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How to build a mobile hen house / chicken coop

February 21, 2012

The chickens are going mobile!

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!

12 Comments leave one →
  1. February 21, 2012 7:55 am

    Love it! That’s going to be so handy for you and right now is the perfect time to get them out on the beds to pick through the weeds and pests. Sonoma Compost is the best! We got the wood for our latest chicken coop there.

  2. February 21, 2012 9:47 am

    Love this. Very practical I want one!

  3. Bill Kivett permalink
    February 21, 2012 12:34 pm

    Do you leave up Soda Rock Road from the Magnusons where the old Healdsburg Airport dirt runway used to be alongside the R River?

    Great idea on the coop BTW.

    Q: Can the droppings easily get through the narrow mesh rabbit wire on the bottom of the cart?

    • February 21, 2012 8:07 pm

      So far, the droppings have been falling through just fine, although the chickens we have in there now are still young pullets. And yes, bigger chickens make bigger poops. So we’ll see how it falls through as they grow. I’m imagining it may periodically build up in spots under the roosts, and that we’ll have to use a long shovel or other scraper to sort of push that stuff through.

      And nope, that’s actually not us on Soda Rock Road. Have you seen a mobile coop out there? If so, must be a different coop. We’re south of Healdsburg, over on Eastside Road.

  4. Sue T permalink
    February 21, 2012 1:30 pm

    Will the double wire repel foxes, too?

    I saw a smaller mobile coop at a horse farm in Virginia a few years ago. The owners used low temporary fencing in the day, letting the chickens graze in a grassy yard, and moving the coop and pen to allow access to fresh grass as needed. They mentioned foxes their largest concern, although I’m sure there were racoons in the area as well. I don’t know for sure whether their coop had a wire base or whether it was more plywood. I suspect the latter, with some way to scoop out the poop from the bottom.
    The coop was approximately square, tall (probably more than one level), and had very large wheels so the bottom was about 18-24 inches off the ground.

    • February 21, 2012 8:14 pm

      Sounds like a good one. We have a similar plan to that, with moving the hens from time to time with moveable fencing.

      Similarly, ours is also almost two feet off the ground.

      I hope it will keep foxes and raccoons out alike! I think the raccoon is the best gauge of a coop’s strength (or perhaps the weasel, if you have them…we don’t), since their dexterity is so great.

  5. jean bowen drewery permalink
    February 21, 2012 2:58 pm

    Entertaining and informative.

    • Miriam D. Tamburello permalink
      February 22, 2012 3:33 am

      Looks like you put a lot of hard work into planning and building the portable chicken coop; kudos to you both! I hope that it produces great results and makes your lives a bit easier. Blessings and love, Aunt Dolly

  6. February 22, 2012 8:09 am

    Good job, guys! I hope it works out well for you. I’ve built two chicken tractors over the last couple of years; here’s a picture of one here: My only complaints are that it only holds about 8 birds (you lift up one end and roll it to a new spot each day or two), and it is a chore to clean.

    I used 1/2″ mesh on the floor because we have minks here, and they can actually get through 1″ mesh. Needless to say, poops pile up. Otherwise I like it a lot.

  7. Evan Thomas permalink
    March 6, 2012 12:02 pm

    Awesome! My neighbors just got chickens for their yard here in Isla Vista (near Santa Barbara). The chickens aren’t as loud as I was imagining, not like a rooster atleast, and they’re an excellent source for breakfast eggs! I’m a student intern at FindTheBest and I would love to add Wisdom of the Radish to our blog comparison. Could you contact me at ethomas(at)findthebes(dot)com so I could get you added.

  8. Jackie King permalink
    February 16, 2014 6:55 pm

    Did you build roost inside the chicken house?

    • February 17, 2014 7:21 pm

      Yes we did! We used long eucalyptus branches and screwed them into the framework. It’s much safer that way — keeping the chickens up high in case a raccoon or skunk were able to fit its hand through…

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