Fowls – environment

Housing requirements for fowls.

Fences, enclosures, gateways, gates and all facilities used to secure fowls must be constructed and maintained to reduce the risk of injury and attack by predators.

Poultry may be housed or kept in free range or semi-intensive conditions provided the following conditions are met:

  • Minimum space requirements are provided for the respective age/size of bird
  • Environmental temperatures appropriate for the age of the poultry are provided
  • Areas for perching and nesting are provided
  • Concrete flooring must be covered by litter
  • Normal diurnal pattern of lighting must be provided
  • Air must be of acceptable quality with respect to dust, chemicals and smells
  • All birds must be observed standing and moving during daily inspections.


It is no longer appropriate to keep layers in cages as a routine procedure. However, schools may apply to the SACEC for approval to conduct a comparative study of different methods of egg production. This may include, for a period of time, a comparison of caged birds with those housed in less intensive methods. Schools considering this option should contact the Schools Animal Welfare Officer and seek written approval to continue with this practice. Approval must be sought by completion and submission of Application form 5, Application for SACEC approval to house production animals intensively.

Space requirements

The size of enclosures required for poultry is influenced by their size and age.

Minimum space requirements are as follows:

Age/type of bird/system Area per bird
Up to two weeks 180-200cm2
2-4 weeks 440cm2
Adult in grassed run/free range 2.5m2
Adult in deep litter 0.5m2
Image: Where birds are housed indoors on concrete floors, a covering of litter of wood shavings, rice hulls or straw must be provided.

These space requirements are the minimum allowed and production systems should aim to provide more space than those listed above. The stocking densities for birds will influence parasite burdens, damage to the vegetation cover and soil in free range systems, environmental temperature of sheds and social interactions between individuals and will in turn determine routine husbandry practices.

In general, broilers are kept in sheds with limited or no free range opportunities. Layer hens are ideally kept in free range or partially free range environments where they can carry out their natural behaviours of scratching, flapping, roosting, dust bathing and foraging for insects and grubs. As poultry are highly susceptible to predation by foxes, cats, dogs, quolls and humans, partial free range systems, with the birds secured indoors at night, often provide a successful compromise.

There are a number of options that schools can use to develop a system that meets the physical and behavioural needs of the fowls and suits the available resources. In general, the poultry production system should provide the maximum amount of space and environmental enrichment as well as access to the outdoors. There will be substantially less pecking, fighting and feather loss if birds are allowed access to plenty of space.

It has been shown that free range systems can increase the incidence of some diseases and parasite infestations and so care must be taken to monitor these risks.

Where birds are housed indoors on concrete floors, a covering of litter of wood shavings, rice hulls or straw must be provided. Keeping this litter dry reduces the incidence of some disease and parasite infestations.

Image: Layer hens are ideally kept in free range or partially free range environments where they can carry out their natural behaviours.


For layers, the preferred range is 20–28°C. Temperatures below 10°C and above 32°C cause stress.

For broilers, day-old chicks require 33°C. The temperature should be reduced by 1°C every 2–3 days until the temperature reaches 20°C at 28 days of age.


Shedded birds must have reasonable light and must not be kept in the dark. Birds must have a light and dark cycle. Keeping birds in the light all the time can have an adverse effect as birds can panic and smother themselves in the event of a blackout. Light is not an issue in a free ranging system and natural light cycles are always preferred for ultimate health and wellbeing.


Ventilation is also required to prevent ammonia build up in intensive situations. Ammonia causes distress to poultry as much as to humans. Steps must be taken to prevent ammonia building up to the level where it becomes unpleasant. This can be achieved by reducing the number of birds in a given area, improving ventilation and regularly replacing dirty bedding to ensure it does not become damp or build up with faeces.

Draughts and chilling winds should be avoided in the roosting and nesting areas.


Shelters must be sufficient to protect from extremes of climate, e.g. temperature, wind, rain and direct sunlight. Shelter needs to be provided with purpose built sheds and trees and bushes for shade.

In locations where hot weather is experienced, shelters should be fitted with a sprinkler system to cool the area on hot days. This reduces the incidence of heat stress, which poultry are very susceptible to.


Clean, dry litter of rice hulls, shavings from non-treated timber, straw or sand must be used to cover concrete flooring for birds housed indoors.


Little cleaning is required if deep litter is kept dry, however if litter becomes damp its MUST be removed. Build-up of faeces under roosts needs to be removed regularly and nest boxes should be kept clean.


Layer hens must be provided with one nest box for every three or four birds. The nest boxes should contain suitable nesting material of clean dry sand, rice hulls, straw or wood shavings. Nesting boxes can be made from plastic drums, 15– 25 litres in size, with the base cut out leaving a small lip to hold back nesting materials or from timber, custom built. Hens favour nest boxes that have a lid or roof, making them darker and more private than open top boxes.

Image: Nesting boxes can be made from plastic drums, 15–25 litres in size, with the base cut out leaving a small lip to hold back nesting materials.


From ten weeks of age, it is essential that there is adequate perch space to accommodate all the birds simultaneously.

Image: It is essential that there is adequate perch space to accommodate all birds simultaneously.

Fencing and security

Fencing and security is a very important aspect of keeping poultry. Poultry are very susceptible to dog, fox, cat, quoll and hawk/eagle attacks due to their small size and inability to fly any real distance.

Enclosures must be designed to ensure that there is no way a dog, fox, cat, quoll or large bird can enter. To ensure this, fences should be dug into the ground and concreted in approximately 20 centimetres deep to prevent animals from digging into the enclosure. Fences should be constructed entirely of good quality/condition chicken mesh, at least two metres high with a fully enclosed roof made of either mesh or a solid structure. Reinforced wire and posts should be used to provide support and strength for the mesh. The door to the pen should meet flush with top, side and bottom of doorway to prevent animals from entering here. Where poultry are kept in a free-range system with an area too large to have an enclosed roof, standoffs with a hotwire should be constructed on the exterior of the top of the fence to prevent animals climbing or jumping over. Where there is no roof, fences should be extra high.

Shelters and trees must be provided in free-range areas to provide birds with cover and protection in the case of an eagle or hawk swooping.

Image: Fences should be dug into the ground and concreted in approximately 20cm deep to prevent animals from digging into the enclosure.

Paddock rotation

Where poultry are kept in a free ranging system on the grass, it is important to perform regular paddock rotation to prevent the grass from being damaged beyond recovery. Frequent paddock rotation also reduces build up of faeces and the risk of worms. When poultry are kept in small portable pens on the grass these should be moved regularly.

Due to the tendency of poultry to scratch and dig dust baths, they are very hard on the ground and can degrade an area quickly by digging up roots and dislodging topsoil. It is a good idea to fence around the base of young trees or place netting on the ground to prevent birds from scratching the soil away from the roots and damaging them. A sprinkler system installed in a grass area is recommended to settle dust created by scratching and aid the grass in recovering.

Rodent control

It is very important when keeping poultry to implement strategies to control rodents. Due to bedding materials required for poultry and their tendency to spread their pellets on the ground, enclosures are often an attractive spot for rats and mice to forage for food and nesting.

Outdoor enclosures are very easy for rats and mice to get into and this can become problematic if rodents come to live, nest or feed regularly in the poultry enclosure. Rats and mice can carry ticks, lice and diseases that can infect birds as well as nesting in their bedding, eating their food and rapidly multiplying and infesting an area. In order to prevent rodent infestations, feed in outdoor enclosures should be kept in a feeder off the ground and covered or enclosed at night when the birds roost. Any feed that is on the ground and not eaten should be removed and bedding should be refreshed regularly to ensure there are no rodent nests. Commercially made feeders are available that decrease the access by rats. The birds quickly learn to jump onto a platform in front of the feeder, causing the lid of the feeder to lift, allowing the birds access to the feed.

Where poultry are kept in sheds, rodent baiting stations can be used to control rats and mice. These should be safe, enclosed baiting stations that can be purchased from a local farm supplier outlet and should always be checked, maintained and correctly signed to ensure safety to students and teachers. Ensure that baiting stations are kept well away from all animals to prevent poisoning.

Any holes that are found where rats and mice are digging into enclosures should be filled to reduce attraction and ease of entry to rodents.


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