combined chicken run - greenhouse

paulns(NS zone 6a)February 15, 2010

I've searched the net but haven't come across anything quite like what I want to build. I'd like to get feedback on its feasibility and desirability, and design ideas:

A stationary, unheated, wood-frame, walk-in structure, built directly atop the sod, with rigid plastic roof and walls, which would extend out from our existing chicken coop and run. I'm thinking 12 feet long by nine feet wide, with a 3-foot path down the middle, a 3-foot wide bed of greens growing on one side and a 3-foot wide chicken run with bedding on the other. Every year, greens and chickens would switch sides.

This would give the hens a place to run during the winter, and us a place to grow greens during the spring and fall - all but about two months of the year.

Anybody see this before, or something similar? Any suggestions for building materials? Ventilation?

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eric_wa(San Juan, z8 WA)

My brother hoophouse is setup somewhat like you describe.

Chickens roost under bench. The pots you see have been replaced with a permanent raised bed on the right. Bench top is used to start veggies.

Maybe I can go over tomorrow and take some udated photos.


    Bookmark   February 15, 2010 at 6:59PM
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I like the idea as I have a greenhouse and a henhouse, but mine are 100 years apart. I have thought of bringing the chickens into the greenhouse a couple of times to control aphids and whiteflies, but then I discovered I had mantids in there and left the chickens alone.

The first issue I thought of about your greenhouse plan was the wood frame sitting directly on the sod. Untreated wood will rot in a year or two, while treated wood isn't good to use near food crops. I would start instead with a concrete perimeter foundation either poured or constructed of cinderblocks secured together with metal clips and voids filled with cement. This foundation also needs to be sunk into the soil a couple inches. You need to set it below your frost line so that it doesn't heave in winter.

After you construct the foundation and before you build the greenhouse you will want to run water and electricity inside to a convenient location so that you can provide heat and water to both your hens and your plants. The less expensive option would require hauling hoses or buckets and running extension cords in all weathers. Major bummer in a blizzard, but still doable.

The second issue is that a run that small won't last long for hens. Chickens are land sharks and will eat everything including the earth. They will scratch out a deep wallow for dust baths and may actually dig out under a shallow foundation. If they also have a protected run outside of the greenhouse they will be happier. When chickens are too crowded they peck each other and really do a lot of damage to one another.

I'm glad you brought this idea up though because I just bought a new flock of baby chicks and have them in the house (they're in the shower stall actually where they're safe from cats and cold) during the hard freeze. I can't really turn them out in the large yard any time soon because they're too small and it's still too cold. So I was thinking about moving my brooder into the greenhouse. Thanks for the idea.

Oh, yeah, another thing you may want to consider is installing an evaporative cooler to maintain moisture and temps in the summer. A vent system is essential in a greenhouse with fans to push out the hot air that rises. And with chickens you will have excessive methane gas from droppings that could be a real problem without effective vents.

I'm sure others more experienced than me will have good inputs. I've had chickens for several years, but the greenhouse went in just last May, so I'm still figuring out everything about it. The biggest mistake I made was not having the water right in the middle of the greenhouse. And it needed to be on a standpipe at least 3' high. Mine is as the far end from the door and the spigot is at floor level. That will have to be changed this summer. Check out the greenhouse forum before you start building, those guys know everything about them. Cheryl

    Bookmark   February 15, 2010 at 7:26PM
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paulns(NS zone 6a)

This gives me a lot of new ideas. And raises a lot of new questions (drat!). I'm going to get my better half to have a look at your comments as she's both smart and opinionated :).

That's a nice set-up Eric. Very simple elegant design. Answers the question - given the way chickens will jump - how do you keep them in their run. On the other hand it looks like you lose quite a bit of light by putting a roof over their heads. Wouldn't that cut down on their egg production? On the third hand, having one side be nothing but a chicken run, as per my plan, would mean wasted potential growing space.

Cheryl - there's something about chickens and greenhouses that makes them seem a good match. My idea is maybe closer to a cold frame than a greenhouse. Eliot Coleman has something like these. We can't afford to spend money on more power, so no electricity. Our hens are happy in very cold weather as long as there are no drafts. We'll have to see about water; we're used to hauling most of our water by hand.

For venting a house this small, I was thinking really low-tech: have the roof extend a foot beyond the frame at either end, and simply have triangular openings in the peaks (I'm talking a gable roof), with maybe canvas covers to block really bad weather.

Re space, we were planning to get just 6-8 more chicks; at the recommended 4 square feet minimum space each, a 36 square' run in addition to their existing coop and run, ought to be plenty, no?

Re: putting in a foundation, I hadn't thought about frost-heaving. I'd like this thing to be moveable, all parts screwed together. Maybe combine the two - a greenhouse that can be disassembled, atop a permanent foundation? We grow Triple Crown blackberries which ripen very late here; I thought of moving this greenhouse over them in summer, when the hens are allowed to free range...

Looking forward to photos and more ideas. And will run this past the greenhouse forum people.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2010 at 10:44AM
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eric_wa(San Juan, z8 WA)


More pictures and talk at the link below. I'll post some updated photos soon.


Here is a link that might be useful: Cold Frame Hoophouse Questions

    Bookmark   February 16, 2010 at 11:44AM
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johanna_h(Z5 SW MI)

I wish I could remember what magazine had an article maybe four years ago about this sort of set up. Might have been Mother Earth News, but I don't know.

Anyway, they had a sizeable chicken coop that was on one side (and maybe somewhat lower) than the greenhouse, vented into the greenhouse. The composting of the bedding in the coop, combined with the body heat of the hens, generated enough warmth to keep the greenhouse about a zone warmer than outdoors. All the weeds and trimmings from the greenhouse could easily be tossed into the coop for the hens. It was really a terrific set-up if you were starting from scratch (or not, I suppose!).

Good luck!


Here is a link that might be useful: My place: Busy Solitude Farm

    Bookmark   February 16, 2010 at 7:12PM
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I've done this for many, many years and it is great.

Be sure to have vents both low and high. Sulpher Hexafluoride is heavier than air and methane gas is lighter than air. If these build up too high can cause damage to your plants and birds/yourself.

SIZE does matter in this case. If you plan to grow vegetation on the ground you'll have little or no success. A better thing is to sprout your vegetation in pots on the bench and cut it off and throw it down to them. It is a lot of work this way.

I use a mixture of seeds using a seedling heat mat to sprout them. Soak overnight a pint of seeds, rinse them and spread them out on a large old bath towel and roll them up placing them on the matt. Each day rinse them and reroll them in the towel until they are 4-5" long. Then feed them to your birds. Every third day start another batch, they love them.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2010 at 6:29PM
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paulns(NS zone 6a)

Thanks for the link Eric, interesting to follow.

That's very good to know, seramas, about gases that settle....Low vents, or daily opening of doors? We may have to come up with a design from scratch.

We wouldn't grow anything on the chicken run side; the hens would get scratch, kitchen scraps, wilted leaves from the vegetable side, and the existing sod (topped with bedding) in their run to scratch at. In effect they'd be preparing that side for next year.

Is there no such thing as a 'floating' greenhouse? Since we do nearly all work by hand, digging a foundation trench would be a big challenge. If we did manage it, I can see making a cinderblock foundation with a dis-assemblable greenhouse fixed on top.

I'll keep searching the ME archives - haven't found that article. Thanks Johanna for reminding me of that resource.

Yesterday I asked at the hardware store about those corrugated translucent acrylic or fibreglass roofing sheets and was quoted $56 per 3x8' sheet. Double wall polycarbonate is not that much more expensive and far superior. Greenhouse plastic needs replacing too often...

    Bookmark   February 20, 2010 at 9:53AM
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eric_wa(San Juan, z8 WA)


Check out this GW posting. Jay is try to build a greenhouse on rails.


Here is a link that might be useful: Movable High Tunnels

    Bookmark   February 20, 2010 at 12:20PM
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