(UPDATE: This post has been edited to use the correct term “chicken tractor” vs “mobile coop”. There’s a difference, read about it here.)

There are a bazillion different ways to build a chicken tractor. Do an image search on that term or type it into Pinterest and the list is pretty overwhelming. But all well designed chicken tractors should meet the same basic criteria.

In our last post we talked about the three primary functions of any chicken coop. We also discussed three optional criteria that only apply to the Golden Egg Experiment.

In this post we’re going to add a final three functions our housing solution must serve and then go back to the top of the list and start to get into the details.

<Link to Part 2 – more coop functions>

<Link to Part 3 – Golden Egg constraints>

To recap, our three primary coop functions are:

  • 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

These three optional criteria won’t apply to every coop, but they’re important to our Golden Egg Experiment:

  • Be relatively easy to construct and maintain
  • Have “Good neighbor” aesthetics
  • Be cost effective for our purposes

And finally, every coop must also be designed to:

  • Provide adequate space
  • Keep feed accessible and dry
  • Keep water fresh and available

Let’s dive in to the first three and get into the details.

Protect them from the elements

Heat

Chickens have feathers to keep them warm. But to stay cool, they need lots of water (we’ll get to that in Part 2), shade, and lots of air exchange.

So, we’re going to need a roof for shade. And we need to be able to let lots of fresh air in.

Cold wind

Like we just said, birds use their feathers to keep themselves warm. They do this by trapping air between their body and their skin. Their body heat warms up that air and acts as an insulating barrier. This works great so long as they’re not getting blasted by a cold wind. The wind makes it more difficult for them to retain the trapped air.

So, our coop needs to provide protection from the wind.

But in the section above we said “lots of fresh air”, right? How do we do both? The simplest answer is to use vents that can be opened and closed seasonally.

Precipitation

Chickens don’t seem to mind precipitation. Neither do most kids for that matter, but that doesn’t mean that they should stand in the rain, even if they deserve they want to. Sure, if they want to go walk around in the rain and snow that’s fine. But we want them to be able to get out of it as well.

So, we need a roof (again). And it’s probably a good idea to keep blowing rain off them as well.

Protect them from predators

At no point in your coop design should you be using chicken wire to keep your birds safe from predators. Chicken wire is to keep chickens in, not predators out. Now that that’s out of the way…

Four-legged

This means raccoons, foxes, coyotes, dogs, and the like.

Raccoons and foxes are primarily nighttime predators. When our birds go to bed at night they should be roosting at the highest point they can inside the coop. As we said before the roosting area should be well ventilated but protected from cold winds. And there should be no holes larger than about 3/4″ square so that little questing paws can’t get at them.

Daytime predators tend to be more brazen in their attempts and can be a little harder to deter. Even if they can’t reach the bird, they may still find enough entertainment to run them to death, literally. The only thing that I’m aware of that makes a difference is to give the hens a place to hide. Let them get out of sight and eventually they’ll be out of mind.

So we need to design a coop with no large holes and a place for our hens to hide out if they’re being harassed.

Flying

Hawks and eagles will happily snack on chickens if they can get at them. To keep them out we’re going to need a fully enclosed run. If you’ve got a lot of birds this doesn’t matter as much. One hen missing from a flock of 100 probably won’t be noticed. One from a flock of 6, or even 18, certainly will be.

Our design needs to feature a fully enclosed run.

Give them a cozy place to lay eggs

Nest boxes are going to be the most protected area of our coop. Hens like a nice cozy dark place to lay their eggs.

Your coop should have one nest box for every 6 hens. That being said, if you have less than 6 hens it’s a good idea to have two nest boxes to lessen the arguing over the favorite box. Nest boxes for standard size breeds should roughly be a cubic foot (12″x 12″x 12″). If it’s an inch or so larger or smaller in any direction that’s okay. There should be a landing perch just outside of the box for our hens to jump to before stepping into the box.

We’ll need 2 nest boxes.

Requirements so far… (TL;DR)

So far we’ve determined that our coop design should have:

  • Top cover (roof) to provide
    • shade
    • protection from precipitation
  • Open/Close vents to provide
    • fresh air exchange
    • protection from the cold wind
    • protection from blowing rain
  • No chicken wire
  • No large holes
  • Place for our hens to hide
  • Fully enclosed run
  • Nest boxes (qty. 2)

In the next post we’ll get into some of our squishier requirements.

  • Be relatively easy to construct and maintain
  • Have “Good neighbor” aesthetics
  • Be cost effective for our purposes

I say squishy because it’s hard to pin down how good is good enough. It’s a great example of the dance that goes on between product managers and product engineers around the world.


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