Portable Chicken Mini-Coop Plan

With this unique, portable chicken mini-coop design, anyone can keep a few chickens, even in small back yards.

| April/May 2007


MOTHER EARTH’s portable henhouse design.

Photo courtesy ROBIN WIMBISCUS

Chickens are every bit as fun and easy to care for as dogs or cats, plus they give you great farm-fresh eggs. The biggest challenge is keeping the birds safe from predators, and at the same time allowing them to enjoy a natural diet of grains, greens and insects.

Most poultry predators roam at night — raccoons, coyotes, owls and such. But hawks and (some but not all) dogs may attack free-ranging birds during the day, especially if there are no humans at home or no guard dog to chase them away. You could keep your birds inside a conventional stationary coop, but then they wouldn’t get to forage for their natural diet and thereby give you the best-tasting and most nutritious eggs. Portable electric mesh fencing can serve as daytime protection in some locations, but not against hawks. Plus, you’ll still need shelter for the hens to sleep in.

To make it easy for anyone to raise a few chickens on pasture, I set out to create a coop design that would be secure, low-cost, easy to build, light enough to move easily and scaled to fit well even in small back yards. After working through several prototypes, the design described below meets all those criteria. It’s intended for three or four hens, costs only about $100 in materials and can be assembled in a few hours from standard welded wire fencing. A barn-style plastic doghouse serves as a henhouse that sits inside the wire pen. The pen and house combo is lightweight and easy to pull to a new location every few days, so you can keep your birds safe but still let them enjoy clean, fresh pasture (or set them over garden beds to help fertilize and control pests).

To make this portable mini-coop, head to your local hardware or farm store and get the following items:

Barn-style doghouse: the larger the better, but be sure you get the 1-by-2-inch mesh wire fencing for the pen’s side walls (see below) in a height that’s at least as tall as the doghouse you choose.

1-by-2-inch mesh welded wire fencing, as tall as the doghouse — 38 feet is enough to make the sides and doors for one 3-by-10-foot pen. This fencing is stiff enough to make sides that support the top and produce a sturdy rectangular wire pen.

25 feet of 2-by-4-inch mesh welded wire, 36 inches wide (or 48 inches for a wider pen — see Step 2, below); this is for the top and bottom of the coop. You could use 1-by-2-inch mesh throughout, but the 2-by-4-foot is sufficient, plus it’s lighter and less expensive.

Two or three boxes of “hog rings” and the pliers to pinch them closed. I discovered these nifty fasteners at a Tractor Supply Co. store. They are designed to be pierced into pigs’ noses to discourage them from rooting, but they’re perfect for quickly attaching the walls, top and bottom to form a very lightweight all-wire (no wood!) pen.

7/24/2014 8:32:36 PM

I can probably help out anyone having trouble with their coop. A few weeks ago I was looking for a coop plan because I didn't want to wait and pay 400$ for a pre-made one I knew I could make. I couldn't really find any free information that was detailed, I needed a guide with materials listed and step by step instructions for any amount of chickens. I did find a blog though that had chicken coop plans for any amounr of chickens. You can check it out here howtobuildachickencoopplan.webs.com . I used it to build a chicken coop for 6 chickens everything is step by step- only took me 4 days to build mine using the plans. Your Weclome lol

3/24/2014 6:08:04 PM

Sketches are just fine for my learning style. Thanks for all the comments and warnings. I have an extra large pet carrier used for large German Shepherd dog that sadly passed away. I will try to use it as a starter chicken coop and will be sure to place the safeguards in place as other readers have warned including the author. Too many scorners and mockers in the world and not enough encouragers. I saw many ideas in the comments section.Thanks.

12/6/2013 4:20:12 PM

Great looking coop. it would be nice to see a complete layout and photos. http://portable-chickencoop.com

zhai whirlston
10/18/2012 7:41:02 AM

Screw Oil Press http://www.seedoilpress.com/product/oil_press/screw_oil_press.html :) Thanks for share.

5/23/2011 10:21:34 PM

here's a nice pic of the inside of the doghouse after conversion www.tractorsupply.com/content/knowhow/chicks/livestock_care_the_perfect_chicken_coop_for_any_space

3/2/2011 10:29:16 AM

One question, why are there not photos of DIY projects like this one? (I see the sketch which is not a photo :-) thanks

Mama Cele
9/20/2010 4:50:57 PM


5/31/2010 7:41:24 PM

We had an old garden cart...the type with the large bike wheels...that has the wood on the sides. I simply use 3/4" ply that was lying around to make a house inside the box, with a removable. sloped roof. sloped, a door hatch to the back side, another on one side and a third at the high end. The high end door,long enough to serve as a walk, is attached to a cord that runs through the house and out the back side, making it possible to open and close easily. Inside are 4 nests and a roost attached to the long closed wall, mounted on simple shelf brackets. The pen is simply salvaged fence sections (3/4" galvanized frames with chicken wire. At one end I attached a 2"x6" near the bottom, narrow edge vertical, with two 5 inch casters mounted on the outside, so that the pen can be moved when tilted back. The house merely is pushed up to one side that has an opening, the door dropped and chickens free to run.

5/13/2010 4:57:10 PM

Please note that the article warns: "I thought the wire pens would be fully predator-proof and the birds would not need to be locked inside the house at night, but I learned the hard way that gangs of raccoons can manage to scare young birds out of the house, then reach through the wire and kill them! So, even though the birds naturally go into the house at night to roost, it’s still a good idea to close the door each evening."

Jessa Green
5/13/2010 10:46:13 AM

I highly caution anyone with numerous or hungry predators of chickens in their area. I built this cage with chicken wire and a frame (because the larger fencing recommended just seemed to allow too much room for smaller hens to escape). I had my three, new young hens out in this coop for one week. I went out to feed/water them every morning, and one morning I was devastated to find that during the night, something (I'm guessing a racoon) had managed to catch a hen THROUGH the chicken wire, and pulled it limb from limb through the wire. When I arrived on the scene, the only evidence of this was a few feathers and some chicken muscle tissue caught on the chicken wire - however all substancial parts of the chicken were gone (legs, head, wings). The thought of one of my precious new chickens being ripped apart alive almost made me sick. I will never again build something with so little protection to the outside. My next coop (when I get approval in my new city to keep hens) will have double-thick cage walls, with maybe a 2x4 between the first fence and the second, to keep predators from grabbing at the chickens through the fencing... I'm still devastated about my loss, and it's been two years...

matthew mallory_3
4/30/2010 2:05:04 PM

To simplify the occuring comment of (chickens cant scratch in the wire, Or might hurt there feet) You can simply Frame the lower part of your cage with 2 by 8 and 4 by 8 boards at the front and rear of your wood framed bottom, cut holes aprox 2-3 inchs round Find an old bar of some sort tale the wheels off and old wagon or lawnmower, place each rod threw your holes assemble the wheels so thet they come off and on. this allows for 2 different things a lower roost and the capability of moving this structure freely across your yard. Simply remove the wheels and the structure becomes' solid and firm on the ground thus resolving both situations of not able to move it yourself and not having to wrry if the hens are able to scratch enough. Good Luck on your Chick adventures.

4/20/2010 6:25:24 AM

Al, there are not real photos, just drawings, which makes me a little suspicious of just how good it is; click on images and then on next to see them all. Most of you asking about the cold don't say how cold your area gets. This site will tell you which breeds work well in very cold winters, those that tolerate heat, and lots of other very useful info. http://www.ithaca.edu/staff/jhenderson/chooks/chooks.html They don't need heat, but they do need good ventilation; closing the coop up tight to keep them warm will actually make them colder because of condensation (from their breathing) freezing. The biggest problem is the water freezing; you can suspend a heat lamp over it or use a heated water bucket. If no electricity you'll have to change it frequently. Personally I'd never put wire on the bottom of a run; chickens love to scratch and they also love and NEED dust baths to control mites. A chicken denied these simple pleasures is not a contented chicken. Be aware that this will cause dents in the soil, so if a golf course-type lawn in important to you you may want to rethink having chickens! The wire used in the plans will not keep out weasels. Watching a fox run off with one of your birds in its mouth is hard, but waking up to find a pile of headless chickens is one of the most hideous experiences I ever hope to have. 1/2" hardware cloth will keep them out. You should use this on the coop, the larger stuff is good enough for the run and will keep out daytime predators.

2/25/2010 12:12:45 PM

Where can I find some pictures of this coup?

Richard Tidyman
2/24/2010 8:21:22 PM

I too converted an dog house but a pretty good size one. It is 4x6 feet. The large window is hinged at the top so the south sun can shine in during the winter months. I surrounded it with a dog peg that someone game me and then to keep the hawks out, covered it with plastic chicken wire and pvc pipes. Pic can be seen at http://www.flickr.com/photos/rstidyman/4377095420/

Rose L
12/14/2009 9:58:37 PM

We built this coop in the spring and it worked out great. We used plastic zip ties instead of the wire rings. It took my husband and I about a full day to do all of the work and to convert the dog house. We use dog leashes on the house to open and close the doors from outside of the fenced box. During the day the leash has slack, at night we pull it taught and use the clip (that would go to the dog's collar) to attach to the wire cage side. The wire flooring doesn't hurt, nor impede the chicken's from scratching a bit. It actually blends right into the grass and sits flush with the soil. We took some tomato stakes and put them in through the cage at the very top and at about 1/3 way up. The lower stakes the gals can perch on, the top stakes we use to move the cage with. It is very hard to move the cage with just one person, and almost impossible to move the cage with the doghouse still inside.

8/6/2009 7:04:28 PM

Having been raised on a 40 acre farm as a kid, I am familiar with chickens on a large free-range scale, but now that my husband and I live in suburbia with just over an acre we are thinking of getting chickens on a small scale and got the idea to use our retired dog run for a chicken run. It's tall, long and critter proof, with a walk-in gate. We are planning to build a hen house for them to roost and lay of course, but with careful planning and modification, hopefully we can make it work.

6/17/2009 4:26:53 PM

So, where exactly are the "plans" mentioned in the title of this article? I see instructions and descriptions, but no plan.

Aggie Janicot
5/4/2009 3:35:00 PM

http://home.centurytel.net/thecitychicken/tractors.html I made a large "chicken tractor ark" for 6 chickens and it works great. The coop is off the ground and I haven't had predator or ant problems yet. Ark shapes aren't that hard to make and give the chickens plenty of space on the ground. Mine has wheels on one end and I move it every three or four days. Aggie

12/26/2008 10:39:22 AM

Chickens are WAY more hardy then some of you are giving them credit for. My first year with chickens they were in a large dog pen in an old wooden dog house. It was not insulated, it had no light. I had pine shavings in it, my hubby put two roost along both sides. I had seven hens in there. I had the roof slightly ajar and I never closed the door even though I could. I got eggs all winter long that first year. I moved them into a hen house for ME. I had a tarp over there pen covering their house later into the winter so I wouldn't get all wet feeding them and so their feed stayed dry. They were fine. The pen wasn't covered and I have never lost a bird to raccoons. I do have a run similar to the one mentioned in the article. I use it for junior birds as they are too young to come in with the flock. My concern of the design was keeping water out of the back part with the dog house top on sideways. I think I will still use a small tarp over the house end of the pen but I did enjoy the desing for the hen house using an old dog house as I have two just laying around! However, my birds are now in a large hen house and run and that is more for me than them. No crawling. This run would work great for a child doing a 4H project and wouldn't be keeping the birds through the winter. Or for someone who simply wants pet birds. It would also make a fine breeding pen if you are into that sort of thing. Finally, although I think Avian flu in the small hobby flock isn't likely, in our area we are dealing with other backyard breeders not being diligent when they have sick birds. We have had a small epidemic of sick/dying birds. Nothing that is a threat to humans but devestating to a backyard hobbyist, espeically those with show birds. All you need is a few bad eggs selling sick birds at swaps for that to spread through backyard flocks. I have had to put down an entire flock, build total new housing area and vow to be done with backyard breeders, sticking with hatcheri

12/25/2008 8:59:33 AM

I keep my flock against the house which keeps them warmer in the winter. It faces the east. Their coop is made of chicken wire and heaver gauge wire for the lower 4 feet.I placed strips of the heaver wire around the bottom plus cinder blocks to prevent digging. Sometimes I see evidence there has been digging. It is a full 7 feet high with several roots at different levels. My hens need no ramps or ladders to get up to nests and roosts as they easily fly up to where they want to be. Since I don't let them out to forage, I give them greens, meat and cooked apple waste + a variety of different foods. My chickens continue to lay eggs even though the temp dipped to 25 degrees here. My neighbors say theirs stopped laying in September. I used to think it was leaving a light on for them but found doing that made them tired during the day so I shut it off. I am going to put it on a timer though, in the spring so that my hens may eat the moths it attracts. I have irected a dog compound that I am fortifying against predators where I will keep my birds early spring so they can dig up bugs and eat weeds. I have read that if you slope the floor of your nests, the eggs will softly roll to the edge where you can construct a channel. I have wondered if the eggs would be in any danger of freezing if I did that.

12/23/2008 12:19:58 PM

What are some best practices for caring for the flock during winter months using this type of coop? Thanks.

11/14/2008 7:42:17 AM

This is a question more than a comment. I understand that hens will only lay for three or four years. What do you do with them when they no longer produce eggs? The obvious of course is chicken soup, but as a vegetarian and animal lover, this is not an option for me. The cost of continuous care would I feel negate the benefit of free eggs. Janet

10/12/2008 5:32:36 PM

Anyone know how this would work when there are fire ants? Our part of the country (Florida) doesn't have a yard free of fire ants unless you use poison. Since I don't use poison, I have fire ants. I don't think I could find enough ground/grass free of the ants to have any kind of chicken coop, portable or not.

Barbara Barker_1
9/17/2008 12:24:53 PM

Hmm...I like this chicken coop, except there is no place for the chickens to scratch. I don't believe the wire would be good for their feet. I recently built a similar pen that solves this problem. I framed in a wire rabbit pen and elevated it on four posts. I enclosed in the area beneath the pen with two layers of chicken wire and framed around the bottom with wood. I used two layers so the holes were essentially half the size of one layer. I'm hoping this will keep out snakes. I cut a hole in the bottom of the wire pen and placed a ladder for the chickens to go down to the bottom of the pen. At night, the chickens climb the ladder for their dinner and we close the hole to the bottom story with galavanized wire that is attached to a bungie cord. By day, the chickens can eat pests and scratch in the soil or can go upstairs. At night, they are locked safely upstairs. It took about 3 days to train the chickens to go downstairs when we opened the hole. The pen is lightweight enough to be portable, but heavy enough to keep coyotes from knocking it over. Something to consider--when my son was four, we had a traditional chicken coop. He scratched his knee on a wire in the pen and had to have emergency surgery the next morning due to a raging ecoli infection. BE VERY CAREFUL to turn under all wire in chicken pens. If children will be collecting eggs, they should wear gloves and long sleeves.

1/8/2008 8:24:36 AM

I think I'll use the welded mesh as the 'run' component of a chook tractor I'm going to build. Thanks for some useful ideas. I don't know about where you are but in Australia we have available bags of C-clips which you can close to an overlapped circle with their own specific fencing pliers so that part of the job will be really easy. Fortunately I live in Brisbane, Australia so there will be no temperature related problems. I do have a couple of questions though. I am always as kind to animals as is possible and I'd like to know whether chickens have any difficulty foraging through a mesh floor or whether they even like walking on one? What is the minimum size mesh required to keep foxes out and what is the maximum size mesh required to keep chickens (from point-of-lay size) in? I'm quite sure that a small solid block of timber or a builders framing bracket would make an excellent brace in the corners if the run is too unstable.

Lisa Laventure
1/1/2008 8:59:16 AM

This has been such a helpful discussion for us thinking of starting our chicken coop- a million thanks to you all. I love Mother Earth News too, and to all of you Happy New Year!

12/31/2007 7:10:19 PM

See many more backyard chicken coop designs at http://www.backyardchickens.com/coopdesigns.html .....I love Mother Earth News.....

12/30/2007 6:57:54 PM

Last summer, my son took on a project of building chicken coops for sale. Now, as part of a high-school project, he is doing research on how he could improve his product. If you have time, would you take his survey - probably about five to ten minutes. http://www.niemannross.com/fiab And, seriously, no. This isn't a scam or a sales pitch. You can include your name if you're interested, but otherwise choose to be left alone. Thanks! Mark Niemann-Ross

12/5/2007 10:55:30 PM

Why not just use large used pet taxis purchased from yard sales to put your chickens in at night. The lids come off, they have a handle on them for easy transportation and they have a wire door that latches. For heat in the winter, since the ground is cold, sit them on straw bales and stack staw bales around the pet taxi.

11/10/2007 3:34:16 PM

I read your whole article the first time, and my opinion of the coop remains. My grandfather grew up on one of those farms you mention, and he had to deal with frozen combs and feet. Look on any chicken message board this winter and look at the postings about frost-bitten chickens. Most people recommend keeping their house at at least 40 degrees in the winter. Chicken ancestors came from tropical rainforests, not the tundra. Further, last summer millions of chickens perished in the heat wave in California. Free-range flocks who were pastured died in large numbers. Chickens are forest creatures, not plains animals, and although they need some sun, also need shade. Further, most people have a night where they forget to lock up the chickens or get home late, and the raccoons are waiting. It only takes once... I read the bird flu book, and it's excellent. Although they make a good case for factory farms creating bird flu, once it gets out, free-range birds can get it and have. Look at the UK DEFRA guidelines about what backyard bird keepers can do to prevent their birds from getting it. Even if you don't believe your birds can get it, if you can't prove quarantine when bird flu arrives to your area, the government can come and automatically kill your birds anyway, or if you're lucky, require you to put them in more biosecure housing. To protect them, show that you took precautions and be prepared with the proper housing. In Europe, there were areas where chickens were ordered to be put in proper housing for months at a time, or they'd be killed. I have over 200 chickens, by the way.

9/23/2007 11:32:26 PM

Would this coop work for hot Florida weather? I am concerned that the chickens would be way to hot in the doghouse since it is totally enclosed with no ventilation.

9/11/2007 4:02:26 PM

I have made four of these coops, and if you follow the directions in the article, the pen will be plenty stable and very easy to move around. If Cheryl (above) had read the entire article, she would have realized that there is not room for birds to roost on top of the coop. She is correct to caution that raccoons can reach in (at night) and kill chickens; but the article addressed this problem: "I thought the wire pens would be fully predator-proof and the birds would not need to be locked inside the house at night, but I learned the hard way that gangs of raccoons can manage to scare young birds out of the house, then reach through the wire and kill them! So, even though the birds naturally go into the house at night to roost, it’s still a good idea to close the door each evening." Chickens and ducks are very hardy and can survive winters in most regions without extra heat, especially in a small cozy space such as this doghouse-coop. Using strawbales or bags of leaves for wind protection would probably be a good idea in exposed sites in northern regions. (Chickens survived nicely in unheated coops even in northern areas of the U.S. before farmers ever had electricity as an option.) A bigger challenge in areas with heavy snow is likely to be that these small coops may become frozen in the snow and manure levels may build up in the small space. You may need to move the birds to a larger, non-portable shelter for the snowy months, if your daytime predator risk makes it dangerous to let them run free-range. Finally, bird flu is not a significant risk to small home flocks unless they are near the giant, filthy poultry factory farms--see www.birdflubook.com.

9/5/2007 9:19:15 AM

This coop will not protect them from predator who will reach through, and is not even warm enough for a zone 9 winter. Further, to protect them from bird flu and allow quarantine, it should have a solid top. By making people think that this is all you need, you are causing people to inadvertently be abusive to chicken Sorry, but that's what I think. Most people need an insulated chicken coop where you can place a heat source in the winter so they don't get frost-bitten combs and feet. 1/2" hardware cloth will keep raccoons from reaching through. Chickens like to roost, and a few if not all of them will roost on top of that dog house where they are easy prey. Racoons have been known to reach through a pull them out piece-by-piece.

6/26/2007 8:26:22 PM

I have created some rabbit cages that are similar to this design. Instead of the rings, I use j-clips, as they keep the welded wire more tightly bound, and makes the whole things more stable. Instead of crossbars, I use welded wire columns in my 4-foot and 5-foot wide designs. I can drag my entire cage across the grass pretty easily to give them new pasture. I also added a bit of corrugated metal roofing to keep my rabbits dry and out of the sun (and to keep the snow out in the winter). I set it next to a wooden hutch so that they can get in out of the elements and away from scary predators. You can see pictures at http://www.flickr.com/photos/cookwood/sets/72157594475915300/ I've had it going since October with 4 rabbits and so far they've been so happy, and there have been no predator problems. They hang out there, eat lots of grass and clover, chase each other around. I'd be happy to answer any questions. I'm thinking about creating a chicken tractor with a similar design and was thus interested in this design. Has anyone had luck with a bottomless design? Or had trouble with this one as they don't have a lot of place to scratch? I'd love to see pictures, if anyone else is building similar structures. thanks, Liz

6/24/2007 8:27:23 AM

This is a good starter coop, and is portable. Every 3 days I lift up the lighter end and rotate the whole thing clockwise, till it's covering a new patch of grass. When I've completed the circle, I recruit a 2nd person to help me move it completely to a new patch of grass. I also let my chickens out for several hours a day to graze, as it's cramped in there. They make their way back in there when they've had enough outside time. If you are unable to do this, you might find the coop too small. Some more things to consider: 1. Don't build it if you're not physically flexible. For the first few days, I had to crawl in there and teach the chickens to go in the hut at night. Now they go in automatically at dusk. Also have to crawl in to set up the hanging feeder, and to refill it and/or clean it. 2. We use clips and bungee cords to secure it, which makes it cumbersome to get in and out of --again, great for a starter, but wouldn't want to put up w/ it long term. 3. The chickens have no access to food or water at night, but they seem okay w/ that. 4. We need to keep one tarp over the food, and another over the doorway to the hut, b/c rain water drips into down the closed door into the hut, and soaks the inside. 5. Haven't figured out how we are going to go thru the winter yet, since there is no electricity near it for a heat or light bulb... This coop is just what the article promises: inexpensive, easy to build, and portable. But for long-term chicken keeping, it won't do. We'll keep it though to put replacement chicks in before introducing them to the flock in years to come.

5/15/2007 1:00:25 AM

I'm opening the sides of the run from the bottom, so hoping metal clips along both sides and the bottom will be secure enough. It's hard to guess with some predators the lengths they'll go thru to get into a chicken coop. On that same note, we had to use 1/4" hardware cloth for the sides and top because of the predators out where we live. They could easily get through anything else. Perhaps that's what made the run less stable, but I don't think so. Anyhow, once we secured the corners and sides with rebar, it held up as stable. It just won't be portable, unfortunately. As for the doghouse conversion, attaching the doors to the dog house became an impossibility due to the slant and overhang of the doorways. I ended up turning it back into a regular dog house, big doorway in the front, no door. I will just access the eggs from the back by lifting up the top of the doghouse and reaching inside. It is quite easy, actually. I'll find a way to close the doorway off this winter as it gets colder. One thing about this plan, I sure wouldn't do it again! BUT it will work for now.

5/8/2007 7:00:31 AM

We made ours over the weekend, and it is not that unstable. I thought it would be until I secured the doors and we ran the 1x2's through the top. This also helps us move it all around the yard with out any issues I was wondering, what are some good ideas for securing the doors? I can't see myself tying knots all winter!

5/6/2007 2:02:32 AM

My dad and I are building this coop as shown in the magazine. The run is VERY unstable, falls over easy, etc. so we will have to stake it with some rebar or wood to make it stand up. I wouldn't recommend using this as a chicken tractor or "portable coop" as it claims. We gave up that idea as soon as we finished the run. It's just too wobbly. As for the heat in winter, I would think as Heather mentioned, red bulb heat lamp like you'd use in a brooder would work. Good luck! :)

5/5/2007 1:46:09 PM

Thanks for your help! We're going to give it a try.

4/27/2007 2:05:04 PM

I haven't used this coop yet. However, I did keep ducks through many cold Michigan winters. They stayed in a plastic shed similar to a dog house just bigger. I filled it with straw and used suspended heat lamps. (Just the simple single bulb ones with a red warming bulb). I also used bales of straw around the duck house for insulation and wind breaks. They had access during the day to the outdoors but preferred to stay in most of the time. I know it was always a long winter for them--but everyone stayed healthy and safe.

4/21/2007 7:27:47 AM

Does anyone have thoughts as to whether this portable coop will provide enough warmth to get chickens through a New England winter? If not, any ideas on how to winterize it?? Thanks.

4/12/2007 1:49:04 PM

I have been away from your publication for many years , as city life took over. My wife and I just retired (somewhat) and have bought two houses in NC. Once we close I will subscribe again as I love the country life style. Tod

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