Back when I first started raising poultry, I wanted to have flexibility to reconfigure and re-deploy the shelters I built, and I didn’t want to spend a lot of money. I wanted to be able to move them by myself to fresh areas periodically, and expand as the number of animals grew. I standardized on 4’x4′ units that were 2′ tall, stackable, with interchangeable roofs and “screen doors.”
Fast-forward to this crazy year, 2020. We had no animals in the beginning of the year, so in the spring, I rehabbed the two remaining 4’x4′ units and a “lid” of hardware cloth to protect small plants from the wild rabbits in a garden area that didn’t have a fence yet, and to keep the birds away from a bed of strawberries. As the season progressed, we finally got the fence up around that garden, and we placed an order for baby chicks. When they first arrived, I put the three dozen chicks in a single 4’x4′ unit, in a plastic livestock tub that just happened to fit perfectly in there diagonally.
Continuing this modular approach has allowed me to ramp up on a shoestring budget. As the chicks grew, I removed the tub and expanded their living quarters. First I put the two existing 4’x4′ units together. Then I added a roosting unit on top of one. The roosting unit has a 4’x4′ footprint, with a sloped roof and an open bottom that includes two birch staves cut to fit. The birds love it, and using natural materials from our yard for the roosts helps lower the expense.
A few weeks later, we had sold some of the pullets, the rest were still growing, and I wanted to add meat rabbits to our livestock holdings. I added an 8’x4′ run to the primary chicken unit (one 4’x4’x2′ unit building up a deep-litter floor of pine shavings, with the roosting unit on top) and re-deployed one of the 4’x4’x2′ units for the breeding pair of meat rabbits I was about to buy. I added a 2’x4′ piece of plywood down the center of the rabbit unit to make separate areas for the male and female, and they seem quite happy.
The chickens (Plymouth Barred Rocks and Rhode Island Reds) continued to grow, and recently, I noticed them bickering over roost space, so I added another roosting unit above the end of the 8’x4’x2′ run. They hopped up on the roosts immediately, but on their first night, they still crowded onto the original roost! I assume they will spread out to use both soon enough.
Modular Shelter Materials
- 8-foot 2″x4″s
- 6-foot 1″x2″s
- 2′ wide hardware cloth, 1/2″ mesh
- 1/2″ lath screws, box of 100
- 2.5″ and 3″ latching hooks and eyes
I buy a bunch of 8-foot 2’x4’s and except for the case of the 8’x4′ run and the roof slopes, I’m chopping them down to 4′ and 2′ sections. For the latest roost unit’s shed roof, I ripped a 2″x4″ for the diagonal part. I use 1’x2’s for the frame of the “screen doors” made of hardware cloth, and attach them to the uprights with the latching hooks and eyes. I wanted to standardize on 2″ hooks and eye for those, but I’m finding those less-well made than the larger sizes, and all the sizes cost the same amount at Home Depot.
The sides without screen doors are covered with hardware cloth. As summer turns to fall and we are getting our first light frosts, I’ve started using re-purposed political signs made of coroplast on the outside of the hardware cloth to reduce drafts. They are an abundant local resource available right after an election!
I do use some chicken wire, though I use that sparingly and really should eliminate it because some of our local predators (stoats, aka weasels) can get through that. I save and re-use the wire that the rolls of hardware cloth and chicken wire come with, mainly for “sewing” together two strips of 2′ chicken wire or hardware cloth for the roofs. Due to the standardization of the shelters, the majority of the hardware cloth I need is for the 2′ tall sides.