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Chicken Housing: Bigger Than a Bird Box

As you may expect, chickens need housing just like humans do. These houses are typically called coops. In a chicken coop, there are a few main features required. This include roosts for the chickens to sleep, nesting boxes for them to lay their eggs in, and doors; one for them to go in and out and one for you to get at the eggs.

This is part 4 of our Chicken Basics series.  If you missed them, give part 1, part 2, and part 3 a read too!

Housing Chickens in Coops

chicken coop, chicken housing
small stationary coop  Photo used under creative commons license.

There are many different designs for chicken coops; some are stationary and some are mobile. They can vary in size and shape depending on how many chickens you plan to have.  You can buy small pre-built coops at many feed stores or even from Amazon.  Other people re-purpose everything from horse stalls to sheds to trampolines!

You may want a mobile coop with a portable fenced area so the chickens can be moved regularly. This gives them access to more greenery and bugs.  A stationary coop is a good option for free-ranging chickens, with the fence being around the entire property (free-ranging is best where there’s lots of space, such as acreage), or if you are limited by space with a smaller fenced-in area.

Housing Chickens in “Tractors”

There are also smaller mobile chicken houses called “tractors” that are moved more frequently. These hold a small number of chickens and commonly used for integrating new chickens into the flock or for raising certain breeds for meat. There are, like with the coops, numerous kinds of tractors. Some of the common ones are A-frame, Suscovich Style, Salatin Style, and the ChickShaw.


The A-frame tractor looks like the letter A, of course (see above).  Harvey Ussery, author of The Small Scale Poultry Flock (which is an awesome book!) has great plans for an A-frame on his website.  This design tends to be very stable in the wind.

Suscovich Tractor

The Suscovich Style tractor, designed by John Suscovich, has a tall door to walk through and is covered in chicken wire.  This is a very versatile tractor because it can also house birds such as turkeys or geese and even larger livestock in a pinch,such as 1-2 goats or sheep.  I bought John’s plans for the tractor and now use it when we grow broilers.  What do I think of this chicken tractor? Read my review to find out.

Check out this video Justin Rhodes did on his Great American Farm Tour with John Suscovich at his farm in Connecticut.

Salatin Tractor

Salatin-style chicken tractor, chicken housing
Salatin-style chicken tractor

The Salatin Style tractor, designed by Joel Salatin, is very short and wide. This tractor is not designed for a person to go inside, but the roof opens to access the chickens’ feed and water. Many people tend to use this one for meat birds rather than hens, but it is a good option.  You can find full plans for this chicken tractor in Joel’s book Polyface Designs.  I wrote a thorough review of Polyface Designs so be sure to read it if you want more information or are considering buying the book.


chickshaw, chicken coop
Justin Rhodes’ Chickshaw

The last one I’m sharing is the one that was the inspiration for our own coop; the Chickshaw, designed by Justin Rhodes of Abundant Permaculture.   This one is very lightweight and easy to move (in the photo he has the baby on his back).

Also, you could try the “tractor” we have, which is literally just a cubic frame made of PVC pipes covered in chicken wire.  This is good daytime or temporary housing but provides little shelter or predator protection.

You can make almost whatever kind of tractor you need to; whatever you could possibly think of!

Key Features of Chicken Housing

Whether you choose a coop or a tractor, mobile or stationary, your chicken housing must include a few key features for the comfort and safety of your chickens. 

  1. Sufficient space – 1 square foot per bird if they have access to the outside, or 3 square feet per bird if they’re confined.
  2. Good airflow – coops quickly get too hot, too stuffy, or stinky without adequate airflow.
  3. Nesting boxes – the girls need a place to lay their eggs.  If you don’t provide one, they’ll make their own, probably somewhere hard to find.
  4. Perches/Roosts at least 2″ in diameter, about 12 inches worth per chicken
  5. Access to food water

 If you provide your chickens with a sturdy house with all the key features, you’re well on your way to having a happy and healthy flock! 

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