I was lucky enough in the summer of 2010 to intern at FabLabABQ where I assisted in the research and development of the prototype of what would become the Villa Happy Hen House, with designers Kenji Kondo, Ka’rolé Mazeika, and Daniel Saul Wolfskehl.
These are the initial concept models I created in collaboration with FabLabABQ’s design team for a triangular, portable chicken tractor. The idea was to make a design that could be mass-produced using a CNC router, shipped flat, and easily assembled without any specialized hardware or tools. It would sit on 2×8″ boards, of theoretically any length, depending on your space requirements (including on top of an existing raised garden bed), and completely enclosed on the top and open on the bottom (so the chickens could scratch). A chicken “tractor” is designed to be movable, so your flock can be placed anywhere on your lot to weed, till, and fertilize the dirt. The chickens can be safely enclosed in the tractor overnight, and released into the larger yard during the day. I chose a triangular design to keep a low profile on the coop while still allowing for ventilation. One side opens up to allow for easy cleaning and egg collection—no nesting boxes are necessary, as the hens feel snug and protected in the corners of the triangle.
This prototype, after the model was edited and finalized by the lead designers at FabLabABQ and displayed at CreativeABQ in the fall of 2010, was stained and tested in my very own backyard! I was given three black silky hens by a local breeder for my starter flock, and later added a Polish rooster named Jean. The final design for the Villa (see the FabLabABQ site) features a number of improvements on this prototype.
As my housing situation changed in 2012, I modified the coop into a “chicken condo”. I lived in a succession of homes with no enclosed yard, so the chickens needed more space than the tractor allowed for, particularly taking into account the space taken up by feeders and waterers. This 2-story design can be disassembled for easy transportation; the coop, bottom box, ladder, and ribs are all individual pieces no heavier than a bookshelf. It was built with no tools but a hammer, drill, and handheld power saw, from a recycled BMX ramp in my backyard, galvanized joint braces, chicken wire, and a screen door from the ReStore.
One major advantage to this design was the ability to keep food and water totally separate from the scratching zone, which put an end to the hens scratching dirt and waste into their food and water. Elevating these also reduced attracting pests. I modified the original pieces in several ways as well, including reinforcing the seam of the coop door with 2x4s; the hinge had fallen out, having been screwed into plywood which separated over time. For the same reason I edged the triangular sides of the coop and ribs with aluminum stripping, adding fasteners to hold the chicken wire in place. The coop was sold in this form in 2014, still going strong after 4 moves!