I have been raising chickens for close to 15 years and I have learned with chickens you must be ready to adapt.
With each new flock of birds comes new challenges. Just when I think I have seen it all, my chickens go and throw me a curveball.
Our newest flock of chickens is just shy of 6 months old.
They love to free-range which I allow them to do as long as I am home to keep an eye on things. Unfortunately, these hens prefer to venture out just as soon as the sun rises and firmly believe they can do whatever they want wherever they want.
SLCG PRO TIP: Free-range chickens mean you allow your entire flock to have the run of your property. To freely range outside of a closed-in area to scratch for bugs and worms throughout the day.
For our setup, having our chickens free-range the entire day is not an ideal situation. The first reason is that we have predators that can hurt our chickens during the day as well as after dark.
What are the common predators for chickens?
Knowing what may hunt your chickens will help you to create a setup that will keep them safe.
For any animal owner, safety is and always should be at the forefront of our homesteading minds. But this is even truer for those who own and raise chickens. Chickens tend not to notice if danger is nearby, and for that reason having some protection set into place will really help to keep everyone safe.
Another reason free-ranging chickens on our homestead is not ideal is that this particular flock of hens were venturing into my barn and laying their eggs. I would find eggs in my fresh hay, in my goat feeders, in the pigpen, even in random corners.
It was like an Easter egg hunt every single day.
This is not good for egg production because when I did find eggs in the barn, I was never sure how long they had been there.
It also wasn’t good for the animals in the barn because the chickens were making a mess.
Another thing you may want to know about chickens is they go to the bathroom… a lot. This meant I had chicken poo all over our barn, on our hay, in the feed room, and in the milking stall.
If you are already free-range your birds, I am sure you already have things in place to keep your chickens out of restricted areas.
If you are still in the research stage of chickens, then know if you do decide to free-range your hens you will have a lot of chicken manure all over your property. This includes your living spaces such as your patio or garden or front porch. Chickens just “know” the worst areas to visit and tend to do just that every single day.
If you choose not to free-range your chickens, then you will need to install a chicken run. A secure area for your chickens to roam, scratch, and wander safely throughout the day.
How to Build a Safe Chicken Run
This is how we did our own run, use this as a guide for making a plan as to what setup will work for you.
Step # 1. Know the height needed for your flock.
The ideal chicken run is high enough to keep your chickens inside and secure enough to keep any predators out. This includes predators from the ground and the air. As I mentioned earlier, hawks are a common predator in our area so high walls are necessary to keep our flock protected.
For a time we thought our run was high enough, but with one particular flock of hens, we realized it was not. Each day I kept finding a few hens out in the yard and quickly realized our run was not high enough.
With the low walls of our chicken run, they were easily able to jump up and hop out whenever they wanted to. The fence we had before was about 4 feet high and kept our previous flock inside just fine. To help contain our current flock we added on another 4 feet doubling the height of the walls.
SLCG PRO TIP: When building your run keep the main posts up for a time to be sure your sides are high enough to keep your chickens contained.
Step #2. Prep the wood for your project.
We prefer to stain the wood prior to building our run. This not only makes it look better but it also protects things from our brutal weather changes up north. A good outdoor stain will work just fine to protect the wood that you use for constructing your run.
SLCG PRO TIP: Remember, before heading out to shop for supplies, to always shop your homestead first. Using what you have before buying what you need is the homesteading way and something I encourage you to do each time a new project comes up.
Step #3. How much room do you need?
For each chicken, you will want to allow 8-10 square feet, but more is always better. Chickens love to scratch, which is their way of clawing the ground with their feet to bring up worms, bugs, grubs, etc.
The more they scratch the more content and relaxed they are. And the more content your chickens are the healthier they seem to be. For this reason, it is best to be generous when figuring the size of your run.
Step #4. Build your chicken run framework.
When building the framework of your run, you will need to secure it so it can withstand the weather in your area. For us, that means snow and drifting can do some pretty hefty damage to any outbuildings. To help withstand the weather, we prefer to anchor the framework both in the ground and to the coop.
You can do this by digging a hole in the ground at each corner and filling it with a concrete mixture that will hold the corner posts securely into place.
Allow ample time for the concrete to set before continuing on with the rest of the build.
Once dry, you can finish up the framework attaching any boards to the coop if able. When it comes to the size of the framework, we used the fencing for our measurements. The rolls we had were 4 feet high, so that is where we put our center support boards.
When choosing the fencing for your chicken run, you will want something that is, durable with openings that are small enough to keep your chickens safely inside.
Once the framework was in place and secured, we then attached the wire fencing to the outside. The fencing was attached to the boards with fencing nails, and we double secured each section with zip ties.
Step #5. Assess things and adjust if needed.
Once the fence was securely in place, we took our time inspecting it to ensure it would adequately do its job. Never underestimate a chicken that wants to get out of your run. Allow them time to test the fence so if there is an issue, you can catch it and correct it quickly.
Take our chickens, for example. After we finished our run, we noticed a while later that 5 chickens had gotten out and were in the barn…oh no.
After an inspection of the run, we realized there was a small open section above the gate that we used to get in and out. It just amazed me how quickly they found an escape route. Lesson learned… don’t believe for one minute that your chickens are not intelligent.
It can be hard to guess what your animals will try to do so you may find it easier to just keep an eye on things closely in the beginning. Let your hens out so they can explore the new setup. Allow them time to “test” things as they roam and scratch and get comfortable. If there is a way for your girls to escape, they will find it, and you can easily seal up any routes they conveniently point out to you.
Step #6. Give your chickens a chance to roam.
Even though we prefer to keep our chickens secured in their run, we do like to have another option for them. That is why we love the fence netting that you can purchase specifically or chickens.
This netting has small openings that will keep your chickens inside. It is quite durable and will withstand being out all winter long. Finally, you can move this fencing giving your chickens a chance to scratch in a new area, one that you can specifically choose. This will keep them out of any location you are not comfortable with them being in.
Step #7. Things you can add to your chicken run.
Keeping your animals from getting bored is more than just being a nice owner. I believe a bored animal can become a stressed animal that can quickly turn into a sick animal. Over the years, I have found that when you keep your animals curious and entertained, you will find that overall, everyone seems to be healthier.
How do you keep a chicken from getting bored? It sounds like the beginning of a joke. But there are actually a few things you can add to your new DIY chicken run that will keep your chickens happy and entertained all at the same time.
• Add in a few roosts.
Roosts are not just for sleeping at night; many chickens prefer to be on them during the day as well. When you have a run that is wrapped in fencing, you can slide in a few boards in the corners. This gives your chickens a nice roost to hop onto throughout the day.
• Toss in some branches.
Chickens LOVE to explore, and fresh branches give them not only a new area to wander around in but also allow them to peck at the wood and eat any bugs that may be on the leaves and branches.
• Dust baths
Chickens not only love to use a dust bath, but it is important for their overall cleanliness, health, and well-being. You can add in a container with some sand or create a more DIY dust bath using a few supplies you may already have on hand.
When you prepare to add chickens to your homestead, you will want to provide a safe environment for them to live in. Build a coop that will keep them safe and free from the weather so they can live comfortably. But also give them a safe area outside to scratch and roam free from danger or harm.
Remember, you don’t need to go crazy with your set up remember to factor in your weather, the size of your flock, and the predators that are common in your area, then build a run that will protect your flock and keep them safe.
Now that you know how to build a simple chicken run. You can get started setting up a safe area for your chickens to scratch during the day.