Portable Poultry

Take advantage of your flock’s natural foraging habits and put your chickens to work.

Electric fencing is simple to set up and will help to discourage predators.
Photo by Hank Will 

Permanent chicken houses and fenced runs are wonderful if you have the space and the means to keep them clean, compost the litter, and spread it around. However, if you want your chickens to be productive workers in your yard and garden, you might want to control where they scratch and peck. The advantages of moving your chickens around include preparing the garden for planting, cultivating the garden, pest control, and even mowing and fertilizing the yard. If you operate on a larger scale, movable chicken pens are useful for enhancing pasture fertility, fly control, and grazing-animal manure management. Bottom line — let the chickens do the heavy lifting so that you don’t have to.

Portable poultry enclosures are nothing new — pasture-reared birds were raised in wooden and wire coops with open bottoms since before rural electrification. These coops were necessary to keep the birds contained and safe from predators, and they were moved daily. Gangs of these so-called “chicken tractors” mowed the grass, aerated the sod, and fertilized it in a single pass. Although the chicken tractor has been a useful component to the flock-keeper’s kit for more than 100 years, it has undergone only minor evolution as modern material and thoughtful innovation and even technology have become available.

Most modern movable coops are combination chicken shelters with attached runs, mounted on skids or wheels and readily moved along the ground from place to place. These structures can be framed in many ways. Some choose to build the frame using lumber — a great choice for those with a good scrap pile. Others build the base with lumber to which they attach hoops created with 1/2-inch PVC pipe. Still others use metal tubing and weld complete frames from scratch. Virtually all of these frames will include a house or shelter component at one end that the builder covers with a solid roof and sides. Most of these structures have open bottoms, which facilitate scratching, although in places where predation is particularly heavy, the bottoms are meshed as well. 

The main downside to the chicken tractor is potential crowding. Even if you move the pen every day, if the birds are shoulder to shoulder, it’s hardly humane.

Another option for moving your chickens around is to construct a shelter large enough for the flock to roost in — you can build it with wheels to move it more easily — and then surround it with lightweight interlocking wire mesh panels to create the run. The downside to this kind of mobile coop is that you’re limited to run shapes and moving 10 to 15 panels can become a chore. Plus, to be effective, the ground needs to be fairly flat where you intend to use them.

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