Within the Gravity Chicken Run, we needed a place for our chickens that was warm in winter and cool in summer. We also wanted it to be super easy to clean, cheap to build, and easy to keep our chickens healthy long term. So we came up with a design called the RawBale Chicken House.
Making a chicken house is a bit like being able to build your own fort all over again. Except now that you’re big, you have more skills to make something that will be not only exciting, but also useful and enduring.
Rawbale Chicken House design parameters:
- Low cost
- Easy to clean
- Relatively fast to build
- Cool in summer, warm in winter.
- Use recycled materials where possible
- Super insulated for year round chicken comfort (in temperatures -11ºC to +40ºC)
The rawbale walls
Nick came up with the idea of using raw straw bales (hence the term Rawbale) as load bearing walls for the chicken house. The idea is that each year we take down the walls and use them as mulch, replacing them with new ones.
The plan is that each year the roof will be lifted off and the walls will be rebuilt, which will give our system a bunch of benefits, and a yearly influx of extra mulch..
The strawbales firstly provide the chickens with a cosy house with excellent insulation, which will keep them happy and hopefully extend their egg laying season. Secondly, by using raw bales, we’re setting up a system where the walls get replenished every year (at least) which will naturally prevent disease and mite build-up, which can be a problem with chickens.
The back wall is load bearing straw bales, and the front wall is made of scaffolding with recycled bits of tin, windows and wood. The side walls just kind of sit there, under the roof. The interlocking nature of the bales mean these side walls are plenty strong enough for their structural purpose (which is minimal).
The roof of the Rawbale Chicken House is made of a frame with roofing iron and insulation ,which is simply tied on above the straw bales, and attaches by ropes to the base of the house. It is designed to be taken off once a year to deconstruct the walls, with minimal effort (apart from a 2-person lift).
Then once those walls are replaced with new strawbales, the roof will simply be lifted on top, tied on again and all good for another year.
The Rawbale Chicken House walls sit on a grated platform (made out of old bits of metal we had here on the farm) which is elevated off the ground.
The grated nature of the floor means that, in the summer when we leave this floor bare to bring in cool air from below, the chicken’s poo falls straight through and continues down the slope incrementally.
In the winter, we’re going to cover this grate with deep litter (dry straw) that can be replenished as often as needs be, and keeps the chickens warm at night.
Siting for solar gain
We’ve designed the Rawbale Chicken House so it faces north and benefits from passive solar design with a window on the north side. The laying boxes are also on this wall, so the chickens are warm in the mornings when they lay.
The north wall of the Rawbale Chicken House has a frame that holds the window, the nesting boxes and the door. It’s the only framing in the place. The strawbales create the other three walls, and the roof rests on top of the north and south walls, tilted down on the south side and up on the north side.
The laying boxes
At the time of this build, our intern Kade Smith had the nifty idea to make removable laying boxes out of big plastic containers, in a way made them easy to lift out and clean. They’ve got a hole in the lid (for getting the eggs) and a hole in the front (for the chicken). They seem to be working well so far.
These laying boxes sit in a larger metal frame clad in iron with a hinged access lid. Nothing fancy but it does the trick and as said, it’s the warmest place in the morning once the sun rises (being on the north side) which encourages the hens to get in there and lay! That’s the theory, anyway.
All our chickens are now moved in and they seem pretty happy with the arrangement. I’m glad they’ll all be warm and happy over winter. And we’re even getting an egg a day! Not bad in winter weather that’s getting down to -10ºc at night sometimes….
The front door
The front door of the house is a large panel on hinges which is closed most of the time, with a small access hole for the chickens.
We leave this access hole open all the time, and just open the larger panel when we need to access the interior to rake out the litter and put new straw on the floor. Nice and simple, seems to be working.
Will this design prove to be the best thing ever? We don’t Know. It’s an experiment. What we’re trying to do here is figure out paths of effective use of energy for DIY structures that have multiple benefits. So… what do y’all think? Any suggestions or comments?
Funky Chicken House resources:
- Free Range chicken coop designs – including some of Joel Salatin’s models
- Urban strawbale chicken house that looks very cosy in Sydney
Many thanks to Milkwood Interns Kade Smith, Christian Tyler, Amelie Bischof and Belinda Joy-Sheekey and also to Wwoofers Christian Horn and David Williamson for their input and energy in the building of this fine chook hilton.