The basic requirements for poultry housing are:
Space: density of birds per unit area: This is the most important basic principle in housing, as the space available determines the number and type of poultry that can be kept. For example, a deep litter house measuring 6 m by 11 m can hold 200 laying hens at a stock density of 3 birds/m2 (3.6 ft2/bird). Under the older system of measuring, stock density was measured in ft2 per bird, which is the inverse of birds per m2 used in the metric system, incorporating a conversion factor of 0.0929 m2/ft2 (for details, see the appendix entitled Abbreviations and Conversions). Hen groups are comfortable at a stock density of three to four birds per square metre. If more space is allowed, a greater variety of behaviour can be expressed. Less space creates stressed social behaviour, allowing disease vulnerability and cannibalism and leaving weaker birds deprived of feed or perch space. Individual birds need more room for normal behaviour and adequate exercise than the 22 birds/m2 (0.5 ft2/bird) density currently used in commercial laying cages. Over recent decades, animal welfare concerns have encouraged research on laying cage structures to make designs better suited to the needs of hens, while retaining cost-effectiveness for production.
Ventilation: air flow: Ventilation is an important factor in housing. A building with open sides is ideal, otherwise cross-ventilation at bird-level should be allowed for in the form of floor level inlets, open in a direction to allow the prevailing wind to blow across the width of the building. An air mass between the side walls of a poultry house resists being moved, even across an open-sided building. The wider the building, the more the resistant it is to air movement. Buildings over 8 m (26 ft) wide have a significantly greater problem because of this inherent property of air to resist movement. It is recommended that buildings relying on natural airflow for ventilation should not exceed 8 m in width.
Heat stress is a significant constraint to successful production and can lead to death. Although birds can withstand several degrees below freezing, they do not tolerate temperatures over 40 °C. This depends on the relative humidity prevailing at the time
Light: duration and intensity: A well-lit house is essential. A dark house leads to lethargic, inactive, unproductive birds. Light is important for feeding, as poultry identify food by sight. This is especially important for intensively managed day-old chicks, which need very bright 24-hour lighting for their first week of life. Light is also an important factor in sexual maturity. An increasing light proportion in the day, as naturally occurs from mid-winter to mid-summer, will accelerate sexual maturity in growing pullets, bringing them to lay sooner. If hens are already laying, the increasing light proportion will increase egg production. The opposite effect is also true: as the light proportion of the day decreases (as naturally occurs from mid-summer to mid-winter), then sexual maturity is slowed in growing stock, and egg production is reduced in laying hens. These effects are somewhat reduced towards the equator, as the difference in the daylight proportion of a day changes less and less.
Protection: shelter sheds and buildings: Many factors influence the type and choice of housing to protect poultry from the effects of weather and predators. These include the local climate, the available space, the size of the flock and the management system. In extensive systems, birds must be protected from disease and predators but also be able to forage. Traditional large animal fencing using live plants is not enough protection against predators such as snakes, kites, rats and other vermin.
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