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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