- Easy to follow plans that make this coop relatively straightforward to build
- Easy for one person to move daily
- East to clean
- Works for layers or agile meat bird breeds
- The roof design could use improvement
- The interface between the handle and the door is awkward
- More expensive as compared to some other tractors (but this is outweighed by the pros in my opinion) Not protective enough as is for overwintering birds in cold climates
For years, I’ve wanted to raise our own meat chickens. We’ve raised ducks for meat and eggs, but never chickens.
I love the taste of chicken. It’s easy to cook, extremely versatile to include in recipes chicken salad, on the grill in a stir-fry and there’s always a carcass leftover that can be used to make stock. But, over the years, as I’ve learned more about meat production, the benefits of rotational grazing on soil and animal health, and the persistence of GMO corn and feed, we’ve grown more and more particular about the meat my family eats and have become more drawn to rotationally grazed ruminants because they eat grass. Even on small-scale organic farms where animals are “free-range”, chickens (and pigs) are dependent on grain to fatten up enough to be worth slaughtering at a young age. While those of us fortunate enough to be able to prioritize buying local can often inquire about how animals are raised and treated, it’s harder to get the details about what they are fed. Feeding animals grain leads to so many questions; Does the grain contain GMOs, is it organic, is it soy-free, is it corn-free, is it grown regionally or shipped from far away? There are probably a dozen more things one could consider or want to know.
We raise pastured sheep, we know several neighboring farmers who raise pastured cows and pigs, but it’s been much harder to find a source of chicken
that I was excited to buy that met both my particulars for animal care and feed. I used to trade peaches for chicken from King Bird Farm, whose approaches far surpassed my pickiness, but they were expensive (and rightfully so!) and they recently stopped raising them. Then, last year, a young beginning farmer couple raised meat birds at our farm as they experimented with starting their own enterprise. They moved them every day inside a tractor and fed them grain from Lakeview Organic Grain both activities I am in support of, and we bought a lot of their birds. They were delicious. But, the chickens were Cornish Cross. Though I had read about Cornish Cross, I had never witnessed firsthand their lack of interest and ultimately, their inability to walk.
Cornish Cross are the common breed of choice in a lucrative chicken business because they are economical to buy and they grow big quickly. So big, in fact, that their breasts weigh them down. Among other things, their excessive body size/weight ratio can cause broken legs and heart attacks. As we well know, there are dozens of factors a farmer considers when developing a successful enterprise and I can understand one’s decision to choose this breed. But for me, while I had thought (and formed opinions) about a lot of elements of the food my family consumes, I had never given much thought about what breed of animals our purchases were supporting.
This recognition also happened to land about the time I resigned from my full-time job as an Executive Director. For the first time since we’ve been on our land, we finally had some time and energy to add another species into our farm system.
Choosing the right breed and the best coop design
I decided I wanted to raise a breed of chickens that would forage at least some of their diet and that would walk, peck, and poop around a fenced-in pen because this provides nitrogen and improves the pasture. After speaking to several farmers, doinga lot of research, and realizing what was available (hatcheries are a whole other level of animal welfare to consider, perhaps for another article…), I decided to raise Red Ranger chickens. Red, orange, and brown in color, these are a multi-purpose breed that can be raised for meat or as egg layers. Red Rangers are known to enjoy foraging, be tasty and succulent to eat, and be docile. While Cornish Cross are ready and need to be slaughtered at 6-8 weeks, Red Rangers take 11-13 weeks. Nearly double the time to be slaughter-ready could mean double the feed cost, but my hope is that the costs are less than that because this breed does forage some of their food. Furthermore, I was not raising these birds as part of our farm business but rather, as part of our homestead. I wanted to raise meat birds to be able to produce organic, non-GMO, soy-free chicken for our (extended) family that was humanely raised and benefited the landscape. So, I ordered 102 Red Rangers, 51 per batch, and 1 ton of feed fromLakeview Organic Grain.
Next, I needed to determine what shelter I would provide for the chickens. Even though my partner was supportive of the new addition to our farm, this was my project and I knew I needed a coop or chicken tractor that I could move easily by myself and by hand every single day possibly with a toddler on my back or by my side. The several designs I researched were not designed for the chickens to go in and out, which was important to me. Meat birds, even those that are moved daily, are typically housed in a chicken tractor, which has a mesh or wire floor, and although the tractor moves every day, the chickens stay inside. I wanted my chickens to feel sunshine, and to free-range (within the electric fence), just like egg-laying birds often do.
Cornish Cross are the common breed of choice in a lucrative chicken business because they are economical to buy and they grow big quickly. So big, in fact, that their breasts weigh them down. Among other things, their excessive body size/weight ratio can cause broken legs and heart attacks. As we well know, there are dozens of factors a farmer considers when developing a successful enterprise and I can understand one’s decision to choose this breed. But for me, while I had thought (and formed opinions) about a lot of elements of the food my family consumes, I had chickens, if you raise a breed that likes to walk. (I can’t speak to how it would work for Cornish Cross. You certainly wouldn’t expect them to go in and out for the aforementioned reasons, but they also might not be limber enough to walk over the “perches” more on that later). In fact, in our Northeast climate, this coop might be more practical for meat birds, because I don’t think egg layers would have enough wind protection and heat from bedding accumulation to make it through the winter in this coop.
Designed by Justin Rhodes, founder of Abundant Permaculture in North Carolina, the ChickShaw 2.0 plans are available from his website for free by signing up for his newsletter. Justin has put a ton of time and effort into providing incredibly detailed resources to others, mostly at no charge. The best thing about Justin’s resources is that they are used by him and he often provides both videos and written resources, as he does for the ChickShaw 2.0.
Before getting to the design and functionality of the ChickShaw 2.0, there’s a few points to mention about the plans. They provide direct links to Lowes to purchase the items for pick-up, which, for me, was super handy because it takes me hours to find tiny bolts and random pieces of hardware in that store. Also, as the plans say, start gathering your supplies at least a month before you want to build the coop. Especially in the midst of this Covid-era, the wait time on wood was 3-4 weeks and the 26” wheels were very hard to find.
Justin’s “Tools” list is accurate, although if you don’t have a table saw, you might consider adjusting your wood purchase and buy 2x2s instead of ripping the 2x4s with a circular saw, which would be tedious and not that safe. We also used a chop saw for the angled cuts, though the circular saw willdo fine.
The “Building Materials” list is accurate, although I was pleased to find that the whole thing cost me about half the amount he says it will cost, $400 vs. almost $800. This is in part because like you likely do we have a shed filled with screws of various sizes, but also because Justin recommends cedar for its “nontoxic and weather resistant” properties. In our area, cedar is hard to find and pricey, so I chose to go with rough-cut larch from a nearby Amish sawmill which I found for $3.50 per 2x4x8’ board. Larch, which is from the Tamarack tree, is also nontoxic and weather-resistant lumber. Another op
tion with similar properties is locust, but locust is so dense it’s hard to work with and it would add a lot of undesired weight to the coop. Since I’m raising meat birds, I didn’t purchase any of the items needed for the nesting or dusting boxes. I will add that I recommend following Justin’s suggestion to use the PVC roof paneling. To save money and because we had metal roofing lying around, I installed this first. But, it’s a pain to cut and its weight negates the goals for this coop being so easy to move. At about $15/piece, it’s worth the ease and weight of the PVC panels.
Justin does a great job giving instructions on what and how to cut your materials, and the “Wood Recap” is super helpful to ensure you’ve got it all. One overall suggestion I have for Justin is, that because the coop is just as practical for layers as it is for meat birds, to put everything related to the nesting boxes (materials, instructions, etc.) in their own section and listed as “Optional.” Not realizing exactly what everything was for until we were building, we ended up with extra materials to return and wood that we didn’t need to cut.
The “Step by Step Build” section of the plans was complete with pictures and instructions and was almost clear and easy to follow for all 58 steps. There were, however, a couple of pieces of information missing that would have been helpful:
Step #7, make it clear the wire mesh is attached with staples
Step #9 requires you to flip your project over, which is not stated. Also in this step, I found it confusing which way to brace the corner posts, even with the “NOTE” Justin provides.
Step #15 and #16 are only needed for nesting boxes, and without these you could just repeat Step
#13 on the back wall as well. I didn’t realize this until after the fact and ended up just leaving it as is and covering up the large opening with roof paneling.
Step #33 was incorrect. Rather than connect the Front Posts at “two feet in”, they needed to be attached at 15” in.
Step #56 suggests using 2x2x12 corner braces, but this seemed weak. I used 2x4x12s instead, and actually, the picture shows 2×4’s so perhaps the 2×2 instruction is a typo.
Overall, the ChickShaw 2.0 was relatively easy to build. Even though the instructions had minor errors, they were clear enough to follow without much confusion. I highly recommend building the coop with another person. Luckily, my neighbor helped me with about half of it. It’s more fun to build with somebody else, it’s a lot of measuring and cuts right at the start, it’s super helpful to have somebody hold the wire mesh before you get the first few staples in, and you’ll definitely need a second person to flip the frame a couple of times as you build. It took us 2 full days to complete the whole thing.
Overall, the ChickShaw 2.0 works great, just as advertised! It’s predator-proof. It’s very easy to move on my own, very easy to clean, and accommodates a sizable flock. My daily routine is The chickens are closed inside at night so in the morning, I pick up the 8-panel electric PoultryNet fence that’s encircling the coop, roll the coop about 15’ to new pasture, set the fence back up, fill the food trough and water fount, stick the grounding rod in the ground, attach the energizer to the power source and let the chickens out for the day. The whole routine takes about 20 minutes, even with a toddler on my back.
There are, however, a few minor design elements that I would change if I were building this again, and hope to find time to adjust on my ChickShaw before next season.
Literally, the moment we started putting our first batch of 37 Red Rangers (the rest of the 51 had died in transit from the hatchery due to freezing spring temps) inside the coop at the end of May,
once the nights were warm enough so that the birds didn’t require heat lamps, the biggest design flaw of the ChickShaw 2.0, in my opinion, became obvious the interface between the handle and door is cumbersome. You have to step over the handle to open the door and there’s just not that much space for the door to swing down while you stand there, and I’m a petite person. As we transferred the birds from the brooder on the back of the truck, it was definitely awkward to pick up 2 or 3 birds, step over the handle and open the door to put them inside doable, but not pleasant. It was even more cumbersome to lift a heavy, 3-gallon fount over the handle and into the door since we provide water in the coop at night. If I were building this again, I would put the door in the back, not the front. This wasn’t possible in Justin’s design, since he’s designed it with nesting boxes at the back, but in this case, perhaps the handle (and its accompanied braces) could be on the back.
Next, I realized that since I skipped Step #29, which was to install a flat plywood surface for a mineral feeder, we needed to install something for the 3-gallon water fount to sit on because it can’t fit between the 2×2 “Perches”. I simply cut two square pieces of plywood that span the distance between the two perches and the fount sits level.
The use of barrel locks (Step #40 and 41) to secure the door shut could be improved. The design suggests using tiny pieces of plywood and “lock shims” to make these work properly, but they just don’t.
The plywood contracts and expands with weather changes and barrel locks need to be nearly perfectly lined up. I’ve had much better success securing doors all year round with swivel hasps.
Given Justin’s attention to detail, I was surprisedby how flimsy the kickstand design is. A 2×2 piece is not substantial enough for the important role of keeping the coop from tilting to the ground, and the strap hinge is weak. It broke immediately. Instead, I’ve been using a wooden block which works fine. If I felt like spending the money, I’d consider a single-wheel side wind. This would be the easiest and most sturdy option, but a block is free.
When I first built my ChickShaw in the height of Covid with high supply shortages, 26” wheels were unavailable, even old bike tires this size were impossible to find, so I installed 20” wheels. While the coop was moveable, it wasn’t that easy, especially on the uneven ground of our orchard. The back of the coop would hit the ground when I lifted the front too high, and the wheels just didn’t seem strong enough to hold the weight. I finally found
26” wheels, and once I installed them, it was easy to move on uneven terrain, even as the birds got near slaughter size. I was surprised by how Justin suggests installing the wheels though because he doesn’t suggest drilling a hole for wheel axles to go through which would give them extra strength. I’m keeping an eye on mine, making sure they don’t bend or loosen, especially because, I’m definitely pushing the limits of his suggested capacity at 52 birds this round.
My last (constructive) criticism is about the roof. As I mentioned, some of the roof bracings seemed a little weak. It’s smart to design the roof on hinges so it’s possible to lift it up and reach inside the coop. The door is small and I wouldn’t want to have to crawl inside, but the design, doesn’t make sense.
The roof is big, and both the hinges and the 2x2s they are mounted on are so weak, there’s no way the roof could be lifted and lean open on its own without breaking. You either need to have at least one person hold the roof up while you reach inside or you can prop the roof up with wood braces on both sides, cut to a length that gives the roof some height. It would have been easy to design this concept into the plans with two of the extra 2x2s, and a screw for each so they swivel.
Overall, none of these negative elements are substantial enough to affect the overall usefulness and ease of the ChickShaw 2.0, and I highly recommend it. I plan to make some minor adjustments this winter and raise meat chickens again next year.
Resources & Links:
- Abundant Permaculture, abundantpermaculture.lpages.co/chickshaw-2-0/
Elizabeth lives and farms in the Finger Lakes, on land originally stewarded by the Gayogo̱ hó:nǫ’ people of the Haudenosaunee confederacy. She runs Wellspring Forest Farm with her partner Steve and son Aydin.
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