After all these years I still have a hard time passing up those feed store chick sales, I can’t seem to resist the urge to bring home a few new additions.
If this is your first year buying those feed store chicks or chickens in general then there are a few you basic things you will need to know. (For a little extra help have a listen to the Podcast episode Getting Chickens for the First Time?)
Basics you need to learn about include: What to feed your chickens (We feed a whole grain, non-GMO recipe that you can find in Natural Homestead: 40 Recipes for Critters & Crops), where to house them, and whether they will be free-range or need a chicken run.
Why Build a Chicken Run?
Everyone loves the idea of chickens ranging free, pecking, scratching, and catching bugs but it doesn’t always work that way. Chicken runs have become the answer for those situations where free-ranging chickens just is not an option.
Why You Should Build a Chicken Run:
- Chickens can be destructive to plants and gardens
- You are in town or have a small yard
- Protection from Predators
- Containment – Keep your chickens in the area you would like
What is a Chicken Run?
Chicken runs are fenced in spaces outside the coop, allowing your chickens to get some fresh air and “run around”. Most chicken runs are connected to chicken coops (learn more about chicken coops by reading Beginners Guide to Chicken Coops) so they can go in and out as often as they wish, but they don’t have to be.
You can build a chicken tractor which is sort of like a portable chicken run, it allows you to protect and contain your chickens while using their Chicken Power Around the Homestead. Another great way to use your chicken run for homesteading work is to add your compost pile to it. (You see how we did it in this Youtube Video)
Building Your Chicken Run
Before you start building your chicken run there are different things that you should take into consideration. You want to design a chicken run that is right for your situation, everyone has a different reason for needing a chicken run.
Things to consider when designing your chicken run:
The size of your chicken run will depend on how many chickens you plan on putting in it. A good place to start is by knowing how many square feet per chicken to have. 10 square feet per chicken is a good estimate to start with.
- Chicken Breeds
The type of chickens you have should be considered when you are considering the height of your fence. Most chickens can easily make it over a 4-foot fence so many recommend a height of 6 feet. Keep in mind there are some breeds that are known for flying over a 6-foot fence.
The type of predators you are trying to keep away from your chickens is another consideration. Small predators like raccoons and opossums will climb or dig (to prevent digging, bury a section of the fence) their way in. Stray dogs, coyotes, and foxes will also dig but can jump a shorter fence. Birds such as hawks and owls can be a problem from above these can affect the width of your run or determine if it should have a roof.
- Fixed Location or Portable Run
As I mentioned before chicken runs can be a fixed fenced-in area but they don’t have to be. If you are using a stationary run you will need to figure out if you will use a ground cover. Chickens will leave you will just dirt in a short period of time (this can get quite messy). If you are using a chicken tractor or moveable fencing then muddy floors aren’t usually a problem and cleaning isn’t a concern.
Cleaning Your Chicken Run
Keeping a clean chicken run is important to the health of your chickens. The easiest way to have a clean chicken run is to have a floor covering that can be removed and replaced. This can include straw, sand, wood shavings, gravel, or a mixture of different kinds. You will need to consider your environment when choosing your coverage.
The number of chickens, the amount of space, and the type of floor covering will determine how often your run will have to be cleaned out. Using a shovel or fork walk through your chicken run and remove any wet areas and manure then replace them with a fresh cover.
Building a Chicken Run with Kathleen From Roots & Boots
We’ve lost more than our fair share of birds over the years to a variety of predators, so I am thrilled to be welcoming Kathleen of Roots & Boots to the blog today–you are going to love her practical tips and detailed tutorial for building a chicken run of your own!
If you’ve kept chickens for any amount of time…
…Then I’m sure you know the heartbreak of raising chicks to adulthood, only to have them nabbed by a predator just when they’ve started laying eggs.
Losing even a few chickens from a small backyard flock is enough to make any homesteader sad, mad, and determined to outsmart those wily predators!
In more than four years of raising backyard chickens, we’ve discovered snakes, a possum, and a raccoon in our chicken coop. We’ve also had trouble with foxes and hawks.
Our three-acre homestead is situated at the top of a hill with few trees, and hawks are definitely our worst predator.
At least they were.
After the hawks made off with yet another of our free-range hens, we were forced to keep the girls penned up in their coop for a time while we considered the options.
In the end, we chose to construct a simple chicken run. We even made our own gate! I’m happy to report that in over one full year with our chicken run, we’ve had zero trouble with hawks. Hooray!
Here’s how we did it…
How to Build a Chicken Run
- 4”x8’ wooden posts OR half posts/garden posts OR 7’ T-posts
- 2×4 14 GA OR 8-10 GA welded wire fence
- Zip ties
- ¾” poultry net staples (like this)
- Metal wire
- Optional, but recommended: hardware cloth OR a strong metal fencing material with ½” to ¼” openings (Other options include small aperture chicken wire or rabbit fencing. Do NOT use regular chicken wire.)
- Optional: heavy-duty C flex 80 round deer fencing
- Gate (or supplies to build one; see below)
- Tape measure
- Posthole digger or T-post driver (like this)
- Wire snips
Steps to Build a Chicken Run
1. Determine the dimensions of your run.
We chose to wrap our run around two sides of an existing vegetable garden for three reasons:
- The chicken coop was already located near the garden.
- The garden was already enclosed with a wire fence to keep out deer.
- We were banking on the added bonus of bug control for the garden.
A few considerations:
- To protect against hawks, a good width for your run is about four feet. Even when the run is left uncovered, a hawk will not land in such a narrow space.
- Be sure to designate space for a gate!
- Make sure your chicken coop is even with one side of the run.
2. Choose your materials.
The existing fence around our vegetable garden was built from 4×8 wooden posts and 2×4 14 GA welded wire fence. We chose to use the same fencing for the chicken run, with T-posts for the additional supports.
If you’re building a chicken run from scratch, choose the material that best suits your needs.
Note: Regular chicken wire will not keep out predators. Unfortunately, even the 14 GA welded wire fence of our own chicken run did not keep out raccoons. They can reach right through the openings to kill a chicken.
The solution is to add a strip of hardware cloth (or some sort of metal fencing with very small holes, no larger than ½”) along the bottom of the run. Theoretically, you could build the entire run out of hardware cloth, but it’s pretty pricey. A more economical option is to build a chicken run out of less expensive material and use the hardware cloth along the bottom of the run.
3. Space posts about every six feet.
- For 8’ wooden posts, use a post hole digger to dig a 2’ hole.
- Place the post in the hole, fill it with dirt and pack it with a tamper.
- For 7’ T-posts, hammer in with a T-post driver or Hammer
Note: Our run is 4′ wide on the long side and 5′ wide on the short side (where the gate is located). The gate is 3′. This required two extra posts for mounting the gate, spaced about 1′ from the sides of the run. (See gate instructions below.)
4. Roll out the fence.
- Roll it out along the entire path you’ve created with the posts.
- Be sure to roll it out completely in front of the coop.
5. Attach the fence to the posts.
- Before attaching to the posts, make sure the fence is at ground level along the entire path. For additional security against digging predators, make a trench and bury the fence about 6-12 inches deep.
- When the fence is positioned correctly, wrap one end around the first post and use zip ties to hold it in place.
- Pull the fence tight along the rest of the posts and wrap the other end around the last post, securing with zip ties. We chose to leave the zip ties attached permanently for added stability.
- Check to make sure you’re happy with the fence position all the way around your run.
- Use 3/4” poultry staples to attach the fence to wooden posts or pieces of wire to attach to T-posts.
6. Attach hardware cloth. (optional, but recommended)
For added protection, attach hardware cloth or similar fencing along the bottom of the fence.
Note: most predators that are able to reach through regular fencing to nab a chicken will attack at night. If you want to avoid the cost of hardware cloth, another option is to lock up the chickens in the coop at night.
7. Cut out an opening for the coop.
- Use wire snips to cut an opening in the fence.
- Use wire and staples to attach the fence to the coop, as in #5.
8. Optional: cover the run.
To deter climbing predators, cover the run with heavy-duty C flex 80 round deer fencing and secure with zip ties.
9. Build (or purchase) and install a gate.
How to Build a Chicken Run Gate
There are many ways to build a gate. This is how we built the one pictured here…
- (2) 6’ 2x4s
- (3) 3’ 2x4s*
- (1) 1×4 to fit diagonally across the gate
- Screws–2″ to 3″ wood screws to attach wood frame
- Screws–1/2″ screws for the L-brackets
- Fencing material to fit wooden gate frame
- (8) L-brackets
- (3) gate hinges (like this)
- (1) latch
- Optional: weather stripping or similar padding
*This should match the width of your finished gate. Remember to make your gate large enough to accommodate a wheel barrow or any equipment you’ll need to use inside the run. Our gate is 3’ wide.
- Tape measure
- Circular saw
- Drill with screw bit
- Wire snips
1. Measure, mark and cut the 2x4s for the gate’s frame.
2. Connect the three shorter 2x4s to the 2 longer 2x4s with 2″ to 3” wood screws inserted at an angle.
3. Attach eight L-brackets to give the gate more stability. We used only four. In hindsight, my husband recommends bracing each corner, which requires eight brackets.
4. Measure, mark and cut the 1×4 to fit diagonally across the gate from top to bottom. Attach to gate frame with 1/2″ screws (one at the top, one at the bottom, and one in the middle).
5. Hang the gate with three gate hinges of your choice.
6. Attach a latch choice on the outside of the gate. Our latch is similar to this one. It may be necessary to add a small piece of wood to support the latch.
7. Use wire snips to cut a small opening beside the latch. This will allow you to operate the latch from inside the run.
8. It’s a tiny bit hillbilly, but we used what we had on hand–weather stripping secured with zip ties–to line the sharp edges of the opening in the wire. This protects our hands from getting scratched!
And that’s it! We’ve been so pleased with our simple chicken run.
Which predators cause the most trouble for your backyard chickens? How do you protect your flock? Have you tried to build a chicken run?
Kathleen Henderson is the natural living mentor behind Roots & Boots and the creator of the brand-new Real Food Family Meal Plan, which is earning 5-star ratings in kitchens across the country and, yes, calls for lots of farm-fresh eggs.
More About Raising Chickens:
- Homemade Chicken Feed Recipe
- Should I Vaccinate My Chicks?
- Herbs for Chicken Nesting Boxes
- 6 Strategies for Fly Control in the Chicken Coop