We all know the term, and the feeling, of being cooped up. Chickens need to get out of their coop during the day to stretch their legs, wiggle their butts, forage, bathe, socialize, and enjoy some fresh air and mental stimulation.
Chicken runs are sometimes called enclosures, pens, aviaries, or volaries. Occasionally, people refer to tall runs attached to coops as walk-in coops. Call them what you like – chicken runs are a safe, outdoor space for your ladies & gents. For most chickens, a chicken safe, secure chicken run is essential.
Some chickens are clucky enough to be allowed to roam free, but with that freedom comes risk. Free-ranging chickens 🐔 are often allowed to roam during the day and returned to a run when their owners are away, or the weather is rubbish or at night when predators are our hunting.
Fortunately, chicken runs don’t have to be expensive or complicated. Phew! You can commission someone to build them, buy them, or - my personal preference – DIY them!
Chicken runs can be easily constructed, even with a limited toolbox and skillset. Come on homesteaders…let’s get upcycling!
It’s great that you’re keen, but don’t hit the ‘buy’ button or let your DIY run plans run away with you before you read this blog.
Getting your chicken run right the first time around will save you a feathery fortune and a lot of unnecessary hassle and heartbreak!
I’m going to sprint through 10 CHICKEN RUN FAQS, then walk you through 6 KEY DESIGN DECISIONS to make before building or buying your run.
Your chicken run is just one part of the poultry real estate you’ll need to prepare. You can’t afford to wing your chicken accomodati-hen plans.
Above anything else, you need to keep your chickens safe. Introducing your new chickens to their sparkly new home and finding that they couldn’t get out, but a predator did get in, is absolutely heartbreaking.
Master your coop plans with Chickenpedia’s Chicken Coops Crash Course which covers the ideal size, Material & Design To Suit Your Flock (and YOU!)
Ready. Steady. RUN!
10 CHICKEN RUN FAQS
1. Do I Have to Have a Chicken Run?
Chickens need space. Unless you are planning for your chickens to be entirely free ranging, then they will need a safe and secure run for exercise.
Some store-bought chicken coops come with a run attached, like walk-in chicken coops, but most of the time chicken runs are purchased or built separately to the coop.
2. What’s The Difference Between a Chicken Coop and a Chicken Run?
A chicken coop is a hen house: a home for hens. It’s where your chickens will sleep, take cover in bad weather, or seek security when they feel threatened. A chicken run is a larger area where they forage and socialize safely in daylight hours.
3. Do Free Range Chickens Have to Have a Chicken Run?
Free-range chickens don’t have to have a run, but they are beneficial and give the option of limiting free-ranging to when you’re there to shepherd over your flock.
Free ranging can be more fun for your chickens. That’s true. They can roam further, explore more, and forage freely.
Remember your teenage years? With freedom comes with risk-taking! Your flock will be at significantly higher risk of predation, getting lost, or injuring themselves whilst they are roaming free. Their coop will also be more vulnerable if it isn’t secured within a run, which may leave your frightened feather 🪶 bombs with nowhere safe to hide if they feel at risk.
If those precious eggs are left in an open coop, or laid behind a barn mid-ramble rather than in a purpose-made nesting box, they might not make it to your tummy!
4. How Big Should My Chicken Run Be?
Your chicken run size will depend on the size of your flock but should allow at least 10 square feet per chicken. It’s not quite as simple as 6 chickens = 60 square feet though. The size of your chickens matters too.
I really wouldn’t recommend building a run that only just meets the size requirements of your current feathery family. Chicken lovers have one thing in common: we all find it hard to say no to newbies!
You can guarantee that as you’re hammering that final nail into your DIY chicken arena, you’ll find out that those two beautiful Rhode Island Reds down the road need a new home. Allow room for your family to grow.
5. How Tall Should a Chicken Run Be?
If you have a roof on your run then make sure it’s tall enough for you to stand up comfortably. 7 foot is a sensible human-friendly height and will be more than tall enough for any breed of chicken. Stooping over to clean the run and access the coop is one thing. Trying to catch a chicken in hunchback mode is impossible.
If you aren’t putting a roof on your coop, then the height of the walls will depend on the chickens that you are keeping. Some chickens can fly, or jump, higher than others. If you are keeping heavy hens like Cochins or Orpingtons, or flightless fluff bombs like Silkies which aren’t a flight risk at all, then a 4-foot fence should keep them in. Chickens are resourceful when they want to be and will use a feeder or abandoned bucket to leapfrog over a fence, so a 6-foot fence would be a safer bet.
If you have (or might be tempted to add) more flighty breeds like Ameraucanas, La Fleches, or Leghorns to your flock, then you’ll need to build those boundaries higher, consider wing clipping, or add a roof to your run to keep your flappy little friends contained.
6. Do I Have to Have a Roof On My Chicken Run?
Some US counties will insist on a covered run to keep your little egg fairies contained and minimize the risk of disease 🦠 spreading. It’s not just about whether your chickens can fly, it’s about the local wildlife that could travel between runs and cross-contaminate flocks.
If local laws don’t enforce it, then chicken runs don’t have to have roofs, but they do make a lot of sense.
If you have flighty chickens and don’t like the idea of clipping their wings, then a covered run will be necessary to make sure they don’t break out and land themselves in trouble with the dog 🐕 next door.
Chickens don’t have pigeon-level homing skills. In fact, they’re useless at navigating. Chickens who fly too far from the coo in a panic are known to get lost.
Chicken runs aren’t just there to keep flocks in, they’re there to keep threats out! If a predator manages to get into your chicken run, being enclosed may do them more harm than good, so your coop must be secure.
Is a run with a roof a no go?
Find out more about flightless chickens and clipping chickens' wings here.
7. Can Chickens Dig?
Chickens do dig, but not skilfully enough to tunnel their way free from their runs. Chickens scratch and dig to forage and dust bathe, but the main dig risk with a chicken run will be predators, like foxes, digging their way in rather than your little egg heads digging out.
To limit the risk of any horrible happenings you can run the perimeter chicken wire 12 inches into the ground or use a solid foundation for your run.
8. Can I Buy a Ready-Built Chicken Run?
You can buy ready-made chicken runs made of timber, plastic, or galvanized steel. Some small chicken runs come preassembled and look like large rabbit runs, but due to the size of chicken runs, most of them will require some level of assembly.
9. Is It Easy to Build a Chicken Run?
Making a chicken run is easy. You won’t need any extravagant tools or exceptional DIY skills, but you will need some helping hands to hold large timbers and sheets of wire or mesh in place.
10. Also…What on Earth Is a Chicken Tractor?
A chicken tractor is a small, enclosed coop attached to a fenced-off run, but the whole thing is on wheels. The idea is that the whole chicken setup can be wheeled around larger plots so chickens can access and maintain all of the land without destroying any of it.
6 CHICKEN RUN DESIGN FEATURES YOU NEED TO THINK ABOUT
The whole point of your chickens’ run is to give them room to – well – run!
Chicken runs should allow 10 square feet of space per chicken. As I mentioned earlier, different breeds might be fine with smaller runs or require even larger runs, but always ‘go big’ where you can.
Larger runs allow for your flock to grow, and your chickens to flourish. More room means better foraging, more exercise, less stress, and room for hens to distance themselves from each other when chicken politics flair up, which they always do. Little divas.
“Overcrowding can cause your pets to stress out and peck each other or themselves, which makes them more vulnerable to injury and disease.” (Chickenpedia’s Chicken Coop Crash Course)
The overall shape and design of your run will impact how much your chickens get to enjoy it. A skyscraper with a 2-foot square footprint is no good for flightless chickens!
Whilst some breeds are more flighty than others and will benefit from a taller run with some high perches, others can only appreciate bungalow living.
Designing your run carefully will help you make the most of the space you have to work with. Raising your coop off the ground within the run creates more floor space, provides shade, and is the perfect place to hang a waterer from. Raised coops are also better protected from dampness and drafts. Winner!
A cleverly designed run will keep your little flockers safe from harm whilst they go about their daily business. Happy hens make for a happy home (and more eggs!)
Check out this bobcat trying his luck at a chicken supper. Can you imagine looking out of the window and spotting this? Eek! Fortunately, this clever keeper had built a solid run for her feathery friends.
The wide-spaced chicken wire might keep your hens in and dogs, cats, foxes, and raccoons out, but all of your local wildlife should be considered when you draw up your chicken run design.
“Smaller animals such as mice, snakes, and rats can squeeze through the smallest of spaces to attack your chickens or feast on their eggs. To combat this a coop must be built with sturdy materials such as small gauge wire mesh and wood and the perimeter, ceilings and walls must be secured.” (Chickenpedia’s Chicken Coop Crash Course)
Clipping your naughty wanderers’ wings might keep them inside their run, but if your gals are at risk of an aerial attack then you’ll need to add a wire or mesh roof to keep birds of prey out.
Motion sensor lights are another way to deter predators, or at the very least, alert you to their unwanted presence.
Creating your very own Fort Knox for your precious poultry pals is all well and good, but you need to be able to get to your girls and their eggs. You’ll need to plan access.
Whilst sneaking in through a dwarf door is okay now and then, it’s no good for your back doing that daily. Especially when you’re carrying in new bedding, brooms, or heavy waterers. Make sure your chicken run door is human-sized.
“Barn doors can also be a lifesaver if you just want to top up some feed without having to go in or have your excited chooks running out!” (Chickenpedia’s Chicken Coop Crash Course)
Most chicken runs are built over, or adjoined to, chicken coops, but if you’re creating a passage from coop to your run then you’ll need a hen-trance too.
“A hen-trance sized 15x15 inches (38x38cm) will comfortably fit chickens of all breeds.” (Chickenpedia’s Chicken Coop Crash Course)
Selecting the floor for your chicken village is important. Your chicken run can sit on grass or soil, but solid foundations will offer more security and sturdiness.
A concrete slab is a winner for keeping predators out, and it’s easy to keep clean, but it’s expensive, and not very eco-friendly.
Limiting the concrete to a dig-proof perimeter filled with soil is a sensible compromise, and your chickens will appreciate Mother Nature’s flooring to peck at and bathe in.
Timber sleepers are both cheaper and more sustainable but do rot over time. Wire mesh is the most budget-friendly option, and you can either run this under the entire run and then backfill with soil, or just extend the walls of the run into the ground to reduce dig risks.
It’s all about location, location, location. Placing your run in a dark corner or out of sight might suit the aesthetics of some gardens, but your chicken run is there to do a job. Run placement needs to be practical and not just pretty.
You’ll want to be able to keep an eye on your nutty little critters, enjoy them, and keep a protective eye on them. Having your chicken run in clear view of the house is always preferable.
You probably don’t fancy a hike through the marshes to grab an egg at 8:00 am either, so make sure your coop and run aren’t too far from the back door and have all-weather access.
Speaking of mud: make sure your chicken run is placed in a high spot in the yard to encourage decent drainage.
Your chickens are going to need protection from the elements. They’ll need access to shade, but that doesn’t mean banishing them from daylight. It might not look great out to you, but chickens need the sun’s UV rays and benefit from these even when it’s cloudy.
“Vitamin D enables chickens to absorb calcium from their food so that they can make hard-shelled eggs. Without adequate UV light exposure, chickens often lay soft or shell-less eggs or have eggs get stuck inside of them when they try to lay—a life-threatening condition called egg binding. This happens because their uterine muscles run out of the calcium needed to push the eggs out.” (PetMD)
The perfect patch enjoys the sunshine for most of the day, but also offers enough shade for all your girls to spread out in if they get too hot.
Chickens also need protection from rain and wind. Sure, they could head indoors if it rains, but given the choice, chickens would rather stay outside as much as possible. Offer them a spot with a natural windbreak and partial cover.
What equipment will you need for your chicken run?
Chicken runs sometimes house the coop and sometimes they attach to it. Either way, chicken runs all need a few amenities to make them comfortable for daytime dwelling.
Attaching nesting boxes and perches to the walls of your run will offer choice and enrichment for your chickens.
Nest boxes are usually accessed via the coop since hens like to lay in the morning, but some ladies do opt to lay with a view and will appreciate an outdoor option!
Perches offer somewhere comfy and elevated for your hens to rest during the day. In cold weather, hens will often choose to stay outside, so having the option to rest above ground level will help prevent frostbite.
“Current welfare guidelines recommend that ‘perches should be a minimum of 4cm wide, not round, to avoid twisted keel / breast bones.” (Chickenpedia’s Chicken Coop Crash Course)
A dust bath is a must for a sleek-looking chick! They’ve not gone crazy, and they’re not break dancing badly, they’re having a bath (in the dirt, so yeah, maybe they’re a little bit crazy).
Dust baths will keep Delilah’s feathers clean and healthy. That grit exfoliates her skin and dislodges critters on her feathers.
Make sure you position your DIY dust bath well away from feeders and waterers to avoid contamination. If you don’t build a dust bath into your chicken run plans, you’ll probably find they’ll add one in themselves!
Eggspert Dust BathTip!
“If you create your own you have the added benefit of being able to add natural medicinal ingredients such as lavender to boost your chooks' defense against pests and bad smells. A little food-grade diatomaceous earth works a treat too!” (Chickenpedia’s Chicken Coop Crash Course)
POST YOUR RUN PLANS & PICS IN THE COMMENTS!
Is your imagination running away with you? Are you already designing dens in your mind? Good. Planning your chickens’ accommodation is one of the fun and creative parts of chicken keeping.
Don’t just delve in with a design you fancy the cluck of, make sure your chicken’s home will work for them, and you!
Building a beautiful coop just to realize it’s too small, or too tall for your hens (yep…that’s a thing)…that's an expensive error.
Creating an epic run but finding that your hens hate it for some unknown reason and all gather under their coop…that's infuriating.
Introducing your new chickens to their sparkly clean home and finding that they couldn’t get out, but a predator did get in…that's absolutely heartbreaking.
You can’t afford to wing chicken real estate. You need this…
The course is split into lessons covering everything you’ll need to know to buy or build the perfect chicken coop.
It covers the different parts and functions of a coop, how they work, and why you need them. There’s a dedicated buy or build section to help you decide on the best option for you, and there’s even a detailed checklist of coop considerations.
You’ll bag all the detail you need to build and maintain your perfect chicken run, and coop, successfully!