By Cherie Dawn Haas – When my family first brought chickens into our lives, a mobile chicken coop had not yet entered our plans. We talked to our neighbors, researched chickens, and then took the plunge and brought home six Leghorns from a local store. Our birds are contained within a high fence to protect them from our Plott hounds, Hazel and Dangit Rusty. It took our chickens only a few months to eat all of their grass within their protected 10 x 20-foot area.
Our chickens provide us with entertainment, they educate our city-dwelling friends and their children, and they provide us with healthy eggs that make up a big part of our diet. Because we’re responsible for them and they do so much for us, we’re motivated to take excellent care of them, and that includes keeping them happy. So as their treasured grass turned to a bare spot of earth, we began researching mobile chicken coops.
We wanted something affordable and easy to put together, so after sketching out a design, we chose to use one and a half-inch PVC pipes for our 8 x 10 x 2-foot structure. We then covered it with chicken fencing wire and used plastic pull ties to attach the wire to the PVC. My husband created a small door on one side; when it’s time for our girls to use what we now call the “coopa-cabana,” we line the mobile chicken coop door with their fence door, and they parade right inside.
We then carry the coop, which is light enough for one person to drag to a grassy, clover-filled area away from our dogs, often into our vineyard so the chickens can eat bugs that feast on our vine leaves and grapes. We usually do this on sunny days after the chickens have laid their eggs. We keep them in the mobile chicken coop for about an hour, then return them to the main coop.
Of course, ours isn’t the only way or reason to build a mobile run, so I visited with Janet Tobler, manager of the Orchard Park Urban Farm Project, to learn more about her setup. Janet’s 32 birds live on a one-acre city block, where a friend created a mobile chicken coop based on chicken tractor designs. “It’s a nice design, and it’s simple,” Janet said. They built several more coops based on the original because it was such a great concept. “Ours is an 8 x 8 square made of six-inch high wood planks. We attached cattle fencing to one side then arched it over to the other side, creating a dome, and that’s basically it. There’s chicken wire to fill in the areas where needed, and I built a door out of wood on the side.”
This particular model has a strap on one side so that a single person can put the strap around her/his waist and pull the coop to a fresh spot using only her/his body weight. “With our mobile chicken coops, you’re basically the tractor,” Janet said. “It’s heavy but it drags; you could put two wheels on the back of it if you wanted to. Our tractors are pretty big for being tractor coops; I think the height is just determined by the arch of the cattle fencing.”
Some of these mobile chicken coops are insulated with plastic for winter use, and the others are covered only with a tarp to provide shade. The chickens choose which coop to use based on the weather and they naturally gravitate to the one that makes the most sense for them. These coops have an open design where the chickens can come and go throughout the day and roost on the roosting bars at night.
Practicality is the reason behind the mobile chicken coops at Orchard Park Urban Farm Project. “The coops can be easily moved,” Janet said. “The idea is that when the chickens are in the coop, they create a lot of manure and if you’re constantly moving the coop around then the manure is going to different places to fertilize the whole area. It’s a good method. You can move it every five days or so; every time you feel like it needs to be cleaned you can just move it to a cleaner area. It’s good if you have a small garden.”
This design, as well as the PVC and chicken wire design that my family used, is low-maintenance.
“I have a staple gun and that’s all I need,” Janet said. “I go around the coops every once in a while and make sure the chicken wire is secure because they somehow make it come off, so it needs to be stapled back. I also change the plastic as wears down and needs to be replaced.”
For our own coop, the only maintenance so far has involved adding PVC glue to some of the joints to keep them from popping loose.
Out of curiosity, I asked Janet about the pros and cons of the mobile coop concept. “I can only think of pros,” she said. “By moving this thing around, you’re fertilizing your own land with your chickens. It’s natural fertilizer and a full circle method.”
Three Benefits of Using a Mobile Chicken Run and Coop
1. Provides a healthy variety of bugs when moved to fresh grass.
2. Provides a natural fertilizer for your ground.
3. Protects the grass by keeping any one area from losing ground cover.
The Orchard Park Urban Farm Project (Covington, Kentucky) is a volunteer-run group, with the goal of bringing sustainability awareness to inner-city families.