I just got back from the San Francisco Garden Show where, for the second year in a row, I saw Bob La Mar of Little Valley Farms selling his chicken coops made from wine barrels. It's a clever idea and he's got the perfect approach for city-dwellers: a ready-made coop with nesting boxes, food, waterer, treats, and three young Araucanas who are hand-raised and just getting ready to lay. For $975, you get the whole thing delivered to you, and he'll answer your questions by phone or e-mail.
I love the idea, Bob's a really friendly and knowledgeable guy, and his chickens are beautiful. I must say, however, that there are a couple things to consider if you'd like to buy a Caboodle (and you'd have to live in Northern California to take advantage of the delivery service, by the way).
First, I don't really want my hens to free-range all day. Even though I'm at home most of the time, I'd be worried about one of them hopping up on a fence and trotting down the alley, or a dog finding its way in the garden through a loose board, or a hawk swooping down. Also, my garden can't handle the wear-and-tear of three chickens, twelve hours a day. The Caboodle does come with a very small collapsible poultry run, but I'd want something a little bigger if I'm going to keep them confined for any period of time.
Second, I'd rather not have them locked up in such a small space, with no food or water, waiting for me to come let them out or put them away. What if I need to leave in the afternoon and I won't be home until midnight? What if I sleep late or I'm sick or otherwise not able to let them out first thing in the morning? Or what if I'm out of town and my pet-sitter is running late?
Both of these problems could be solved in part by setting the Caboodle inside a screened-in run. That way, they can wander in and out of their coop during the day to lay eggs or seek shelter from the rain, and if they put themselves to bed and I'm not there to lock them up, I at least know they're surrounded by a sturdy enclosure that will deter predators to a certain extent.
But by the time you build that sturdy enclosure (with wire buried underground to keep critters from tunneling under, and wire overhead to keep hawks & racoons out), you've spent some more money, so you might add it all up and ask yourself if a traditional coop wouldn't be a better way to go.
I'm not saying the Caboodle's a bad idea. In fact, I'm enchanted with it. But do consider your space and ask yourself where you'll put the girls' food and water, where they can seek shelter from the weather, and what parts of your deck, porch, garden, etc. you want them to have access too. (I'm pretty forgiving when it comes to chicken poop, but some people might not want it on their flagstone patio.) Also, if you are going to let them free-range all day and you're not going to be home to watch over them, ask yourself how heartbroken you'd be if something happened to one of them. Things do happen. They're chickens.