How to build a mobile hen house / chicken coop
Last fall, we got to talking about how to better integrate our livestock with our vegetable fields. Our property straddles a country road. On one side of the road is the flood plain of the Russian River. That’s where the vegetables grow. On the other side, hills rise quickly up over the valley. That’s where we live, and where our animals live too. In this set-up, whenever we want to make use of the rich manure created by roosting chickens or feeding goats, we have to cart it all the way from the hillside to the compost pile a half mile away down on the flood plain. So, one day while we were grumbling after having spent hours mucking out the chicken coop or goat stall, we started brainstorming solutions to that unpleasant and time-consuming task.
One of the ideas we came upon was to try to bring the animals to the vegetable fields more often. (Of course, we’d still have to move them up to dry land in the event of a flood during the winter, but that would usually only be for half a month or so of every year.) Rather than shoveling chicken droppings out of the chicken coop, where the chickens roost at night, why not have the chickens poop right where we want to use their manure!? We could move the chickens around in a mobile coop, where they could graze old vegetable fields once they’re not being harvested any more. Then, after an appropriate rest period while the manure aged and bacteria were broken down, the newly fertilized fields could be tilled and planted again.
So, since winter time is project time, when January rolled around, we decided to begin enacting our plan. First things first…we had to find a long, skinny, sturdy trailer. After trolling Craig’s List for a while, a good one popped up in Lake County, and we brought it home.
Then, the walls went up. Most of the lumber came from the local compost company, which sells used lumber at reasonable prices.
We chose to make the coop pretty low-profile, to keep its weight down… so the walls are 4 feet on one side and 5 feet on the other. The eggs will be collected from outside, and the floor with allow droppings to fall through–so we shouldn’t have to crawl inside for anything on a routine basis.
At this stage, in the picture below, I started getting envious of the chickens and coveting their trailer as a farmer’s market produce display. Isn’t it just starting to look like a hot-dog cart or some food truck? “Step right up, get your kohlrabi! Get your cauliflower! Get your cabbage!” As much as I was tempted to veer off in a new direction on my project, our new chicks we already ordered (I think by this time they had actually already arrived and were in the brooder) at this point, so the clock was ticking on the coop.
We cantilevered the nest boxes out over the tire, to maximize inside space left for roosting.
The nest boxes have a slight slope, so that the eggs will roll away to a soft cushioned landing–making them easier to collect and less likely to get dirty. Maybe we’ll post some more details photos and explanations of the roll-away nest boxes once the hens start laying and we have a chance to see how well they work.
Below, all the walls and the roof are on, and all that’s left is finishing up the nest boxes and a couple other details. Notice the little white door that’s swung open at the far end. It’s about four feet tall; we bought a narrow solid wood door at the dump and sawed the top few feet right off, turning it into a little hobbit door. There’s also a small door on the near side, which will be hooked to an automatic closer/opener triggered by light and dark (See two versions here and here.) The doors will allow the hens to be out foraging during the day, while safely inside at night.
Once the chicks had been moved down into their new digs, we could peer in to check on them through the hardware cloth windows.
The floor is double layered, to discourage raccoons from reaching their little claws up and groping for chickens in the night. The top floor, for chickens to walk on, is made of 1×1 welded wire mesh (which was very hard to come by locally.) The lower, raccoon barrier is just made of chicken wire secured about 8-12 inches below the coop floor.
It’s a brave new world, chickies!