If you understand chicken geometry, your life will be a lot easier.
Take perches, for instance. Chickens will roost on the highest available perch. This might be on the railing of your porch or a beam above your car, or (in a pinch) on top of the car itself. (Free range is not an unmitigated blessing.)
If you have managed to keep your chickens within the confines of their yard, they’ll still want to perch on the highest thing they can reach. The smart money, then, is to ensure that the highest thing is an actual roost. This will save you a lot of trouble.
Now, hens like to lay eggs in dark corners at the back of the chicken houses, so you need to be able to go there. This is easier if the roosts are very high, so you can bend down and walk under them, or very low, so you can walk on top of them. Anything in between becomes a barrier. I have used roosts as high as four feet off the ground and have had chickens roost on rafters ten feet off the ground without any trouble. I suppose it’s possible for them to sprain their little ankles jumping down, but I’ve never seen any sign of it.
With very high roosts, you’ll have fewer chickens sleeping (and pooping) in the nest boxes, which his a good thing.
Another piece of chicken geometry is the nest boxes. Chickens like to lay in dark corners, so it’s a good idea to do it their way and put the nest boxes there.
Ordinary nests are okay, but I like nests that aren’t quite so cramped. I once had an ordinary eight-hole wooden nest box, but it seemed like three hens always tried to squeeze into the same nest, so I took out half the partitions (so that the nest had four double-width holes), and that worked better. Cornell University used nests with no partitions at all: just an eight-foot-long nest trough.
I tried an old gimmick from the Oregon Experiment Station and used 1/2 hardware cloth for the nest bottoms, with straw on top. This puts gravity to work by letting dirt and crud and broken eggs fall through the mesh, and the nests stay cleaner. The mesh is softer than a solid floor, too, so fewer eggs get broken.
Acreage is another example of chicken geometry. Chickens generally don’t wander more than a couple of hundred yards from their houses, usually less. The more distant a fence is, the less eager a chicken is to go through it. I can confine chickens with an electric fence consisting of a single strand of aluminum fence wire, if the wire is far from the chicken houses. But if the chickens are fenced into a small area, it’s hard to hold them even with 48″ high electric netting.
One final example: 100 hens will eat about 25 pounds of food per day, which is about two galvanized buckets of feed, drink about six gallons of water (again, about two buckets), and lay about half a bucket of eggs. Since I don’t have four hands, I would object to feeding and watering 100 hens from buckets — I’d have to make too many trips. But 25 hens would need about one bucket of feed and one bucket of water, which is plausible. You can put the eggs into the feed bucket after you’ve poured the feed into a trough.
Now, you can carry a feed sack over your shoulder, which gets you to 50 pounds of feed per trip, enough for 200 hens. After that, carrying the feed in a pickup truck starts looking good.
If you want to drive to the feed mill only once a week, a half-ton pickup truck can carry a week’s worth of feed for more than 500 hens. More hens than this might mean that you’re spending your Saturdays making two trips, which might not be what you had in mind.
You get a price break if you buy a ton of feed at a time. Feed should be used up within a month at the outside. A ton will feed about 250 hens for a month.
A standard egg basket can carry about ten dozen eggs, which is the output of around 150 hens, give or take. A three-gallon bucket holds a couple dozen less. Carrying more than one basket at a time is awkward, and carrying more than two is impossible. If you have a lot of hens, you’ll want to collect the eggs directly onto flats and pack the flats into egg crates so you can carry the crates off the field in your pickup. I figure that even a small pickup should be able to handle the eggs from several thousand hens.