Poultry housing systems

Generally four systems of poultry housing followed among the poultry keepers. The type of housing adopted depends to a large extent on the amount of ground and the capital available.

Types of poultry housing:

  1. Free – range or extensive system
  2. Semi – intensive system
  3. Folding unit system
  4. Intensive system
  1. Battery system
  2. Deep litter system

Free-range system:

It is the oldest one and has been used for centuries by general farmers, where there is no shortage of land. This system allows great but not unlimited, space to the birds on land where they can find an appreciable amount of food in the form of herbage, seeds and insects. Birds are protected from predatory animals and infectious diseases including parasitic infestation. At present due to advantages of intensive methods the system is almost obsolete.

Semi-intensive system:

Where the amount of free space available is limited this system is adopted, but it is necessary to allow the birds 20-30 square yards per bird of outside run. Wherever possible this space should be divided giving a run on either side of the house of 10-15 square yards per bird, thus enabling the birds to move onto fresh ground.

Folding-unit system:

This system of housing is an innovation of recent years. In portable folding units birds being confined to one small run, the position is changed each day, giving them fresh ground and the birds find a considerable proportion of food from the herbage are healthier and harder. For the farmer the beneficial effects of scratching and manuring on the land is another side effect.

The most convenient folding unit to handle is that which is made for 25 hens. A floor space of 1 square foot should be allowed for each bird in the house, and 3 square feet in the run, so that a total floor space to the whole unit is 4 square feet per bird, as with the intensive system.

A suitable measurement for a folding house to take 25 birds is 5 feet wide and 20 feet long, the house being 5’ x 5’, one-third of the run. The part nearest the house is covered in and the remaining 10’ open with wire netting sides and top.


  • The food and water must be carried out to the birds and eggs brought back.
  • There is some extra labour involved in the regular moving of the fold units.

Intensive System:

This system is usually adopted where land is limited and expensive. In this system the birds are confined to the house entirely, with no access to land outside. This has only been made possible by admitting the direct rays of the sun on to the floor of the house so that part of the windows are removable, or either fold or slide down to permit the ultraviolet rays to reach the birds. Under the intensive system, Battery (cage system) and Deep litter methods are most common.

  1. Battery system.

This is the most intensive type of poultry production and is useful to those with only a small quantity of floor space at their disposal. In the battery system each hen is confined to a cage just large enough to permit very limited movement and allow her to stand and sit comfortably. The usual floor space is 14 x 16 inches and the height, 17 inches. The floor is of standard strong galvanised wire set at a slope from back to the front, so that the eggs as they are laid, roll out of the cage to a receiving gutter. Underneath is a tray for droppings. Both food and water receptacles are outside the cage.

Many small cages can be assembled together, if necessary it may be multistoried. The whole structure should be of metal so that no parasites will be harbored and thorough disinfection can be carried out as often as required. Provided the batteries of cages are set up in a place which is well ventilated, and lighted, is not too hot and is vermin proof and that the food meets all nutritional needs, this system has proved to be


  • Remarkably successful in the tropical countries.
  • It requires a minimum expenditure of energy from the bird as they spend all time in the shade.
  • It lessens the load of excess body heat.
  • The performance of each bird can be noted and culling easily carried out.

Deep litter system:

In this system the poultry birds are kept in large pens up to 250 birds each, on floor covered with litters like straw, saw dust or leaves up to depth of 8-12 inches. Deep litter resembles to dry compost. In other words, we can define deep litter, as the accumulation of the material used for litter with poultry manure until it reaches a depth of 8 to 12 inches. The build-up has to be carried out correctly to give desired results, which takes very little attention.

Suitable dry organic materials like straw (needs to be cut into 2 or 3 inch lengths), saw dust, leaves, dry grasses, groundnut shells, broken up maize stalks and cobs, bark of trees in sufficient quantity to give a depth of about 6 inches in the pen should be used.

The droppings of the birds gradually combine with the materials used to build up the litter. In about 2 months, it has usually become deep litter, and by 6 months it has become built-up deep litter. At about 12 months of old stage it is fully built up. Extra litter materials can be added to maintain sufficient depth.

The deep litter pen should be started when the weather is dry, and is likely to remain so for about 2 months for the operation of the bacterial action, which alters the composition of the litters. Start new litter with each year’s pullets and continue with it for their laying period.

Advantages of Deep Litter System:

  • Birds and eggs are safety as enclosed in deep litter intensive pen, which has strong wire netting or expanded metal.
  • Built-up deep litter also supplies some of the food requirements of the birds. They obtain “Animal Protein Factor” from deep litter.
  • The level of coccidiosis and worm infestation is much lower with poultry kept on good deep litter than with birds (or chicken) in bare yards. Well managed deep litter kept in dry condition with no wet spots around waterer has a sterilising action.
  • With correct conditions observed with well managed litter there is no need to clean a pen out for a whole year; the only attention is the regular stirring and adding of some material as needed.
  • Generally 35 laying birds can produce in one year about 1 tonne of deep litter fertilizer. The level of nitrogen in fresh manure is about 1%, but on well built-up deep litter it may be around 3% nitrogen (nearly 20% protein). It also contains about 2% phosphorus and 2% potash. Its value is about 3 times that of cattle manure.
  • It is a valuable insulating agent, the litter maintains its own constant temperature, so birds burrow into it when the air temperature is high and thereby cool themselves. Conversely, they can warm themselves in the same way when the weather is very cool.

Basic Rules for deep litter system:

  • Do not have too many birds in the pen – one bird for every 3 ½ to 4 and preferably 5 square feet of floor space.
  • Provide sufficient ventilation to enable the litter to keep in correct condition.
  • Keep the litter dry. This is probably the master work in a deep litter system. If the litter gets soaked by leaking from roofs or from water vessels, it upsets the whole process and would have to start over again. All probable precautions should be taken to maintain the litters completely dry.
  • Stir the litter regularly. Turning the litter (just like digging in a garden) at least once weekly is very important in maintaining a correct build-up of deep litter.