How to Build a Chicken Shanty with Cattle Panels

We had to build this chicken shelter out at the Green House when we were sure we had a rooster in our flock of ‘pullets’. I already had the fence, metal roofing and hardware cloth. I just had to buy $3 worth of wire, so the project was nearly free for me. I wouldn’t recommend you go buy these materials to make this because it isn’t a pleasure to behold and because it can’t carry you through winter needs (at least not Zone 5 Winter needs). However, if you need warm weather shelter in a hurry, this was a fun, fast build that could be streamlined.

Using ratcheting strapping I was able to bend cattle panels by myself into arches and hold them in that position while attaching scrap boards with metal ‘strapping’. The two cattle panels were then wired to each other and scrap metal roofing put on tilted to the West to help shield from the sun in the summer but encouraging lots of airflow which is crucial for chickens. The very top was covered to provide rain protection from Thunderstorms.

The arch shape creates a perfectly matching grid of strong metal that makes it easy to support a 2″x3″ across as a roost. At first the hens didn’t want to leave the ground at all, but eventually they found the very top roost even though it was a bit of a tight fit.

At this point the structure began to get very heavy to move. I’m unable to drag two cattle panels across the bumpy ground because of all the surface area and chances for it to snag on a rock or tree. I was able to stand inside the arch and lift the entire structure. The arch is taller than 5’6″ and 8′ wide. At my height even with my arms fully extended above my head, it barely cleared the ground and caught on every little clump of grass.

My daughter joined me in wiring hardware cloth and chicken wire onto it to make it more secure, but this proved to be largely unnecessary because hawks were deterred with simple woven hawk netting.

Once all this reinforcement was done the shelter was too heavy to be a chicken tractor (which was the original plan) but too open to be a chicken coop that could protect through the winter.

It was absolutely necessary to add a cap on the roost end to keep driving rain and the occasional chilly wind at bay. The construction crew had left behind some tarps. I wired two small scraps to the arch end and tucked them under the metal roofing. For a summer sunshade on the west side, I was able to slide the tarp between the cattle panel and hardware cloth and no additional attachments were needed.

The construction tarps worked perfectly. The white side reflected the heat of the summer sun, and the black side insured that it was truly dark on the other side. The feed bags that I had experimented with did not fair nearly as well as the heavy construction tarps. The chickens relentlessly pecked at the feed bag on the left of the large tarp and the feed bag that had been on the right didn’t last very long either. Their light coloring didn’t create deep shade and they seemed to mostly block the occasional refreshing wind. The black underside of the construction tarps made a huge difference in the shade effect, and was worth the blocked wind.

A few more boards were added to the structure as a ‘door frame’ of sorts. A simple staple gun made very quick work of securing the chicken wire to the frame. I really struggle with doors though. I don’t like making them because they tend to sag or not swing smoothly. I got lucky while trying to figure out my door problem.

Someone threw out a “baby gate” and it became the door to the chicken coop. Simply wrapping chicken wire over it made me feel more secure about it, though looking back that was probably unnecessary because there is no roost within 3 feet of the door and the electric fence keeps out everything but hawks.

Which brings us to the hawk netting. This hawk netting is very very heavy and much more visible than the lighter netting we are now using in the subdivision. I highly recommend what I have, but I can’t find the exact seller. This is the most similar netting currently out there. Each junction is knotted and the individual strands are strong and UV resistant.

You probably want less than what I bought though. I bought the 50’x50′ size and had a large coil of it left over wrapped around the entrance. I kept worrying that a mouse would set up residence in it, or chew it up for nesting material. Looks like I got lucky this year, but next year I will try hard to use the entire net and make a much larger roaming area for the hens.

Doing this makeshift project for free became almost as fun as the experiment. A simple solution for the door latch was needed that wouldn’t waste anything but that would stay solid and not be frustrating to use. I rigged this.

It’s purposely set at an angle so if a racoon were to shake the door the latch would just slide further down into the ‘locking’ position. All these little security measures I put in are funny now because it wasn’t long before I had to prop up the back corner of the shelter to give the flock more roaming space.

All that hardware cloth that is supposed to thwart racoons, opossums and dogs was lifted a foot into the air making it useless. The flock acted like the cattle panel was some sort of guillotine that was just waiting to fall on them. They would hesitate on one side and suddenly sprint under like they were cheating death. I thought I would have to build some sort of framed in door to make them feel more comfortable. The photo below is months after lifting the corner, by that time the hens were no longer afraid, just cautious.

By the end of the summer the flock had eaten all the nearby grass and went in and out any available hole. They would dust-bath in the low lying area right under the metal edge of the cattle panel. Glad I never found the time to build a special door!

I don’t recommend you build this if you have the means and time to go ahead and build an all-season coop or if you can put together a truly light chicken tractor. That said, I’m really glad I had a chance to experiment with this set-up because I discovered some things I want to include in my future chicken coop.

The first thing I wanted in this coop and all future coops is this little ‘knee wall’ that keeps the chickens from rushing the door when you bring treats. As a kid I was really afraid of chickens because they can be a bit aggressive. I still don’t like walking around them if I’m in shorts…my Barred Rocks bite me right through sports pants.

I want for myself and I hope for you: a set-up that not only makes keeping livestock less of a harassment, but also elevates it to fun. Something we can share with our kids, friends and neighbors. Being able to visit my chickens in flip-flops is fantastic. The knee-wall is the first half. The second half is to not walk where the chickens walk/roost. I don’t like tracking chicken poo around on my shoes. So the knee-wall only really works if you can hang the feeders and waterers at arms length.

You may have noticed that the chicken feeder is always hung and the waterer too. These are hung several feet from the roost so poo doesn’t get in the feed or on the waterer. They are also hung snug to the ceiling to prevent a chicken from figuring out how to roost on top of them (don’t use a horizontal board as the support for the chain). Because a chicken seems compelled to poo in it’s food, it will find a way to roost on a board with only 4″-6″ of clearance if that means it can poo in the food…I don’t know why. In time I started hanging the chicken snacks in the same way to prevent chickens from trampling every edible bit before their sisters could eat it. If you pair hanging food/water with a knee wall you can reduce walking into the coop quite a bit. Of course, then there is the egg-laying issue.

I broke my leg before finding time to think about laying boxes. I was in no condition to build something, so I compromised and bought this really large litter box, filled it with wood chips and stationed it near the coop door. There is a really expensive one on the market if you want it to look great and be too heavy to tip over. I taped up the vents on the top to keep out rain and light and the hens loved it. They very quickly adapted to it and I think they preferred it to the nesting boxes we have in the subdivision because it was so dark and private. It was big enough for two pullets to lay at once, which is good because some nesting boxes I almost purchased weren’t large enough to accommodate a single full-sized Plymouth Barred Rock.

That doesn’t mean I’ll be using a litter box in my ‘dream coop’. What I mean is that the nesting box needs to be really big for my hens. It must be accessible to the outside or at least arms length from the knee-wall. My Homesteading Hero housing the rooster and two hens this winter is finding that my hens won’t use her perfect nesting boxes any more regularly than her last hens did. She has a fantastic set-up that lets the chickens sleep inside her wonderful barn with their very own window. That window shines right into her nesting boxes. Hens like it dark and private for laying, and I wouldn’t have understood that (and a few other preferences) without my experimental chicken shanty.

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Perpetual Resource Cycling™©: A Big Idea Who’s Time Has Come

Let’s spend a little time on some ideas that are worth digging deep into. The idea of Perpetual Resource Cycling™© combines three innovative ideas into one lovely package. This idea can be applied to all sorts of businesses, social and household functions, but I love applying it to small farms because it offers solutions you can literally lay your hands on.

Perpetual Systems are systems that when set up properly need minimum maintenance. If you owned a perpetual motion toy as a kid you know that they don’t truly work forever without any intervention, but they do make amazing use of the natural forces around us that we don’t have to exert energy for. Gravity, centrifugal force, hens digging up the ground….these are all unstoppable facts of nature. Designing systems that not only account for these forces but count on these forces, adds efficiency. Having even one Perpetual System on a homestead or farm is a worthwhile investment of time and money.

A ‘Perpetual System’ example would be the old grain mill making use of the river’s water power. A smaller version would be throwing scratch grains inside the chicken coop in the winter to encourage the hens to fluff and turn the deep litter.

Everything is a Resource refers to anything you have (or know), not just the things the neighbor thinks of as valuable. Why nit-pick the distinction? If you’ve been reading about homesteading for a while you’ve probably come across ‘a weed is just a useful plant in the wrong place’. This mindset helps us see past what we currently don’t have and ask ourselves how we can get where we want to be using the resources we already have. One thing I know we all have a lot of is household waste. After we take our donations to the Salvation Army and flatten our milk jugs for the recycling bin, we still have quite a bit of waste coming out of our homes. From grey water to egg shells, a small farm offers opportunities to reuse these resources that city life makes impossible.

An ‘Everything is a Resource’ example is the humble dandelion. Although poisoned by homeowners all across America, the French adore them as salad fixings, with some European chefs eating petal to root. Horse manure is another example an organic gardener can appreciate. The stable owner is oppressed by so much poo…the gardener eagerly pays good money to have it delivered.

Cycling is just the process of going around…those outside of homesteading might first think of a bike. Recycling is perhaps the next most common word association. How about we leap frog our thinking out to the ‘Velocity of Money’? In the world of economics we find that the faster (velocity) money moves around an economy the more good it does. Don’t get me wrong, savings are great for individuals, but that dollar bill does more good for a community when it is put to work than when it is put under the mattress. With just a modest inflation of 2% a year, the value of your money is cut in half every 35 years. The same sort of effect happens to our resources that can rust, rot or spoil. Keeping the resource engaged means it does more good. The faster it moves, the better.

A ‘Cycling’ example is the simple compost bin where all spent plants, ‘weeds’ and grass clippings go into the compost bin. The contents of the bin are then added back to the garden. To increase the velocity of the compost, we could introduce chickens to the compost bin that will eat the food bits that interest them, returning them to ‘soil’ in less than 24 hours and constantly turn the compost causing it to break down faster.

A perfectly closed loop can be cost prohibitive, so I would argue that good Cycling can simply increase the number of uses before disposal. An example are the innovative sinks/toilet combinations that allow hand washing water to drain directly into a toilet tank that then becomes the water used to flush. There’s even a kit to add a sink to your existing toilet. There are other great water examples that really got my mind working in this grey water book.

When we put all three concepts together we can see how complimentary they are. If you are reading this, you probably do a few of them currently. The idea behind Perpetual Resource Cycling™© is to up level what we are doing to enjoy even more of the abundant life we’ve chosen.

The best way to see the distinction is to compare what we typically do in our farms and backyards with what we could be doing. A typical mindset might be: the chicken gives you an egg; you eat the egg; put the egg shell and other kitchen scraps in the compost bin; 6 months later put the compost bin contents on the pumpkin plant; 4 months later give the chicken the pumpkins that were too damaged to sell at market; chicken eats pumpkin; chicken gives you egg. In this long cycle you have continued to feed the chicken for the 10 months between the first egg they gave you and when you finally reward them back with a pumpkin.

Perpetual Resource Cycling™© would take this great start and up level it by digging into all three concepts. The end result might be: the chicken gives you an egg; you eat the egg; tomorrow the crushed egg shell and other kitchen scraps are fed as chicken treats; 1 day later the egg shell and kitchen scraps are fully broke down and ‘deposited’ in the chicken run (and the chicken gave you another egg and you gave it more eggshell and kitchen scraps….); a row of Amaranth and pumpkins are interplanted on either side of the chicken run (roots and young plants protected by hardware cloth); 3 months later seeds begin to fall into the run for chicken treats (Amaranth seeds continue to fall until early winter); chicken gives you an egg; 1 month later pumpkin matures and is fed to chicken; chicken gives you an egg. In this shorter cycle you have still continued to feed the chicken, but the eggshell itself was cycled back to the hen within 24 hours and the hen cycled that into plant nutrition within 24 hours. By skipping the step of moving the chicken poo, you save man hours, and all the nitrogen and other minerals that the chickens produce (a resource) are available nearly instantly to outstretched plant roots. You get your pumpkin 6 months earlier and your chickens get a treat of egg shell calcium the very next day. Less vitamins, minerals and nitrogen are lost to rain and sun exposure. You may not want to eat Amaranth and pumpkins growing so close to the coop, but your hen’s diet is supplemented and there is plenty of extra chicken poo to compost for human crops.

Hens supplementing their diet and speeding up home composting while entertaining themselves.

In this Perpetual Resource Cycling™© example we have expanded on all three areas. Perpetually we recognize that we can save energy/man hours by planting crops at the very edge of the source of nutrients, this proximity also allows it to capture extra moisture and nitrogen that would be lost in waiting for a move to the compost bin. Perpetually dropping seeds also allows us to extend the Amaranth harvest until every seed is mature (bonus entertainment for the hens). Resources are everywhere in the form of the edible egg, the calcium rich egg shell, the kitchen scraps, Amaranth seeds, pumpkins and yes, chicken poo. Cycling keeps it all moving as quickly as possible by allowing the chicken’s digestive system to speed up the break down of eggshells and food scraps. Cycling is naturally improved by the use of Perpetual systems because automatic is always faster than waiting on a human to find time to do something. Cycling is also sped up by recognizing Resources because we value Resources…if we have a well-designed system then putting that Resource to use is faster/easier than storing it.

Perpetual Resource Cycling™© on a industrial scale is displayed in Sweden’s ‘Waste To Power’ program that uses trash to power their electrical grid. Sweden has a long history of innovative ecology and they know that trash/waste is a perpetual issue. They have been quick to recognize that waste can be a Resource. They Cycle waste quickly by sorting out recyclables and converting everything else into electricity. It has become so successful that they actually import trash!

Perpetual Resource Cycling™© always works towards zero maintenance, waste and storage through smart design and integrating systems….not by adding machines or equipment. It looks at the bigger picture, and often finds innovative breakthroughs in our forgotten pasts.

We will be offering training in Perpetual Resource Cycling™© with an over-all designation of Perpetual Resource Management™©. See the homepage under Services Offered for more information.

Horse Photo: Highsmith, C. M., photographer. (2014) Scene from the Cannon Quarter Horse ranch near the town of Venus in north-central Texas. United States Venus Texas, 2014. -09-02. [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, Bike Race Photo: Highsmith, C. M., photographer. Bike race on Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C. Washington D.C. United States, None. Between 1980 and 1990. [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress,

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How To Do Most Anything By Yourself: Ant Moves Chicken Coop

There is a song I can’t help hearing in my head when I’m planning to do something ridiculous. Laverne & Shirley used to sing, “Just what makes that little ole Ant, think he can Move that Rubber Tree Plant? Anyone knows an Ant Can’t move a Rubber Tree Plant. But he’s got High Hopes….” Silly song. I just couldn’t get it out of my head as I moved the chicken coop from the North West side of the Greenhouse to the South East corner. I’ve been called an ‘ant’ often and I choose to believe it was meant affectionately. Often there are faster, better and I’ll admit safer ways to get something done than the way I do them, but I often discover these other ways as I’m doing it the hard way. I’m a woman of average build who has not fully recovered from a broken leg. That puts me below average on the strength scale. Ants get it done Little-By-Little.

The plan to move this chicken shelter down the edge of the field devouring the prairie grass died the first time I moved it six inches. I had made it far too heavy, just as Joel Salatin warned. So, we left it in place all summer while construction continued on the greenhouse. When I broke my leg I continued planning to build a coop at the greenhouse for winter housing, but my leg and strength recovered much slower than I expected. Even after moving the hens back to my subdivision and begging a friend to house the rooster, I still had to scale back my plans even more. Spring will arrive before I could possibly finish a chicken coop and building in freezing temperatures is no fun and more risky to your health.

This heavy summer shelter will have to house the whole flock for another summer season while I figure out the perfect all-weather coop. That means I now need to move the shelter that I decided was too heavy to move months before I broke my leg. Fun!

The edge of the field proved to be too hot as the summer sun beat down. When the corn hit 5 feet the shade made it better, but the East side of the Greenhouse was more pleasant all summer even before the greenhouse was finished. Now that the winter wind whips down the field from the North that edge of the field is frigid; but that same protected spot East of the Greenhouse enjoys wind breaks on 3 sides and can still capture some of the low-hanging Winter Sun coming in from the South. The distance from where the shelter was to where it needed to be was roughly a football field plus the End Zones. Thinking of it as football was helpful.

I had to use scrap lumber as fulcrums and levers to lift the shelter out of the 6 inches of clay and grass roots that had accumulated over the summer. Once the corners were balanced on rocks and boards moving it the first foot almost caught me in the shins. One random rope and one random chain became my hand-holds after that, but it didn’t get much easier. Moving the left corner 9″ forward turned the structure into a parallelogram and put all the metal under stress. Staples popped out of the wood base, wires popped open…it was probably a little bit dangerous. It became a game of inches… a lot like football.

It took a few hours and all forward motion was just 6″ to 12″ at a time, but finally the coop was past the greenhouse. By this time I was convinced that rolling the coop would be faster!

I can say it happened fast…but lots of new things popped loose in the few minutes I rolled it onto it’s back. Getting it upright was not as easy as tipping it over.

It really is no mystery to me why my engineer husband refuses to be involved in my experiments. Lots of safety protocols get ignored.

It’s not exactly where I want the final coop to be, but it will be much nicer for the flock over the summer. I’ll keep checking the coop over the winter to fine-tune the perfect spot for construction…or maybe an even better solution will present itself. Either way, every time I look at it now I start to hum “High Hopes”.

Brass Egg™ participates in affiliate marketing programs, and may receive compensation when you click and purchase from links to retailers. Brass Egg™ of Russell Holdings Group, LLC 2021. All content ©2021 Russell Illinois Holdings, LLC. All Rights Reserved.