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This blog is meant to be a chronicle of the (mis-) adventures of my family and I as we adjust to country life. I'm a hands-on kinda guy, so many of the posts will take the form of illustrated How-Tos.
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How to Make a Mobile Chicken Coop

January 2nd, 2010 by Blogging Farmer

Chickens!The finished coopIf you have at all considered raising chickens at home, you have probably heard of Joel Salatin. If you haven’t, then I just told you about him. He’s a highly recommended read for the small-scale farmer concerned with raising animals efficiently, ethically and without the use of hormones or antibiotics.

Tuna, the Bull TerrierShark, the Great PyreneesFor chickens, Salatin recommends using mobile chicken coops with open bottoms. These allow chickens to free-range (allowing them to be healthier and happier), while also protecting them from predators (we’ve two dogs that are not averse to the occasional chicken) and keeping them confined (ever tried chasing down a loose chicken?). These are step-by-step instructions on how to build a mobile chicken coop.

We did not use the original Joel Salatin design, but what we thought was a much better one by Robert Plamondon. It’s a lot easier to service and, ironically, lighter than the Salatin one, which uses more wood. Lighter is good, because moving these things around gets old pretty quickly! It also keeps cooler.

Materials you will need:

  • 3 treated 2x4x8s (that’s 2″ by 4″ by 8 feet)
  • 2 treated 2x6x8s
  • Two 4.5×16 ft cattle panels (also known as “feedlot panels”, they are available at places such as Tractor Supply for around $15-20)
  • 1/2Two dozen or so 1/2″ conduit clamps (You can see a picture on the right, courtesy of Aubuchon Hardware… as in I shamely stole this from their website. However, I wanted to illustrate exactly what we used. They are available at most hardware stores for $4/dozen)
  • 9-10 treated 1x4x8s
  • Lots of screws; we used deck screws
    • 3 1/2″ screws for the bottom frame
    • 1 1/4″ screws for the rest
  • Hinges and latch for the door
  • 48″x50′ chickenwire
  • Lots of electrician’s ties; make sure you get a few of the 14″ long ones as you will need them to go around the 1x4s
  • Tarps (we used three 8 x 10 ft tarps)
  • Rope (we used 3/8″ braided polyester)
  • Electric cattle fence system (more details on this later)

Now I need to note that I came to the whole handyman thing relatively late. While I’ve gotten pretty good at some things, I like to keep everything as simple, stupid as possible. The most challenging part of this project was building the door to the coop, and after tackling that successfully, I was proud of myself for WEEKS afterwards (seriously!).

I also tend to overbuild. While we’ve only had the coops for two years, they are very solid. There has been practically no wear-and-tear and, conservatively, I would guess that they will provide at least 6-8 years of service. So without further ado, I’ll begin with the procedure.

The frame laid outFirst Step: Assembling the frame.

We laid two 2x4x8s and the two 2x6x8s on the ground in a square. The 2x4s should be opposite each other and so should the 2x6s (funny how that works itself out). The 2x6s are going to be the “runners” on which the coop slides around.

Screwing together the frameNext, bolt the frame together with the 3 1/2″ screws. We tried using 2″ screws at first because that was all we had, but that did not work so well. The proper term for what happened is, I think, “rapid spontaneous disassembly”. In the photo, the author is on the right. Please excuse the expanse of bare skin; when this photo was taken, I had no idea it would ever be finding its way onto the web.

Attaching the corner bracesNext, you need to cut the remaining 2x4x8 to form 4 corner braces. It’s not really important to keep them the same length; ours are roughly 2 feet each (8 foot plank divided into 4 pieces… do the math). Now flip the frame over (carefully, it’s not that tough until you put the braces in): you want the “runners” to be on the ground and the level side of the frame to be on top. Glovers, wear themAttach the corner braces to the frame using 3 1/2″ screws. We found that our power screwdriver was too wimpy to drive them all the way in, and we had to finish the job by hand. If you have to do this, don’t be an idiot like the author and wear gloves, or you will have blisters.

Completed frameHere is the completed frame, in case you needed a visual. Mostly it’s an excuse to throw in another photo. Please note how there is a roughly 2″ clearance under the front and back walls (the right and left walls in the picture).

Second Step: Building the dome.

TClose-up of pipe clampAttaching the cattle panelshis is where those cattle panels come in. The easiest way is to lay them along one side of the coop as you can see on the photo, attach them and then fold them over the top. Make sure you attach them to the 2x6s! There are probably numerous ways to attach the panels (Robert Plamondon uses heavy-duty staples). I chose to use pipe clamps. As I’ve said, I tend to overbuild.

The author standing under the finished domeFolding the panel overAfter you’ve got the panels attached, fold the panels over the top, as you can see my brother doing in the picture, and repeat the attachment process on the other side. We chose to overlap the cattle panels a little bit (4-6″) for sturdiness. In the second picture, you can see the author standing under the finished dome. There is plenty of headroom!

Third Step: Door and Rear Frame

Rear frameThese two are built from the 1×4’s. The frame for the back is pretty straightforward, as you can see from the picture. You can probably get away with using 2 verticals rather than three. If I were doing this again, I would do so, as weight becomes a huge concern when you’re lugging these things around every day. Here’s your opportunity to improve on the design.

Assembling the doorThe design of the door and the frame is pretty basic. It’s a wooden square inside a second, bigger square. I was very paranoid about getting the dimensions nice and even, but only because that’s exactly the sort of thing I would screw up. I laid everything out on the ground first, checked the corners with a square, and screwed everything together with 1 1/4″ screws. I also attached the hinges at this point, but not the latch, as I knew the door would sag slightly once it was vertical.

Finished doorAttaching the door and frameThen, I attached the door to the front of the coop. This step is a LOT easier if you lay a 2×4 right under the spot where you’re attaching the frame (remember, the front and back of the coop are raised off the ground!). Here is the door right after it was completed. I was VERY proud of myself. Almost immediately after it was finished, we realized that it needed a little more structural integrity, so I added a diagonal, which you can see in the pictures below. Raised thresholdAfter we actually began using it, we made two further modifications: a 1×6 plank screwed across the bottom of the door, to prevent chickens getting their necks caught between the door and the frame (don’t ask how we found out that that is a danger :-/ ), and a spring to pull the door shut if it is released.

For extra strength I fastened the dome to the front and rear frames using left-over pipe clamps.

Fourth Step: Where You Have Chickens, You Need Chicken Wire

Attaching the chicken wireAttaching the chicken wireThe next step is attaching chicken wire. A 50 ft roll is enough to completely cover the front and back and 4′ up the sides, with some left over. There is no need to cover the dome completely as you will be laying a tarp down over the top of it. I found the best way to attach the chicken wire is to start at the doorframe, go all the way around, then do the door and finally cover the Tuna!After attaching the chicken wiregaps left on the front and back. By far the easiest method to attach the wire is to use electrician’s ties. You can see that Tuna, our bull terrier, is enjoying the proceedings immensely. He’s one of the major reasons we need the coop in the first place.

Final Step: Cover with Tarps

Finished coopTo do this, we used more electrician’s ties. We used two heavy-duty silver tarps for the dome. They overlap 4 ft at the top—where they are needed most—and they can be rolled up in warm weather. For the back we used a lighter blue tarp. The coop is very weatherproof, as we’ve numerous chances to observe in the often less-than-clement weather of Upstate NY.

To drag the coop around, we tied a 3/8″ braided polyester rope to the front. Slipping a length of hose onto it makes it much easier on the hands. When moving the coop, it is important to take care that none of the chickens are caught under the rear wall.

To prevent anything getting in or out through the gap under the front and back of the coop, we used two 2x4x8s.

Chickens!That’s about it! You can start raising chickens.

We opted to install an electric fence system on the coop to deter predators. This is costly (about $150 extra, which is more than it costs to construct the entire rest of the coop), but we have a lot of predators in our area, including foxes, mink and coyotes, so we wanted to be safe rather than sorry. I will describe the procedure in a later post.

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