Several people have recently requested this information, and I thought it might be useful to others, too.
The elusive perfect coop design continues to be sought after by the pastured poultry crowd, and with the growth of interest in sustainable poultry, we often receive questions about what coops we are using.
This short update will show you what we have – and provide some hints on the direction we are taking.
Large PVC Hoop Coops
Most of our coops were built 4+ years ago. My son welded together a 10′ x 20′ pipe frame. On this frame, he welded 2-foot uprights. These uprights would receive a 20′ length of PVC pipe. We put in a 2-foot section of hardware cloth along the lower sides of the coop and used a billboard tarp for the roof. (Billboard tarps are basically used billboards that are made from heavy duty, fiber-reinforced sign vinyl. They are usually white or black on one side — white is preferable in the South due to heat reflection — and printed on the other side). One end of the coop has a door. In various renditions, we made some doors out of PVC and others out of metal. We move these coops once a week with a stocking density of 75-100 15-week-old birds. To me, 100 birds feels too crowded – 75 feels good.
Problems with The Large PVC Coop Design
- Flooding. This sequence of weather this year has been flood, drought, flood – I spent this morning preparing for another 5 inches of rain this weekend. Because the tarp roof does not extend past the end of the frame, all the water hitting the coop pours inside the coop. The metal pipe acts as a miniature dam, and we end up with chickens standing in 2-3 inches of water.
PVC is not durable. The PVC is now getting brittle (see the picture below). I have some coops where over a third of the PVC is broken. It is difficult to attach hanging feeders and waterers to the PVC. We use milk crates to keep waterers off the ground. When it comes time to move the coop, all that has to be taken out, moved and put back inside.
- The design likes to fly. Strong windows have lifted these coops up and over a 5-foot tall fence. Now we use T-posts to anchor them in the ground. With 16 coops, that is a lot of T-posts to pull and put back in when it is time to move the coops. So, it sometimes doesn’t get done, and then the unexpected storm comes in and the coops fly off.
- Heat retention in summer. The tarp keeps the heat inside the coop during the summer. The tarp also makes it hard to see inside the coop except when looking from the door side.
- Egg nests are hard to install. We use a mobile egg nest on a wagon.
Pictures below illustrated these points.
Cattle Panel or Hog Panel Hoop Coops
For our first iteration of “improvements,” we tried a 10′ x 10′ coop, with cattle panel to support the roof instead of PVC. The 10×10 has never “flown the coop,” but it still has the flooding problem. (Matthew, our Australorp breeder uses an improved version of this cattle panel hoop coop that he is very happy with for his smaller flocks.)
The flooding this year has been a real problem. I’ve been pondering either stationary coops with floors or mobile coops with floors. I have 2 sheds with floors that house my Delaware breeders. Other than rain blowing in, they stayed nice and dry. Fixed coops with multiple out runs is an option I want to try.
Semi-Portable Carport Coops
Currently, we are trying a couple of coops built from metal carports. We have two in use, one for turkeys and one for “grow out.” The turkeys free range during the day, and at night I close them up to keep predators out — chased a fox across the field this morning.
The grow out pen is set up with 3 different sections so that I can have 3 different ages of birds in one coop. On the outside we have chicken wire held in place with greenhouse “wiggle wire” – see detail picture below. This allows us to put on plastic as needed. This morning we added plastic to the North and East side so rain will not blow in. With a pickup, we can move these each week.