If you’re new to the chicken community, welcome! More than likely you’ve heard of a chicken run at this point, but if not, generally speaking a chicken run is the area in your yard that is fenced off specifically to let your chickens run. This fenced area is the safest spot for your chicken and will allow them to freely forage for bugs and worms while getting their daily exercise.
Foraging safely is an extremely important part of a chicken’s life and a chicken run should be built with the utmost care. There’s definitely nothing worse than losing a beloved chicken to a predator, especially when it would have been completely avoided by simply having a sturdy and reliable chicken run to keep the threats at a minimum.
Things To Consider When Building Your Chicken Run
1. Plot and Plan
You’ll want to avoid any spots that are completely shaded as hens require a lot of sunlight in order to produce eggs properly and efficiently. A little shade, maybe about a quarter of the area, is perfectly fine as the chickens will appreciate a spot to lounge when it’s exceptionally hot and sunny. If your yard is lacking in any shaded areas, you will need to build a roofed structure in the run to provide coverage and protection from the sun and other elements.
>Wind is another important weather element to consider. Chickens don’t like having to fight against windy conditions and will oftentimes prefer to just stay inside their comfortable coops. If you live in a place that is particularly windy it would be wise to create some protection against it, perhaps some dense bushes, for your chicken’s sake.
You should also pick a spot that features plenty of soft grass and maybe even some berry bushes. You want to be able to provide your chickens with plenty of grass and dirt to peck and forage through. The berries, if you have them, would just be a plus and will provide a special treat for your chickens throughout the day
When planning your run it’s usually best to start with a bit more space than necessary so that you have a chance to increase the number in your flock. Having a little extra space is especially important if you have any roosters in the bunch as you will increase your numbers without too much effort on your part.
Yes, it’s true that chickens are social and do tend to huddle closely together at times, but they also enjoy being able to have their own space. Having too small of a chicken run is never a good thing as it could lead to excessive spats between your chickens and even cannibalism (!).
Besides providing an area to let your chickens out for some fresh air and foraging, your chicken run also serves as a sort of “outdoor safe space” for your feathered friends. As such it needs to provide a reliable barrier from harmful predators. You will need to invest in a good chicken wire to run around the edges.
For the best protection, the wire should be made of galvanized steel and feature a heavy gauge, maybe 18 or 14 in size. If you can afford it, you may want to invest in a bird net to run along with the wire as this will provide double protection.
If you live in an area that is bound to be home to predatory animals like foxes, bears, and snakes you should definitely consider doubling up the wire. If you’re constantly having new chicks hatching you should make sure that the holes in the wire aren’t too big for them to escape the run.
You will also want to make sure to dig your wire deep into the ground. Many chicken predators are resourceful and may decide to try and dig under the fence enclosure to reach their desired dish. Usually about 12 inches (or 300 millimeters) will suffice as the predator will likely give up after a short time, not to say that this is 100% foolproof, but burying it will definitely provide extra protection.
Basic materials and tools that you will definitely need to gather before beginning the construction of your chicken run would include: a drill or hammer, a tape measure, a level to ensure the posts are straight, a shovel, chicken wire, fencing material, concrete mix, and plenty of wooden beams of varying sizes to use as fencing posts and support beams. This should be enough to get you started and on your way to building your chickens their new favorite place to hang out.
4. Remember All Sides!
Don’t forget the top of the enclosure. Most places have the occasional owl or hawk fly over their property from time to time. These predators are notorious for occasionally enjoying a delicious tasting chicken dinner. Protect your flock by placing at least one roll of chicken wire along the top of the run.
While this isn’t guaranteed to help with every predator that can attack from above, it’ll definitely take care of a vast majority of them. If your flock is not at too high of a risk from being targeted by predatory birds or other animals that might climb the fence like weasels and bobcats, you may be able to skip adding a top to your chicken run.
The floor is also a major aspect to consider when making the perfect chicken run. Besides being full of short nutrient-filled grass and soil and featuring mostly sunny areas with a little shade, you will want to ensure that the spot you’re picking can maintain that disposition.
For example, don’t build your run in a spot that you know tends to get muddy every time it rains. Mud is great for pigs, not so much for chickens! Mud can encourage the spread of nasty chicken diseases and make it so the hens don’t want to come out when it rains.
5. Dust Bath Is Not Just A Luxury - It’s A Necessity!
Chickens don’t like to be dirty, so whenever they feel the urge to clean themselves they should have an area dedicated for their dust-bathing needs. It’s simple enough to give them a dust bath. You just need to dig a large hole and put a small child’s pool in it. Then just fill that with a mix of about 5% DE (diatomaceous earth), 20% sand, and 75% dry dirt. And Voila – you have yourself a fine chicken spa! It will surely be the talk of the coop.
6. More Things to Think About
If you’re located in a particularly mosquito-ridden location you will want to do everything possible to deter those little suckers. Placing some herbal plants, like citronella and lavender, around your chicken run can help to keep mosquitoes and flies at bay. Although chickens do enjoy nipping at these annoying critters from time to time, having too many of them can discourage them from leaving their coop. Not to mention the fact that these insects, and others, are notorious for spreading diseases among chicken flocks.
7. Don't Forget The Toys
Just like a pet cat or dog, chickens can get bored – fairly easily, too! You can keep them entertained with various toys and treats. Dried mealworms are a great source of protein and will have your chickens running around like crazy trying to gobble them up. You could even throw a small set of pet stairs in there and watch them climb to the top and jump off. It’s great exercise for them and lots of entertainment for you to boot!
Building and maintaining a chicken run is not only fun, but it is also a necessary part of being a chicken owner. It’s not an extremely difficult task to accomplish, but it will save you from having to encounter the occasional dead chicken, or at least reduce the occurrences. Not only does a sturdy chicken run help to protect your chickens from predators and the elements, but it will also keep the chickens out of your garden.
While some in the chicken community have the benefit of owning a large amount of land with little to no predators, and prefer to just offer a coop as protection to their flock, those that don’t have ample space would surely benefit more by having a coop and a secure chicken run available for their birds.