Designing a chook palace using permaculture principles

Another rainy day design session at home, this time imagining a monumentally magnificent chook house that would do any dandy rooster proud.

jo drawing

I wanted a lesson in SketchUp, an awesome 3D modelling program that Jeff uses regularly for work and in which he created some of the amazing images of our new house. But of course, ever the old school architect, Jeff can’t think without sketching. So, pen in hand, surrounded by library books on the subject, we set about designing the infrastructure centrepiece of our garden plan by hand.

The chook house is but one of many mini projects within the larger overall plan for Edgefield which will probably take us a decade to fully realise. 

My impetus for this doing this now is an unfortunate string of events involving a voracious fox and the loss of some of my prize chickens. Our current set up is a small coop from which I free range the chooks every day and lock them up at night. This scenario is left wide open to human folly (read: I’ve forgotten more than once to close the door despite a daily reminder on my phone). Devastated by my recent losses and wracked with guilt, I’ve decided that building an enclosed chook house, run and yards has become Number One priority on my to-do list.

chook house drawing

Sketching various configurations and nutting out the details.

We plan to design and build it ourselves using recycled materials where possible, both from an ethical perspective, but also because we’re on a budget. In reality, there is no budget for this at the moment. We are saving every cent to finish the new house. Despite this, I want it to be beautiful as well as functional. After all, it will be the centrepiece of our garden and this garden will be stunning, damn it…if it takes me till the kids leave high school! I want to build the wall facing the house (south side) out of recycled red brick which will match the built-in planter boxes on the jarrah verandah as well as the internal fireplace. The balance I’d like to build out of timber frame and zincalume metal sheeting with a skillion roof facing north to capture the sun. Passive solar design for our chooks: why not?

I’m rather hooked on chooks I must say and I plan to breed them. So I want this set up to accommodate up to 50 birds (a number that made Jeff’s eyes widen in disbelief). We’ll more than likely never get close to that many but numbers will fluctuate with the seasons, new broods and dispatch of roosters, so better to be safe than sorry. We won’t be free ranging anymore and I don’t want my precious soil to be ruined from overstocking birds.

Designing to permaculture principles

When designing with permaculture principles in mind I think about a system that minimises effort and maximises efficiencies. In permaculture, you’re taught that everything you do, plant, build or own should fulfil multiple purposes. For example, if you plant a tree, ask yourself, what is the purpose of that tree and how many functions does it provide? Will it provide shade, produce food (for humans and/or animals), act as a windbreak, fix nitrogen into the soil, produce timber, attract and protect wildlife, etc?

And so we’ve found, there is more to designing a super efficient, integrated chook house than meets the eye. Collection of manure and spoiled straw is as important a part of this system as egg production. The chooks will be the engine room of my garden; the nitrogen component of my future compost system, which will be located within stone’s throw of the chook house. I want nesting boxes and roosts located on outside walls with hatches for easy egg and manure collection. The design will allow up to six separate yards including the future covered orchard, which will enable me to rest the soil in some yards and plant green manure and fodder / medicinal herb crops for the chooks to access and enjoy. Importantly, it’ll enable flexibility including brooding boxes for hens and chicks, a sick / quarantine bay and a rooster yard if necessary.

The details have yet to be finessed but we’re getting there. I’m learning SketchUp via a much smaller project: designing potato and onion boxes for my new pantry. I’m going to build them out of some recycled timber floor boards we stockpiled from the demolition of our old pump house. But stay tuned for the chook palace in 3D!