So I had a crazy idea this evening about chicken farming as I contemplated all the extra sheathing I have sitting in my garage. The biggest argument I find from people about NOT raising animals is that to humanely raise animals you need more space than veggies need and to efficiently raise animals you have to stack them in tiny cages. This is emphasized by more recent efforts to grow gardens vertically in an imitation of factory farmed animals.
This is in some ways very true. It takes X amount of space per chicken to properly provide for them. The rule of thumb for back-yard chickens is 4 square feet inside the coop and 10 outside per chicken. That is what my general plans are for chickens and here in Ohio, that is enough to get them classified as “free range”.
It is certainly far better than battery cages with chickens crammed together under constant lighting (or lack there of) passing on diseases, ripping out all thier feathers and pecking eachother to death before finally getting processed into the food our pets eat.
But I digress. As I thought about all that sheathing in my garage, and how nice and big and flat it was like a floor I got the idea for sustainible animal farming… Vertically!
Imagine my own quarte acre home… I have etched out about a 10X10 space for chickens in my back yard in which I could reasonably keep ten chickens. This is far from the limits of my space, but it’s what I’d like to start with and much of my space can’t have animals due to local laws.
Now imagine that I want to have more than 10 chickens, but of course the rest of my space has ducks and rabbits. So what to do? Make my chicken run two stories!
Is it crazy? I really don’t think so. This sort of design effectively doubles my space. It’s not like the chickens need more than 3 feet each vertically. Anyone with chickens can tell you that they don’t try to use those wings even when they’re about to be eaten. Many can’t even get more that a foot of lift anyhow. The coop is designed as so that it allows the chickens to move from the bottom pen where there’s lots of shade and shelter to the top half where there’s sun. You could even put a little chicken ladder inside the pen itself so they don’t have to go inside to go up.
Better yet, you can make the top half a tray about 6-inches to 1-foot deep and plant grass up there. Throw in some natural dirt full of grubs and bugs. Make your chickens happy with a potted plant or things with shallow roots. It imitates a patch of grass and dirt well enough for chickens because that’s what it is!
Suddenly, with a little effort my chicken numbers have gone from 10 to 20. And 20 chickens… Is a lot. All of my chickens are still always walking on coop floors and dirt. They are still always able to scratch. All of them still have access to both sun and shade. The can still stretch, still walk around and still have everything they need to be content… But my production has doubled.
And this sort of design could be used for rabbit colonies as well as opposed to individual cages. Rabbits only use the ground for nesting at night. Making them a few pathways up and down will still make it so they have twice the space to move in. You could even conceivably do this for goats (although you would need much sturdier flooring!).
So there it is. I am sure that through a little innovation, raising meat animals will become more and more sustainible. I hope that I get to try this design out some day! And if anyone else decides to… Please tell me about it! I’d love to know how it goes!