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

Portable Chicken Coop / Tractor – Main Page

The goal is to create a portable chicken coop to pasture our egg layers.  I’ve seen a lot of ‘the best coops’; however, I believe the best coop is matched to the individuals needs/wants.  I’ve not seen any coop that does exactly what I want to do.   So my Best Coop is going to be unique to me.  Here’s the attempt to make MY best coop.

I started this project late in the year and winter was approaching.   I wanted to get the layers in to a new home and not be building outside in sub freezing weather.  So wanting to get something workable quickly, I’m building this project in phases.  How quickly all the phases get done depends on the weather, but I’m expecting late spring/summer before I get it all done and the kinks worked out.

There will be several blogs in this series, so this will be a jump page to get to all the blog posts from one spot.  Posts will be linked once they are written.

Desired results:

For me, the result should provide a coop that’s easy to move and requires minimal effort to care for a flock of 7-20 birds.  It will be like a chicken tractor and include an enclosed aviary.   Every touch-point of caring for chickens will be examined to determine the best solution for the birds that also fits our principles and lifestyle.

Here are the details on the areas of the build that I’ll use as the jump page

  • Phase I
    • Planning
    • Structure
      • Tires
      • Frame
      • Floor
      • Door(s)
    • Roof and windows
    • Roll away nest boxes
    • Aviary
    • Initial food and water
      • Solar tire tub
      • Door Feeders
  • Phase II
    • Electronics
      • Solar Panel, Charger, and battery
      • Automated Door and Light
    • Solar heated waterer
    • Window Screens
    • Revisiting the floor and enclosing underneath the coop
    • Permanent Food and water
      • Tube nipple waterer and Front Awning
      • Outside feeders?
    • Aviary revisited
  • Phase III
    • Rain Catchment system (possibility)

Dual-purpose Chickens 11 – Anti-pecking layer boxes

What to do when you have chicken(s) pecking eggs?  I’ve tried several things with minimal success including adding extra calcium to their diet, ceramic eggs in the box, and separating who I guessed the culprit(s) were. All of these had minimal success and required more resources.

 

Then I found these boxes. 

I really liked these boxes and there are many different DIY types/variations of the roll away nesting box.  The basic principal is that the egg rolls to an area that’s hard or impossible for the chickens to peck.  I looked at various DIY types and liked the paint tray version the best.  It’s easy to make, would fit into my existing boxes with minimal remodeling, and are easy to remove and spray out when they get dirty.

Making them wasn’t too hard.  I bought the largest paint try that would fit into my existing boxes.  Besides fitting, the 10.75×15.5 tray seems to be a good size in general.  I bought a strip of outdoor grass carpet, created a pattern with the first piece of carpet, and used it as my template for cutting the rest.  It may be overkill, but I used outdoor carpet glue to adhere the carpet to the tray.  I wanted something that would withstand a strong spray of water for cleaning.

 

Top left and clockwise: Old box with drop down lid, Finished box with lift lid, Added 2×4 and blocker boards with paint tray example, Side view added 2×4 with tray example.

The refit of the boxes on the A-frame worked out good.  The previous door to collect eggs worked fine, but I would have preferred to have a lid that lifted instead of a door that flops down.

The existing boxes were too short to fit the tray, but it was easy to add length to the outside which also created the protected area for the eggs.  A 2×4 length worked great and I cut the old door and used to fill in the new wall sections of the new enclosure.

I added the green blocker boards inside the boxes where at the start/end of the deep part of the try.  This is to prevent the chickens from being able to reach the eggs that roll down and collect in the bottom of the tray.

The refit also gave me the lifting lid I wanted.  In the pictures, I used a 1×6 I had laying around for the lid, but I intend on using a 1×8 to cover it better and give me an area to lock it down.

 

We’ve used these boxes for over 8 months and it’s great to see eggs under the lid.   They are peck free and much cleaner.  Our current layers are fickle and tend to lay in the corner of the coop instead of the boxes; however, we do get frequent eggs in the boxes too.  Our new ISA Brown flock is laying consistently in their temporary boxes.  I look forward to them using the roll away boxes.

Chicken Tractor – for layers and broilers

As I’ve mentioned in my Chicken Tractor Guide, you can use the chicken tractor design for layers.  So this summer and fall we’ve used our idle chicken tractors to house the new flock of layers while the old layers are in the A-frame coop and being phasing out.

Layer Boxes

Since this was temporary, I did not fasten the layer box to the back wall, but you could easily make a light weight set of 2-3 boxes to hang off the back wall.  Instead we used a double box I made out of scrap 2x wood for another project.  It’s heavy but works good.

 

Tractoring

Optimal moving depends on the stocking density.  For our 8 birds I’d say about every 3-5 days.  We’ve gone as longer during busy spells, leaving the ground looking like a post-apocalyptic movie scene.  I reconciled staying in one place so long with the fact that using good feed and the pasture has plenty of time to recover before next year.

Their foraging area is much smaller than the A-frame; however, that can be mitigated with more frequent moving.  Also, I’ve already experienced that this lighter breed can fly over the chicken wire fence we use for the A-frame.

A final note. This ISA Brown flock really dug into the soil much more than my previous breeds leaving many deep holes when we removed the tractor.  I say deep, but the deepest was about 4-5 inches.  They seem to digging shallower holes as time passed, which may be a factor of us moving them more frequently or just age.

 

Supplemental roofing for the tractor

 

Since we have roosting poles already in our tractors, we only had one real issue, the tarps.  The tarps are medium duty and will typically last until the fall, sometimes longer, unless you have birds resting on them as we do.  Last year it was the crows that tore up the tarps.  This year it’s our flock of Guinea fowl.  Check out what a week of roosting can do to a tarp.

 

Fortunately I had an old piece of roofing laying around that I could attach to the top.  The boys just held some scrap pieces of wood on the inside of the coop that I fasten the roof to with screws.  This will protect the tarp and ensure a dry area underneath for the food dispensers.

 

Winter

October came and I decided not to move the chickens to the A-frame.  A chicken escaped the tractor during feeding and we caught her that night perched on the fence that keeps my Rainbow flock contained around the A-frame.  It’s really nice having them in the tractor, not needing to open and shut the coop each day and not worrying about them flying over the fence or aerial predation.

The cold of winter is my biggest concern.  I would want some better protection than the tarp and windbreak.  These are hearty birds and I’m think I could design a suitable shelter area in the tractor; however, snow is problematic for moving and requires some more thought.

 

The future of the layer flock

This experiment got me thinking about building a new chicken coup on a trailer frame and incorporating the best feathers of the A-frame, chicken tractor, and more.   Something very portable, versatile, and low maintenance.

Keep an eye out for the results of my new coop idea.  I’ll add a link to the new post here when it’s ready.  Until then, here’s a teaser.

-Jason

Family Project

Brothers M. started as a way for Joseph and Matthew to earn their way to the Scouts National Jamboree.  Both boys are still in Scouts and this summer we did family project for a merit badge, creating a walkway over a creek along our hiking trail.

 

A tree had fallen across our ‘sledding hill’ which is also part of the hiking trail and was directly uphill from the creek crossing.  Cutting logs and rolling them down the hill was a perfect opportunity to make a bridge.

Of course we picked the hottest day in September to start on it.  Wanting get out of the heat, dad tried to cut come corners with the chainsaw and ended up getting the saw stuck.  This necessitated having to chop off 3 6-8″ limbs with an axe; so much for not getting overheated.

 

Joseph coordinated placing the logs, cutting planks, and nailing them down.  Knots made the walkway more uneven than was desired, but then again, it’s a hiking trail.

 

A side result was that we cleared enough of the fallen tree to make the sledding hill trail serviceable again.  We’ll will wait until cooler weather to finish cutting the firewood though.

 

Supporting Local Agriculture and Artisans

One of our Farmers Markets posted a contest asking you to post a meal with at least 3 items purchased from the farmers market.  That spurred me to put together two pictures showcasing what farmers market items we had on hand purchased from the Seymour and North Vernon markets.  I was pleased at the quantity of items we had on hand, but not surprised.

 

These are not planned and staged pictures.  My wife, who was at the N. Vernon market that day, had no idea I was planning on taking these pictures and some of the items in the Seymour picture were not purchased that day or were repeat purchases.  Neither picture include the various past items that were not on hand such as mushrooms, flowers, sweetcorn, nuts, bread, biscuits and gravy, etc., etc., etc.

 

Even before we started selling we were purchasing locally grown meat and produce.  Not only is there tremendous satisfaction in knowing where your food comes from and the upstanding individuals that produced it, but the quality and experience is so much better.  Imagine having a seller explain to you how to tell a cantaloupe is ripe and point out that this one would be good to enjoy today, but another one should sit 2-3 days before enjoying it.  That’s just one of many examples I’ve witnessed at the markets.

 

Don’t think that I’m saying you need to purchase everything from a local source, we don’t; however, if it’s in season and we can buy it locally, we do.  Knowing where our food came from and supporting family farms and business in our communities is important and satisfying to us.

If you’re currently supporting local markets, God bless you and keep it up.  If not, give it a try; you might by pleasantly surprised.

-Jason