In order to come up with a sensible sized run, you will need to ask yourself the following:
- How many chickens will I have? Always assume a couple more because it is a very addictive hobby and you will soon be tempted to add a couple more hens to your flock!
- What space do they need? There are guidlines but legally a battery hen has enough space…. so perhaps you should consider what a fair size run would be for them to move around in, scratch, dust bath, feed and drink and whether there is enough room for them to get away from another hen if pecked.
The run is there to contain your chickens but also to protect them from predators. We have a number of different chicken runs and I have used several designs over the years but every time I visit a friend who has lost chickens to the fox, they say the same things, either “I didn’t want to spend….” or “I didn’t have the time to…” and “the fox got in through here…”
So lets look at the options, you can pay for a chicken run that will cost you money or you can build a chicken run that will cost you in time but less money!
Buying a Chicken Run
Most of the chicken runs that you can buy to fit onto a coop (or that are built into a coop) are rather small in my opinion. There is an answer to this though. Use this run for your girls when the weather is really bad or when there is a higher risk of predators but at other times, open the door and let them out!
The down side to this is that they will spoil a small garden over time with their scratching and dust baths, will eat some of your plants and will leave droppings on paths for you to step in. The good news is they get to free range and will be far happier and healthier hens, you can enjoy having them out and can limit their time out a little to allow the garden to recover a little. You can of course fence them off to a certain area of the garden which can help.
An alternative to letting them out is to use a portable run so you can move them onto fresh ground at regular intervals. I have done this regularly with my young growers but be warned they soon spoil the ground and need moving every few days if the grass is going to have a chance to recover
When buying a run, you will need to look at the quality of the wire – small rectangular or square mesh wire is better because foxes can’t get their teeth in to tear at it. Cheap rabbit wire can be quite thin and I have seen this torn open in weak spots, sadly enough for Mr. Fox to get through.
Latches or bolts to doors are important as well. Galvanised fittings will last years so it is worth paying for these. Screws need to be stainless steel so they don’t rust.
Foxes will dig under a chicken run. If you have problems with foxes during the daytime (or your chickens are not securely locked up in their house at night) then you will need to consider putting your run onto bricks so that Mr. Fox can’t dig underneath. You can put wood chips down inside the run so they can be changed regularly.
There are some smaller runs available on this website here that might be customisable to your coop. They also use reasonable mesh wire which you often don’t find on runs this cheap.
Building a Chicken Run
If you are going to build a chicken run, you will need to spend less money but more time. You can of course build a small portable run, much like you would buy and the same things apply to this as I’ve mentioned above but often, people that are building a run go for a fixed run in the corner of the garden.
Rabbit wire is the most economical choice but do be careful with the quality of it. If it isn’t particularly thick, a determined fox will be able to tear at it to get in. a double layer around the lower half of the fence is best if the wire quality is poor.
Ensure that weak points such as where wire joins houses is securely stapled. These areas will need checking regularly for signs of wear and tear.
If installed correctly, electric fences are very good at keeping foxes out. They are not always suitable for every back garden but even in an urban environment where there are people, you can use an electric wire around the top of a fence to stop foxes climbing over.
Chicken wire needs to be burried at least 6 inches with another couple of inches turned outwards but if the soil is loose, you may need to go down 9 inches or more.
A fox can run up a fence (don’t think of a fox being like a dog, they can move more like a cat and can jump and climb well) so unless your run has a wire roof, you will need to make the fence at least 6ft high and ideally sloping outwards at the top.
Gates should ideally be made from a solid mesh but if this is not possible, make sure they cannot twist if pushed in the corners. A fox will easily get through the hole shown in the picture, if you don’t believe me, go to my page on foxes and watch the film of the fox squeezing under the fence!
Another method of building a large chicken run is to build chicken run panels. You can cut all of your wood in one go, with many pieces being the same size. Once you have produced enough panels, you can screw them together making a large run that’s easy to assemble.
There are also some cheap chicken runs for sale on this website. An example is this Sussex Run. These are fairly small but are ideal for small back gardens where you can let the hens out to free range from time to time (they will go back in to their coop at dusk so a couple of hours in the late afternoon is an ideal time).
How to Build a Chicken Run
Building a chicken run is really straight forward if you have some basic DIY skills and follow some of the guidance I have given above.
There are a number of chicken run designs that manufacturers use and a few other ‘home made’ runs that are successful. It is difficult to say when a chicken run becomes a ‘fenced off area’ (see my page on fencing chickens if you have a large area to fence off as a run). I tend to call both ‘the chicken run’.
Here, I am going to call the ‘chicken run’ an enclosure that could be 3 to 4 meters long, usually attached to the coop, rather than being ‘around’ the coop and is often covered over.
Start by drawing up the run how you see it in your mind. I like to make notes on my drawing as things pop into my head. This can save you significant time later on if you have thought it through before buying and cutting wood.
Build a ‘cutting list’ of pieces you will need to build the chicken run. Turn this into a ‘shopping list’ by working out how long your wood needs to be and what sort of thickness you will need. Add hinges, latches, screws, nails, poultry netting and staples to this.
Go and buy your materials, allowing a small amount extra for mistakes!
Chicken Run Plans
One of the best sources of information on chicken runs has been looking through old poultry text books from the 1900′s onwards. These often give chicken house and run plans that have stood the test of time. Many have fold out pages with the plans on so providing you are happy to work in inches and feet, for a couple of searches on eBay and a few pounds, you can soon have quite a few chicken run plans.