Chickens love to be outside. They get a thrill from free-ranging in the yard and garden. They love to explore, scratch in the grass and hide under large plantings for afternoon naps. However, sometimes it is not feasible for the chicken to be allowed to roam freely where they want to go. The reasons are many, including when you are not home or on vacation, poor weather conditions, and nearby predators. It is always a good idea to have a safe run enclosure for the chickens attached to their chicken coop even if they don’t use it very often. When considering design, one of the most important things that you want to think about is how to predator proof the run. Here are some of the things I did when I designed my chicken coop and run.
Why Predator Proof?
Predators seek out chickens in a number of ways. Some predators seek out chickens from the air and others hunt on the surface. Some predators dig, while others burrow. When predator proofing, it is important to think like a predator as you build your chicken coop and consider incorporate some of these designs and ideas. Once a predator attacks, it will return. Unfortunately most people think about predator proofing after they lose a flock member or two. It is best to be proactive. When I think about predators, I think about how outside critters can do harm to my flock. Can they kill a chicken or chicks, introduce disease, or even steal my flock?
Determine chicken predators that live in your area.
For me on Cape Cod, this includes birds of prey, coyotes, fox, fisher cats, raccoons, snakes, rats, mice, minks, neighborhood dogs, wild birds, cats and possibly humans.
For others these might include large cats and bears too.
How Big Should I Make the Chicken Run?
The run is the outside portion of the chicken area. Typically the chicken run should average approximately 10 square feet of space per bird. It is important that every chicken has enough space to feel like they can move around. When chickens are overcrowded it makes them susceptible to bad behavior such as feather picking and diseases and illness. In my opinion, the bigger the better is always a good rule of thumb.
Why You Should Not Use Chicken Wire and What to Use Instead.
Chicken wire was designed to keep chickens in but not predators out. Raccoons can access and pull chickens through the wire. Minks, mice, rats and snakes can squeeze through chicken wire and fisher cats are strong enough to pull the wire apart and gain access. For areas where you would like to put chickens wire use 1/2″ galvanized hardware cloth instead. Use pressure treated wood. Although a bit more expensive, it will last longer and be more resistant to rot and deterioration in the elements.
The run is tall enough to walk in and also has a roof to keep the flock safe.
Predator Proof Design for All Seasons and Weather
Be sure to add a roof. Adding a roof the run has many benefits. It can be made from wood and shingles, corrugated metal, or even plastic sheeting used in greenhouses. A roof:
- Allows the chickens the ability to outside for extended periods of time during periods or rain and snow.
- Build it with a slope or pitch so snow slides off easily.
- Keep wild birds out.
- Prevent birds of prey from swooping into the run.
- Prevent climbing predators from accessing the chicken run from the top.
- It provides a good source of shade.
- It helps to keep the chicken run cooler in the summer.
Make sure you can walk into the run. This allows for easy accessibility for you to clean, maintain, feed and visit with your flock easily. It also allows your chickens to get up off the ground to higher levels of safety.
Add outside roosts and perches. This not only creates more square footage of chicken space, but it helps them to move away from threats. Chickens naturally roost in trees for protection. This helps them to fuel their natural instincts. Try adding branches, cut logs, even old ladders for climbing.
Create a digging barrier. Around the run, lay down and create a 2 foot wide apron of 1/2 inch hardware cloth that runs around the entire perimeter of the chicken run. Dig it down just a few inches and then cover it with soil, wood chips, mulch or other plantings. This will help predator proof for digging predators.
Use Two Step Locks. Raccoons are so smart that they can open any lock that a 2 year old child can. So always use metal locks that avoid rusting and require two steps to open- such as ones with a spring protected latch or a slide and twist mechanism.
Keeping Chickens Safe
When chickens feel safe, they will be more productive with their egg laying. They will be stress free and this helps to keep your flock healthy and happy. For those of you with bears or large cats, consider installing an electric fence or welcoming a live stock protection dog to your home. With a few simple steps to predator proof in the beginning, you can feel good about the home you create for your flock over the coming years as well as sparing yourself from the heart ache of a preventable attack.