Setup a Mobile Chicken Coop and Free-Range those Birds!
Having free-range chickens has a whole new connotation when the chickens go mobile! We don’t mean wireless, either – well, sort of.
Chicken tractors, or portable poultry units, are popular for a good reason. Rotational ranging provides environmental perks and behavioral benefits for your chickens. With a mobile chicken coop, you have the option of allowing your chickens to go completely free-range & or on a move them on a more controlled basis.
With moveable units, you do not have a worn-out and unattractive (and unhealthy) run. The birds will not overgraze or over soil ranging areas. Mobile chicken coops protect your pasturing birds from predators and your tender crops or flowers from the chickens’ digging.
The daily or the “as-needed,” relocation of the tractor unit prevents boredom from afflicting the flock. The birds are allowed to forage and inspect new areas and this mental stimulation prevents so many issues, from stress-related diseases to feather picking.
Types of Movable Chicken Coops
There is a moveable coop for every backyard or farm installation. Whether you have 4 birds or 100, pasturing is the optimal management method.
The A-Frame Portable Chicken Coop:
The A-frame is a nice design for a few hens. This photo was from the Building a Chicken Coop set of plans. There are casters attached to the bottom of the coop which make it mobile. The middle support beams are extended and shaped into handles.
An A-Frame portable coop is especially suitable for backyard chickens. You can move it throughout a section of your yard as needed. Your hens will enjoy having new areas to forage. You can move them on a regular basis to provide the lawn with an even distribution of chicken fertilizer. Plus it is easy to move your chickens to areas of more sun or shade depending on the season.
Backyard/Small Farm Units:
Your mobile coop can be as simple as a covered fenced area that is moved in or out of grazing and foraging spots. Use the chickens to till, weed, pest patrol, and spread garden compost.
Or you can buy a setup like the one to the right. These are great looking mobile chicken coops made by Rooster Hill Farms of North Carolina. They are custom built and delivered locally. They are a bit expensive, ranging from $1,200 – 1,500. However, the design is very nice and would be attractive in most suburban areas.
However, do not be tempted purchase very small coops. These are expensive and very impractical. The rabbit hutch style units come that with an attached coop below are too small for proper hen raising.
While they are very popular at the moment, they are not the best for housing birds. They do not vent properly, are hard to clean and are not temperature stable. They are however, practical for very temporary uses – such as a place for the birds to go during the day to lay eggs or relax.
Look for a design that allows enough room for the hens to roam. After all, a happy hen lays more eggs!
The Chicken Tractor System:
The portable, backyard chicken tractor’s design is limited only by the keeper’s ingenuity and imagination. These coops run the architectural gamut from the whimsical to the purely practical.
Chicken tractors are typically designed to move further than your basic A-frame or hand-held unit. They are an ideal way to allow your chickens to free-range different areas of the landscape since most won’t stray too far from the coop. This design is a great fit for larger homesteads with a good bit of land.
Free-ranging your chickens provides many benefits not only to the chickens but to the land as well. Your chickens will produce a higher egg and meat quality, help to control the insect population and fertilize the soil. Plus your chickens will be happier as they enjoy the freedom to scratch, dig and forage in the best hunting grounds.
Always consider the weight of the building materials, as you will need to move the tractor several times a week depending on your land and the number of chickens. Using a hitch system to attach the coop to a lawn tractor can be a good idea.
Moving the “Man Sized” Chicken Tractor
Check out this video from Keeper of the Mountain where they move the “monster” or as the gentleman in the video calls it – his Man sized chicken tractor. Hooked up to his pickup truck with a hitch & cable. Just be sure not to drive too fast when there are chickens inside!
Large-scale Industrial Eggmobiles:
If you are in agricultural pastured egg production, mobile units are the easiest methods to maintain good rotation, pasture fertilization, and bird health.
Due to the larger size of the coop structure (10×10 or larger), the coop is situated on wheels or on a flat bed. This is the mobile method used by Polyface Farms and P. Allen Smith.
If you are raising other livestock, these mobile chicken coops are brought into the cattle or sheep pastures after those animals are moved to new pasture.
- Other Portable Chicken Coop Ideas:
If you have a fenced in or permanent fencing system in the area the birds will be ranging, the actual movable chicken coop can be more “lightly” built, as it is only intended to hold the birds in.
Using PVC pipe is a simple and economical way to build a temporary chicken pen. It’s nice and light weight so can easily be moved. If you have a stationary coop, this is a great option to increase your hens foraging areas.
Mobile Chicken Coop Plans
Following is an example of the design for the A-Frame mobile coop. The design is simple enough to build in a weekend and light enough that it can be moved by hand with 1 or 2 people.
This size is great for backyards or small homesteads. The small movable coop is a great way to keep a few chickens separate when needed. It also works well for small setups of just a few hens or to continuously fertilize different areas of your garden.
The design includes castors on the bottom of the coop, a brake to keep it in place plus room for both nesting and foraging.
Poultry keepers in warmer climates may be able to range their birds year-round. This “mobility” is handy as the birds can be moved to cooler or warmer sections as needed. Some vineyards are now using chickens for pest control.
For keepers in northern areas, the coop allows for birds to be ranged in warmer (snow free) seasons. Move the birds on and off gardening areas to provide insect and fertilization services. Gardeners can build units that can be set between rows or rotated around crops.
Protecting the Birds in the Portable Chicken Coop
Allowing the chickens access to pasturing does not come without risks. Predators are the primary concern and the aerial ones are the most challenging to deter! Some farmers run llamas or dogs to guard the birds. Several dog breeds are suited to this with the most popular being the Great Pyranees.
Electric net fence is used to prevent ground predators from contacting the birds. These portable net fences are all-inclusive. They come in a variety of heights (purchase according to the flight abilities of your birds) and durability (moveable to permanent). The charger is run on batteries or by solar power.
If hawks are an issue – and they usually are – consider a top netting addition to your tractor’s fencing. This complicates the fencing type, but it is possible to set up poles to hold the woven net aloft and over the side fencing.
Be sure to close the birds in a predator proof coop attachment each night. The range area for mobile coops is not predator proof as the hunting animals can dig under the fencing.
More Tips for Movable Coops
Consider having a mobile chicken coop on hand to serve as a safe place to house your broody hens. You can then have her raise her chicks in sight of the rest of the flock, but out of danger from squabbling. Use the coop as a training pen or for sick or new birds in quarantine. These portable chicken runs are also great for introducing new birds, separating roosters, or allowing pullets to adjust to the adult flock.
If you’re planning on building your own mobile coop this year, don’t miss our comparison chart of the best chicken house plans.