As a permaculture design consultant and homesteader I am always looking for ways to integrate different elements of the homestead to work together synergistically. Chickens are one of my favorite homestead elements.
They provide so many different and useful functions: entertainment, garden preparation and clean up, tilling of the soil, pest (bugs and mice) control, fertilizer spreading, food forest management, of course eggs and meat, and heat for a greenhouse!
Normally, our layers are either paddock shifted or free ranged throughout the growing season from spring to fall. During the colder months we take a different approach for wintering over our hens. We integrate our greenhouse with chickens and sometimes rabbits.
Since I cannot stand chipping ice, I want a simple system designed to prevent the water from freezing. The chickens generate enough heat to raise the temperature in the greenhouse. During the day, when the sun is shining, the greenhouse benefits from solar gain.
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We use the deep bedding method for the floor. We do not muck out the coop but continue to add carbon material, mostly straw. The nitrogen from the manure and carbon from the straw provide the raw material for the microorganisms to do their work. Deep bedding becomes another compost heating element. This triple combination largely prevents water from freezing.
In permaculture, the idea of integrating a greenhouse and chickens is not new. The chickens (and rabbits) expel carbon dioxide which benefits the growing of plants. Winter is a great time to grow some microgreens, lettuces and kale.
Even though chickens do not require heat in the winter they seem to have a higher quality of life and lay better in this setting.
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The design for this multi-functional structure is very simple and was made from basic lumber, cattle panels and greenhouse (10 mil plastic) remnants. This greenhouse cost us approximately $300!
We are located in Northern Idaho and our winters get cold but nothing extreme so this basic design works out very well for us. If we were in a very cold climate we would have to make our base greenhouse a cold climate greenhouse where we would insulate the structure except for the south facing side.