One Structure, Two Sustainable Functions
The basic design for a greenhouse / chicken coop uses a greenhouse on the South side, facing South to access light, and housing the chickens on the North side of the structure. The two environments can be separated by a screen or wall (more on that below), but the basic principle is to utilize natural Southern light for the greenhouse (following passive solar greenhouse design) and give the chickens a shadier spot on the North half of the structure. A chicken run can extend beyond the structure, wherever there is space.
A Mutually Beneficial Relationship
In biology, a mutually beneficial relationship is one in which two organisms co-exist and provide a useful benefit for one another. This is apparent many places in the garden – a ladybug is consumes the pollen of flowers, and in return provides protection from predatory insects for the plant. But rarely do people apply this idea to structures or buildings. When combined, a chicken coop and a greenhouse can act in much the same way: two independent environments complementing each other to form a whole greater than the sum of it’s parts. Namely:
• The greenhouse offers protection from the elements for the chicken coop, giving a shady spot for the chickens during warm times and a more insulated coop in the winter.
• In return, chickens body heat can be a heating source for the greenhouse at the coldest times of the year, if the two structures are connected by a screen or un-insulated wall.
• Any waste products from your greenhouse can become feed for the chickens. Chicken manure, in turn, can be used as fertilizer for the greenhouse after it’s composted.
• If combined into a single airspace (separated by a screen), chickens will provide necessary CO2 for the plants, fueling photosynthesis. The plants in turn create oxygen for the chickens.
• The two structures are cheaper to build together, as they can share structural elements like a interior dividing wall.
Tips for Designing a Greenhouse & Chicken Coop
Chickens are not good greenhouse guests. Your lettuce starts or nutritious homegrown kale are delicious meals to a chicken, and they will eat, peck or scratch up planting areas. Thus, the coop should be separated from the greenhouse either by a wall or screen. Which to use is a matter of personal preference. A screen creates air exchange between the two environments, allowing air exchange and some of the benefits mentioned above. However, as most chicken owners will know, a coop can be a smelly and messy. This may not be the environment you want to spend time in, and a greenhouse should be a place you’d like to hang out.
Furthermore, your plants and chickens have different needs in terms of light and temperature. Chickens can overheat more easily than many plants. If combining the structures into a single airspace, you need to be careful to not overheat the chicken coop during the day when the greenhouse warms up. Design sufficient automated ventilation systems and provide access to a sufficient outdoor run. Chickens can also be more cold-tolerant than a lot of plants, using their own body heat to sustain their environment even in freezing temperatures. For this reason, you may want to save money and leave the chicken coop un-insulated, while adding insulation to the greenhouse for year-round growing. Ceres Greenhouse Solutions solar greenhouse / chicken coop model uses this design, featuring an insulated solar greenhouse on the South side, and an un-insulated chicken coop on the North. Each environment is tailored for its occupants, while creating a more energy-efficient and cost-effective structure overall.
There are many possible variations and customizations for designing a year-round greenhouse and chicken coop. Your basic design will depend on how many chickens and growing space you need, and how energy-efficient you want your greenhouse and coop to be. The greenhouse above, for example, has added moveable shutters which close over the windows at night trapping in heat for more efficient year-round growing. They also serve as light reflectors during the day, and a popular hang-out spot for the chickens. For more pictures and ideas on solar greenhouses, raising chickens and growing year-round, check out Ceres blog here.
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