Portable chicken coops, sometimes called chicken tractors, are lightweight hen houses that can be moved easily around the garden. They have some really good points:
Very cheap and easy to make
Easy to keep clean
Ideal if you don’t have much space in your yard
Free fertilizing for your garden (the hens do it bit by bit for you as you move the chicken tractor around)
Constantly changing stock of insects and greens for the hens
Easy to move hens into the shade (hot weather) or shelter such as a garage (cold weather)
Unsettling and confusing for predators (they do not like constantly-shifting structures)
Use as temporary housing for the hens while you clean out or repair their fixed coop
Their small size is the main disadvantage. Because of their lightweight construction they can only hold 3 or 4 hens for any length of time. Plan on allowing 4 square feet per hen.
Commonly chicken tractors have an A frame shape and a footprint of 12 to 16 square feet. They have no floor. Sometimes skids are fitted underneath so that the coop can be moved more easily. Leftover bits of wood and some chicken wire are all you need to make one. A DIY portable coop will cost much less than a ready-made item, and you will be able to customize it exactly to your own requirements.
As your flock of hens grows, you could use your portable coop as an extension of the full-size hen house.
Once you have decided on the DIY route, the next step is to get a good set of chicken tractor plans. This is a vital part of the process. It is very easy to make portable chicken coops, but it is more than nailing a few bits of wood and wire together. The design of the coop will be affected by several criteria which need to be considered carefully, such as the correct environment for specific breeds and the yard area available. There are quite a few factors you need to be aware of when designing your mobile hen coop, which is why you should have proper advice and instructions from experts in chicken rearing.
You should beware of so-called ‘free’ plans – we have found these are almost always worthless and sometimes are downright unsafe for your hens. We firmly believe that you should use good quality blueprints and instructions produced by expert designers who themselves are experienced hen keepers. Check that these include comprehensive lists of materials and tools needed for assembling the portable chicken coop – it is so much easier to get things right before you start to build, and to get an expert to do the tedious calculations for you.
For more information about designing and building really good portable chicken coops see how to build portable chicken coops or chicken tractors. You will find lots of professional tips, not only for building chicken coops, but also for choosing and rearing chickens, the sort of food they need, what can go wrong (and how to fix it) and much more.
Kieran Gracie is a professional engineer and DIY enthusiast. His website, BuildThingsDirect, provides many ideas and interesting projects for beginners and experienced do-it-yourself people alike.