If you have a greenhouse, you can keep more than just veggies and flowers there. Your chickens can also flourish in that environment provided their needs are taken care of. This may seem far-fetched to you but it really isn’t if you think about it. After all, your chickens just need a warm roof over their heads and plenty of space to walk around. Plus, the warmth they generate will do wonders for your plants as well. That’s what I learned when my chicken coop was destroyed in a storm and I had nowhere to keep them but in my greenhouse. Here are some things I learned that will really help you maintain both.
A Symbiotic Relationship
Keeping chickens in your greenhouse is a great idea if you want to see both thrive. It is also a great alternative if you don’t have a coop or it is damaged in some way. Believe it or not, your chickens and your plants can actually live off one another. This is called a symbiotic relationship i.e. when two living organisms can live in the same space and offer a useful benefit to the other. Here are some ways how:
- The greenhouse can keep your chickens warm during the winter and cool during the summer months. Your chicken coop can only do so much, especially when it starts to rain or snow.
- The body heat your chickens generate can act as a source of heat for the plants during the winter.
- Any waste products you get from your plants can be used to feed the chickens and in turn, chicken poop can be used as fertilizer after it is composted (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cNHaLHdrwZ4). Composting is important because their waste is high in ammonia, which can be detrimental to plants.
- If your chickens and plants occupy the same greenhouse, the carbon dioxide the former produces can trigger photosynthesis and the plants, in turn, can offer your birds clean oxygen to breathe.
- Building a coop/greenhouse will prove more affordable than building a dedicated greenhouse and separate coop. You will not need as much material to construct it since you can just add some wire mesh or a wooden board to keep your chickens and veggies/flowers separate.
- Since the greenhouse will be warm even during the winter, your chickens will be able to maintain the optimum body temperature to lay eggs (https://animals.mom.me/minimum-temperature-hens-need-lay-eggs-8611.html). In other words, you can increase plant and egg production year-round and save money at the same time.
Best Tips to Keep Chickens in the Greenhouse
Just allowing your chickens to remain in the greenhouse will not be enough to maintain a beneficial symbiotic relationship. Here are some tips that can ensure your birds remain happy and your plants don’t stop growing during this time:
Make sure the windows face south – The windows of your greenhouse should face south i.e. the sunniest side and make sure your plants are right near that source of sunlight. Plus, the regular sunlight exposure will also keep your chickens warm and healthy. This will be important for your winter greenhouse.
Place chicken boxes on the north side of the greenhouse – Make sure that you keep the chicken boxes or roosts on the north side of the greenhouse and give them plenty of hay to remain warm.
Separate the chickens from the plants using a screen – If your plants are growing well, curious chickens may destroy them. They may also eat the seeds and seedlings you plant if they are not kept away. Prevent this from happening by adding some chicken wire or a screen to separate the two. These will allow oxygen and CO2 to pass through and circulate in the greenhouse. A wall may block those, but you can add one if you cannot stand the smell of the chickens in the enclosed space or want to keep them completely separate.
Add thermal options – If you want to add some aesthetic appeal to your greenhouse and want to make it more productive, add brick or flagstone pathways or a dark storage tank for the chicken coop. These elements can absorb and retain heat if they receive direct sunlight during the daytime.
Install compostable bedding for the chickens – Make sure your chickens have enough bedding to remain warm and comfortable. Use hay so when it composts, you can use it as fertilizer. Just make sure you change their bedding regularly or your chooks will get sick and the diseases they carry can also compromise your plants.
Allow your chickens to run free – NOT on your plant, of course. Your chooks need to run around in the fresh air to get some exercise. Rather than allowing them to run through your plants, install open-air runs, (https://www.motherearthnews.com/homesteading-and-livestock/a-greenhouse-chicken-coop-combo-zbcz1503) which should extend from the greenhouse itself. Your birds will enjoy the mobility, avoid the heat and keep bugs at bay at the same time.
Add ventilation – Even though chickens can regulate their body temperature pretty well, they can overheat with prolonged exposure to the sun or heat. Your plants won’t thrive in high temperatures either. You can prevent the chickens in the greenhouse and your plants from overheating by adding ventilation. Make sure it is up high so the fans can release hot air in the open air easily. If you have multiple runs installed, you should not have a ventilation issue in the greenhouse since the open space will create a cross breeze to keep air flowing and your plants growing.
Q: Can you keep just one chicken in a greenhouse?
A: Yes you can but since chickens are social birds, it may get lonely and depressed all alone. Plus, it won’t be able to produce enough waste for you to create compost from.
Q: How many chickens can you keep per square foot of greenhouse?
A: Ideally, you should keep one chicken per square feet (https://abundantpermaculture.com/chicken-housing-that-works-5-brilliant-ways/) if you have at least three feet of space to work with whether you have a summer or winter greenhouse.
Q: Can my chickens overheat in the greenhouse?
A: Yes, they can unless you install proper ventilation. If the temperature rises too much in the greenhouse, they will start panting from the heat and can even die if they are not relocated to a cooler spot.
So, we have learned that you can keep chickens in the greenhouse if you have the following:
- Your greenhouse is ventilated according to the needs of your vegetation and chickens.
- Your chickens are kept separate from the veggies or flowers you are growing.
- You use waste products from both to benefit production.
Keeping chickens in a greenhouse can be rewarding if you take care of them and ensure they do not ruin the flora and fauna you are growing inside. Besides ensuring they have shelter, food, and water, make sure they are also stimulated by hanging a head of cabbage in their coop for them to peck and play with.