What is the best chicken coop design?
That question is really a can of worms.
As I shared in yesterday’s post on chickens, proper housing for our chickens was an ongoing problem. Every time we thought we had the perfect system, something would happen that would change our minds.
Our traditional chicken coop with a run needed to be closed at night or raccoons would get over the fence and kill our birds – and the chicken tractors so loved by permaculture enthusiasts and earthy backyard bird whisperers had a fatal flaw: predators could dig beneath them and behead our birds.
The search for the best chicken coop design has been an ongoing one.
Chicken Coop Design Considerations
My ideal chicken coop design would contain the following features:
- Predator proof
- Easy to access for eggs, feeding, removing birds
- Birds would could be used to improve poor soil/weed gardens
- Fresh grass/weeds available to the birds
- No need to close at night/open in the morning
That’s a tall order.
In Florida where raccoons, opossums, coyotes and dogs are everywhere, keeping your chickens safe from predators is tough. Even if you manage to keep the birds from roving four-legged bandits with a good fence, sometimes they’ll be attacked from above by hawks.
I cannot seem to create a chicken tractor that deals with these issues properly, so as much as I love the idea of keeping birds in a moveable coop I can move from spot to spot in my garden and food forest, chicken tractors that allow the chickens access to the soil (i. e. no wire on the bottom of the tractor) also allow predators to burrow up underneath their walls in the night and ravage your Rhode Island Reds.
I recently visited my friend Larry and filmed his unique chicken tractors he hasn’t had much trouble with predators and this design, though having a dog might be a help there:
Every year he raises enough meat birds for his family, plus a new round of egg-laying hens. These new tractors are pretty impressive and deal with the summer heat a lot better than some of the other ones I’ve seen.
For a mobile chicken coop design, Larry has a good thing going…
…but here’s another option.
Last year my friend Allan shared a completely different approach to chicken housing. He built a really great coop out of pallets and told me how he did it in this video:
This second chicken coop design is basically a fortress. It’s covered on all sides, making it predator proof – but it doesn’t cover points 3 and 4:
- Birds cannot be used to improve poor soil/weed gardens
- Fresh grass/weeds are not available to the birds
Point four could be mitigated by cutting and throwing grass and weeds to your chickens; however, that’s another step of labor.
So What’s The Answer?
Quite a while ago I imagined a rotating chicken tractor design (which I also cover in my book Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting, along with how chickens can be used to recycle lots of “waste” back into soil) that would let me use chickens to manure, till and weed my garden beds via a coop that exactly fit over each bed:
If the borders of the garden beds went deep enough into the soil that predators were unable to dig beneath them, then I believe this would be a pretty darn good way to meet all the points I’d like included in the perfect chicken coop design. I made a mistake in the graphic, however – the portion of the coop with a bottom on it should be 4 x 4′, with an 8′ run that goes over the garden bed, giving you space for plenty of birds. Alternately, the entire design should lack a floor and just be 4′ x 8′.
The chicken coop should also be locked down to the garden bed frame to keep it predator-free.
1: A rotating bed design like this would only work year-round in mild climates
2: Keeping the chickens on fresh grass/weeds/spent garden crops would require more beds than pictured
3: Only a small amount of chickens could be kept.
More tweaking and thinking is obviously required.
Other Possible Chicken Coop Designs
As you can see in the illustrations found at the first link above, it’s a dual paddock system that lets the birds run through one area, then through a second after they’ve burned that area out.
It would be easy enough to design this as a four-paddock system, too.
I recommend burying part of the fences and building them to at least 6′ to keep out the bad guys in the night, then you could likely get away with leaving the coop open overnight.
If you can’t, you might borrow from Allan Sanders’ coop design in the video and just fence over the entire top of the garden paddocks. That would really be an expensive pain, but for areas with bad predator problems it might be required.
My friend Justin Rhodes, creator of the excellent Permaculture Chickens film (You HAVE to go see his free videos here – do not pass GO, just go see them) , has his own unique approach to housing chickens he calls the “Chicksaw”:
Very clever. Though it still requires the birds to be shut in at night, it solves the burrowing predator problem and allows your flock to be moved to wherever you need some little gardening assistants.
Ultimately, the choice of housing is up to you. If you’re only keeping a few birds or if you really like keeping a schedule, a small coop you open and close morning and evening would work. If you’re like me, and you sometimes visit a friend for a few minutes then end up smoking cigars or going on a spontaneous hike through the woods in search of wild yams… well, you might need a fortress-style chicken coop.
Protecting these creatures is your primary job once you’ve taken them on – and everything in the world likes to eat chicken.
Speaking of eating chicken, tomorrow I’ll be back with a look at breeds and my experiences with both meat and laying breeds for the backyard chicken flock.