Poultry Palaces

Portable Coups Give These Birds Plenty to Crow About

by P. Allen Smith

I've been a poultry enthusiast since I was 10 years old. In the summer of that year I proudly showed a white silkie hen at the Warren County Fair in Tennessee and was thrilled to take home a blue ribbon. Since then I have raised hundreds of domesticated fowl (chickens, ducks, turkeys and geese) and several flocks of swans. I'm continually fascinated by the amazing variety of their shapes, patterns, textures and colors and am amused by their quirky personalities. To me, they are the ideal type of livestock for homesteads of any size.

One of the best qualities about poultry is how adaptable they are. Since there are breeds both big and small, you can select birds to match the scale of your setting. When I lived in town, I raised some bantam chickens (pint sized poultry) and housed them in my tool shed with an outdoor run. Sometimes when I was working outside, I'd let them out of the pen so they could hunt and scratch for bugs in my fenced yard. They were entertaining to watch and I often called them my "moving lawn ornaments." Now that I have a place in the country with plenty of elbow room I have increased the size and scale of my poultry operation. I raise both heritage and modern breeds of birds including Jersey Giant and Barred Plymouth Rock chickens as well as two Bantam varieties: Rumpless Araucana and White Cochins. I also have Sebastopol and Toulouse geese and a sizeable flock of Blue Slate turkeys.

With the increased number of birds, I wanted to find a way to provide them fresh grass so they wouldn't overgraze their penned areas. Anyone who has raised domesticated fowl quickly learns that if they are fenced in the same spot for more than a few weeks, they nibble away all the vegetation and the ground becomes bare and unsightly. So I decided that it would be better for the health of the birds and the look of my property to make their coups portable and move them around the pastures. The birds could enjoy fresh food and add some extra fertilizer along the way, and the areas around the buildings wouldn't become muddy and worn. So I went to work and designed a variety of moveable buildings, adapting each one to the type of bird it would house.

When I constructed the portable pen for my blue slate turkeys, I built it on skids, like a sled so it could be pulled around with a tractor. It also has 3 separate compartments to selectively house breeding pairs. The turkeys were recognized by the American Poultry Association in 1874, so they've been around for quite a while. Many heritage varieties of domestic fowl like slate turkeys are not commercially raised, so their numbers have dwindled. The repeated inbreeding of blue slate turkeys has weakened the vitality of their genes, resulting in birth defects. I want to help preserve and strengthen the breed to their former health. To do this I'll have to step outside the gene pool and cross a true blue with other types of slate turkeys, which include black and splash turkeys. The project is going well and the resulting crosses are healthy and strong.