Also Known As
Cheap-as-free Scrap Built Meat Chicken or Pullet Grow-Out Suburban Wax-Box Tractor!
Okay, well, there's likely better ways to do this, but this was my solution for raising my meaties on NO budget (other than feed budget). I made it out of exclusively things I already had at my house for other reasons. I find a lot of people spending $500-$3000 on a coop and that's just not practical especially if you want meat birds! Chances are if your feed is like mine ($15-$18 for 50lbs) you are already spending $1-$1.50/lb raising your own chickens and you will NEVER make back even $150 put into a lousy tractor with a pen. Some of us don't have easy access to pallets (some cities around here will arrest you for taking pallets or picking trash) or free wood or any building materials really. A lot of us can't free-range our birds and have them come back to a free dog house at night. So this is for those of us trying to be minimalistic and cheap and practical with our birds with severely limited resources in snooty high-regulation neighborhoods!
Now keep in mind the following things because this is my disclaimer;
This is supposed to be free or nearly free to make. Really. This is not a "shoestring budget" coop, this is a "stuff you find in the trash, that you can find on your street, that you can sneak back to your house on-foot in the dark because trash looting is illegal, put together in a few hours and call it a day" kind of coop. If you're going to spend real money on this make something better. This is NOT PREDATOR PROOF, NOT WINTER PROOF and NOT PRETTY this is instead NEARLY FREE and only takes a few hours to make (I did it in three). This is not an acceptable coop for Already Laying Hens because they will probably lay eggs in the same box they sleep in and that's bad. This is not even really a coop, it's a tractor to grow your meat birds or pullets for 8-16 weeks.
If you want a predator proof Chicken Condo with a fancy ramp, nest boxes accessed from the outside, wheels that lets you move it easy and a nice looking pen with hardware cloth on all sides even the floor, this is not that coop and you should be prepared to pay actual money for that.
I didn't take pictures during the making process, so you'll have to deal with some not-so technical drawings.
THIS TRACTOR IS A 4'X4' TRACTOR WITH A 30" HEIGHT. It's good for growing out about 6-8 chickens to either laying age or for meat! You can easily double the size of it (to a 4'X8' tractor) but you will need more staples, and a middle upright support and screws and you will have to use 2X4's. This may add about $30 to the coop in total extra costs (wire, wood, etc.).
Technically I purchased things that went into this coop, but I purchased them with the intention of using this tractor for years to come as a rabbit tractor/play-pen and also to build lots of other things. So much of this was scrap bits I had lying around already, but brand-new it would cost me about $20-$30 in materials. The costs are the cost for the AMOUNT of the material I used, not for buying whole rolls. You may want to inquire with friends to have or even buy some scraps of the materials off of them if they're already buying them anyhow. Here are the materials I used in this tractor, all can be found at Home Depot;
YARDGARD 100'X4' roll of 2"X4" wire; 14 gauge. I used about 15' of this.
If you can find 15' of any 4' high wire fencing of at least 14 gauge this will work. This means things like scrap rusty chainlink that people are throwing out and stuff. Just wash it off some and use it. This isn't going to be pretty no matter what you do.
Tight Wire (1-inch 20-gauge woven steel wire fencing 3'X50' AKA chicken wire, but you could also use 1/2" hardware cloth to be safer)
This was an add-on to keep those dumb birds from sticking their heads out to have them ripped off by predators, ie, my own dogs and some local hawks. This was the only issue I ended up having with the tractor. I had some scrap chicken wire lying around and this was all I needed. I cut the 3' high wire in half and wrapped it around the lower half of the coop. This is all it strictly NEEDS per-say, you can go for hardware cloth for added security, but it does need it. You can use any tighter wire or even cardboard, plastic, cloth, whatever, just so long as the birds can't stick their fool heads out. Given the purpose of this wire you MAY even get away with a plastic mesh... Unless you also wanna use it for rabbits someday like me in which case they will eat through that so don't do it.
16-Gauge Galvanized Steel Wire OR Just Use Zipties/c rings/j-clips
I used this to bind the sides/roof together. I got the wire because I wanted to build this sturdy enough for vigorous, adult, 10lb male rabbits and I will be making complete rabbit cages out of these materials later. I got a $8 roll of 200ft and a 25' roll is $2. No idea how much I used but I think I used about 25'. You could also just use zipties.
Sigman 5'X7' Blue Tarp
I had one of these lying around with a few small holes in it and half of it cut off. This was free for me. Any scrap tarp or sheet plastic will do. You could even use a black heavy-duty garbage bag split open into one flat sheet. This is just to tack down and keep the rain off.
You can use whatever you have lying around. I used some 3' garden tomato stakes, but if you wanted to go heavy-duty you could use 2X4's or something. You'll need at most 16 feet in 4' sections. You could even use 4 4'-long sticks that are very straight and about 1-2 inches in diameter. Yep. Cheap as free.
Staples For Staple Gun and 4 zip ties
You wanna count this as a cost?
If you use 2X4's on the bottom you may also wanna bother spending the investment in four simple screws to hold it together. I didn't so I didn't. Next time I might.
2 Waxed produce boxes;
Free from a grocery
Free from anyone who gets the newspaper
Don't pay for those last two things or go out special for them or spend gas on it. Pick them up while you're already out or just walking around. These are literally trash.
A way to cut your wood into 4'ish sections.
You will need to cut the 2X4 wire into five sections, four of which are about 30 inches, and the last of which is 48 inches. On a 2"x4" wire that means cutting 15 2" holes for each 30" side and 24 for the 48" side. This gives you four walls and a roof. When cutting try to make the cuts so that there is a flat side to the wire and a side with long wires sticking out.
Stand two sections of wire so the 30" side is vertical and the 4' side horizontal. Make the cut ends with the wire sticking out face up and the flat cut ends down. Use either your galvanized wire to "weave" the corners together, wrapping around and around going up the wire to the top, or just zip-tie the sucker in 4-5 places. Wire all four walls together to make a box with horrifying sharp wire spikes sticking out of the top.
Check out this intense technical diagram for details!
Once you have all four walls wired together at the corners, simply place your 4'X4' piece on top and turn the wires sticking up over the top with your pliers to keep it in place. Pull the wires around as tight as you can.
Highly Technical Diagram #2
Next, cut your wood, place it along the inside bottom walls and staple it in place. All I used for this were 3' garden stakes I got for 50 of or so for free this year. If you're using something like 2X4's, you can consider screwing them together to make a very sturdy box shape. The wood gives the tractor a little more structure and helps weigh down the bottom of it.
Now to make the door. Look at the top of your tractor and decide where you want the door. If you want it so that the 4" wires are sideways you will need some wire to make sides. If you choose so that the 2" wires are sideways you need wire at the end of the door. I chose so the 4" holes are sideways.
Cut out your door shape AFTER the first non-side wire. This photo shows the side I screwed up and had to try to fix it. Don't do that. Cut after the next wire in towards the middle. If you're cutting the 2" side, just cut the loose wires off completely. If cutting the 4" side, wrap a wire around the base of the door and run it up the side, folding the loose wire ends over it. It creates a sort of "door frame". If you chose the 2" side, you will need to do something similar at the top. Your door is best with flat "finished" wire on all sides.
When you reach the "top" of the door, cut the wires flat against the door, letting the ends stick out from the tractor itself. Then simply use your pliers to bend those back into hooks. To close the door just hook the end wire of the door over the hooks. To open, unhook it and roll it back. I suggest making a door at LEAST 14 inches deep. Mine is 20.
You can also see the garden stakes I used in the picture for the bottom of the tractor.
Ultra-Technical Diagram #3!
At this point the tractor is nearly functional! I thought it was fully functional until one night I left the box out; the result was a dead chicken. I also had one of my dogs get to the chickens too. Why? Because a 2"X4" gap is big enough for a chook to stick their heads out like a derp even when there is a predator about, and then the next thing you know you have one chicken in isolation because of your dog and another one beheaded by a hawk because they just keep sticking their heads out. So at this point simply wrap some tighter, cheap wire or something around the bottom 12-18 inches of the tractor to keep them from doing this. I just cut bits of the tight wire to wrap around the existing wire to secure it but you could use some of the 16 gauge galvanized wire or zip ties to secure it if you like.
After that I zip-tied a tarp onto one side and just pull it over when it's raining to cover most of the tractor and lay a stick across it to keep it from blowing off at the other end. It works well.
And now comes the most important part, the wax box. Around here it's been dropping into the 50's at night and I wanted the chooks to stay warm. They were in a tractor at three weeks old, after-all, not even quite feathered out. I gave them a standard produce box turned upside down and they loved it. I put a straggler away the first night and it felt like 80 degrees in the box when it was 50 outside of it. The box was not much bigger than all the chicks combined so they snuggled up together and stayed warm. But the box quickly fell apart (within a week).
The waxed produce boxes for vegetables last MUCH longer (months) and clean up easier. But since the chickens sleep in it it's suggested you give them a bedding that's changed when it's dirty. A section of newspaper suits this need quite well for me, and a second section can be shredded into strips and layed on top to give them extra bedding to be warm in. Just put this box on it's side and they will all go stay warm in it at night. Since the box is waxed it will repel water from below and above and the air.
The box serves another purpose too. It keeps your chickens surprisingly safe from nabbing coons and midnight cats. The box should be positioned so that the opening points to the middle of the tractor and the closed long end is on a wall. The chickens inside have a solid (albeit cardboard) wall between them and any night-time predators reaching in with grabby hands, and a place to hide if they're scared. The only time I lost a chicken was because I'd just moved them to this new (almost identical to my previous) tractor and didn't put the box in that night. The waxed produce boxes will NOT last forever but should keep you going for a month each, unlike other boxes that crumble in a week, so you'll want two of them to raise out meat birds or pullets.
Stick a branch through one corner to give them a perch during the day for funsies, add a 1 gallon waterer and a food bowl and you're set! Move the tractor once or more times a day by just dragging it or "tilting and walking" it along the ground. The cut end of the wire on the ground may catch in the grass.
Here's a picture of my "finished product" after a couple weeks use!
I have 12 birds total in this tractor right now but I have to move it 2-5 times a day to keep up with that. I will be making a second, nearly identical one to split my birds into as they grow. Also beware; never leave your door open! Even Cornish crosses will try to fly out and succeed!
Enjoy raising your birds!