How Chickens and Greenhouses Mix

PermacultureWhat do chickens and greenhouses have in common one may ask?  The answer is simple, this design mimics an old blueprint that is eons old and was first coined in 1978 by David Holmgren and Bill Mollison as permaculture.  From this concept the basic chicken greenhouse was formed.

The chicken greenhouse works by attaching a chicken house and nesting box to a south-facing greenhouse.  During the day the solar energy warms the greenhouse while throughout the night the chickens’ body heat and decomposing manure keeps night temperatures up.

In this type of system nothing is wasted not even the chickens’ breath.  As the chickens breathe they release CO2 into the greenhouse that in turn is taken in by the plants that through a process called photosynthesis turn it into O2.  The more CO2 that is produced the more plants grow and the happier gardeners are with their product.

Chickens are also great pest managers in a greenhouse.  They eat all stages of insect development from egg, pupa, nymphs, and adults.  Also chickens are great of ridding the greenhouse of weed seeds but keep in mind that they do not know the difference between tomato seeds and ragweed.

Keep in mind that a greenhouse is only a “winter home” for chickens.  This interrelationship can become fatal in the summer when temperatures rise and the greenhouse becomes more like a solar oven.

Another problem with chickens in the greenhouse is the build up of ammonia.  But remember the chicken greenhouse is not designed to hold hundreds of birds but instead a small flock.  Just opening the vents occasionally in the greenhouse can solve the ammonia problem.

When spring arrives the chicken greenhouse should be opened up and allowed to breathe along with the chickens.  During this time the chickens can be turned out to graze naturally or placed in a mobile chicken ark or chicken tractor.  Both of these structures will protect the chickens while they till the garden soil in preparation for spring planting.  This is also a good time to spread the poultry litter that has not been used yet in other greenhouse operations on the garden so that it may be gleamed free of weed seeds and insects while being tilled into the earth.

The chicken greenhouse represents a basic fundamental principle of permaculture, which is that a component of this system has more than one function.  In this type of system the chickens provide heat, pest and weed management, eggs, meat, and manure.  While the greenhouse provides shelter, heat, and a food source it also creates an environment by which an urban gardener or professional greenhouse manager can “double crop” even in the winter through plant and animal production.

So whether you are considering on purchasing a hobby greenhouse or a commercial size operation or already have an existing greenhouse up one may think about designing a chicken greenhouse. The plans are simple just build a chicken house and nesting box on to a south-facing greenhouse and move your new tenants into their new home.  The benefits of this type of operation out weigh any negatives that may be present and as more and more communities allow chickens in urban area, the need to consolidate urban gardening and/or farming operations will increase. And who knows the chicken greenhouse may become the norm in urban area and the solution to the food desert.

So next time someone asks, why did the chicken cross the road you can provide the time-tested solution.  It was simply to go to their winter home in the balmy greenhouse.


Mindy McIntosh-Shetter has been an Agricultural Science educator, and is a horticulture and/or environmental blogger who earned a degree from Purdue University in Agriculture Education with a minor in biology, and natural resources.  Presently she is finishing up her Masters in Environmental Education and Urban Planning for the University of Louisville while working on her own agriculture/environmental blog.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.