Saturday, February 8, 2014

Pastured Poultry Shelters

Here at Agape Farm we are all about trying new enterprises and finding sustainability in the way we do things, so this year we decided to give a go at raising pastured poultry. We decided to follow the proven design of farming entrepreneur, Joel Salatin.

History of the Floorless Shelter:
Years back, when Joel was raising meat birds as a child, he needed more room to raise these birds. His business was doing well and his father gave him the idea of placing the meat birds in floorless shelters in the pasture. Placing the meat birds in a floorless shelter opened up a whole new ball park for raising birds! Joel quickly found out that by having these birds on pasture they eat less food because they get 15% of their diet off the grasses and bugs in the pasture. Having these birds in a shelter gave them unmatched protection from predators.This design of a floorless shelter quickly took off in the mind of Joel as he began to implement this design on larger scales, Joel says that you can tell if a venture is good if it is scalable, and scalable it is! Joel currently has dozens of these shelters that measure 10' * 12' * 2' high, and each shelter holds 75 birds. The reason why this method is so scalable is because the size of the shelter can easily be reduced and put in someones backyard and still hold the same profit per bird and still be sustainable!

We measured our pasture area and we decided that the size of our shelters would have to be 4' * 6' * 2' high, and hold 15 birds each. We have ordered 25 birds to arrive at the end of March 2014, We will be screwing pieces of plywood to the sides of one of these shelters to make a makeshift brooder house for the baby chicks, we will raise the birds in this brooder for the first 3 weeks and then we will remove the outer plywood and split up the birds and raise them on pasture for the next 5 weeks, We will be moving each shelter to a fresh new piece of pasture each morning, "A fresh salad bar" as Joel calls it.

The Build:

Number one rule in building these shelters: Always use 2"*2" Boards, Not 4"*4", They will make the shelter too heavy!!

Step 1: Figure out the size you need your shelter to be and how many birds you need to house, Each shelter needs to have a minimum of 1.6 Square inches per bird. ex: I went with a 4'*6' Floorplan, 4*6=24 Square feet, 24 Sq Ft / 1.6 Sq Ft Per Bird = 15 Birds, So my 4'*6' Shelter will house maximum of 15 birds.

Step 2: Draw out you design and calculate how much material you will need (again always use 2"*2" boards).
I calculated that I will need a total of 70' 8" of 2"*2" board per shelter so I went a bought 9 8' long boards per shelter.
Main Frame:
Qty 4: 6' Length
Qty 5: 4' Width
Qty 6: 2' Height
Qty 2: 3' Length of door
Qty 2: 4' 4" Width of door

Step 3: Purchase wood and assemble main frame (see picture below), For this you will need appropriate length screws (I used 2.5" long screws), a screwdriver (I used a cordless electric screw gun), and a drill w/ drill bit (optional: I like to pre-drill all my screw holes to prevent wood cracking).
I built both the top and bottoms separate first and then added the 2' long height boards to the top frame and then assembled that onto the bottom frame.

Step 4: Build in door bracing. The door can be any size you desire, I made mine about half the size of the length of the whole shelter. You want to assemble the height supports and the cross beam.
(See picture below)

Step 5: Build door, All this entails is screwing the 3' boards to the 4'4" boards to make a rectangle (The door is a little floppy until you add the outer wood to it.) The door I built is designed to not be hinged, just sitting on the shelter and moved whenever needed for feeding, watering, This way we can remove it completely when it comes time to remove the chickens for butchering.

Step 6: Install Chicken wire around one side of the shelter and a thin wood around the other I encourage you to find used free material for this, I focus on function over form when it comes to something like this. (The chickens aren't really going to mind how their shelter looks). The thinner the pieces of wood the lighter the shelter will be overall, and moving this shelter everyday, you are going to want it to be as light as possible. (See final picture)

And we're all done! More updates on the pastured poultry sure to come! Check out our Facebook for more information on the farm!
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