These two useful structures for creating a sustainable homestead are not often associated. But, with the right planning they can be integrated into a single multi-use structure that enhances both environments, as the waste products of one become inputs for the other. Together, a backyard greenhouse / chicken coop can be a year-round food-producing machine… giving you a bounty of fruits, vegetables and protein for a healthy, sustainable homegrown diet.
One Structure; Two Functions
The basic design for a backyard 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 coexist and provide a useful benefit for one another. This is apparent in many places in the garden – a ladybug 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 backyard greenhouse can act in much the same way: two independent environments complementing each other to form a whole greater than the sum of its 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 uninsulated 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 an interior dividing wall.
Tips for a Greenhouse and Chicken Coop Structure
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. Whatever you choose is a matter of personal preference. A screen creates air exchange between the two environments, which allows some of the benefits mentioned above. However, as most chicken owners will know, a coop can be smelly and messy. This may not be the environment you want to spend time gardening 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. Chickens can also be more cold-tolerant than a lot of plants, using their own body heat to sustain their environment even in sub-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 greenhouse/chicken coop model uses this design, featuring an insulated passive 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.