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Mobile chicken house design

Erik Lee


Joined: Sep 21, 2011
Posts: 104
Location: Zone 6 - Missouri
    
    6
I'm setting out to build a mobile chicken house to do some paddock shift chicken feeding, and while I *think* I have a pretty good handle on what to make I thought I'd ask the group to see if you have any tips or ideas that make things easier, better for the chickens, etc. The basic design I'm working with is a lightweight wooden house on large wheels with a metal roof. The floor will be slatted to allow fertilizer to fall out, and the nest boxes will be accessible from outside. Inside will be mostly roosting bars for the birds to sit on.

A couple of questions --
How far apart do you put your slats to prevent manure "bridging" and buildup, but still provide a floor that is comfortable for the birds to walk on?
Is it worth putting windows or skylights into the contraption, considering that the birds will likely only be inside at night?

I'm also thinking about setting up a nipple watering system that feeds out of a 5 gallon bucket attached to the outside of the house for use in the non-freezing months. Any experience with such a system?

Thanks!

Permaculture will save civilization: http://www.human20project.com
Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5326
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
Definitely want windows with screen or hardware cloth for hot summer nights, in my opinion. Ventilation is very important for poultry; the house shouldn't ever get "stuffy" inside. Some kind of ventilation is essential.


Idle dreamer

Erik Lee


Joined: Sep 21, 2011
Posts: 104
Location: Zone 6 - Missouri
    
    6
Excellent point about the ventilation, especially around here. Thanks!
Craig Dobbelyu


Joined: Dec 22, 2011
Posts: 955
Location: Maine (zone 5)
    
  31
I was going to ask a very similar question to the OP's when I found this thread.

Here's my plan

I'm planning on building a coop to function in a paddock system so it must be mobile.
I want to start with around 20 birds in the spring. I intend to keep 6 of them as layers and process the rest for the freezer.

My plans include a 4x8 ft coop raised 2 feet from the ground on large wheels. The roof will be 6 foot at the apex, one side shingled and one side clear poly carbonate for light access. The floor would be slats for manure and ventilation. One end would allow access for the birds and the other end would have a door for human access. Nesting boxes would be located on the shingled side of the coop and have human access from outside the coop. Roosting bars would be 4 feet from the floor.

My questions:

What thickness of plywood should I use for construction?
Is that enough room to house 20 birds at night only? I intend to have them in a paddock confined by electric poultry netting during the day.
Would the 6 laying chickens be too cold in a zone 5 winter (-10 F a few nights a year) in such a large coop? if so how can I mitigate their stress?
Would it be worth while to cover floor slats in winter and create a deep bed manure system?
I have constant snow cover for 4 months a year but would like to be able to let the chickens out of the coop. How can I manage this?
Have I made any obvious beginner errors in my plan?








"You may never know what results come of your action, but if you do nothing there will be no result”

-Gandhi
Marla Kacey


Joined: Jul 07, 2011
Posts: 37
Location: Wyoming Zone 4
One mistake I made on my stationary coop was to put poly on the roof for light. Sounded great, but in reality, not so great. It does give good light, but too much heat in the summer when the sun is high in the sky. And it leaks both air and water. I'm thinking of replacing it with plywood this coming summer.

In the winter, even on icky days like today, I open their little door which lets them out onto their chicken sun porch (used to be a chicken tractor). They get fresh air and some sun even if the snow is too deep to dig through.

Hope that helps some.
John Polk
steward

Joined: Feb 20, 2011
Posts: 6593
Location: Moving to: NE Washington USDA zone 5 Western steppes to the Rockies
    
135
Personally, I still believe in the 4 square feet per bird rule for coops...even if they are out all day. Your 4' x 8' would be ideal for your 6 overwinter birds, but would be too crowded for 20. Over crowded birds are more likely to have health problems, and often resort to aggressive behaviors and cannibalism.

I would consider a separate coop for the meat birds. They won't be around too long before you send them to freezer camp.

The plywood question is kind of a double edged sword. The stronger you build it, the harder it will be to move. The lighter you build it, the more likely it will 'wrack' each time you move it. For portable use, I would not go lighter than 3/8". The 1/4" stuff just doesn't have enough strength to hold up to all the moving.

Proper ventilation is far more important than warmth, even in zone 5 weather conditions. The US Army has been making their sleeping bags insulated with chicken feathers for over 100 years. The girls will go outside in the snow (especially if you can keep some greens poking up through it). They will probably be outside every day, as long as it isn't too wet or windy.

You probably won't be moving it much in the winter months, so you can stack straw bales outside the walls. That will help keep it warmer, and the straw can be reused for something else in the spring.

Your biggest winter woe will be keeping their waterers from freezing. Put about 2-3" of styrofoam packing peanuts in the water resevoir to constantly keep an insulated space above the water. Each time you add water, they will just float back to the top.
Craig Dobbelyu


Joined: Dec 22, 2011
Posts: 955
Location: Maine (zone 5)
    
  31
I was thinking about the weight of the coop. How big can I build a coop and still have a reasonable chance of moving it with a maximum of 2 people? I'd like to build a single structure just as a matter of simplicity and to keep some order around here. Does anyone have an idea as to what kind of investment i'm looking at for housing 20 or so birds? Can I give up some height in exchange for more floorspace? How short it too short?
Erik Lee


Joined: Sep 21, 2011
Posts: 104
Location: Zone 6 - Missouri
    
    6
Craig -- after some of the discussion of size here, I had the idea that you could make a coop that is basically a mobile elevated hoop house covered with some extra heavy duty fabric or very thin plywood with a membrane over it. It would have to be guyed down to keep the wind from blowing it over, but hoop houses are strong and lightweight. Kind of a covered wagon for pioneer chickens. I think that would make things a lot lighter, and the ribs would provide convenient attachment points for roosting bars. The nest boxes would have to be put on the ends where you had a vertical wall to work with. I may give this a shot, I'm a big fan of lightweight contraptions. The only thing is I'm not sure what to do about the floor.
Craig Dobbelyu


Joined: Dec 22, 2011
Posts: 955
Location: Maine (zone 5)
    
  31
Erik Lee wrote:Craig -- after some of the discussion of size here, I had the idea that you could make a coop that is basically a mobile elevated hoop house covered with some extra heavy duty fabric or very thin plywood with a membrane over it. It would have to be guyed down to keep the wind from blowing it over, but hoop houses are strong and lightweight. Kind of a covered wagon for pioneer chickens. I think that would make things a lot lighter, and the ribs would provide convenient attachment points for roosting bars. The nest boxes would have to be put on the ends where you had a vertical wall to work with. I may give this a shot, I'm a big fan of lightweight contraptions. The only thing is I'm not sure what to do about the floor.


I was just thinking about something like that. As a matter of fact I just bought a hoop bender from Johnny's Select Seeds. It bends 10 foot long metal conduit pipe in a six foot wide hoop. I was thinking about raising the meat birds in a modified mobile hoop house and then after harvesting the birds I could use the structure to cover food crops for season extension in fall and then for letting the laying birds out in the winter.

It seems that the longer I think about this subject the more questions I end up having.

Taylor Stewart


Joined: Feb 15, 2012
Posts: 45
    
    2
A stock panel makes a good chicken coop when bent into a "U" and covered with a tarp. Chickens can handle cold much better than heat, as long as they have a non drafty area to hang out in. I strongly agree with the use of screen doors in the summer and no clear plastic on the roof.

Here's some info on stock panel coops (he uses them for broilers, but with the addition of nest boxes they could be used for layers):

http://www.plamondon.com/hoop-coop.html

Remember a floor means every time you move the house, you move the weight of the birds. I would suggest either no floor if you want to move the coop with the hens inside (this can be dangerous to the hens), or moving the coop a short distance while they are roaming and slowly moving it further once they are used to the idea.
Erik Lee


Joined: Sep 21, 2011
Posts: 104
Location: Zone 6 - Missouri
    
    6
Stock panels do seem like a pretty good option. I currently use them with good results for my sheep and goats, and the resulting shelter light enough that I can carry it over my head and across electric fences without too much effort. That brings up an interesting question though -- I've been working on the assumption that there is a good reason to have the henhouse floor elevated off of the ground a bit, but now that I think about it I'm not sure why. Mice and weasels are good climbers, so the elevated floor wouldn't do a lot for them. Maybe it helps prevent entry by digging (i.e. foxes and dogs). I intend to use a guardian dog, so hopefully predators won't be much of a problem. Is there more to this story with the elevated floor?
John Polk
steward

Joined: Feb 20, 2011
Posts: 6593
Location: Moving to: NE Washington USDA zone 5 Western steppes to the Rockies
    
135
I see no need for an elevated floor in a mobile coop. It would increase the weight and design details. plus it would complicate the moving. A grassy field makes a good, trouble-free floor (no construction required). It puts the manure right where you want it - on the soil.

Any manufactured floor (mesh, slats, whatever) will still need to be cleaned periodically. It will rot out eventually, causing more work and expense.
Chicken shit belongs on the ground, not (partially) contained in a structure.

Hoop house structures can work well for poultry. Simple, light weight, and inexpensive. If your area experiences gusty winds, a simple anchoring system should be part of the plan. I have seen one blown into a neighbor's pasture...a para-glider for chickens!
Nicola Marchi


Joined: Sep 20, 2011
Posts: 73
    
    3
I must start by admitting that I haven't had any experience with chickens outside of California and Florida so my guesstimation of what chickens might need for heat will probably be well off and i won't even try to address that problem.

The greatest problem i've seen among almost a dozen chicken owners I've known well was predation. If you make an open bottomed hoop house, you should probably be careful to make sure that another hungry animal can't either dig under the walls or lift the hoop house enough to crawl in.

I know I've seen the result of a raccoon getting under a poorly secured run enclosure and it wasn't pretty.
Ivan Weiss


Joined: Dec 19, 2009
Posts: 157
Location: Vashon WA, near Seattle and Tacoma
I use Plamondon's design, as Taylor links to above. That way I don't have to bother with wheels or floors. The structure is light enough for me to muscle around, but has enough tensile strength to resist wind damage.

I invest a lot more hardware in the corners of the base than Plamondon does. I use 2x4s on edge, and I through-bolt two corner brackets, a smaller one inside and a larger one outside, at each corner. For anyone who might think this is overkill, I say it isn't. Neither is putting a lock washer on each nut. To get these things to last and to serve well, it does not pay to scrimp on fasteners.

I am finding that the same applies to bungees. My damn cattle can't resist rubbing up against the chicken coops, and cheaper bungees, cheaper tarps, and cheaper grommets eventually succumb to all that friction. I just consider it a necessary tradeoff and deal with it.

I was having raccoon problems until I scooped up a dead roadkill coon and hung it inside one of my chicken houses.


Pastured poultry, pork, and beef on Vashon Island, WA.
Craig Dobbelyu


Joined: Dec 22, 2011
Posts: 955
Location: Maine (zone 5)
    
  31
My reason for raising the coop up off the ground is so that the birds have a place to hide from air attacks. We have a very open field on a hillside and little cover for the birds at this time. Hawks, falcons, eagles and every kind of land predator visit my property daily. Being able to go under the mobile coop could provide shade and a cooler place to rest in the summer for the birds.

My plan was to surround the coop with electric poultry fence for protection and to act as a paddock border. This would allow me to move everything in early mornings before the birds are let out.

The more I think about it the more I'm considering starting with 12 birds and then keeping the most relaxed ones as layers and then process the rest for meat. Once that is done I can restock the population for a second batch of meat birds later in the year. This way I can cut down the size of the coop, keep it mobile, keep better track of the birds and better care for them.

Does this sound like a good solution?

The only problem I foresee is a territorial issue between the second flock of meat birds and the established layers.

Devon Olsen


Joined: Nov 28, 2011
Posts: 1002
Location: SE Wyoming -zone 4
    
    6
what about building a paddock with the shelter in the middle?
then simply close off all but one of the areas at a time, then you don't have to move the coop and the chickens are still being rotated
the reason i suggest this is because it makes it possible to build a sepp holzer inpired coop that is insulated by the earth...
just a thought


Current Cheyenne, WY project
"Do you Hugel?" T-shirts and other products
Craig Dobbelyu


Joined: Dec 22, 2011
Posts: 955
Location: Maine (zone 5)
    
  31
Devon Olsen wrote:what about building a paddock with the shelter in the middle?
then simply close off all but one of the areas at a time, then you don't have to move the coop and the chickens are still being rotated
the reason i suggest this is because it makes it possible to build a Sepp Holzer inpired coop that is insulated by the earth...
just a thought


I'd like it to be mobile because I have 6 acres of field that was neglected by the previous owner. I was hoping to use the chickens to clear pieces of the property as the seasons go on. My annual garden is the place that i'd like to start them in the spring. Once finished there I'll need to move them to a second garden on the opposite side of the property. I like the idea of the earth sheltered coop but currently it just doesn't fit my design.

I really appreciate all of the conversation on this topic. Thank you everyone.
Devon Olsen


Joined: Nov 28, 2011
Posts: 1002
Location: SE Wyoming -zone 4
    
    6
i see, in your situation a portable chicken coop is definately the way to go then.
was gonna add more but got distracted tab flipping
Chris Kott


Joined: Jan 25, 2012
Posts: 796
Location: Toronto, Ontario
    
    9
Hi all,

Just wanna pitch my two cents. If you wanted a semi-stationary chicken-tractor/mobile coop-and-run for low-infrastructure chicken paddock shifting, I think that if you made the enclosure (I like electric chicken fencing, personally) in the shape of a long isoceles triangle (two long sides coming to a point, and a shorter third side), the coop could be made in the narrow part of the triangle, no floor for direct fertilization of the pasture, access to nest boxes from outside the enclosure, and designed to pivot on the point of the coop (the point of the triangle forming the back of the coop is a fixed pole), such that a small motor and one powered wheel (or a bicycle attached to the paddock frame) can be used to rotate the whole thing, ideally a 28th of the whole, but that would mean a huge paddock. With enough space, series of these could be set up such that, instead of moving in 28ths so that a full rotation (28 days) sees a return to a fully recovered slice of paddock, the paddock could advance in 14ths if another coop were available to transfer to, i.e, an adjacent identical structure, or 7ths if there were 3 for every 1 in use. One could ostensibly also add a large caster on a jack to the fixed pole, which would make the whole structure mobile, allowing for much less narrow paddocks, albeit ones that must be moved more than simply in a circle, which is much easier to automate.

One could also do a similar thing with a rectangular coop pivoting on a single back corner placed in the centre of a square/rectangular pasture. This pasture could be subdivided into four, and the coop would be able to be switched to each quarter as needed, whenever the 40% of cover crops are consumed, with the benefit of a fresh floor with every rotation.

As to really mobile coop designs, I urge any who don't know what I'm talking about to check out the design of the ancient chinese wheelbarrow. If I'm not mistaken, it looks like a conventional western one,except the wheel is larger and placed back where the legs are on the conventional design, meaning that to lift and move the load, one pushes down on the handles, aided by one's weight, as opposed to having to lift most of the weight fighting gravity and still having to push it. You could design a mobile chicken coop with wheels on one side and handlebars on the wheel side that fold or slide in when not in use, and as long as they socket into the frame, one could build a very large coop and move it alone. The chinese moved hundreds of pounds at a time using this principle, if not tonnes.
Devon Olsen


Joined: Nov 28, 2011
Posts: 1002
Location: SE Wyoming -zone 4
    
    6
the chinese wheelbarrow inspired coop design sounds like a smart idea to me OP, i think that may be one of the best solutions mentioned thus far for your mobility purposes
Chris Kott


Joined: Jan 25, 2012
Posts: 796
Location: Toronto, Ontario
    
    9
Thanks, Devon. I think that the beauty of the idea is that whatever you're building, as long as the whole structure and wheels are heavy-duty enough, the limiting factors end up being the length and strength of the handles. Especially if the focus is rehabilitation or improvement of the soil being grazed, I think a focus on low-infrastructure is important because of accordingly low start-up costs. I could see making the bulk of the coop structure out of two to four bicycles bolted together, with forks fixed in place and fitted with feet as supports. Also, as to coop floors, specifically where it comes to moving the coop and the disposition of the birds, has anyone tried a floor that slides out in one or more sections out of a slot accessible from the side near the bottom, akin to most bird cages? They could be put in only when moving the coop for the sake of cutting down on the need to pressure spray your removeable floors, but it would work.
Mike Turner


Joined: Sep 23, 2009
Posts: 154
Location: Upstate SC
    
    1
Chris Kott wrote:

As to really mobile coop designs, I urge any who don't know what I'm talking about to check out the design of the ancient chinese wheelbarrow. If I'm not mistaken, it looks like a conventional western one,except the wheel is larger and placed back where the legs are on the conventional design, meaning that to lift and move the load, one pushes down on the handles, aided by one's weight, as opposed to having to lift most of the weight fighting gravity and still having to push it. You could design a mobile chicken coop with wheels on one side and handlebars on the wheel side that fold or slide in when not in use, and as long as they socket into the frame, one could build a very large coop and move it alone. The chinese moved hundreds of pounds at a time using this principle, if not tonnes.



I've never seen a traditional Chinese wheelbarrow of this design. The ones I've seen are of two different designs. One is the typical "garden wheelbarrow" design with the load carried between the wheel and the operator, but with a larger diameter wheel than is used in western wheelbarrows. The second design has a large wheel with the load centered on the wheel so all the operator does is to guide the large wheel with its load and is doing very little actual lifting. In both designs the legs are between the wheel and the operator so the operator has to first lift the handles to start moving the wheelbarrow.

The second wheelbarrow design can carry much heavier loads, it would be harder to adapt to a mobile chicken coop because it doesn't lower the load down to the ground when it is not being moved. A wheelbarrow coop has to be able to be lifted up for ground clearance when it is moved, but then be set down with its bottom flush with the ground when it is stationary. I'm using a 12' X 4' X 6' high wheelbarrow coop using 4 wheels taken from a defunct garden cart. The wheels are set next to the nest box end of the coop where most of the weight is and the handles are 4' long so I'm working a 16' lever when I move the coop.
Chris Kott


Joined: Jan 25, 2012
Posts: 796
Location: Toronto, Ontario
    
    9
Thanks Mike,

Perhaps I saw a bad picture and made it all up. I still like my idea, mostly because it does everything you want it to do, and to lift the load, you push down on long handles. To make it stop going, like a conventional wheelbarrow, you stop. It is just that the operator's effort is aided by gravity, rather that fought by it.

As a matter of fact, if anyone has seen plans of what I've proposed, I'd love to see a link. If not, I believe I've just tripped over a useful idea.

-CK
Erik Lee


Joined: Sep 21, 2011
Posts: 104
Location: Zone 6 - Missouri
    
    6
I thought I'd follow up with what I actually ended up building as a solution to the chicken housing crisis. I made it out of scrap materials I had laying around (as is probably pretty apparent...) so the total cost was about $20 I think. The sides and roof are reused tin. In the front where the handles are (the far end in the picture) it opens up so I can reach the eggs in the nest boxes. The floor is chicken wire and welded wire fencing, with some wooden slats interwoven to make it stiffer. There's a ramp inside that goes up to the roosting bars, which run the length of the house from front to back. Ventilation is provided at the gable ends, which are both open. It stays nice and cool inside during the day so far, even when it's 85 degrees, strong sun, and no breeze (i.e. today). The contraption is pretty heavy, which I actually ended up deciding was a good thing because it makes it more wind resistant. Because of the center balanced wheel design (thanks Chris for the idea) I'm still able to move it one handed while enjoying a mug of lemonade with the other hand. It looks pretty rough, but so far the chickens haven't complained to the management....

Chris Kott


Joined: Jan 25, 2012
Posts: 796
Location: Toronto, Ontario
    
    9
That's a great job! Good use of scrap as well. I think if the axle for the wheels sat just under, or even in a cut out in, the bottom frame, and even closer to the handles (away from the coop door in the picture), the coop would be much closer to the ground. If the wheels in the picture were affixed to the frame (I don't see an axle there) close to the bottom corners by the handle, you might need to add extensions to the handles, but it would work at least as well, possibly better, and the centre of gravity would be lower.

-CK
                            


Joined: Jun 02, 2011
Posts: 2
Location: New Zealand
Something simple, portable, easy to store when not in use....



I have some additional info here in my personal page with intention of detailing how to construct if helpful
Eivind Bjoerkavaag
the navigator


Joined: Sep 17, 2012
Posts: 47
    
    5
Hello fellow permies!

My friend Elias Boysen as the handyman and myself as the visionary are ready for some peer review here.

What do you think of this portable chicken coop for my 15 chickens? It is not entirely in scale, but it is pretty accurate I'd say.

All feedback is welcome, especially those about distance between roosts, I see that it might hold more chickens than my 15, but how many? The roost ladder would be almost a meter and a half long and 65 cm wide (5 feet long, 2 feet wide).

Please quick reply as we have already started the work, ever so slightly.



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