Has your chicken math exceeded your run space? Have you decided to add a run to an existing coop for added predator protection? Whatever point you are at in your flock care you will eventually hit the point where you need to add some protected space for your birds. To inspire some ideas about designing your own custom chicken run, our customers the Crawchicks have graciously allowed us to share a wonderful example of a run they recently completed. After you've seen their beautiful work, I'll share 5 tips for designing a custom chicken run for your flock.
The Crawchicks' beautiful coop needed an equally beautiful--and secure--run, so they began the task of adding one. The following pictures show how they designed their custom chicken run to take into account drainage, easy cleaning, functionality, and beauty. First, they had to have space and a plan (as well as the Helping Hens Group seen assisting with the excavation). Why excavate? The excavated space is to allow for a deep bed of gravel to be laid down to provide proper drainage so the run framework will not rot. You can do the same thing with a concrete footer, but I love this full pad!
In the photo below, you can see that they started adding the gravel. I'm sore just looking at all that work! It appears the hens were worn out, too, as not a one is to be seen. (I secretly think they were "chicken" once they realized how much work this was going to be!)
After filling the excavated space with gravel they built a base for their custom chicken run, making sure it was square so the framework would all meet correctly. (To square a structure, measure from one corner to the corner across and down from it, then repeat on the opposite corners, forming an "X" measurement. From corner to corner, each line of the "X" must be the same. If it is, then your structure is "square.") I love how the Crawchicks used treated 4x4 posts to create the framework to help prevent rot. You will see later that for the safety of the birds, they added an untreated sill plate, since treated wood can make your birds sick if they peck at it. After building the framework they laid out permeable landscape cloth and attached it to the wooden frame. This keeps litter from getting too far into the rock bed, and allows for periodic clean-out of what's on top. With this feature, you can replace the upper layer and still have a sturdy base of rock below, maintaining drainage.
On top of the landscape cloth, the Crawchicks then filled in the base with MORE crushed gravel. This provides additional drainage and lifts the birds above the surrounding surface. It's especially important if you have a coop in a low part of your yard. Chickens don't do so well if they're wet... and they'll object mightily to flooding runs! Once you have a sturdy base you can add walls. Make sure that you have enough posts to support the weight of the roof of your choice!
In the photo below, you can see the full framework. I love this picture, it shows the roof beams as well as the posts and access door near the coop. The hardware cloth is being placed on the inside of the framework, rather than the outside, to allow for a clean, finished look that is secure for the flock. When installing hardware cloth in areas with heavy predator loads it's a good idea to sandwich it between wood to prevent it from getting pushed in or out. In areas with lighter predators such as cats, small dogs, raccoons and other small critters you usually don't have to bother with sandwiching. Either way, be sure to remember to seal your wood before you put the wire up!
There are many options for roofing. Metal is probably the easiest, just make sure you install rafters between your beams like you see here. The photo below shows some other thoughtful details, such as the corner brace at the back wall. It also shows how they did choose to sandwich the hardware cloth between wood. Another little note: look closely at the latch for the door. See that string that goes to the inside? That is so when the door shuts with you inside you can open said latch. Trust me, you want that option!
I have to tell you, I have enjoyed all the details this family put into their design. Not only is their custom chicken run strong, but it's functional and beautiful as well. Look at the toys they've added to keep boredom away when the girls have to be locked up. They have the Chicken Treat Balls, the Boredom Busting Ball, and even a feeder for treats! In addition to the toys, the hens have a dust bath pan and leaf litter to search through. Chickens are quite intelligent and curious. Keeping them engaged in their natural, instinctive behaviors like dust bathing and foraging will help them avoid future problems in the coop.
The Crawchicks' custom chicken run is truly the the Fort Knox of runs! A wonderful coop, combined with their attention to detail in the design of the run, means this flock has plenty to do while staying safe and healthy.
5 tips for building your own custom chicken run
- Plan for your space. Make sure you have the room to add a structure properly sized for your flock. Not only do you need physical room, but you need legal room. Local building codes may apply.
- Design your run to meet your flocks needs. Keep in mind what drainage needs you have in your area. Consider how you need to deal with soil contact and your structure. Think about how you will access your run, where you will have feeders, waterers, and toys... and how you want to floor your run.
- Use quality materials for a run that will last. It may be tempting to cut corners, but if you use good materials and build responsibly, your run will last the rest of your life with minimal maintenance. If you cut corners, you could be dealing with constant issues and losses.
- Spoil the birds a little. Add a Chicken Swing, Treat Ball, a dust bath, or any number of things to keep your birds happy while you are away. This allows them to express their natural instincts in a way that keeps them satisfied and happy. They will be healthier and happier for the little extra effort.
- Don't forget the details! Weather treating your run in some way will not only preserve it for years to come, but it will also add beauty to your yard. Small embellishments such as signs, flower baskets or even a little waterfall can make spending time with your chickens even more relaxing after a busy day.