Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Chicken Runs

Even though I'm only in my second season of raising chickens, it's easy to figure out what I love about my flock's housing and what I would have done differently.  The primary thing I've learned -

Chicken runs are as important as chicken coops.

My chickens spend more time in the run than their coop. They lay eggs and sleep in the coop. Occasionally they will head in because of bad weather but otherwise are mostly scratching happily in the run or roosting in the shade.

Coop design is fun and searching Pinterest for all the beautiful ideas and details is addictive.  Practicality dictates chicken runs.

Is it big enough? 

Most experts recommend 4 square feet per chicken in the coop with over twice that, 10 square fee per chicken, in the run.  We re-purposed a 10' x 30' kennel for our ladies with a raised 4' x 8' coop placed to one end of the run that ten laying hens share.

Is it predator proof?  

Fruit netting was the short term solution for small chicks going through the 2" x 2" holes in the kennel but the long term solution for the roof.  The netting keeps the hawks out of the run and the chickens in.  It also captured two snakes last year which got stuck in the 1/2" netting.  The 8' high kennel walls don't allow anything to jump into the run and the wire keeps any neighborhood dogs from coming into visit.

Is it clean? 

My initial 19 pullets took a 300 SF run full of grass down to bare dirt in less than a week.   If you are using a chicken tractor, you can just move your coop and run.  If not, a solution can be challenging unless you are okay with mud.  I tried straw, hay, mulch and sand and ended up with a combined solution early on. Straw and sand work great in my coop which stays dry but with an uncovered run gets unmanageable and downright smelly when wet. It also breeds flies at an incredible rate which already plague chickens.  A dark mulch is my top choice in the run as I can turn it over and let the chickens work until it's fully composted.  It is easily replaced and the byproduct is a nice fertilizer for my garden.

Is it entertaining?

My chickens are my pets.  They also happen to lay these beautiful eggs which are absolutely delicious.  I want them to be as happy and healthy as possible and bored isn't part of that equation. Boredom can lead to hen-pecking, egg-eating, and even nastier situations.  As mentioned above, the ladies spend a lot of time scratching in the mulch.  They have multiple roosts at various heights so everyone, even the lowest on the pecking order, have a nice place to sit.  Under the coop is the perfect dust bath and shady spot for hot afternoons.    I also add in heads of cabbage, weeds from the garden, and vegetable scraps to keep them occupied almost every evening.

Run choices can be as endless as chicken coop designs.  Above is what works for me and my flock. Would I change anything?  At least a partially roofed section would be ideal and as with most things chicken, I'd make it bigger.  My flock free ranges a good bit but still spend the majority of their time in the run.  It's a safe place that both the chickens and I are thankful to have and one that in my opinion deserves just as many Pinterest searches as coops.

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