Getting Started: Selecting The Right Chicken Run

A secure chicken run will keep your birds safe, your flock compliant and you happy. Here are some tips for building a poultry enclosure.

by Ana Hotaling
PHOTO: Sabine_999/Pixabay

The term “chicken run” is an oxymoron of sorts. The structure, in fact, serves to keep your chickens from running all over the place. Since many towns require keepers to enclose backyard birds within fencing, you should consider a chicken run both essential and mandatory for your flock.

Aside from this, you can design your run however you want. Just remember to take into consideration how you wish to raise your birds when you review these three chicken-run styles.

My Big Backyard

If you wish for your flock to free range and always wanted an enclosed backyard, you can look into installing a property fence.

You’ll first need to check with your ordinance director or home-owners’ association regarding permitted fence types. You may need to survey your property line, too. Also inquire if you’ll need your neighbors’ permission.

Next, select the fencing best suited for your property. If you have a 1/4-acre suburban backyard, a cedar or vinyl privacy fence provides a functional and attractive enclosure. If your flock will roam multiple rural acres, a split-rail fence lined with 1/4-inch hardware mesh will keep your chickens in and local predators out.

Be sure to take into account the cost of both the installation and at least one gate through which you can access to your front or side yard. Bear in mind that, as a property fence, your yard will open to aerial predators such as hawks and owls. So make sure that you have a few emergency shelters—under a deck, beneath a playground fort, etc.

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Your hens can hide there if they wander too far from their coop.

Read more: Consider these things when buying or building your chicken coop.

The Run for Their Lives

Most backyard flocks spend their days sunning, scratching and dustbathing within the safety of a traditional run, their very own fenced-in yard. This style of run attaches to or surrounds the chicken coop, keeping your flock enclosed from the moment they emerge in the morning to the hour they head in to roost.

A traditional run typically consists of hardware mesh securely attached to wooden posts or hooked onto T-posts. A gate is necessary to provide you with access to the run—and the coop—for maintenance and flock care.

But, with a traditional run, this can be anything from a sturdy barn-style door to a length of swinging hardware mesh.

5 Factors for a Safe (& Comfy) Run

Bear in mind these five important factors when building a traditional run:

  • Provide your chickens with at least 10 square feet of space per bird. If you have plans to expand your flock, build your run to the maximum dimensions determined by the number of birds you are allowed to keep.
  • Don’t end your fencing at ground level. Instead, bury it at least two feet underground. Pack the soil well. Cap it with an “apron” of 1-inch patio blocks to deter digging predators (foxes, skunks, weasels, etc.).
  • Build your fence as tall as possible. Coyotes have been known to leap over fences six feet tall, so you may need to overlap your fencing if you plan to bury the bottom underground. A tall chicken run also ensures birds can’t hop or fly out.
  • Never use chicken wire as fencing. While it may keep your flock in, chicken wire is notoriously flimsy. Predators such as raccoons, bobcats and bears can easily tear it apart.
  • Reinforce the bottom 2 feet of your run fence with 1/4-inch hardware mesh. The mesh on regular run fencing features openings large enough for chicks to hop through … and worse. Quarter-inch mesh will prevent you from ever coming across decapitated hens grabbed by hungry raccoons who feasted on their prizes from the outside of your run.

Read more: Ready to raise come baby chicks? Here’s how to get ahold of your first flock.

Keep It Contained

To provide your poultry with as much protection as possible, consider a fully contained run. A contained run is just like a traditional run when it comes to dimension and safety guidelines.

The biggest difference, however, is that the run is capped by a roof. This prevents climbing, jumping and flying predators from accessing your birds.

This huge positive is offset by the negative that any grass and plants within a covered run will be starved for the sunlight and rain necessary to survive. Many chicken owners do away with grass completely, putting down sand or pea gravel as flooring for their flock and making run maintenance much easier.

If you choose a contained run for your flock, make sure the roof is angled to redirect rain and snow away from the run.Iinspect it regularly for wear, tear and weather damage.

With your coop and run ready to receive your new flock, it’s time to bring those babies home. We’ll discuss what you’ll need for your birds’ first few months next time.

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