Have I ever built a mobile chicken coop before?
Have I ever built anything before？
(Does that Ikea bed frame I bought back in the year of ’09’ count?)
Despite my lack of building experience, I do still consider myself a practical person. I like the feeling of power when you wield a hammer and drill in your hands. It creates a feeling in me like the world is my Ikea catalogue and I could build sh!t. Yeah, that feeling.
But Ikea doesn’t sell mobile chicken coops now do they? (someone phone Sweden please).
So I had to make do. To reiterate, my business partner and I had 70 broiler chickens bursting at their brooder seams in serious need of getting out on pasture which meant we really needed to get our acts together.
So what does one do without building experience, home alone and with no idea where to start?
Google it. Duh.
Having visited Polyface Farms a couple years back, I had this idea of a Joel Salatin-style pastured broiler set up, but on a smaller scale so yours truly could move the mobile chicken coop all on her lonesome.
Since we aren’t raising chickens to the Polyface scale, merely for our own consumption, our mobile chicken coop needed only be more or less half the size of Salatin-style one. I settled on a 3 x 2 metre size based on my assumption that 70 pullet–sized broilers would fit comfortably, keeping in mind, they are being moved to fresh grass every morning. I say pullets, because they will actually be moved out of this mobile chicken coop into another pen (long story, but we’re raising these broilers alongside another farmer, and we’ll be transferring them into a larger coop for their last 2 weeks and full grown).
Why Build a Mobile Chicken Coop?
Chickens need sunshine, just like humans. They also need to be able to enact their chicken nature, which means having access to grass so they scratch and forage. A healthier and happier chicken results in a healthier and more nutritionally dense end product for you. It really just makes sense. Being able to move the chicken in a mobile chicken coop each day not only gives them access to fresh grass, it minimises the damage they do to your pasture, and spreads their manure more sparsely. Chicken manure is high in nitrogen and too much can do more damage than too little.
A Little 1-0-1 on the Chicken/Broiler Industry
The standard breed of meat chicken is the Cornish Cross and yes, industry practice is to raise them in factories where thousands of birds are crammed into tiny spaces with no access to grass or sunshine. They are often de-beaked and pumped with GMO-laden soy and corn feed. Something we want no part of.
The Cornish Cross has been selectively bred over the years for the purpose of fattening quickly; resulting in larger, juicier and whiter, double breast meat. Sounds like barbie. This isn’t a laughing matter though as it doesn’t come without consequence to the health of the chicken. As you can only imagine (and it coincides with what’s happening to human society at large), when you breed a bird to gorge itself on food – heart, bone and general bodily functions can become impaired. I won’t deny, it has been rather conflicting watching these little birds grow at 3 times the rate as our egg laying chicks (which we’re also raising at the same time since 1 day old).
There are other breeds of heritage meat chickens that grow at a slower pace however, this makes for a far more expensive bird to raise in general. While their meat is not what the consumer is use to (darker in colour and less ‘juicy’), when cooked appropriately (slowly for tenderness), they provide a more flavoursome culinary experience. If this batch goes well, we may consider raising another breed. We were literally handed these Cornish Crosses for next to nothing so we can’t complain considering it’s our first experience raising our own birds. Our other standards maintain and we’re raising them in the most humane environment we know, allowing the chicken to live a good life on pasture and eat to their hearts content on organic feed soaked in biodynamic milk and yoghurt past their use by dates (which we get from the adjoining biodynamic dairy farm – yes, lucky us). And yes, we will be slaughtering them ourselves. It’s all part of the experience. I do believe, if you want to eat meat, you should know the full extent of what goes into the process of bringing that food to your plate.
Broilers aren’t quite as physically mobile as some other breeds of chickens, to put it mildly. The standard Cornish Cross will do little more than scratch for a few moments, then plonk it’s butt in front of the feeder and gorge itself. Their lifespan is typically 8 – 10 weeks.
I know, I know… it all sounds rather heinous. If you want to eat chicken, then you have to come to terms with this fact of life. If it makes your brain boil and your stomach churn, then hey, don’t eat chicken.
For the size that our birds are now (only half of their full potential), and considering they are being moved onto fresh grass daily, we have sufficient space. But I would not feel comfortable leaving them in this coop for the entirety of their life and they won’t be with the arrangement we have. So after they upgrade to their new mansion, we’ll be transferring our egg laying pullets into this coop. Hence, it’s been coined the Pullet Palace being built to serve these 2 purposes.
Our egg laying pullets are a blend of Australorp and Rhode Islands, and are only 8 weeks old. So they’ll happily live in the Pullet Palace until laying age when we’ll move them into our Chicken Tractor (a work in progress). We only have around 35 of these at this stage. I’ll write another post soon about raising the egg laying hens, but for now, let’s cut to the process of building this mobile chicken coop.
With regards to the materials, I have vague recollections that we simply bought several 3m planks of the unstructured pine and cut them to size accordingly. I really do apologise I’m not being more specific with the quantities but my hope is to provide a basic outline of what I did so you can adjust based on your needs and what resources you have at hand. Because this is essentially what I did. All up, the mobile chicken coop materials ended up costing around $250. I’m sure you could bring this price down if you were able to get your hands on some second-hand materials (time was not on our side to allow for scouring around for all this though).
2×4 unstructured, non-treated pine
Drill and screws (ranging from 40mm to 100mm)
Hammer & Nails
Polycarbonate corrugated plastic sheets
Wheels (they were added after the fact to the back of the coop for easier moving but not shown in the photos)
As mentioned, once these birds move out, I’ll be adding some permanent shade to the coop. For now we just throw over a tarp when it rains and a shade cloth when it’s hot out. Two pumped wheels were added to the back to make moving a bit easier and a rope tied to the front so I can easily pull this coop on my own. You do have to be careful not to ‘run the birds over’ inside the coop when you are moving it. Patience my friend. Otherwise, you can have a second person inside scuttling them forward.
If you’ve got any questions about the construction of this style of mobile chicken coop, don’t hesitate to ask and I’ll do my best to answer!
PAID ENDORSEMENT DISCLOSURE: In order for me to support my blogging activities, I may receive monetary compensation or other types of remuneration for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial and/or link to any products or services from this blog. Thank you for your support!