.
off before the water gets too hot, but if you
have multiple waterers, the big heaters Too-Hot Water
will overload your wiring. I think a 50-watt
birdbath heater is more appropriate if the If your water is too hot in the summertime,
power is connected all the time. Higher it will prevent the chickens from drinking
wattages only make sense if you supply all they need to keep cool. This will hurt
power intermittently. production and may even lead to deaths.
I know of two effective methods to keep
water cool. One is to shade the areas con-
taining the waterers, so no matter how hot
the water was when it entered the shaded
A birdbath heater, such
area, it will have time to cool down to
as this unit from K&H air temperature by the time it reaches
Manufacturing (www. the chickens., 719-591-
6950), is a simple way of This works even better if the waterers hold
keeping water drinkable a lot of water, because when the valve opens
in buckets and pans.
and lets in a little bit of water to top things
off, it is diluted by the large volume of air-
temperature water already there.
When I dump the water from my hen water-
ers on a sunny day, the incoming water is
I dont approve of using light bulbs under often scalding hot, while the water I just
watererstoo scary. dumped was only lukewarm.
Overhead heat lamps will keep just about The second method is to have the water
any waterer from freezing, and may not be owing continuously, at a high enough rate
too expensive if you put them on a ther- that the feeder hoses cant act as a solar
mostatic switch and keep the waterers in a water heater. In hot climates, this might
place that isnt freezing cold all winter. pay off big, because the chickens will drink
By the way, chickens dont like drinking more water if its cool.
ice-cold water, so taking the chill off will Ive been told that garden hose sometimes
improve production. splits when used in a hot climate. This
Page 4 ATTRA Poultry: Equipment for Alternative Production
hasnt happened to me but I dont live in comfortable environment for chickens, who
a hot climate. are nowhere near as fond of sunlight and
wide-open spaces as you might think.
Stray Voltage Brooks have disadvantages, though. They
I have already mentioned stray voltage in arent always available, are immovable,
the context of bucket heaters. They can also are useless for penned birds, and may be
plague an automatic watering system for no too challenging for broilers, who can be
apparent reason (though it will be related too clumsy to manage even shallow stream
somehow to AC power or electric fencing). banks. They also are prone to ood and
You should suspect stray voltage whenever tend to serve as predator highways.
your chickens arent thriving and theres no If you can deal with these issues, having
apparent reason for it. Try watering them stream-watered poultry can be extremely
with waterers that are lled by hand and satisfying. I used this method for a while,
are nowhere near electric fencing or any- until the coyotes became bolder. But it was
thing metal. If the chickens start to drink great while it lasted.
from these and avoid your regular water-

ers, theres a problemmaybe a mechanical ater-
problem, maybe stray voltage.
ing from
Watering from buckets has its place. Its buck-
I once had stray voltage because I used an place is in the past.
extension cord with a missing ground pin ets has its place. Its
to hook up a bucket heater. The chickens True, watering from buckets has its advan- place is in the past.
would dip their beaks in the water, squawk, tages. Its simple, stone-age technology Piped water is the
and avoid the waterer from then on. with minimal equipment costs and no ne
most important
points to learn. But its unbelievably labor-
Adding a ground fault circuit interrupter labor-saving device
intensive. Not only is lugging water around
(GFCI) did nothing; they dont trip until for your poultry
in buckets the worst possible use of lim-
theres a lot more stray current than was
ited time and energy, it forces you to keep operation.
present at the waterer. Fixing the ground
a ludicrously demanding schedule. If your
circuit worked. The best way to fix the
ground circuit turned out to be using intact chickens run out of water for even a brief
cords and to place a ground rod near the period on hot days, they will be stunted or
waterer. To create a portable ground, I put killedand its not that much better on cool
a metal outlet box on top of a convenient days. You must always return to the chick-
length of galvanized electrical conduit, ens before they run out of water, just so you
which I stick into the earth near my bucket can pour them another drink. On hot days,
heaters. This has worked very well for me. you may have to water the chickens three or
four times a day, which makes poultry keep-
ing even worse than dairying at tying you to
Types of Watering Systems a rigid schedule.
Several general types of watering systems
may be available. The following discus- Buckets are okay as a fallback system
sion addresses comparative advantages and when everything else has failed, but thats
shortcomings of the various systems. about it.

Brooks Water from Pipes

A brook can be the ideal watering system Piped water is the most important labor-sav-
if you happen to have one in a convenient ing device for your poultry operation. The
place. A brook is simple, free, zero-main- chickens never run out of water on hot days;
tenance, self-filling, and self-cleaning. you get to have a life. Its a good deal. In
The water is generally cool, and, given a addition to eliminating buckets from your
few trees or shrubs, it provides a very life and letting you plan your own schedule, ATTRA Page 5
pipe water allows you to run cleanout hoses Because of our mild climate, we just put it
and sprinklers should you desire. on top of the ground. Where it crossed in
front of gates, we used lengths of garden
The disadvantages of piped water systems
hose, which we gure will survive vehicle
are that they cost money and can require trafc better.
considerable maintenance, especially if
theres a problem with the installation (such I like garden hose best because everything
as a low-ow feed well or a brook with lots about it is easy. Also, I know from expe-
of sediment in the water). Long lengths of rience that it survives freeze/thaw cycles
hose freeze easily in cold weather and can (such as they are in Western Oregon)
heat the water very hot in warm weather. very well.

Garden Hose Drip Irrigation Tubing

I have at least a thousand feet of garden Quarter-inch I.D. drip irrigation tubing is
hose supplying water to my hens. okay for some applications. The tubing itself
is inexpensive, exible, and very strong. It
Mostly I buy cheap garden hose on sale can withstand almost any pressure, though

like garden hose (some of it is surprisingly good and has this hardly matters because the fittings
best because lasted ten years; even the worst stuff is good available for it are weak. Its nice for con-
everything for ve). At roughly 15 cents a foot, a thou- necting up hanging waterers and other
about it is easy. sand feet of hose costs $150, which isnt too applications where garden hose is too stiff
bad, in my opinion. Use only metal Y-adap- and bulky.
tors, shut-off valve, and nozzles, because
the plastic ones dont survive freezing or Pressure Regulators
rough handling. Low-pressure waterers require pressure reg-
ulators. Some of them dont work at house-
Poly Tubing hold water pressures, while others break.
Poly tubing is a black-walled plastic pipe The poultry equipment manufacturer GQF,
thats used for all kinds of agricultural out of Savannah, Georgia, sells low-cost reg-
uses. The half-inch tubing is often sold in ulators through its online catalog. These are
the garden section as the feeder pipe for essentially propane regulators with appro-
drip irrigation systems (the branch lines use priate ttings. Our pressure regulators have
smaller, highly exible quarter-inch drip never lasted long, but our low-pressure sys-
tems use brook water and freeze from time
irrigation tubing). Poly tubing is cheaper
to time, which may be hard on them. (www.
than garden hose, but it isnt very exible 912-236-0651).
or convenient to work with. I have a length
of three-quarter-inch tubing running about
1,500 feet to the top of our broiler hill. For Intermediate Cisterns
long feeder pipes like this, poly tubing is One way to get low-pressure water is to
a big win because its cheap. I bought the have a bucket, cistern, or stock tank at
tubing in 300-foot lengths. We connected the right elevation compared to the water-
the lengths with plastic barb or T-ttings, ers. This supply container is tted with a
available anyplace that sells the tubing and oat valve connected to the piped water sys-
at most hardware stores. At every coupling tem. You get the same low-pressure water
between two sections (we used plastic barb you would from any bucket-fed system, but
ttings), use hose clamps to prevent the sec- the f loat valve and piped water keep
tions from separating or leaking. Use hot the bucket topped off at all times, which
water to soften the tubing before forcing eliminates labor.
it over a barb tting. Dishwashing liquid This also provides a reserve water
makes a good lubricant. supply. I like using square four-gallon
Page 6 ATTRA Poultry: Equipment for Alternative Production
buckets because its easy to attach a stan- Otherwise, consider it only if you cant get
dard stock-tank oat valve to one. A gar- piped water from here to there.
den hose supplies water to the oat valve.
A length of drip irrigation tubing or garden Water Sources for Piped-Water
hose connects the waterers to the bottom of Systems
the bucket.
Water for piped systems can come from sev-
eral general sources. The following discus-
Cistern Systems sion focuses on the advantages and disad-
A cistern system is what I call a piped-water vantages of these sources.
system with a central reservoir that you ll
with something other than a pump. Unlike Brooks and Streams
an intermediate cistern, which is kept full
My chickens use water pumped from a
with water from a pipe, a cistern system has
brook. Because I have AC power handy, I
to have water carried to it. On our broiler
use an AC-powered jet pump.
hill, for example, the water system relied on
a stock tank lled from a tank in the back of Brook water tends to carry a lot of sedi-
our pickup truck. A pipe from the bottom of ment, which is hard on both the pump and
the stock tank went to our broiler houses. the waterers. If you can, pump from a quiet
backwater. A ne screen around the foot
The stock tank was at the top of a hill, so the valve helps, if it doesnt clog or restrict the
water owed down the pipes to the broiler ow too much. (I once used a string glove
houses by gravity; we didnt need a pump. as a quick-and-dirty foot-valve screen. It
On at ground, or on ground where the cis- worked great.)
tern is on lower ground than the houses, a
pump would be necessary. To keep sediment out
of the waterers, I use
The advantage of a cistern system is that a Rusco sediment
you dont have to carry water around in filter instead of the A Rusco strainer
buckets, and the chickens can be at any dis- usual cartridge lter. prevents crud from
tance from the ultimate water source. Some- The Rusco strainer is reaching the waterers.
times you just cant run water pipes, such designed specically The ush-out valve at
as when the chickens are on a piece of land for sediment and has the bottom ejects the
accumulated sediment
with no water and no access to any. a ush-out valve so without disassembling
The disadvantage is that you still have to you can get rid of the the strainer.
carry water around (though probably in the crud without taking
back of a truck). In some ways, it combines it apart. And it has
the disadvantages of the bucket system a permanent plastic-
with those of a piped-water system. When screen strainer; you
we used this cistern system, I was particu- never need to buy a new lter cartridge.
larly irked by the time lag between noticing (See or 800-345-1033. Any
pump/irrigation shop ought to have these
that the broilers needed water and getting
in stock.)
it to them. I had to get back to the shop,
empty the pickup, put the water tank in it, My jet pump is an
ll the tank from the brook (which took a inexpensive all-in-
long time), and drive back to the broiler hill one jet pump with a
before the chickens saw a drop of water. I use two of these
power switch, pres- inexpensive, ready-to-
And God help us if the pickup didnt start! sure switch, gage, use jet pumps from
If youre already using a system of stock and pressure tank Harbor Freight Tools.

tanks for your four-footed livestock, a cis- from Harbor Freight

tern system for your poultry will t into Tools (Look for 3/4
your existing workow, and no harm done. HP, 1-in. Cast Iron ATTRA Page 7
Shallow Well Pump. at www.harborfreight. Types of Waterers
com, 805-388-3000). These pumps seem
to be permanently on sale for about $100. Non-Automatic Waterers
Add a foot valve and some piping, and you (buckets, pans, vacuum founts)
have a complete pumping system. I have Us e t he s e for
used three of these pumps and I like them, emergency or sup-
though obviously they cant use the highest- plemental watering
quality components. Theyre so inexpensive only. I particularly
that I keep meaning to buy one as a spare, disl i ke vacuum
though I never have. founts. A bucket
or a galvanized
When I pump from a more remote loca- feed pan has many
tion, where AC power is not available, I use uses, while a vac- I dont like vacuum founts,
a 12V RV diaphragm pump with a built- uum fount doesnt. though theyre okay as
in pressure switch FloJet makes several backup waterers.
models for under $100. (I bought mine from Continuous-
This 12V FloJet pump J.C. Whitney,, 800-603- Flow Troughs
is designed to provide
4383). Shuro makes similar pumps that
water in an RV, but Ive In many ways, the continuous-ow trough
found them useful for are supposed to be at least as good.
all kinds of on-pasture
is the ideal waterer. By having water ow-
water needs. You dont need a pressure tank with these ing through it constantly, the trough is
if you use them with garden hose, which self-cleaning. The water stays cool in sum-
provides enough elasticity to keep the mer and doesnt freeze in winter. It has no
pump from short-cycling. I tried using one moving parts except the valve on the water
with just PVC tubing, which wasnt elastic spigot. Once installed, it can run for years
enough. The pump short-cycled like mad, without attention.
running for a fraction of a second, pausing It takes a lot of water to do this, of course,
for a few seconds, then running again. This and the concept is best-suited to permanent
is annoying and hard on the pump. When installations such as laying houses. Contin-
I added fty feet of garden hose, it would uous troughs can be a pain if you have to
run when water was being used, and shut adjust the height all the time, as you would
off and stay off when it wasnt. for broilers, and getting rid of the waste-
water can be a nuisance. Continuous-ow
Diaphragm pumps are very simple and troughs were very common in connement
easy to work with. I ran mine from an over- houses fty years ago.
the-hill car battery, and it would run the
pump for weeks before discharging. This is Float-Valve Waterers
because chickens dont drink all that much,
Float-valve waterers use the same nine-
so the pump doesnt use much electricity. teenth-century technology as the ll valve
on a toilet. These waterers operate at any
Well Water and City Water pressure, are very difficult to clog with
City water can be used as-is. (If you have algae or sediment, and are freeze-proof if
strong anti-chlorine views, you probably they have metal valve assemblies.
have a carbon lter inline with the water As you would expect from a product with all
supply anyway). If your well water is good these advantages, oat-valve poultry water-
enough for you, its good enough for the ers are hard to nd! GQF sells oat-valve
chickensbut it might have too many par- troughs in 18-inch and 36-inch lengths,
ticulates for the valves in the waterers to and you can also buy just the oat-valve
work reliably. In that case, use a Rusco part for use with your own trough or pan.
strainer, as described above. (, 912-236-0651). Brower
Page 8 ATTRA Poultry: Equipment for Alternative Production
and Kuhl also damage (at least, they can if you use exible
have f loat-valve hose to hook them up with). Like oat-valve
trough waterers. waterers, these work equally well at
(Brower: www. any pressure.,
800-553-1791. The mechanism is not as crud-resistant as a
A oat-valve trough from
Kuh l: www. Brower. (The hose tting at
oat valve, and the waterer includes a ne, the end isnt visible, but its brass screen to protect the valve. If this
908-782-5696.) there.) clogs, the waterer stops working. You need
better water quality for this kind of waterer
A l t h ou g h i ts than with oat-valve waterers.
not a particularly good poultry waterer, I Little Giant bowl
use Little Giant Everfull Bowl Automatic These waterers have been around for more waterer.
Waterer, which is a fancy name for a three- than fty years. The old ones are identical
gallon galvanized feed pan with a float to the new ones. Sometimes you can get a
valve. These are available in feed and pet good deal on old ones.
supply stores everywhere. Theyre rugged I normally screw these waterers onto a foot-
and reliable. However, they have no guard long length of half-inch galvanized pipe.
to keep the chickens off them, and the water The weight of the pipe helps them to hang
tends to be very dirty because of this. straight. At the top of the pipe I put a barb
I use them because theyre available at my tting for whatever kind of hose or tubing
local feed store, so I can always get one in a Im using to hook it up. You can also get
hurry, and because my sheep and goats can brackets for attaching these waterers to
drink from them, too. Also, these waterers the wall.
are practically the only ones big enough to
Always use two pairs of pliers when adust-
hold a bucket heater.
ing the two nuts that control the water level
in the bowl. They will work loose if you
dont. Similarly, you should screw the bowl
tightly onto the stem, or it will eventually
fall off, ooding the whole area.

Bell Waterers
Bell waterers are all-plastic hanging water-
The Little Giant Everfull A homemade slotted pan ers, similar in concept to the bowl waterer.
Bowl tends to get fouled cover, like the one from Because they are all-plastic, they may not
by the chickens poop- the 1930s shown above, withstand household water pressures and
ing in it, but is rugged, would keep the chick- can crack if frozen solid.
reliable, and available ens from perching on the
everywhere. waterer. Bell waterers are very popular, though.
They are big and provide a lot more drink-
Bowl Waterers (Little Giant) ing space than most other waterers. They
can be used with chicks and full-sized
These are my favorite waterers for use
birds. Theyre inexpensive. They tend to
indoors or with pasture pens. Unlike most
come with handy mounting kits that make it A Plasson bell waterer
of the oat-valve waterers discussed so far,
easy to do a professional job when hanging
these can be lowered almost to oor level
them from the roof joists.
so little chicks can use them, and they
are more compact and adjustable than They work very well if you lter the water,
oat-valve waterers. You can buy them in protect them from freezing, and keep the
any feed store. Though the water bowl is pressure within specication (which varies
plastic, the working parts are brass, and according to manufacturer, but ve pounds
these waterers can freeze solid without per square inch is common). ATTRA Page 9
Many different manufacturers make bell water. Instead of a oat valve, they have
waterers: Plasson, Kuhl, and others. a yellow trigger arm that lets water in
when the chickens peck at it. It takes the
Nipple Waterers chickens zero time to gure out how to use
these waterers.
Nipple waterers are standard now in the
connement industry. They are very sim- I like these better than nipple waterers,
ple, with a stainless steel trigger stick- though I wouldnt use them where litter
ing straight down from the bottom of the might get into them, because I wouldnt want
waterer. When a chicken pecks at the trig- to be cleaning them all the time. These are
Nipple waterer ger, a drop of water rolls down and into the great waterers for brooder or hospital cages.
chickens mouth. (, 912-234-9978.)
Because they have no bowl, theres noth-
ing to clean. The trigger is self-cleaning How Many Waterers?
because its washed by the water rolling Hav i ng enough
down it. waterers is crucial.
Its best to have

Installing nipple waterers is easy; there
irds natu- more than you need,
are kits for gluing adapters to PVC
rally tilt because they fail
pipe. Many installations use a weird
sometimes. Every
their heads kind of PVC pipe with a square cross-
group of chickens
up to drink, so nip- section; others use ordinary half-inch
should have a mini-
ple drinkers have a PVC pipe.
mum of two water-
behavioral Nipple waterers must be set at the cor- ers. When using the
advantage. rect heighthigh enough for the chickens traditional pasture
to peck upwards at them. They are also pen with a bucket of Cup waterer
nicky about water pressure and are not water on top, there
freeze-proof. should be two buck-
ets as well as two waterers. Also, if the
I dont like nipple waterers for small-farm
chickens ever run out of water, you can limit
work. The payoff is not enough to outweigh
the mob scene when the water returns by
persnickity height requirements and pres-
having space for all the chickens to drink
sure adjustments.
at once.
Nipple waterers leak sometimes, especially
(Hint: if the water runs out, put out some
if your water quality isnt perfect. You need
pans of water temporarily to reduce ghting.)
more ltering to prevent this. Like other
waterers, its best to use nipple waterers The following table gives the amount
in an environment where wetness under of waterer space recommended for hens
the water doesnt translate to wet litter or and broilers:
wet chickens.
FarmTek has a line Number of Chickens Per Waterer
of nipple waterers Type 8-foot Troughs Bell or Bowl Cups or Nipples
and accessories. Layers 200 25 8
(, Broilers 200 60 9
Waterer recommendations from North & Bells Commercial Chicken Production
Cup Waterers
GQF has a good line of low-pressure water- Feeders
ing cups. Cup waterers have tiny bowls When I collect eggs, I start by scattering a
that hold only a couple of tablespoons of bucketful of whole wheat on the pasture for

Page 10 ATTRA Poultry: Equipment for Alternative Production

the hens. The same pasture has four huge it with straw or some other familiar
range feeders that hold six hundred pounds footing.
of feed each. Why use feeders at all if you Hot sun, heavy rain, and strong
can just scatter feed on the ground? Why winds will keep the chickens
scatter feed on the ground when you have indoors.
these nice feeders?
It surprises people that chickens arent big
Feeders arent necessary for feeds with a fans of sunshine in hot weather, but its
large particle size, that wont dissolve in true. In warm sunny weather, they will do
moderate wetness, and when you have a most of their foraging and feeding early in
place thats not too wet or lthy where you the morning and late in the afternoon. With
can scatter the feed. hens, this twice-a-day feeding is okay, and
But, realistically, scattering feed on the all your feeders can be outside. Broilers,
ground is best left for whole or coarsely though, need to eat more often than this.
cracked grain fed in small enough amounts Accessibility
that the chickens eat it quickly. That way, all

the grain is actually eaten by the chickens. Snow, ice, and mud may make it difcult
he rule of
If you feed too much, wild birds and rodents to bring feed to the outdoor feeders. I live
in Western Oregon, which has a very mild thumb is to
will get a lot of it, or it may spoil. Feeders
keep the feed clean, dry, and unspoiled. climate, but once in a while we have snow keep the feed
on the ground for a week or two. This hap- pan at the level of
Scattering scratch feed helps make the hens pened to us a couple of years ago. Our hen- the chickens backs,
friendlier, and they come running out for houses were scattered all over the farm, and and to ll the feed
the treat, giving you a good look at them. the labor required to pull feed from house
This is especially useful at egg-collect- pans no more than
to house in a childs toboggan was inde-
ing time, since the hens who were loitering one-third full.
scribable. Outdoor feeding has its place,
around the nests get out of your way. Also, but its place wasnt then and there!
it helps identify sick hens who cant work up
any enthusiasm for a treat, and stay in the Similarly, our two-wheel-drive pickup is con-
chicken house instead. venient for moving feed in the dry months,
but we cant take it onto the pasture during
Issues With Feeders on Range the wet season. Outdoor feeding may have
to be seasonal, or you may need to keep the
Weather chickens closer to home during the winter to
shorten travel distances.
Obviously, outdoor feeders are subjected
to more weather than indoor feeders, and
this can lead to trouble. In fact, the feeders Wastage
dont actually have to be outdoors to have Feed is easily wasted from shallow feeders
these problemsmany pasture pens and or from deep feeders that are overlled.
range houses let in enough weather for the Chickens will scatter feed in all directions,
same issues to apply: but wont eat the dropped feed unless its
relatively clean. If the feed is in large par-
Feed with a small particle size can
ticles (pellets, whole grains), more feed will
blow away in a strong wind.
be picked up off the ground.
Wet feed will ferment and mold.
The rule of thumb is to keep the feed pan at
Frozen or snow-covered feed is the level of the chickens backs, and to ll
unavailable to the chickens. the feed pans no more than one-third full.
Chickens dont like walking on The latter rule is hard to follow with a lot
snow, and may refuse to go outside of equipment, which is sized for chicks, not
unless you shovel the snow or cover full-sized birds. More about that later. ATTRA Page 11
Wastage also happens when nely ground a little framing, and a pair of skids would
feed blows away in the wind, or when feed give a feed area sixteen feet square. I leave
gets wet. Chickens like wet feed, but if more the issues of adding a gate and even a roof
wet feed is put in front of them than they to you.
can eat, it goes bad quickly, especially in
Another way of excluding larger livestock is
hot weather. with some kind of barrier on the feeder. A
Thus, feeders with a deep pan, kept only chicken can easily reach its head and neck
one-third full of large-particle feed, with through a two-inch gap, but four-footed
some kind of shield or roof overhead to livestock cant. An arrangement of slats
keep the rain off, provide the recipe for low or strips of welded-wire fencing can keep
feed wastage. out other livestock, but the feeder must be
heavy or rigidly attached to something that
The other method is to feed only as much is, or the livestock might push it over.
as the chickens will eat at once. This
minimizes wastage, but tends to result I toyed briey with electrifying feeders. I
in underfeeding. had a tall metal trough feeder that stood
on legs about 18-inches high. Hens would

Keeping Other Livestock Out hop up to the perches on the sides of the
cows, feeder and eat. I put each leg in a ve-gal-
Horses, cows, sheep, goats, and pigs all lon bucket by way of insulation, and hooked
love chicken feed. They should be excluded the metal feeder up to an electric fence.
goats, and pigs all for a variety of reasons. Giving free-choice The hens didnt care (they were up off the
love chicken feed. chicken feed to ruminants isnt good for ground, just like a bird on a high-tension
They should be them, and you cant afford it, anyway. wire, which is what gave me the idea), but
excluded for a vari- Excluding other livestock can be diffi- the goats really hated that feeder. But I gave
ety of reasons. cult. Goats will jump perimeter fences, up on the concept because I kept shocking
while sheep will often just plow right myself on it.
through. More about this in the section on
electric fencing. Vermin Problems
James Drydens classic Poultry Breeding Outdoor feeders attract mice, rats, wild
and Management (Orange Judd Publish- birds, raccoons, and other freeloaders.
ing, 1916) shows a chicken feeding area My biggest problems to date come from rats.
surrounded by a portable corral made of To keep the area around my range feeders
boards and mounted on skids. mud-free, I put them up on wooden pallets.
This worked so well that I stopped moving
the feeders every time I relled them. Soon
the area under the pallets was swarming
The cattle in the upper with rats. It was disgusting.
photo are kept out of
the feed through the
I discarded the pallets and resumed my
simple corral shown in practice of moving the feeders every time
the lower photo. The I relled themand I moved them a lot
corral presents no further than before. This exposed the tun-
barrier to the
nels under the feeders every time they were
chickens. The farmer
enters through a gate. moved, and forced rats to trek to a new loca-
tion and dig again each time. There must
have been some kind of predator waiting,
because it wasnt long before I didnt see
rats anymore.
Ive noticed that full-grown chickens can
walk right through the mesh in lightweight Rats are the main reason why I dont like
galvanized cattle panels. Four such panels, putting feeders in range houses unless they
Page 12 ATTRA Poultry: Equipment for Alternative Production
are moved frequently. This isnt a prob- inches deep. Thats a great size when feed-
lem with daily-move pens, but I only move ing full-sized birds.
my henhouses a few times a year. Feed
As mentioned before, the top of the trough
would be a rat magnet. (Im told that this is
should be even with the chickens backs. If
especially bad with houses with wooden
the height isnt adjustable, you end up hav-
oors. The area between the oor and the
ing to keep several sets of troughs for birds
ground, like the area under my pallets, is
of different ages. To some extent you need to
a safe haven for rats. If the feed is in out-
do this anyway, because a pan deep enough
door feeders, the rats are always at risk
to prevent feed waste with larger birds is too
from owls.)
deep for chicks.

Kinds of Feeders Traditionally, chicken troughs have some

kind of guard, reel, or wire across the top
There are rea l ly only three k inds
to keep the chickens from perching on the
of feeders: troughs or dust-bathing in them. These
1. No feeder (feeding on the ground, arent strictly necessary, but they help.
which we have already discussed). They tend to make filling the trough a

2. Troughs and other kinds of shallow nuisance, though. ou can put
pans. Troughs are often built with an inward-fac- just about
3. Hopper-type feeders with a feed ing lip at the top to help keep the chick- any kind of
reserve that empties into a pan. ens from ipping feed out, and may have feed into a trough,
Examples are tube feeders and a grille, like the one shown earlier on the including liquids. A
range feeders. Brower trough waterer, which both reduces trough is the univer-
wastage and helps prevent feed loss.
There are also automatic feeders that use sal feeder.
an electric motor to run an augur or chain
to move feed around, but I dont think these
are practical for outdoor use.

The simple trough feeder is poorly under-
stood by modern farmers. Hopper-type
feeders are so common that people have for-
gotten what trough feeders are about.
The advantage of a trough is that, when
it comes right down to it, its just a pan A traditional wooden hen trough.
that you pour feed into. Nothing could
be simpler. Types of Troughs
You can put just about any kind of feed into Commercial troughs are generally made
a trough, including liquids. A trough is the out of galvanized steel or plastic. As I have
universal feeder. Because of this, it should already mentioned, I dont know of any
be easy to clean! commercial troughs that are big enough for
full-sized chickens.
Troughs need to hold enough feed to get the
The best materials for home-made troughs
chickens from one feeding to another with-
are wood or large-diameter PVC pipe.
out running empty (or just barely running
empty). Most troughs on the market are Wooden troughs are easy to make but are
too shallow and too narrow for this. I cant heavy. My experience is that non-galvanized
imagine what the manufacturers are think- nails dont have enough holding power. In
ing. I have some ancient hen troughs that fact, if I were to build any more wooden
are eight feet long, ten inches wide, and six troughs, Id use screws instead. ATTRA Page 13
There are any number of wooden trough Attach chains (or ropes, or baling
designs, some quite strange. Most dont twine) to the eyebolts and hang the
have any kind of rain shield, which is ne if trough.
the trough is used for supplemental feeding, My only real concern about this design is
but is a problem if you want to use it to keep that a long trough might sag in the middle.
feed in front of the chickens all the time.
Maybe you get extra credit if you dont
My favorite rain shield for a wooden trough simply glue caps on the end, but glue on
is single sheet of corrugated roong, laid threaded adaptors and have screw-on end
at. The water will drip off whichever end caps. That way, you can unscrew the ends
is lowest, and the sheet is wide enough and hose out the trough more easily.
to give some shelter to the chickens. The
roof should have some means of attaching One nal note: it used to be fairly com-
it securely to the trough, which should be mon for poultry houses to have feed troughs
heavy enough to keep everything from blow- attached on the outside of the houses, even
ing away in strong winds. though the chickens were inside. A length of
two-inch by four-inch welded wire allowed
the chickens to reach the troughs from
This range feeder from
90 years ago uses slats to
inside the houses. The advantage of this
keep the chickens from system is that the farmer can ll the trough
dust-bathing inside. without going inside the house. This is worth
The use of a plank roof considering if youre tired of removing and
instead of something replacing the feeders in your pasture pens
more weatherproof tells
you that this farm was in with each daily move. Its the same concept
California. as nest boxes that are accessible from the
outside, but applied to feeders.
A traditional range
feeder from the 1930s.
The roof lifts o for Hoppers
relling. Internal par- Hoppers are just a feed bin that empties
titions allow dierent
kinds of feed to be used.
into a trough or pan. Tube feeders are
Note that rats will take like that.
up residence under the
wire platform unless the The point of hoppers is that you dont have
feeder is moved between to ll them as often as troughs. They might
llings. hold feed for a day or for a month. Argu-
ably, the sweet spot is when they hold at
least a weeks worth of feed, so you can ll
Troughs made from PVC pipe are the com- the feeders on Saturday and have only light
ing thing. I havent built any myself, and chores the rest of the week.
I havent gured out all the mechanical
issues. The basic concept for a trough that Managing feed hoppers is practically the
youre going to hang from chains at either same as troughs. The differences are:
end is: Feed ows differently depending on
Take a length of large-diameter PVC its particle size and weight. A tube
pipe (most people use 4-inch pipe, feeder that does great with feed pel-
which may be too small) and glue lets might leave most of the feed on
caps to both ends. the ground if lled with light oats.
Most hoppers have some way of
Remove about one-third of the adjusting the opening between the
diameter of the pipe, starting a little reservoir and the pan. Getting this
way past the cap. right can be a nuisance. Lightweight
Add eyebolts to hang the trough feeds need a much narrower open-
from. ing than heavier ones.
Page 14 ATTRA Poultry: Equipment for Alternative Production
Theres more feed in a hopper. This of rainfall, mostly in the winter, and I have
means that any kind of accident is this problem only when theres a problem
more expensive. with the lid or rain shield on a range feeder.
The feed is around longer. An So its not black and white; the devil is in
amount of rain and condensation the details, as usual.
that wouldnt matter in a trough It may be easier to get good results with a
thats emptied twice a day might range feeder sitting out in the weather than
lead to a serious mold problem with with a tube feeder in a pasture pen. It can
a hopper that holds a weeks feed. get pretty damp in a pasture pen, and the
The hopper is heavier. If suspended lack of lids and rain shields on tube feeders
from a chicken house, it can strain can be a real liability.
the structureor your back.
Types of Hopper
These days, you basically have your choice
of tube feeders and range feeders, both of
which have a round feed pan on the bottom

and a cylindrical feed reservoir on top. The range
difference between the two is that a range feeder
feeder sits on the ground and has a lid and sits on the
rain shield to keep the weather out, while a ground and has a
tube feeder is suspended from above and lid and rain shield
lacks the weather protection.
to keep the weather
In the old days there were many different out, while a tube
rectangular hoppers, all of which looked feeder is suspended
more or less like hog feeders or creep feeders.
from above and
My local feed stores have two kinds of tube lacks the weather
feeders; smaller ones for chicks and larger protection.
ones for older birds. The smaller ones hold
A tarp-covered cattle panel provides shade for ten to fifteen pounds of feed, while the
two ancient galvanized range feeders on my
larger ones hold roughly thirty pounds of
farm. Note the waterproof lid and rain shield.
Modern versions are generally made of plastic, feed. So it takes two of the larger feeders to
but look pretty much the same. hold a fty-pound sack of feed.
The issues with pan height are the same
as with troughs. Height is easy to adjust
with hanging tube feeders. Range feeders
are generally non-adjustable. Mine are Big
Dutchman turkey feeders that are probably
fty years old. They work ne with hens
and older pullets. In fact, smaller pullets
do okay, too, since they climb right into the
feed pan to eat.
Pan fullness issues are also the same as
Tube feeders in a cattle-panel hoophouse. with troughs. As already described, most
of the larger hoppers have some kind of
adjustment (though tube feeders for chicks
In Pastured Poultry Profits, Joel Sala- may not).
tin reports poor results with tube feeders,
because the feed gets wet and refuses to I dont know if anyone still makes steel
ow. I live in an area with over 60 inches range feeders. What I see in the catalogs ATTRA Page 15
are plastic range feeders from Kuhl, which need to provide enough feeder space that
Ive heard good things about but havent all the chickens can eat at the same time
used myself. Im very pleased with the dura- (or scatter some of the feed on the ground
bility of my antique steel range feeders. I to prevent pile-ups). Otherwise follow the
can back my pickup too far and whack them guidelines in the following table:
with my tailgate, and
they dont care. The Number of Chickens per Feeder
plastic ones probably 8-foot Troughs Range Feeders Tube Feeders
require more TLC. Layers 50 50 15
The ideal size for a Broilers 66 66 33
large range feeder is Recommendations from North & Bells Commercial Chicken Production Manual.
one where you can
stand on the tailgate of a pickup and tip The table species a lot more feeder space
feed sacks into the feeder. If you have to than most farmers provide. Lack of feeder
hoist the sacks so you can pour them into space causes subtle problems, where the
the feeder, its too tall. Also, you want the weaker or more timid chickens are excluded

range feeder to be short enough that you from the feeders by their more aggressive
he ock is
dont have to climb inside to remove caked ockmates. The ock is healthier, more uni-
healthier, feed from the bottom. form, and more productive if theres plenty
more uni- of feeder space.
On a big farm, youd want to invest in a feed
form, and more pro- wagon with (for example) a power take off-
ductive if theres driven feed augur. Then you could use bulk Fencing
plenty of feeder rather than bagged feed. I knew a farmer Chickens were rarely fenced in the old days;
space. who did this. He used an elderly grain it would have kept them from foraging,
wagon, which was a trailer used originally which was their sole source of feed. In those
as a way of shuttling grain between a com- far-off days, pigs and chickens roamed the
bine and the granary. It held a ton or two streets, and you would fence areas to keep
of feed. The PTO-driven augur would send livestock out, not in.
the feed up a tube that looked like a length
Eventually, poultry keepings focus shifted
of stovepipe and was mounted so it could be
from scavenger chickens to chickens that
positioned where you wanted it.
are actually fed real feed, and where forag-
He would hitch the grain wagon to his trac- ing is less important.
tor, back it under his free-standing outdoor
Later, increasing environmental conscious-
grain bin, ll it, and then tow it to each
ness caused governments to stop paying a
range feeder in turn, positioning the feed
bounty on everything that moved, and pred-
tube over the top of the feeder and engag-
ator populations soared. A hundred years
ing the PTO to start the ow of feed into the
ago, the most serious predator was human
range feeder. He got all of this equipment
chicken thieves, because the predatory
(grain bin, grain wagon, and range feeders)
animals were practically extinct. Now the
at a nominal price because it was consid-
animal predators have multiplied enor-
ered obsolete or too small for modern farm-
mously, and theyre hungry.
ing. His outdoor feed bin was lled directly
from the feed mills bulk feed truck, which So for todays poultry keeper, fencing is
had its own feed-augur rig. mostly to keep predators out, and only
partly to keep chickens in. On many farms,
How Many Feeders? theres no need to keep chickens in at all,
because sheer distance takes care of that.
As with waterers, the amount of feeder space
you need depends partly on how likely the Do electric fences work with chickens? Yes,
chickens are to run out of feed. If you ever they do. Although chickens arent easily
let them run out of feed on purpose, you zapped by fences, because their feathers

Page 16 ATTRA Poultry: Equipment for Alternative Production

are good insulators, they dont like getting I recommend using two wires everywhere
zapped and will avoid electric fences. except where you drive onto the pasture,
where you should see if you can get away
There are two kinds of electric fence used
with a single wire. You can drive over a one-
for chickens. One is a simple one- or two-
wire fence without bothering to turn it off.
wire fence, and the other is electronetting.
Dont make the wire too tight when you rst
One- and Two-Wire Electric Fences install it. With several feet of slack, you can
bow the fence in one direction or the other
The oldest kind of electric chicken fence
and mow along the line where it used to be.
is a single wire about ve inches off the Tensioning the fence is just a matter of pull-
ground, or a pair of wires, one at ve inches ing up a step-in fencepost and moving it
and another at ten inches. Ive seen sev- out of line far enough that the fence
eral references to such fences from sources becomes tight.
between 1950 and 1960, but the practice
was largely forgotten when commercial poul- Buy lots of fenceposts. Buy them by the
try went to 100 percent connement. How- case. Anywhere the ground is uneven
and the wire touches the ground, put in

ever, these simple low fences are still com-
another post. Otherwise, you have to raise he oldest
mon to keep raccoons out of sweet corn.
the fence too high, and predators will kind of elec-
squeeze underneath. tric chicken
Do these low fences really work? They do! fence is a single wire
My dog is terried of them. I once watched about ve inches o
a coyote chase a hen that was outside the the ground, or a pair
fence. The hen raced past the fence, but of wires, one at ve
the coyote stopped so fast that I swear I inches and another
heard tires squeal. Even in the heat of the
at ten inches.
chase, there was no way he was going near
that fence!
Raccoons arent afraid of fences the way
dogs and coyotes are, and apparently will
prowl around them looking for a way to
Hens conned by a single electric fence wire. squeeze through without touching the wire.
And if the voltage drops, theyll be inside.
I have two extensive fences of this kind,
each enclosing several acres. They are Ive had trouble with bobcats going over the
very inexpensive. I put lightweight T-posts wire, but Im not sure that even a high fence
at the corners and use step-in fence posts would deter them.
everywhere else (I also have some ber- The behavior of the chickens themselves is
glass fence posts, but the step-in posts worth noting here. Chickens usually dont
are better). Use doughnut insulators at realize that they ought to y over things they
the corners; snap-on T-post insulators will can see through, so they rarely y over one
pull off. of these fences. They dont like the fences,
I use aluminum fence wire because its but if it starts getting dark and theyre out-
side the fence, theyll go right through it to
highly visible and easy to work with. Poly-
get home.
wire (plastic rope with stainless steel con-
ductors woven in) also works, but its not A panicky chicken will pop right through
as easy to work with, and it sags more. Its this kind of fence. This means that a fox in
stronger, though, which sometimes matters the henyard will scatter the ock to the four
if youre trying to keep sheep or pigs from winds and will only kill one or two. With
stampeding through your fences. ordinary chicken-wire fences, the chickens ATTRA Page 17
end up with their heads stuck through the else. Garden netting is great in this regard
mesh and are easy pickings. Electronetting because you can step over it.
has a similar problem, though the electri-
My favorite use of electronetting is to sur-
ed chickens are less fun for the fox.
round a pasture house when I put pullet
chicks out on pasture. There are preda-
Electronetting tors that will kill six-week-old pullet chicks
Electronetting is basically a net made of that wont attack a full-grown hen, and the
polywire. It comes in different heights, from extra protection is worth it. Hens also like
garden fencing thats 16 to 18 inches high, to bully half-grown chicks, and this keeps
up to 48 inches or more. them away. Garden netting is adequate
for this.
Lots of people make electronetting. My
wife Karen swears by Premier (www., 800-282-6631).

Permanent Perimeter Fencing

ting is a bet- I have no experience with permanent, high-
ter barrier to tension wire fencing. Such a fence, if elec-
fence-wise preda- tried, should be very effective (make it
tors. Electronetting.
taller if its near a busy road). The heavy
galvanized wires should prove very tough,
Why use electronetting? Remember, the so using a weed-whacker to keep the bottom
more tightly you fence your chickens, the wire clear should be safe and easy.
better the fencing has to be. If you enclose My farm has an old, decrepit perimeter
multiple acres, a one-wire fence will contain fence using eld fencing with a couple of
your chickens. If you enclose just a small strands of barbed wire at the top. Where
area, such a fence may not hold them. this is intact, it holds the chickens in quite
Similarly, electronetting is a better bar- well, because the mesh at the bottom of the
rier to fence-wise predators. On our broiler eld fencing is tight enough to keep them
hill, we switched from a two-wire fence to from squeezing through. The whole fence
electronetting when predators were some- is only about 48 inches tall, and if I had
how getting past the two-wire fence. Maybe poultry pens right up against the fence,
a coyote had learned to jump the wires; I Id want it to be taller. Instead, I keep
dont know. my chicken houses some distance back,
inside a two-wire electric fence. This seems
The taller lengths of electronetting are also adequate for our gravel country road. If I were
better at keeping out your other livestock on a highway, Id want better fences or
(such as goats) than a low fence. more distance.
Electronetting isnt a panacea. It shorts
out easily against the grass, and raccoons Fence Energizers
and other predators will squeeze under the If you have the choice, use the most pow-
fence if there are any gaps. If you leave the erful AC energizer you can get your hands
fence in one place for any length of time, on, preferably one with a built-in voltmeter.
the grass will grow up around the bottom A wire 5 inches off the ground will con-
strand, and it will be difcult to remove. Its stantly be shorted out by grass, molehills,
also quite expensive. and such, and the fence wont have any zap
My main gripe about full-height electronet- to it unless you use a powerful charger. I
ting is, Wheres the gate? Its as much a like the Parmak Super Energizer 3 (www.
barrier for the farmer as it is for anything is almost frighteningly
Page 18 ATTRA Poultry: Equipment for Alternative Production
powerfuluntil you Grounds
hook it up to a pasture
A good ground is half the battle. Netting
fence, which robs it of
with alternating hot and ground wires makes
much of its strength.
this less of a problem. Pounding in ground
The Maxi-Power Mark
6 is also good, but not rods along your permanent fence line is a
as powerful. good idea. Premier sells galvanized T-posts,
which might be handy. I keep meaning to
If you must use a bat- try them. Ordinary T-posts are supposed to
tery-powered unit, the provide a terrible ground.
Parmak Magnum 12 The Parmak Super
isnt bad, but I dont Energizer 3. Note the The instructions that come with fence ener-
think it has anywhere prominent voltmeter. gizers are usually quite thorough in what
near the power of the you need to do to get the most out of the
Super Energizer 3. All of the Parmak mod- product in terms of grounding and wiring.
els Ive mentioned have built-in voltmeters. Follow the instructions and you wont go
far wrong.
My wife, Karen, likes Premier energizers,

and I think theyre good units, but I wont good elec-
use an energizer that doesnt have a built- Predator Issues
in meter. If theres a meter, Ill glance at it
frequently, and will often see trouble devel-
Baiting Fences ground is
oping before its too bad. Without a built-in A method to discourage predators is known half the battle.
meter, I dont notice anything is wrong until as fence baiting. Take a predator-killed or
predators start killing my chickens. naturally deceased chicken and lash them
to hot wires on the fence. This teaches pred-
Hand-held meters do the same job, and they ators that chicken tastes even worse than
work ne, but I nd that I dont use them
porcupines, toads, and skunks. I like to put
consistently. Maybe youre more methodical
bait at the point where I guess the predator
and theyll work for you.
enters the eld. Anything that slows them
A solar energizer is just a battery-powered down is likely to zap them.
energizer with a solar panel. I like solar
energizers, but the presence or absence of Traps and Fences
the solar panel is not that important in this
application. The reason is that the high load Unbaited leg-hold traps are recommended
on the energizer is likely to be more than by Joel Salatin and others for catching
the solar panel can provide, so you will predators that attack broilers in pasture
need to be prepared to swap batteries in pens, but in an unfenced eld they might
any case. You still need to monitor the volt- catch anythingyour dog, the sheep, any-
age and be prepared to swap or recharge thing. Using them inside the perimeter fence
batteries as soon as the fence becomes should catch nothing but predators that
less effective. sneak past the fence (assuming the chickens
in the pasture pens cant escape). Predators
Regular AC energizers are probably used tend to circle the houses before deciding
less often than they could be. Its not very where to strike. See Pastured Poultry Prots
hard to run a couple of thousand feet for details. This has never worked for us,
of feeder wire over the top of your exist- but maybe youll be luckier. We have had
ing perimeter fences, and it offers a more better luck with live traps, but the results
reliable setup. To get past gates, I like to are still uncertain.
attach poles a few feet on either side of the
gate, and run my wire overhead. You can
run heavily insulated feeder wires under- Electried Houses
ground if you want to, but that seems like My original use of electric fence wire was
too much work to me. on the individual houses themselves. My ATTRA Page 19
pasture houses are mounted on skids, them for me. He has access to some spe-
and have a low front which the hens hop cialized trapping equipment, is very skilled
to the top of when entering and leaving the at using game calls to lure predators into
house. Predators climb rather than hop, so shooting distance, and knows where to set
fence wire along the front of the house and snares so they will catch predators and not
between the skids should keep them out. every other kind of wildlife.
This works pretty well, actually, but I The program depends on local matching
switched to a system of perimeter fencing funds, which means that your predator
once I realized that a coyote had learned problem is likely the fault of your county
to howl right outside a henhouse at night, governments stinginess. Vote for someone
causing the hens to y out in blind panic. else next time.
(I discovered this by pitching a tent and
This is the kinder, gentler form of federal
camping on the pasture to gure out what
predator control. In the old days, there was
was happening to my hens.) Once the pred-
a bounty on everything that moved. Now
ators learned to use the houses as a hen
the focus is on the individual predators that
dispenser, I gured that perimeter fencing
actually prey on livestock. I like this ecolog-

n the old days, was the way to go.
ical soundness; I wish more programs were
there was a Salatin-style pasture pens are easy to elec- like this!
bounty on trify; just nail insulators on the corners
See for more infor-
everything that and surround the house with a hot wire a
mation, or call Wildlife Services toll-free at
moved. Now the few inches above ground level. Predators
(866) 4-USDA-WS. I strongly recommend
nosing around the pen will get a nasty
focus is on the indi- that you use this service as fully as you can.
shock. I recommend using a mast (a ten-
vidual predators Wed be out of business if it werent for the
foot-long two-by-four is good) to get the
that actually prey on
Federal trapper.
feeder wire high enough that you arent con-
livestock. stantly running into it.
Be careful to electrify just the wire, not
Chickens want to perch up in the air, and
the poultry netting on the sides of the doing so can keep them clean, dry, and
house. The chickens dont appreciate safe. As long as the roof is tight, the roosts
electried walls. tend to be nice and dry, which is more than
can be said for the oor sometimes. Pasture
An electried house. houses, in particular, are subject to damp-
There are insulators near ness and even ooding, and its good for the
ground level. Chickens chickens to be up on a nice dry perch.
hop up to the top of the
low front to get inside; Baby chicks lack a roosting instinct, which
predators have to climb. is just as well, since they live on the ground.
The mast at the back of
the house allows the hot The urge to roost develops slowly, but
wire to come from eventually the chicks get the idea and
overhead. want to sleep as high up in the air as they
can get.
Broilers are butchered before theyre old
USDA-APHIS (Federal Trapper) enough to develop a full-blown roosting
The replacement for having a federal bounty instinct. In any event, modern hybrids are
on predators is the USDA-APHIS Wildlife soon too heavy to y up to a perch.
Services Program, better known as the
I dont recommend even low roosts for broil-
federal trapper.
ers because early roosting tends to develop
When predators attack my livestock, I call crooked keel bones in broilers. The keel is
the local federal trapper, and he tries to kill mostly cartilage in a young bird, and its
Page 20 ATTRA Poultry: Equipment for Alternative Production
easily misshapen if the chicken sleeps on a of roost. Its useful to give them more roost
roost, where the keelbone may be support- space than they need, so they can pick and
ing much of its weight. Apparently this cor- choose according to the weather.
rects itself in older birds.
I suspect that high roosts can prevent some
Egg-type chickens are another matter. They predator losses. Roosts that are nestled right
have no difculty in using roosts eight feet under the roof make it impossible for an owl
off the ground, and may decide to roost to dive-bomb a sleeping hen. If you suspend
even higher, abandoning the henhouse alto- the roosts from the ceiling, raccoons wont
gether for the branches of nearby trees. be able to climb up and grab a hen.
Its helpful to encourage chickens to start Dont build ladder roosts (A-frames
roosting at an early age, because they seem with roosts on various levels). The hens
to lose the desire to huddle and smother will fight over the highest perches, and
each other once theyve learned to roost. ladder roosts turn your henhouse into an
This is done with practice perches, minia- obstacle course.
ture roosts near ground level that the chicks
An alternative to high roosts is low roosts,
can get to without any difculty. My brooder

of course. These are often done over a drop- ts helpful to
houses are so small that its difcult to shoe-
pings pit, which just means that the hens
horn practice perches into them, but maybe encourage
are denied access to the area under the
you have such space. chickens to start
roosts by building the roosts on top of an
Regular roosts should be built simply out of open-topped box with chicken wire under roosting at an early
ordinary two-by-fours. I like to nail a pair the roosts. The advantage of a droppings age.
to the walls of the henhouse, running from pit is that you dont have to manage the
front to back, and then lay two-by-fours manure much, since its not in contact with
on top of these rails. These arent nailed the chickens. Throwing in some superphos-
down; they can simply be lifted out. You phate fertilizer once in a while to keep the
can lay the two-by-fours at or put them up smell and ies down about covers it. If you
on edge. Laying them at is the easiest, so also put the waterers over the droppings pit,
thats what I do. Eight-foot roosts supported the litter will stay drier. Please note that
at the ends will sag if you lay them at, but superphosphate is synthetic, and therefore
they wont break even when crammed with a prohibited material if the manure is to be
full-sized hens. If you install them on edge, used by a certied organic operation.
they wont sag.
In the 1950s, when egg prots plummeted,
Ive recently decided that my roosts are desperate farmers built three-story roosts;
far too low in my taller henhouses. I have three identical decks of roosts, one on top
a number of henhouses with a roofline of the other. It worked. Youd think the hens
between six and eight feet high. In these, on the bottom tier would get pretty messy,
the roosts should be at least four feet off but apparently this was not a problem.
the ground. My reasoning is that this is Go gure. I havent tried this, but I think
high enough that I can duck underneath it would be useful to have a deck of high
the roosts if I have to retrieve an egg from roosts at the back of the house for the hens
the back corner. If the roosts are any lower, to sleep on, and a deck of low roosts, nailed
I have to crawl, or remove the roosts, or across the skids of the henhouse, for a day-
something. Too much work. Besides, the time oor. This keeps mud and manure
hens like high roosts. High roosts prevent from being a problem in a litterless pasture
them from roosting in lower places, such as house in wet weather.
nest boxes.
Where there are roosts, mites are some-
As a general rule, roosts should be about times associated with them. There are
a foot apart, and you should gure that many types of mites that affect poultry,
there will be two to three chickens per foot including red mites, northern fowl mites, ATTRA Page 21
and scaly leg mites. Mites travel slowly from not an organic producer, then other less-
one bird to another and may be found in toxic materials are an option. For exam-
cracks, crevices, nests, and roosts. While ple, lime-sulfur spray smells like rotten eggs
many poultry resources recommend pesti- but really gets the job done. Lime-sulfur is
cides or synthetic oils to control mites, these not listed as an allowed synthetic for use in
materials are prohibited for use in certied organic livestock production (see National
organic production systems. An integrated Organic Program National List 205.603).
approach would include the poultry express- You might note, though, that it is allowed
ing natural behaviors to control mitesdust for disease and mite control in crops (see
baths in dry soil and preeningand treat- National List 205.601). Certied organic
ing roosts with natural oils such as linseed producers must list all materials they use
oil. Any vegetable oil has the physical effect or plan to use in the organic system plan
of suffocating and killing mites. However, submitted for approval to their certier.
some oils are more desirable because they Organic producers should not use any syn-
do not dry or go rancid as quickly. All oils thetic material without prior approval of its
would need to be reapplied periodically, specic use by the certier.
but some much less frequently than others. Roosts are not absolutely necessarymost
Avoid materials that have been used tradi- hens kept in high-density oor connement
tionally, such as kerosene, used motor oil, are not provided with roostsbut a set of
or synthetic turpentine, as these are pro- properly placed high roosts will keep the
hibited by organic standards. Raw linseed hens dry and happy, and theyll sleep where
oil is presumably better than boiled, since you want them to.
it takes a very long time to dry but I had
six months of mite-free roosts with boiled
linseed oil.
Nest Boxes
Im going to tell you a secret. The best nest
boxes have a oor thats made out of half-
inch hardware cloth covered with straw.
These nest boxes never get disgusting inside
because the crud falls through. You get less
This photo from the
1930s shows a farmer
egg breakage because the oor has some
painting a set of remov- give to it. The straw stays drier because it
able roosts to prevent has air circulation from underneath and
mite infestation. because broken egg contents drip through
the bottom. The eggs cool down faster
because of the increased air circulation.
I dont know why everyone doesnt use such
nests. Since, as far as I know, no one makes
these commercially, youll have to build
Roost mites can also be controlled with yours yourself. Theyre a little more dif-
natural insecticides that are allowed under cult to build, since hardware cloth is a pain
organic standards. Pyrethrum or its com- to work with compared to nailing boards
ponents, known as pyrethrins, are natural together. Other than that, theyre ideal.
botanical extracts and their use is allowed
in organic production. Its synthetic substi- Types of Nest Box
tutes, pyrethroids, are prohibited. Many
other insecticides are effective, but most Individual Nests
are more toxic than other methods, have The traditional individual nest is a foot
a withdrawal period, and are prohibited deep, a foot wide, and something less than
for use in organic production. If you are a foot tall.

Page 22 ATTRA Poultry: Equipment for Alternative Production

With board oors, an enormous amount of Community and Tunnel Nests
litter in the box helps to cushion the eggs.
Community nests work on the idea that the
The front board should be a one-by-six or
even a one-by-eight. With hardware cloth hens prefer to lay in darkness, but they
oors, I dont think this matters. A one-by- dont eat in darkness. This eliminates egg-
four is plenty. Such a nest is good for four to eating. The traditional community nest
ve hens. Of course, individual nests arent is a box four feet wide and two feet deep,
really made individually. Wooden ones are with a doorway thats not much more than
built in units four to eight feet long contain- six inches wide and eight inches tall (and
ing four to eight nests, and metal ones are maybe with a ap of cloth or plastic across
typically ve feet wide and have two rows of it). This is good for fty hens.
ve nests. Another variant is the tunnel nest, which
I have discovered that what hens really is eight feet long, two feet wide, and has a
like is not individual nests, exactly. They small entrance at each end. This is good for
mostly like having a corner to themselves. a hundred hens.
One corner will do. This means that you
Community and tunnel nests need to be
can remove half the partitions in a nest box
and the hens wont mind a bit. The advan- well-ventilated without letting in much
tage of doing so is that hens are always try- light. This is usually done by leaving the
ing to cram themselves into spaces that are back partly open or drilling large holes
already occupied, and the wider the nest, in it (on the assumption that the nest will
the fewer eggs get smashed in the pile-up. be installed to almost but not quite touch
a wall of the henhouse). Sometimes theyre
installed at oor level, in the spots where
the hens insist on laying in spite of having
perfectly good nest boxes elsewhere.
Community and tunnel nests can be con-
structed as free-standing outdoor structures
if you put a good roof on them. Theyll
probably need to be staked down to prevent
them from blowing over in high winds.

A community nest. The

lid is normally kept
closed except during egg

Roll-Out Nests
Plans for a two-tier conventional nest unit. Everything
is built in sections so it can be taken apart for clean-
Roll-out nests have a sloped welded-wire
ing. Wire mesh is used at the back for ventilation, but oor. The eggs roll down the slope to a
not for the bottom, though this would be easy enough (hopefully) safe place to await collection.
to change.
This mostly keeps them clean and prevents
breakage and egg-eating. ATTRA Page 23
The trick lies in getting the hens to use them. I am About the Author
skeptical of their utility in range and small-farm envi-
ronments, where the hens have plenty of more attractive Robert Plamondon is a part-time farmer and full-time
places to lay. writer in Blodgett, Oregon. He keeps around 500 free-range
hens and his wife, Karen, butchers more than 1,000
pastured broilers annually.
Collecting the Eggs
Plamondon also runs Norton Creek Press, a shoestring
Eggs are generally collected from the front of indi- press with four poultry books, including his Success With
vidual nests, though sometimes theyre collected from Baby Chicks.
the back, such as when the nests open on the inside of
See Plamondons Web page at, and
the henhouse but its more convenient to collect them sign up for his e-mail newsletter at
from outside. Usually there is a ap or a hinged roof newsletter.html.
to allow the back of the nest to be closed except during
egg collection.
Community and tunnel nests require a special
way of collecting eggs, since the tiny entrances
dont a l low adequate access to the inside.
Access is usually through a hinged lid, though
sometimes its from a ap or hatch on the front or
back side.

Poultry: Equipment for Alternative Production

By Robert Plamondon
2006 NCAT
Paul Driscoll, Editor
Cynthia Arnold, Production
This publication is available on the Web at:
Slot 291
Version 090806

Page 24 ATTRA