The Portable Poultry House

with permission from
SPPA Bulletin, 2001, 6(1):5

Editor's Note: Due to current popularity and widespread publicity we tend to think of portable poultry pens as a modern, humanitarian concept. Many SPPA members likely utilize aspects of portable grazing as recommended by Andy Lee in his book Chicken Tractor, the Gardener's Guide to Happy Hens and Healthy Soil, Good Earth Publications, 1994, either for rearing young stock or for breeding pens. The portable pen was recommended by poultry experts at least a century ago and was certainly employed even earlier, as described in the following excerpt from Profits in Poultry, Orange Judd Company, 1889.

A movable poultry house is by no means novel, it having been described and used years ago. Geyelin described one which was used in grain fields in France to gather the scattered grain after harvest. This was constructed something like one of those vans used in transporting animals kept in traveling menageries. It was 20 feet long, about 7 feet wide, and the same in height. A set of steps was fixed at one end for the fowls to enter and leave, and nest boxes and roosts were provided within. Several of these houses were drawn to the field, and one of them was furnished with a small apartment for the keeper who attended to the fowls. A large number of fowls could be accommodated in one of these houses, as they were intended to be cleaned daily, and the droppings scattered upon the ground around them as they were moved from place to place each day.

An excellent house of this kind was designed by R. Sproule of Pennsylvania, and a view of it is given here. It is of wood, and as will be seen, is mounted upon an axle and a pair of wheels. By means of a pair of levers, raised to the position shown by the dotted lines, the house is lifted, and made to rest wholly upon the wheels, so that it can be moved from place to place as desired. The second figure given shows the ground plan, with the boxes for feed, water and gravel. These are secured to the sills and are kept clean by a sloping cover of small rods. The house is 10 feet long by 5 feet wide, and as high as may be necessary. The nest boxes, 16 inches square and 4 inches deep, are secured to the upper corners of the enclosure, a small door being provided for reaching the eggs. The roosting poles are so arranged that the fowls can easily climb from one to the other. The enclosure is made of oak rods and rails which are bored to receive the rods. Any cheaper method of construction may be used.

The size of the house may be 5 x 10 or 4 x 8 feet, and 5 feet high to the eaves. The sills are made of 1-1/4x3 inch stuff, laid flat down, halved together at the corners, and nails driven through upward into the ends of the posts. The corner posts are 3x3 inches, the middle ones are 3x4 inches. Each is properly mortised to receive the rails of the open sections. A light cornice, or a 2-1/2 inch band, is securely nailed around the top, a little above the eaves, leaving sufficient room for the roof boards to pass under between the band and the upper rail. To the back side of this band is nailed the balustrade, each piece having its ends toe-nailed to the posts. A light ridge pole is attached at each end to the balustrade near the top, which forms a double-pitch flat roof. This is made of one thickness of 3/8 inch boards, the same as the enclosed sides. The upper section at the end, over the feed trough, is hung with hinges for a door through which to place feed, etc. The levers have their fulcrum ends resting on the axle, and are bolted on it. About 12 inches from it, and opposite to it, and thorough the middle posts, are pivot bolts, on which the weight of the house hangs when the levers are pressed down. Narrow strips are used as braces for stiffening the frame lengthwise, which are placed inside, also bits of hoop iron should be used about the corners to strengthen the joints. With these appliances and proper tools, any skillful mechanic can complete the job. Its weight is about 300 pounds, and the house affords room for keeping from 12 to 24 fowls through the season.

The advantages of such a house are that the fowls are under perfect control, and are kept quite as healthy as when running at large. Every morning when the house is moved, there is provided a clean, fresh apartment, with fresh earth and grass. Fowls become thoroughly domesticated by being thus treated. Those that are inclined to sit, are put outside; they will hang about and make an effort to get in, and the desire to sit soon passes away. The manure is all saved to the best advantage, being applied at once.


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