Portable Chicken Coop / Tractor – The Structure

Trailer Frame and coop

To me, easy to move means on a well-balanced trailer.  Chicken tractors are great, but I wanted more substantial winter protection than a tarp, which means more weight and harder to move.  I was gifted this frame(1) for this project.  It was pretty ruff, so I used a wire wheel to clean it up.  While knocking off the rust, I could tell it was once blue, so Rustolem deep blue it was.

I wanted to keep the center of gravity low, so a tall coop was out.  Additionally, I had several 4′ wide pieces of wood panels that were around 30-36″ tall.  Keeping the maximum height of the coop to 4′ in the front allowed me to use these scrap pieces and only purchase one 8′ panel for the front two sections, the trailer is 8’x3.5′.

 

Accessibility

The low height meant two things.  Plenty of access from outside so I don’t have to go in and a remove able floor so if I do, I gain another 18 inches by standing on the ground.  Initially I planned on removable external nesting boxes and each end as a door; however, it was easier and less time consuming to semi-permanently attach the nesting boxes.  I’ve held off on adding a door on the tongue end of the trailer.  It’s bent upward, presenting complications with a full door and is also the best place to put the battery.  I’ll look at adding a smaller door later.

 

Lacking removable boxes and the 2nd door, I decided to make the windows access points instead; this will work out well when I need to remove birds while sleeping on the perch.  The windows were always going to be hinged at the top so they can be opened out and not let rain inside, so that access was covered.  However, instead of a fixed hardware cloth screen for the windows, I’ll make hinged screens that open giving access to the birds inside.

 

Floor

It has to be easy to clean and for that  I’m a big fan of open bottoms and poop boards.  Both are relatively easy to clean.  A mesh floor to let the droppings fall through is the ultimate goal, but after seeing the shape the trailer was in, I don’t want to encourage more rust by letting droppings fall on my new paint job.  I plan to mitigate this by covering the undercarriage cross members with corrugated pipe for protection and possibly easier clean-up.  Then I’ll build a frame and cover it with 1/2 inch mesh for an ‘open bottom’ floor.

However, to save time this fall, I went with a cheap solid floor.  I picked this piece up for $5 in the damaged section, since it was damaged on the sides and I didn’t need the entire 4′ length.  It’s slick surface allows me to easily scrape it clean with a rake.  To get a better clean, or to get inside the coop, it’s removable.  The mesh floor will be removable too when I build it.

 

(1) Footnote: My father-in-law deserves big thanks and recognition for donating parts to this build.  He donated the trailer and windows in this post.

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Portable Chicken Coop / Tractor – The Plan

Floor Plan

I’m not going to outline a step by step plan as I did in my free Chicken Tractor How-to Guide.  This is not a repeatable blueprint.  However, I did put a lot of forethought into this build.  Usually my plans stay in my head augmented by some hand drawings and/or notes.  But Bill Mollison teaches putting the majority of your time in observation and planning.  So this time I  created a better blueprint than I normally do, click on the images to make them bigger.

Why this coop?

Trailer Frame

We kept part of our layers in a chicken tractor this past summer and fall and I really liked it.  There was no fence to move, no coop door to open and close, and the open air tractor is great for pasturing.

So why not use a chicken tractor permanently?  The idea is very tempting and I may still convert a chicken tractor; however, there were several reasons or excuses not to.    Adding the refinements I wanted would mean adding weight and making it harder to move.  One person can move the chicken tractor, but it’s so easy with two we’ve gotten in the habit of double teaming the chicken moves.  Frankly I’ve gotten spoiled.  A coop on wheels allows me to put in a lot of features without worrying about the weight.

The girls would like to be able to care for the chickens without having to enter the tractor, because grown roosters are mean and scary.

Side View with boxes

We’d need whatever chicken tractor I converted in the spring for the broilers and I didn’t want to be under the gun to build a new tractor in the spring.

I really like the idea of easily moving the layers longer distances to any part of the property that needs worked, chickens and all.   The A-frame is fairly easy to move once it’s wheels are on, but it’s so heavy it takes a lot of effort to put the wheels on.  And worse, we have to catch and transport the chickens separately.

The plan.

Front View of Coop
Front View

I started by listing what I wanted and prioritizing.  Everything is designed to provide pasture and comfort to the chickens as well as simplicity for their human caretakers.  Below lists what I wanted, mostly in order of importance.  Being layers, we’ll have to interact with the flock every day, so things like multi-day feed and water were lower priority and things like easy to move and mobility were high on the list.

I plan on going into each of these deeper in future blogs.

Requirements

  • Easily moved by one person
    • Easy lift trailer hitch
    • Pull with something as small as a garden tractor
  • Enclosed aviary for scratching (tractoring)
    • Optional Skirt around coop for additional foraging/shade under coop/layer boxes
  • Peck-proof boxes with easy access lids on outside
  • Automatic coop door.  This means power supply (batteries and solar panels)
  • Easy to clean droppings
    • Floor options
      • Open/screened bottom.  Allow droppings to fall through and open air
      • Solid board.   Removable and easy scrape surface
    • Continuous perching space, up to 20 birds
  • Windows and natural lights
  • Access panels all around so we don’t have to enter coop
    • Ends are doors
    • Removable coop boxes?
  • Anti-freeze waterer
  • Easy access food and water
  • Rain Catchment system

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