We all love our hens! Everyone wants to have the perfect place to keep our special friends. Some are expensive pullets, some we've cared for since they were barely bigger than the egg they hatched out of, and some have been in our care since their arrival from their mother hens to our hands for incubation. No matter where you got your birds, they are special to you, and you want them to be housed in the best possible situation for them.
While many choices from a world of chicken keepers abound, most of us choose to either house our chickens in a Chicken Tractor or a Permanent Coop. Both abound with real advantages (The Pros) and even some disadvantages (The Cons). Since the educated owner can make better choices for the birds, I would like to enthrall and enlighten you, my fellow chicken keepers, with the low down and highlights, on these two favored coops.
The permanent coop is a long standing favorite for sheltering your BackYard Chickens. Even my 134 year old picture of my house has a pic in the background of a wood frame coop, complete with hens wandering the front yard. Essentially, the permanent coop is a solid structure (usually wood, stone, brick, plastic, or any other long lasting material) where your hens and roosters go for shelter and protection nights, and days in some cases. The biggest advantage of the permanent structure, is the simple fact of its permanence. Come wind, snow, sleet, wind, and hail, your hens can be safe, dry, and reasonably warm and comfy. Another nice advantage is that this type of coop keeps food, roosts, and nests safe from elements and temperature fluctuations. A securely built Permanent Coop, with tight floors and corners, is great protection from predators on the wing or padded foot alike which is a real Pro. Another bonus, A coop with an electrical outlet can be used to safely attach a light for winter heat and to keep up egg production, in the safest possible way, well attached and out of all possible weather damage. This Pros speak volumes of the positive qualities of the permanent structure.
This is my friends "French Chicken House" built from a large skid from France, recycled barn wood, a house window, and metal and framing from an old shed.
Permanent structures are great, and their advantages are very real. However, their disadvantages keep some from being able to consider this as an option. The list is short, but if it's a limitation beyond you, you need to know now. The biggest Con to this coop is the price of building it. Wood, stone, brick, and block tend to be expensive. It is not unreasonable to expect to pay between $300 to $1000 or more just for materials, based on material selections and size of your structure. The next limitation is that you need to build a permanent coop that's weather and predator tight, on a foundation of some sort, and include a roof and doors (or even windows). If you can't build it, you are going to have to pay or trade somebody to do it for you. The final significant con of the permanent structure is that it will require maintenance. I don't mean painting and keeping leaks at bay, I mean you will need to clean your chickens' fecal matter out of this building on a regular basis, for the health of your birds and you. This means either more labor for you, or more money to pay somebody else to do it for you, perhaps an investment in a system to keep the cleaning easy and effective.
The Tractor coop is a new solution on the scene, in terms of poultry history. It has increased in popularity along with the need and desire for a tidy back yard, and a tidy group of BackYard Chickens. Arguably the greatest Pro of the Tractor coop is that it is highly mobile. Your hens can be over a bug infested area today and then move to garden clean up tomorrow or even 5 minutes from now. Some tractors have an open area or a fenced hoop house that may have only tarp or some other material to provide a dry space to the residents. A special Positive is this type of coop also is ideal for pressing used or recycled items such as wooden crates and some fencing and leftover or recycle lumber (or re-bar, plastic pipe, and etc) into service for a super quick portable tractor type coop. One can have a physical shelter and pen in just a few hours for little or no money, if they are handy. A bonus for the tractor, is that fresh clean air is usually just not a problem, and frequent flooring change (moving the coop) means less disease in the flock. A final Pro is that since well designed Tractor coops are either light enough to be easily pulled or rolled around the yard, this keeps one from needing to clean coop floors and allows for fresh grass and snacks as often as the coop is moved. Chickens seem to love this partial freedom.
This is the "Water Tank Tractor" built from a plastic water tank, old swing set frame, some 2 x 4's, small piece of plywood, hen wire, and a small tarp. Cost? Hen wire. Everything else is recycled!
A tractor coop is easier and faster and often less expensive to build, but there are also some real disadvantages. Con, tractor coops are usually not air & water tight. Some may keep out most rain, but not cold weather and wind necessarily. This may put food at risk for getting wet, and egg nests may be harder to arrange. Another Con, the lack of tightness may allow easier predator break in, which is clearly a bigger problem the closer you are to wildlife. When it's time to build, you may need to hire help if you aren't handy at cage/coop/fence building, which can increase costs. The final real Con to the tractor coop, is that it's not a 4-season coop, without some work. If your winters get to freezing and below, your tractor will either need to be winterized to block wind, rain, snow, and other inclement weather, or brought inside a building or garage, with something under it to protect your floors (and to make for easier spring cleaning).
Like life, chicken keeping is a constant work in progress. What works for you today may not be best for you and your hardworking hens in a couple of years. Plans and prefabs of all sizes are available through hardware stores, farm supplies, and the Internet. Both permanent and tractor type structures are popular, and very much in use today, all around you. A tiny 4 x 6 bottomless cage with a water resistant top may be all your trio of birds will need (aside from creative planning for egg laying and food and water) if your weather is lovely year round, and your back yard is completely secure from predators. If you have -40 degrees F every winter at some point, you'll be wanting to be sure your chosen shelter is up to task, for the love of the birds inside it. All birds need some shelter suited to your seasons, food, and water. I hope you feel more confident now to go with your own thoughts and inspirations forward into your own BackYard Chicken housing. Good luck, and happy planning!