A free range chicken house is almost exactly the same as standard chicken house. The one difference is that in a free range chicken house the chickens must have easy access to the outside. Usually the chicken house has free range flap – or series of free range flaps that run along the long length of the house – both sides. Free range chickens, according to the regulations, need to have 60 percent of the foraging area covered by vegetation – and you will see how quickly a few chickens can turn a lush field into a dust bowl. Rotating your foraging field is a must – so design the layout of your chicken coop accordingly. If you divide the field into 4 areas you can have the chickens in one, another re-growing and and another with vegetables growing – which will not only make you hens happy, but also save on chicken feed costs. The last field will lie fallow in preparation for more vegetables. Different vegetables will help you to get a gorgeous golden orange yolk – tomatoes and carrots are great for this. The chickens will also be eating bugs and small insects in the field, as well as grass and plants that grow wild. Don’t worry if you see them catching mice and small snakes – they are not vegetarians and will eat all manner of creatures. All of these extras that free range chickens get make the eggs and the meat superior to cage eggs and chickens that are kept in the poultry house. The chickens will also be getting extra vitamins and minerals.
These free range flaps can be closed in bad weather and at night. The chicken house will obviously have a sturdy fence around it – at least 2 meter high – unless you plan on clipping your chickens wings – which is a real job if you have thousands of chickens. The fence should be dug in at least 40cm so as to stop snakes and rats coming in. The wire mesh should be small enough to stop rodents and snakes. The poultry equipment that you need is no different – just remember that you cannot use chicken layer cages at all. If you do not want your chickens laying eggs on the floor then you can use nest boxes – these are made of galvanised steel and are a series of nesting holes. You could also use 25 liter paint tins – just make sure the smell of paint has gone before you use them. Layer hens like to be off the ground and protected where they lay eggs – they also like a dark place to lay eggs. The chicken breeds that are used for free range are also the same – although if there were African chicken breeds these would far better! Small chicken houses in South Africa are usually steel houses or steel structures. We are often asked “who can build me a chicken house?” – my answer – google Chicken Shack Agencies – they make the best chicken house in Africa. They are prepared to erect broiler houses and layer houses in remote rural areas.