01 of 09
Why Build A Portable Chicken Coop?
I built the coop you see in these photos with these plans by Harvey and Ellen Ussery of The Modern Homestead. The plans were incredibly helpful as my husband Matt and I constructed the shelter. They were clear and detailed enough for us novice "carpenters" to do this all ourselves.
This system for managing laying hens on pasture uses a large, portable chicken coop and electric net fencing. The hens, tractor/coop, and fencing are moved to fresh ground every week or two, or as needed to... keep them grazing fresh grass.
Rather than describe how to build this exact chicken coop, for which you can follow the very detailed plans, this tutorial will show the crucial elements to building any movable coop, so you can design your own for the needs of your small farm or homestead.Continue to 2 of 9 below.
02 of 09
Build the Bottom Frame
We used 2-inch by 4-inch lumber for the bottom frame of our coop, and metal corner braces and screws to secure it together. The planks make a good size for the bottom of the coop.
Make sure the bottom frame is square. Use a square or the corner of a piece of plywood to check each corner, and measure the diagonals to make sure they are the same length.
If you'll be using your coop with a surrounding fence, figure on a minimum of three square feet per bird. This movable coop is nine feet by... eight feet, so a good size for about two dozen chickens. Right now we have 34 chickens in it with no problems -- it's summer and only at night are they all in it at the same time.Continue to 3 of 9 below.
03 of 09
Build Frame of Chicken Coop
The chicken tractor we built was an A-frame, but you can build a box or something with a shed-type (slanted) roof. It's up to you. Use a table saw to rip 2- by 4-inch lumber into thinner pieces to build the frame, and deck screws to fasten it together. If you use nails, it will come apart with multiple moves.
The two additional bottom pieces, or stringers, provide greater stability to the bottom frame of the chicken tractor.
As you'll see in later photos, we added collar ties across our... A-frame structure to add stability. Then we built the end framing -- simply three pieces of wood that form a frame for a door in each end.Continue to 4 of 9 below.
04 of 09
Additional stringers fastened to the end framing and supported with wood in the middle run the length of the coop and serve as roosts. Laying hens usually prefer to roost if given the option. Meat birds or broilers typically don't roost. Pullets and cockerels begin roosting at about three to four months of age.
The collar ties, seen here and mentioned in the previous step also serve as additional roost space. Generally, you want to aim for six to 10 inches of roosting space per bird. Roosts... should be at least two feet off the ground. For high roosts, make sure hens have a way to get up to them (that can be via a lower roost pole).
Roosts can be made out of recycled and repurposed materials (as can the entire coop, of course). Twigs and branches work especially well, as do old ladders. For portable chicken coops, though, make sure that the roosts are fastened to the frame of the tractor securely.Continue to 5 of 9 below.
05 of 09
Build Nest Boxes
If you keep laying hens, you'll need nest boxes where they can lay eggs. These can be simple and built into the frame of the tractor and lined with hardware cloth.
For the lower nest box, we built a simple box out of 2-inch by 2-inch wood and added a piece across the middle for stability, then stapled hardware cloth onto the bottom. We laid this over the stringers that make the roosts and screwed it to the end framing and the roosts.
We built 4- to 6-inch high sides of plywood, screwed... directly to the frame of the nest boxes. Make sure roosts and nest boxes are fastened to the structure for ease in moving.
To use recycled materials you may already have, you could attach plastic tubs or recycled wooden crates to the frame of a chicken tractor with screws.
Aim for one nest box or one square foot of community nest space per 4-5 hens. Nest boxes should be at least two feet off the ground.Continue to 6 of 9 below.
06 of 09
Build Doors for Nest Boxes
We added plywood doors and some additional protection for the nest boxes from blowing rain. This design allows for easy access to eggs. The nest boxes will be lined with straw.
You can close in as much as you want of your chicken tractor with plywood or other scrap wood, but remember that the more you close it in, the less ventilation it will have. For an A-frame shape, the ends of the As will be the main ventilation for the entire coop. For a box shape, you can have all four sides open or shield... two sides against the wind and for some structure to hold nest boxes. It's a good plan to have two opposing sides open for air flow-through.Continue to 7 of 9 below.
07 of 09
Build a Door and Close in the Coop
You will probably want to be able to close the portable chicken coop doors at night and move the chickens while contained in the coop early in the morning. It's also a good idea to be able to shut the hens in for selection of specific chickens for culling or other purposes (such as isolating a sick hen).
Build a simple lightweight frame with a cross support for the door, then staple chicken wire to it and to the frame of the tractor on both ends, or all four sides -- whatever your design... calls for. We used flat metal braces to hold the corners of the door together.Continue to 8 of 9 below.
08 of 09
Build a Roof
Roofing can be of many materials, and certainly scavenged and repurposed roofing of any sort would be a great choice. We used painted galvanized steel roofing. Other materials include greenhouse plastic or even a tarp.
Whatever material you use, make sure the roof covers at least part of the chicken tractor. For the box-type tractors where the chickens never venture outside the box itself, leaving part of the roof open to the sun (covered in chicken wire) will make for happier chickens.
You can... see that we left a little extra on the length of the roof cap, just to provide additional rain protection.Continue to 9 of 9 below.
09 of 09
Wheels are a key part of any movable chicken coop, except for some of the very smallest box-style chicken tractors where one end can be lifted and the rest dragged along the ground.
Ensure enough clearance for your terrain -- bigger wheels for bumpy, uneven ground, and smaller ones for level, short-cut grass. Wheels that are too big will allow birds to slip out from under the bottom frame as you move.
When you move your hens across the pasture, go slowly and watch for any getting caught under the... back of the frame. Ours do seem to figure out to walk along with their house.