#RaisingPoultry :: the penthouse please

This blog post was originally drafted and posted by Lauren Arbogast of Paint The Town Ag. It is part of a blog series dedicated to #raisingpoultry. In the series, Lauren walks us through how poultry is raised in the United States – from start to finish.

Lauren and her family raise chickens and cows in beautiful Virginia. Check out the original blog post, and Lauren’s Twitter and Facebook pages.


The Day the Chicks Arrived should be a novel title. It’s that epic on our farm. Bookbags get thrown into farm trucks as the mini farmers race to see the fluffiness after the constraints of school and daycare. Dinner time gets pushed back or it’s a cereal kind of night (if you know what I mean). The world practically stops to see a sea of yellow fluff in all its cute glory.

But before these yellow balls of fluff take up residence at our farm, there is a lot going on to prepare their house. Think of preparation on our farm as the ultimate maid service, mattress connoisseur, butler, catering staff, IT guru, and healthcare professional all in one. (That’s a lot to grasp, I get it.) Let’s talk through it.

Sometimes the mini farmers get distracted when we’re setting up. Buckets are a boys best friend!

{Maid Service}: About 10 to 20 days before the little peeps arrive, each chicken house on our farm is going through a rigorous inspection and preparation not unlike what you would do to get your house ready for your in-laws to visit. (Bad analogy? Hehehe…)

{Mattress Connoisseur}: The litter (Definition: manure and bedding mixed together) from the previous flock of peeps is either taken down to a non-soiled level or taken completely out of the house. If there is litter left in the building, it is put into long rows/piles by a piece of equipment. These windrows are monitored carefully and left for a set amount of time to go through a heat. Much like composting food scraps and yard waste, the litter can be piled and turned on a scheduled basis to make Mother Nature naturally kill any bacteria and bad enzymes. The rows actually heat up as the microbes do what they do best – eat and poop. The result is a sterile waste from the microbes that looks a lot like soil. This is then spread back out in the buildings, and if necessary, fresh bedding can be added for more padding on top.

Fresh peanut hulls for bedding.

If we add bedding for the peeps in the house, it can be any number of things, from sawdust or shavings to peanut hulls. These are biodegradable waste products from other industries that can be reclaimed for bedding in the poultry house.

{Butler}: Let’s pretend for a second that you just checked into the nicest hotel money could buy. Think of the movie Pretty Woman and when Julia Roberts arrives in all her streetwalker glory to the penthouse suite. The nice little butler brings champagne and strawberries up to the suite, and is making sure everything is to their liking (temperature, set-up, space, etc.). Who doesn’t love her awkwardWhat are YOU looking at?” statement when it’s time for tip. (It’s unfortunate that poultry don’t tip.) But, the butler service in preparation for the chicken arrival (and every day after) is certainly tip-worthy.

The house is heated by propane stoves that hang far above the peeps (and mini farmers) heads, and they warm half of the house to a balmy 92 degrees for the day of their arrival. Yes, you heard me correct – half of the house. While the peeps are under 10 days old, they hang out in only half of the house. This helps the Butler (aka: Farmer) keep an eye on them in their toddler days before they get into teenage rebellion stage, saves money on heating costs, and gives them plenty of space to socialize or enjoy long walks by the water. We’ll talk about day 10 and whole house freedom in another post.

While the Butler/Farmer is making sure the house is the right temperature, he’s also checking on the catering staff (ahem…it’s also Farmer), so on to the next section.

{Catering Staff}: The houses are equipped with multiple feed lines that run the length of the house. These computer-controlled lines have special feed pans at intervals along the line that are filled with developmentally appropriate food – think baby food for babies, toddler food for toddlers – you get the point. The chickens have access to food and water anytime, and they are never more than a few steps away from breakfast/dinner/lunch/snack of champions. The feed lines are filled through pipes that run out to large tanks that stand solid beside the house. These mini silos are filled from the top by large feed trucks that bring age-appropriate rations to the ever-growing peeps.

Outside view of poultry houses. Note the feed tanks in the center.

{IT guru}: Farmer won’t admit it, but he’s almost (almost) more tech savvy than I am. I’ve mentioned the computer control that presides over the peep houses, but do not take the human out of farming! The computers allow for a stable, controlled environment for the peeps – they regulate everything from the water pressure running through the lines, to the lights, to the heat and air conditioning in the house. They keep daily and even hourly calculations on feed and water intake, and will alert Farmer in the event that something is going wrong in the house when he is not there. The computer systems must be set up prior to the birds arriving, and then monitored for data multiple times a day by Farmer. In the event of a power outage, we have multiple massive generators that restore power to the houses within 30 seconds. My own house doesn’t even have that convenience!

One portion of the computer system that helps to regulate functions in the house.

{Healthcare Professional}: The health of the building prior to and during the birds stay is of utmost importance. A healthy house = a healthy bird. This is multi-faceted, from making sure there are no bugs residing in the house to keeping the air clean and fresh. The houses are checked and prepped by Farmer, and also by service professionals specifically trained in chicken health. Don’t worry, the guys pictured below are NOT the professionals I just referenced!

The spreaders are empty, but you can’t tell that to these rockstars!

Congrats! You’ve made it through the preparation stage in order to receive those tiny fluff balls from the hatchery like we talked about in the prior post. Before we watch them arrive, in the next post we’ll take a look at how poultry houses are designed, jumping into structure, functionality, and creature comfort. Stay tuned for a video in the next post!

Until next time peeps!