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Impossible coop design?

 
pollinator
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So... we’re just over 1 year into chicken keeping. I built a mobile coop with 8-10 chickens in mind last summer and am considering different options now that we may be wanting to increase our numbers a bit. The current coop is about 4’x8’, has a roof that opens clam shell style for cleaning and whatnot, has a front and back door for the chickens, and has 2 axles (1 has caster wheels for ease of turning). It also sits about a foot off the ground and the chickens hang out underneath all the time.

Overall, the design has worked pretty well. We’ve had 7 orpingtons in there and there was room for at least a couple more on the roost. Floor space isn’t too much of a concern because even during winter, they prefer to be outside under the coop (we blocked it up about 18” higher and added straw bales on 3 sides for winter) instead of inside it. They basically lay and roost in the coop and are outside the rest of the time. Also, i can move the coop around on flat ground relatively easily by myself which is great.

My issues with the design is that there’s not much head space above them while roosted, which also limits the amount of ventilation I can give them which is very important in winter considering we get well below zero Fahrenheit. Also, I dont think we could really keep more than 10 chickens in there during the winter without excessive moisture build up inside.

I think it would be nice to give them more roosting space, more head space and still be able to move them around during the summer. Thing is, I’m not sure if I can alter the current coop enough to give them enough space, and I dont think I would be able to make a coop a whole lot bigger without needing either 2 people or a 4 wheeler to move it. This coop is pretty lightly built and its still surprisingly heavy. All that’s in it is 3 full sheets of plywood, 8 2x4s, some 4x4s as a frame underneath and 3 sheets of metal roofing on top.

Ive looked at Justin Rhodes chickshaw and that was partially my inspiration, but as far as I know, that wouldn’t suffice for a winter coop and also dont think his chickens roost in there. They might just be “meat birds”. So, I’m trying to decide between these options:

1. Try to retrofit the current coop and either get help moving it or hope that I can do it alone.
2. Keep the current coop for mobile summer use and build a stationary winter coop.
3. Build a new coop on a trailer and use a four wheeler or lawn mower to pull it around. Keep the current one as a sick chick coop, newcomer coop or brooder.

Does anyone have suggestions or experience building a mobile coop that can overwinter a dozen chickens and be moved easily?
 
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I hear your concerns are a need for greater ventilation and height/headroom for the girls.

Without adding significant weight, and providing additional height/light/headroom could you not remove the existing roof structure and add a 6-12 inch band of hardware cloth (1cm welded avian wire) around the top that could be closed in with clear coroplast/greenhouse panels or Glas if too cold in winter. Reinstall existing roof system that you are currently happy with, just plop it back on.

I doubt the extra lumber would add much weight, and unlikely to push you past the point where it becomes unwieldy - I would guess only 10lbs.
 
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That was my thought, but I was thinking glass windows might be too heavy and breakable. I'm not familiar with the weights of greenhouse panels. My thought was clear plastic like shower curtains. They could be bungeed down to keep them from blowing in the winter winds.
 
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I'm going to take a second approach:  Build a second one like the one you've got and operate the girls as two smaller flocks that can socialize with each other during the day if they wish.

Reasons: 1) I agree - 7 chickens in 4x8 ft is plenty when you consider airflow/heat/etc.
2) Having an "older flock" and a "younger flock" allows you flexibility when you need to add new chicks to refresh things.
3) Some things don't scale down or up - I've met way too many "portable" coops that don't move regularly because as you identified, they're too heavy or awkward to move, or they only move easily on flat, level ground which can be hard to come by.
4) The only way I know of to go lighter, usually involves plastic and I'm trying not to end up with more of that as recycling it is really unreliable. One thing you could try if money isn't an issue, is look into aluminium roofing options. If you do decide to raise the roof a little, please listen to Lorinne and use "1cm welded avian wire" and *not* "chicken wire" as we've had too many things chew through chicken wire. If the roof blocks rain from getting in, with that density of birds, I doubt you'd need anything covering it - chickens can cope with cold so long as they're dry. Consider the weather when you choose their winter parking spot and plan now for wind abatement (start plants??)
5) With two coops operating independently, it gives you more options as to where you put them. One year I had a small group of ducks acting as my "front lawn fertilization committee" and it really helped to improve the soil and make it more drought-proof. However, our septic field is under there, so running birds there full-time is not a good idea. Similarly, I've got some fruit trees, and I was able to move one of my 4x8 shelters around their drip line easily which I couldn't do with a higher or bigger shelter.

Just my thoughts!
 
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I like Jay's suggestion though if I were doing this I would:

Brody said, "Keep the current coop for mobile summer use and build a stationary winter coop.



Except mine would not be a winter coop.  Mine would be a year-round coop.
 
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I have a 4x12 chicken tractor .... about 6ft high with 2 windows.  I have moved it repeatedly without damage to the windows,  for what is is worth, I keep 4 chickens in it, and I don’t feel they have enough room.  
 
Brody Ekberg
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Lorinne Anderson wrote:I hear your concerns are a need for greater ventilation and height/headroom for the girls.

Without adding significant weight, and providing additional height/light/headroom could you not remove the existing roof structure and add a 6-12 inch band of hardware cloth (1cm welded avian wire) around the top that could be closed in with clear coroplast/greenhouse panels or Glas if too cold in winter. Reinstall existing roof system that you are currently happy with, just plop it back on.

I doubt the extra lumber would add much weight, and unlikely to push you past the point where it becomes unwieldy - I would guess only 10lbs.



I dont think this idea would work quite like you’re imagining, but it is giving me an angle I hadn’t thought of yet. I may be able to so something like this and make it work. I also may try to lower their roosts to give them more head space. I know people say to make the roosts at least a foot off the ground, but as of now their roosts are probably only 8” above the coop floor. They duck underneath all the time and dont seem to mind at all. Maybe because the coop floor is a foot above ground level, or just because even though its low, its still a roost and the only roost they’ve got, so they accept it. Either way, I could drop it down a few more inches. They wouldn’t fit under it anymore, but they dont need to. Its all poopy under there anyway.
 
Brody Ekberg
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Stacie Kim wrote:That was my thought, but I was thinking glass windows might be too heavy and breakable. I'm not familiar with the weights of greenhouse panels. My thought was clear plastic like shower curtains. They could be bungeed down to keep them from blowing in the winter winds.



I agree. If I do go the route of raising up the roof, I would probably use greenhouse plastic or something less fragile in the winter. I have plenty of plastic sheeting as it is, and that would let some light in for them.
 
Brody Ekberg
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Jay Angler wrote:I'm going to take a second approach:  Build a second one like the one you've got and operate the girls as two smaller flocks that can socialize with each other during the day if they wish.

Reasons: 1) I agree - 7 chickens in 4x8 ft is plenty when you consider airflow/heat/etc.
2) Having an "older flock" and a "younger flock" allows you flexibility when you need to add new chicks to refresh things.
3) Some things don't scale down or up - I've met way too many "portable" coops that don't move regularly because as you identified, they're too heavy or awkward to move, or they only move easily on flat, level ground which can be hard to come by.
4) The only way I know of to go lighter, usually involves plastic and I'm trying not to end up with more of that as recycling it is really unreliable. One thing you could try if money isn't an issue, is look into aluminium roofing options. If you do decide to raise the roof a little, please listen to Lorinne and use "1cm welded avian wire" and *not* "chicken wire" as we've had too many things chew through chicken wire. If the roof blocks rain from getting in, with that density of birds, I doubt you'd need anything covering it - chickens can cope with cold so long as they're dry. Consider the weather when you choose their winter parking spot and plan now for wind abatement (start plants??)
5) With two coops operating independently, it gives you more options as to where you put them. One year I had a small group of ducks acting as my "front lawn fertilization committee" and it really helped to improve the soil and make it more drought-proof. However, our septic field is under there, so running birds there full-time is not a good idea. Similarly, I've got some fruit trees, and I was able to move one of my 4x8 shelters around their drip line easily which I couldn't do with a higher or bigger shelter.

Just my thoughts!



I really dont like the idea of 2 separate coops/flocks just for the fact that it’s twice as much to manage. 2 feeders, 2 waterers, 2 places to scoop poop and change bedding, 2 coops to move around when its time... If I build a second coop, I’d rather it be stationary so that I can really build it well and convenient for them and us. Because the mobile coop is far from convenient for us. Its alright for them, but it’s main purpose was to be mobile and keep them sheltered, not be practical... I’m realizing that’s silly now that we’re a year in!

I do see all your points though and agree. Also, I could probably change up the roof to make it lighter. I could drop the roosts down a few inches, raise the roof a few inches and replace the 3 steel roofing panels with aluminum instead. That would provide more head space, room for ventilation and less weight. As of now, the roof is a full sheet of plywood with underlayment and 3 steel roofing panels. The roof is very heavy, so maybe changing that up would help alot.
 
Brody Ekberg
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Anne Miller wrote:I like Jay's suggestion though if I were doing this I would:

Brody said, "Keep the current coop for mobile summer use and build a stationary winter coop.



Except mine would not be a winter coop.  Mine would be a year-round coop.



Thats an option too. A permanent coop for the main flock and a mobile coop for youngsters, newbies or anyone injured or quarantined. But that presents new issues: twice as much chicken maintenance since there’s 2 coops and 2 flocks, and keeping chickens on the same ground year round really doesn’t sit well with me. I dont see how they wouldn’t ruin the yard, create an abundant parasite load in the soil and make for a stinking dirty mess. Unless their space was greatly oversized, which I would likely do anyway. Even now I usually give them way more than enough space in their runs.
 
Jay Angler
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Brody Ekberg wrote: A permanent coop for the main flock and a mobile coop for youngsters, newbies or anyone injured or quarantined. But that presents new issues: twice as much chicken maintenance since there’s 2 coops and 2 flocks, and keeping chickens on the same ground year round really doesn’t sit well with me. I don't see how they wouldn’t ruin the yard, create an abundant parasite load in the soil and make for a stinking dirty mess. Unless their space was greatly oversized, which I would likely do anyway. Even now I usually give them way more than enough space in their runs.

I admit I'm *totally* biased to a portable system, but it's definitely more work. There's this attitude out there that "chickens are easy" and that "chickens don't need much" but many people who raise their chickens with that attitude don't seem to care if an eagle takes 1/2 of them or a bunch of new chicks die of cocci.

If you want to try a permanent structure I would take a page out of Paul's chicken book and design it so that you have:
a) the coop with a permanent guaranteed safe run that you can operate on a deep mulch system.
b) a minimum of 5 paddocks surrounding that first run with pop doors that can open and close to allow access at your discretion.
c) plant those paddocks with all sorts of chicken-friendly plants and ideally some things that attract and support insects as chickens are big on eating insects.
d) ideally, plant shrubs and trees that humans benefit from also +/- have an area that you can plant some annuals for human consumption so you can give that paddock a longer break from chickens and still have it productive. Example: if Paddock 1 has raspberry canes, don't let the birds in that paddock for a month or so while you get a crop off.
e) rotate the chickens from paddock to paddock at least weekly.

Even better, I'd also take a page out of my book - learn from your mistakes and make sure you build to be convenient for humans.
Things I really want: standing room for my height for the "people door" and for the main area with no low area out-side my arms reach. Having to kneel in poop to reach a scared, sick chicken is bad planning!
All nest boxes are individual 12 x 14" boxes that can be easily removed for cleaning or isolating a broody bird. (and not too many of them - 3 boxes for 10-15 birds is fine if the boxes are deep and chicken-friendly, but have a spare for back-up).
All perches are easy to remove for cleaning and oiling (I use whatever cheap veggie oil I can get, as it's not as if the birds are going to eat the stuff, but it smothers mites.) Then I let them dry/absorb in the sun for the day then put them back in.
The coop itself has simple lines with few cracks on the inside for mites and lice to hide. Every time I've met someone who was complaining their birds didn't like going "home" at night, a quick look showed a massive mite/lice problem. This can happen to anyone as they can be spread by wild birds. Having a coop that's easy to clean for when the inevitable happens, happens at the design stage.
Some of the paddocks might even have a "free-range" pop-door, if you're in a situation where you can let the birds go further for exercise and bug control. Make a "chunnel" system if you want to be able to guide the chickens to a specific area to range.

This is a lot of work up-front to get working, but once it is, it is far less work and the chickens will be genuinely able to forage for much of their food. Unfortunately, my land is not well designed for this, so I'm sticking with the lightest weight portable structures Hubby could design and build and they move every second day, but it's  *huge* amount of work and we can only move them over grass/low forbs.  A lady can dream though! I suspect my ducks will get a paddock system before my chickens do and hopefully that will be this winter, as moving their portable fencing is a drag... pun intended!
 
Anne Miller
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I do agree with Jay's recommendations!

We have never had a chicken tractor so that is foreign to me.  I can't imagine how chickens would live in a tractor. I can see spending the day there but not at night.

We have always had a permanent structure with deep litter.

We have always had a chicken yard as we have never free ranged.  Our chicken yard would be the same as a chicken run.

We also use a lot of time-saving devices that would not work in a tractor like an automatic door and a nipple watering system.

I would suggest really looking into what Jay have recommended.
 
Brody Ekberg
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Jay Angler wrote:I admit I'm *totally* biased to a portable system, but it's definitely more work. There's this attitude out there that "chickens are easy" and that "chickens don't need much" but many people who raise their chickens with that attitude don't seem to care if an eagle takes 1/2 of them or a bunch of new chicks die of cocci.

If you want to try a permanent structure I would take a page out of Paul's chicken book and design it so that you have:
a) the coop with a permanent guaranteed safe run that you can operate on a deep mulch system.
b) a minimum of 5 paddocks surrounding that first run with pop doors that can open and close to allow access at your discretion.
c) plant those paddocks with all sorts of chicken-friendly plants and ideally some things that attract and support insects as chickens are big on eating insects.
d) ideally, plant shrubs and trees that humans benefit from also +/- have an area that you can plant some annuals for human consumption so you can give that paddock a longer break from chickens and still have it productive. Example: if Paddock 1 has raspberry canes, don't let the birds in that paddock for a month or so while you get a crop off.
e) rotate the chickens from paddock to paddock at least weekly.

Even better, I'd also take a page out of my book - learn from your mistakes and make sure you build to be convenient for humans.
Things I really want: standing room for my height for the "people door" and for the main area with no low area out-side my arms reach. Having to kneel in poop to reach a scared, sick chicken is bad planning!
All nest boxes are individual 12 x 14" boxes that can be easily removed for cleaning or isolating a broody bird. (and not too many of them - 3 boxes for 10-15 birds is fine if the boxes are deep and chicken-friendly, but have a spare for back-up).
All perches are easy to remove for cleaning and oiling (I use whatever cheap veggie oil I can get, as it's not as if the birds are going to eat the stuff, but it smothers mites.) Then I let them dry/absorb in the sun for the day then put them back in.
The coop itself has simple lines with few cracks on the inside for mites and lice to hide. Every time I've met someone who was complaining their birds didn't like going "home" at night, a quick look showed a massive mite/lice problem. This can happen to anyone as they can be spread by wild birds. Having a coop that's easy to clean for when the inevitable happens, happens at the design stage.
Some of the paddocks might even have a "free-range" pop-door, if you're in a situation where you can let the birds go further for exercise and bug control. Make a "chunnel" system if you want to be able to guide the chickens to a specific area to range.

This is a lot of work up-front to get working, but once it is, it is far less work and the chickens will be genuinely able to forage for much of their food. Unfortunately, my land is not well designed for this, so I'm sticking with the lightest weight portable structures Hubby could design and build and they move every second day, but it's  *huge* amount of work and we can only move them over grass/low forbs.  A lady can dream though! I suspect my ducks will get a paddock system before my chickens do and hopefully that will be this winter, as moving their portable fencing is a drag... pun intended!



I like all that advice and will definitely take it into consideration. Especially the oiling of their roosts. I haven’t heard of doing that but it seems like it could help, and I’ve got old sunflower oil I was just wondering what to do with yesterday. As of now, their roosts are actually just dried slabs of tree bark which they really seem to like, but they’re full of cracks and crevices. I haven’t seen signs of mites or lice yet but have been watching. Id need to replace the roosts to oil them, but planned on replacing them anyway as I tweak some things with the coop.

I also really like the multiple paddock system based around a permanent coop. I think if I build a permanent coop that will be the way to go. As of now, we have been rotating the 7 chickens across our front yard which totals around 16,000 square feet, but is in 3 sections due to a loop driveway. They spend winter (probably 5 months) on the same 6,000 square feet and then once the snow melts we get them on fresh ground about once every month or two depending on several factors. We try to keep them off the winter spot all summer to let it heal. I think if I make a permanent coop, it will have to be in their winter area and divide that into 3-4 paddocks. Something I’ll definitely consider.

And I totally agree that being portable is more work and that the people who think chickens are easy probably are not doing a lot of what we do. I’m ok with losing a bird occasionally, but try my hardest to keep them alive, happy and healthy and to be preventative with issues that could arise. Its more work than I thought it would be, but I feel good about it and they seem well. Plus, so far we haven’t had much of the dirty stinking yard ruining mess that can come with free ranging or a permanent run. Late winter was getting gross, but thats inevitable after 5 months and the area looks great now.
 
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