WHO WILL WIN!!?
In most backyard flocks the coop is the biggest up front investment. There are a million and one ways to design a coop but really only two categories: fixed or mobile. In this post we’ll briefly discuss basic coop requirements. The larger purpose though is to look at the key differences between fixed and mobile coops and decide which way to go for the Golden Egg Experiment.
First we’ll talk about how we’re evaluating them and then we’ll meet our contenders!
Basic Coop Functions
First, what we expect to see from our contenders.
Your chickens’ coop serves serves three main functions:
- Protect them from the elements: heat, cold wind, precipitation
- Protect them from predators: four-legged and flying
- Give them a cozy place to lay eggs
Any coop can be designed to satisfy those functions. But as you may have guessed, there’s a bit more to it than that. Attention also needs to be given to
- Ease of construction and maintenance
- “Good neighbor” aesthetics
- Cost effectiveness
Six round of battle!
Since we’re looking to do house our hens efficiently we’re going to put our emphasis on cost effectiveness and try not to sacrifice too much in the other areas.
Note: To do this properly the following should be read in the voice of Michael Buffer, the “Llllllllllet’s get ready to rumblllllllleee!!!!” guy. Possibly the greatest ring announcer EVER.
Red Corner: Fixed Coops
In this corner we have the tried and true stationary coop that has been used by millions of chicken keepers for generation after generation. Weighing in at too-heavy-to-move these coops are primed to be the cornerstone of your backyard flock.
Blue Corner: Mobile Coops
And in this corner, popularized by the agricultural revolutionary Joel Salatin, we have the “new fangled” mobile coop, a.k.a. the chicken tractor. Weighing in at just light-enough-to-be-moved these coops promise the best of both security and pasture.
Contenders Ready? FIGHT!
Round 1: Elemental protection
As we said before, both coops can be designed to protect your hens from environmental extremes. The key concepts are ventilation, wind protection, and shade/shelter.
In a fixed coop this is an easy and straight forward thing. Put a good roof on it, add plenty of ventilation and you’re good to go.
In a mobile coop the same principles apply but some additional thought will need to go into the design to make sure it’s not overbuilt. In particular the roof will need to be light yet robust.
Round 1 goes to the Fixed Coop by a small margin. Both can get the job done, but it takes a bit more upfront work for for the Mobile Coop.
10-9 Fixed Coop
Round 2: Predator protection
Let’s break the problem down a bit: night predators vs day predators
These are actually pretty easy to deter for both of our contenders. Some sturdy hardware mesh (not chicken wire) properly placed combined with secure latches on our doors should keep our gals safe.
Daytime predators are a little more complicated. Let’s take a brief detour to talk about some assumptions and implications. Come, join me on the logic train and see where it takes us!
Our goal is to produce economical eggs. One of the major costs we’re going to have is feed. A fantastic way to reduce that cost is to have lots of pasture and forage available to our hens.
In a fixed coop that means we’re going to be free ranging our hens as much as possible. That means yard time. Which in turn means hawks and dogs. To prevent losses that means we will need a protector in the form of a well-trained dog or a person.
In a mobile coop our gals can be moved to fresh pasture whenever it’s needed and they’re still protected inside their run. They can still be let out for free-range time when we can spare the time to do so.
Round 2 goes decisively to Mobile Coops considering our objectives.
10-7 Mobile Coops
Round 3: Cozy nest boxes
Nest boxes are pretty simple and should not pose an issue for either coop style.
Round 3 is a tie. 10-10
Round 4: Construction and Maintenance
I’m not a construction professional. So, it’s a good thing that chicken coops don’t fall under building codes, because I’d be in trouble.
Fixed coops can simply be a box. Mostly rectangles and right angles. With a little bit of research and prep work a small shed can be a one or two weekend project for most DIYers. If you don’t know how to design your own or would like to watch some instructional videos I highly recommend checking out CheapSheds.com. Phil has 20+ years building experience, plans are clear, and he is a great teacher.
Mobile coops tend to be more complex. Mostly because you need to include the run as part of the process and you’re probably going to want wheels. It needs to be light enough to move, but sturdy enough that it’s not going to fall apart after being moved a dozen times.
Fixed coops are pretty easy to maintain. They can either be made big enough to get a wheelbarrow in, or if smaller, built such that an end wall comes off so the old bedding can be easily scraped out.
Mobile coops are once again a little more complex. Mostly because you have to fit more moving parts into a smaller package. And there’s still the light-but-sturdy thing that makes the design of moving parts just that much more important.
Round 4 goes to Fixed Coops. They are often bigger, and so may cost more, but they tend to be much easier to build.
10-8 Fixed Coops
Round 5: Neighbor friendliness
When we moved to our current home we needed a place for our hens. There was already a garden enclosure that we could use for a run, but no coop. What we did have was a lot of leftover construction materials. And so I invited a friends teenager over and we got to work. This picture is what we ended up with.
This thing is so ugly it won an award.
Fortunately for us, none of my neighbors can see my house so nobody called the county on us. But imagine seeing something like this over in your neighbor’s yard when you sat down to enjoy your coffee in the morning.
Luckily, with a little planning and some paint both styles of coop can be made to be at least not ugly if not down right cute.
Round 5 is a tie. 10-10
Round 6: Overall cost effectiveness
There are a lot of things that factor in to cost effectiveness. There’s cost to build, cost of feed, risk of loss, and other things.
A fixed coop for 6-8 hens is likely going to cost more to build than a mobile coop. It’s also going to make it harder to keep a regular supply of fresh pasture without risking daytime predator losses.
A mobile coop for the same number of hens should be slightly cheaper to build, make it easier to keep them on fresh pasture, and keep them safe 24/7. When it comes to big picture cost effectiveness for this number of chickens I’m not sure that a mobile coop can be beat
Round 6 goes to the Moblie Coop. If we were keeping more hens this would change, but we’re not.
10-7 Mobile Coop
|Fixed Coop||Mobile Coop|
|Round 1: Elements||10||9|
|Round 2: Predators||7||10|
|Round 3: Nesting||10||10|
|Round 4: Ease of C&M||10||8|
|Round 5: Aesthetics||10||10|
|Round 6: Cost||7||10|
Our selection and rationale (TL;DR)
So we’re going to build a Mobile Coop. For a cost effective flock of 6 hens (our goal) it makes the most sense. We want to maximize our ability to give our flock fresh pasture (thereby reducing feed costs) while minimizing the risk of loss to predators.
Now, if we were aiming for a flock of 12 or more the numbers might start to shift. Mostly because a mobile coop large enough to appropriately house and protect 12 laying hens starts to get unwieldy.
So, why we didn’t follow conventional wisdom and build the coop before we bought our chicks?
Because there’s nothing quite like a brooder in the house to motivate a person to build those chicks a new home. I have found over the years that I need that kind of constant reminder to keep me moving forward. The times when I have built the coop before getting chicks, I still somehow end up in a panic trying to finish it at the last minute.
Know yourself and work with it.