Seeking design suggestions for the ultimate chicken tractor/mobile coop for a small flock

Poppy Putentake

Chirping
Aug 5, 2015
46
45
87
Vermont
Hi all,

I've currently got 5 hens, am planning to build a new shelter for them, and to accommodate a possible (modest) increase in number. I'm open to suggestions on design and layout from those more experienced than I.

For a large flock, the traditional walk-in type coop makes sense, but for a small (<10) home flock, I'm thinking that's less practical, but I still want to be able to access the entire interior, only from outside.

Is there anywhere a guide to sizes of the various components of a chicken house? I'm thinking of things like spacing of roosting poles, square footage needed, and ideal heights and other measurements. Nesting box dimension recommendations seem especially varied. I've seen everything from 10” cube through 16” cube (also a recommended height of just 9”). Based on my limited experience, I tend to favor nesting boxes that are deeper (meaning, horizontal depth) than they are wide, and with a little extra height to make room for bedding. I've also been making the entrances wider at the bottom than the top (i.e., a rounded triangle shape). BTW, chickens seem to like the nesting and brooding boxes I've made out of cardboard boxes at least as much as the built-in ones in the tractor

I am unsure whether it would be best to have a raised finished floor, or have the house rest directly on the ground (so that the coop can be moved instead of cleaning the bottom), or to have a floored coop above a mini-run.

Here is a list of features I'd like to have in a chicken house. (ordered by priority -- maybe I'm asking too much):

Portability – it should be possible to move it around as needed. (In some jurisdictions, portability also means no building permit is needed.
Access to nesting boxes from outside for cleaning and collecting eggs..
Access to floors and roosts for cleaning, and also for catching birds if needed.
Built-in feeders and waterers that can be filled from outside and also removed for cleaning.
Adequate and adjustable ventilation.
Windows for light inside, except near nesting boxes.
Peepholes or windows to see inside, especially whether nesting boxes have birds or eggs in them.
Insulation -- not so much for warmth as to prevent dampness and condensation.
A way for the chickens to get on the roof

I'm interested also in knowing what features others would like or have found useful.

I currently have two A-frame type tractors that I built 3 years ago before I had experience with chickens. For a number of reasons,, I do not recommend A-frame tractors. If I were doing this again, I would build something similar, but "house-shaped", with a sloped roof above vertical sides. The main problems are:

The geometry of the shape puts lots on constraints on design..
It is complicated to make a weather-proof lid or doorway in the sloped sides, and using openings in the sides involves inconveniently leaning inwards.
The sides of my tractors are covered with hardware cloth with polyethylene sheeting over. In the winter, snow blocks the light and needs to be brushed off. Snow also piles up at the angle between the sides and the ground. This would be less of a problem if the sides were straight.

The other problem I've found with chicken tractors is making them light enough to move while still having everything the flock needs. Maybe a solution would be to have two separate tractors that can be joined, one for housing and nesting, and another serving as the daytime enclosure when they are not free-ranging. (I free-range my birds most of the time, except when I'm away and someone else is taking care of them, or when it is very snowy.)

One book (Gene Logsdon 1985. Practical Skills / A revival of forgotten crafts techniques and traditions) suggested a walk-in coop partitioned into two rooms with separate doors to the outside and a door between, one room for grown chickens and the other for young ones. That's for several dozen chickens. I did something similar by making two tractors of different sizes. The smaller one has proven very useful, not just for raising chicks, but also when a chicken "hospital" (or even "jail") is needed, so I'll still keep it even if I build a new main coop.

Poppy
 

aart

Chicken Juggler!
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Nov 27, 2012
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There are a lot of considerations, I'll hit on a couple.

Is there anywhere a guide to sizes of the various components of a chicken house?
The current rule of thumb, at least here at BYC, is 4sqft per bird in coop and 10sqft in run. Not a bad place to start, bare minimum (IMO) as most of use have found that is too small.

Portability – it should be possible to move it around as needed.
This is the kicker....you want mobility, which usually means tighter space to keep weight down and I assume free ranging..... but you have feet of snow in the winter and bitter temps, which mean more coop time where the tight space could definitely be a problem.
 

Papmike

Chirping
Jan 4, 2020
76
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73
N.E. Ohio
Hi again Poppy,
I re-read your post and have a few thoughts.

Anytime you have something go thru the side you have the potential for water to get inside.

The nest box can be sealed with a flexible flashing going over the hindges. (Think innertube) The feeder and waterer outside and removable is impossible to make watertight even with an overhang in my opinion.
 

Poppy Putentake

Chirping
Aug 5, 2015
46
45
87
Vermont
Thanks to those who replied. The links supplied by aart were quite helpful.

I am starting to understand the advantages of walk-in coops -- open space for the chickens (since they are birds and flying and climbing is their thing), and easy to reach anything inside without needing to make special openings (athough I'd still want outside access to nesting boxes) . However, I am wondering whether a very small coop (say, 4' x 7') would be top-heavy if high enough for an upright human sized door.

I liked especially the Coop Stack-up article with the suggestion for poop boards/platforms to increase the effective space. One thought I had about the picture in the article though, was that instead of blocking off the space above the nesting boxes, one could put a poop board and a roost above them.

Papmike wrote,

> The nest box can be sealed with a flexible flashing going over the hindges. (Think innertube)

I did use innertube for the doors in the (sloped) sides of my tractors. My nest boxes are in the gable ends with access doors hinged at the bottom, so no special sealing arrangements needed. The nests are 24" above the ground and at this height it is very convenient to reach inside.
BTW, I'm kind of surprised by the number of coops pictured in the article ssection here with nesting boxes attached to the side of the coop. It seems like a needless complication compared with having them right inside the coop.
 

rosemarythyme

Free Ranging
Jul 3, 2016
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However, I am wondering whether a very small coop (say, 4' x 7') would be top-heavy if high enough for an upright human sized door.
Shouldn't be too top heavy. My coop is a little bigger at 6x10 but stands nearly 9 at peak and there's no sense of it being anything less than solidly planted. I suppose if you're in an area where very strong winds are a concern you can see about having it anchored, but otherwise there shouldn't be an issue with toppling.

Also may I make a suggestion - if you're thinking 4x7, go 4x8 if you have the room for it. Lumber comes in 8' increments so you'll minimize waste and cuts by adding the extra foot, plus you'll gain a little extra space too.
 

electrycmonk

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Aug 8, 2019
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I would strongly '2nd the 4*8 method for the same logic.

1) I wonder if your aware of 2"*3"*8' lumber? For the "tractors frame" as apposed to the venerable 2*4's? That could easily shave off some weight of the frame.

2) As for the human door, have you considered the use of a 'indoor' closet door & paint the whole outside surface as well as the top & bottom with a good thick layer of paint.

3) I'm definitely going to redo the interior of our coop in the coming months. One key change will be the cool idea I saw in here of putting the nesting boxes under the dropping shelf but, have it on. Rails to slide out for egg collection. What are your thoughts with this idea?
 
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