The chicken run, the hangout of your feathered friends. It serves as protection for your flock, and also encourages natural behavior to allow them freedom and entertainment.
It is always best to customize and build the run that will suit your birds. You need to take into consideration the size of your flock before building your new run, this is to be sure that you allow plenty of room for them to be able to move about.
The goal of any homesteader is to build everything low-cost (free if possible!), and still make it useful. To do this use materials that you have laying around your place as much as you can.
There will be some items that you will need to purchase, but work with what you have on hand…
Table of Contents:
What Can I Use for a Chicken Run?
There are many options for a chicken run, such as one made out of wood, galvanized steel mesh, or PVC plastic material panels.
The goal is to create a structure where birds can freely roam and have plenty of ventilation and natural light––all while being enclosed securely. Another option is a round pen or paddock with chicken wire fencing offering protection yet ample room for the chickens to move around outdoors.
You can also build your own run with wooden beams and plywood or use old garden fence posts, giving a more rustic feel to their living space.
Use what you have on hand. It doesn’t need to be fancy or be built out of pressure-treated lumber (though, of course, using materials like that will create a run that lasts a lot longer!). Some items you might be able to scrounge up around your homestead to use for your run include:
- PVC pipe
- Metal sheeting
- Zip ties
… just to name a few.
I have a stockpile at my place that consists of random boards, screws, and posts. I didn’t purchase anything for this run, I used everything from my old run, and my stash of “keep and use later” piles.
So, to be clear, my cost for this project was zero dollars…
When you build your run you need to be sure that the location is good. You can’t have your chickens living in a place where it lays muddy and wet all of the time.
This type of location will make the run rust or rot, and the chickens’ health can be affected. You also need to build the run in an area that you can keep an eye on, and have quick access to it if need be.
Most chicken runs serve one purpose, allowing a confined freedom for your flock. Most will be built in the same manner with posts set and fencing to keep them in and predators out.
It’s much easier to build your run if you have all of your materials laid out and ready to go. For easy access pile the needed materials off to the side so that they are not in the way while you are working:
- Tape measure
- Post hole diggers or an auger
- Wire mesh/ fence (hardware cloth is much better than chicken wire at keeping predators out)
- Framing boards
- Wire cutters
There are some items that you can put with your run for extra protection and entertainment of your chickens:
- Top cove
- Chicken baths
- Wire to cover growing herbs
The top cover is important to keep anything from still being able to get to your chickens. There are lots of different items that you can use such as shade nets, tarps, and fencing.
I like to put a door on my run so that I can easily get in to work around and get to my chickens. For the run I use an old storm door. The run will need an access door from the coop.
The door can be large or chicken-sized. It is best to be able to close the door at night. It will also help keep heat inside the coop in the winter months.
My door is not a conventional one, I use a toilet seat! It’s the perfect size for them. The lid has a hook and chain that is attached to the coop for opening. It looks a little hillbilly, but perfect for us.
Building the Chicken Run Step by Step
Step 1: Measure and Mark Post Spots
Once you have the run site, you need to measure out and mark where you will put your posts. Decide how big your run will be, then mark where you will put the posts.
You can mark your posts by using paint or just scraping the ground. My posts are about eight feet apart and in a straight line, or as straight as I can get them.
The run that I am building is about 16 feet by 16 feet:
Step 2. Dig the Holes
Once you mark your posts, you need to start the hard work. Dig your post holes. The posts need to be in the ground at least 18 inches; this depth is okay as the run is for chickens.
Usually, I dig to 24 inches which is preferred, but not this time. I have manual post hole diggers that we use, but you can also use an auger if you have it.
You can measure how deep the hole is with the tape measure by placing it in the hole and measuring up.
For ease, the post diggers can be marked to 24 inches deep by measuring and using a spot of paint to mark that measurement.
The hole in the photo above is measured by the post hole digger and its marking. The green paint is marking 24 inches, so this hole is about 20 to 22 inches deep.
This method of measuring makes for quicker work as you don’t have to stop and keep measuring your holes to see how deep they are.
This hole is about 18 inches deep, as you can see from the tape measure at the bottom of the hole to the top:
Step 3. Set The Posts
Set the posts in the ground, and use the level to check that the posts are standing straight. Tamp the dirt around the posts to tighten them and hold them in place. Be sure to check that the posts stay straight as you set them.
You can also throw some rocks in the hole to help tighten the post or you can use quikrete mix to hold your posts and protect them.
I am going for simple and cheap so we are just using the dirt from the hole to keep it in place. The secret to a secure post is to tightly tamp the dirt at the first few inches at the bottom of the post.
This side of the post is level, as you can see the bubbles in the middle of the lines on the top glass. You will want to check two sides of the post to be sure that the post is truly straight:
You can tamp the dirt with about anything from a bar to a board.
We use the handle end of the shovel that we are already using to place dirt around the post. This makes for less work and fewer supplies that are needed:
Be sure to place posts so you have space to attach your door if you are using one on the run. You can attach the door now or wait until the end.
Above the run door, I put a solar light so that the light doesn’t bother them while they are in their coop, but I can keep an eye out if need be.
This is where the storm door will go. The board on top holds it to the correct width and that is where I will place the solar light. The latch is a nail that is bent over to hold the door closed:
Step 4. Running the Wire
I have used poultry netting mesh in the past, but I have decided that it is not strong enough for what I like.
I am going to use a thicker gauge, and smaller hole wire for this chicken run. This is a wire that can be used for rabbit hutches.
The wire is a welded mesh with each joint being welded for strength. The holes in the wire are ½ inch squares.
This wire is four feet tall, so I will have to set it too high but that is fine because it will be stronger in the middle by being overlapped.
This is the welded wire set on the posts to get the height I was wanting. One strand would have been fine, but I like to comfortably walk around in the chicken run:
You can dig a trench in the ground along where the wire will run to bury it. This will keep any burrowing from the outside to the inside of the run.
You may really want to consider this step if you have a predator problem, or if the ground is uneven. Our location is pretty level, so I’m not going to go through the extra work of all that digging.
Step 5. Attaching the Wire
Attach the wire with steeples to the posts. Be sure to attach it every 12 inches or so. Steeple the wire the length of the post to be sure it is secured tightly.
If you are burying the wire in a trench be sure to leave enough in the ground, then start attaching it from the bottom of the post up.
An idea to hold the wire in place while you work is to staple it to the post in a few spots so you can unroll and set the wire permanently with the steeples:
Step 6. Framing Boards
After the wire is attached to the posts you will be ready to place your framing boards. You don’t have to use them but it makes the run much more sturdy, and safer for the chickens.
Screw the boards to the post along the ground and the top between each post. I will also need to place boards in the center where the two rolls of wire meet for extra precaution.
With running boards along the ground, this will help keep critters from digging through to the flock and strengthen the run. The boards also help to keep the wire safely attached to the posts.
As for the boards, we used rough-cut oak lumber. You can use any type of wood that you have:
This is the centerboard. You can see where there are two pieces of wire here and then it is steepled to the board:
Step 7. Outdoor Roosts
This is also the time to do any of the extra things to put with the run. I have put a post in the middle of the run to help hold the top on. This post is good for adding some roosts on.
The post can hold several roosts at different heights for the chickens to hang out on. For the roosts, you can make it as simple or as fancy as you like.
I am going for cheap here so I used some big “L” brackets for holding shelves and attached a piece of wood to each and then screw it to the post:
Step 8. Dirt Baths
Chickens need a place to be able to take a dirt bath. The bath helps to cool them and it helps to kill lice and other pests. A bath is anything they can walk around in.
I like to use old tires that are just laying around my place. Place the tires wherever you want and then fill them with dirt and wood ash:
Step 9. Herbs
Chickens love to eat and forage. It is an awesome idea to be able to plant herbs in their run so that they can scratch around and pick at them for snacking. I have a section in the run that is dedicated to growing herbs for my flock.
This can be as elaborate or as simple as you like. I know the chickens don’t care what it looks like so I just sow seeds by tossing and covering them with soil.
To ensure that the herbs grow, I put fencing over the area to give the herbs space to grow and keep the chickens from easily reaching them. Once the herbs are big enough the chickens will go crazy after them.
The bottom of the wire is attached to the boards. When I need to raise the wire I can simply pick it up and attach it to the wire on the side of the run.
The wire in front is held into place by some brackets that I found. I placed them over the wire and simply pressed them into the ground.
Herbs are healthy for chickens. This is not all that chickens can have but it is a good list of where to start and what they will eat.
- Parsley- is packed with vitamins and is a laying stimulant.
- Basil- has great antibacterial properties.
- Mint- is a natural insecticide.
- Dill- promotes good respiratory health.
- Thyme- is a natural anti-parasitic herb.
- Oregano- strengthens the immune system.
- Sage- full of antioxidants and an anti-parasitic herb.
- Cilantro- is rich in vitamins A and K and is good for bone support.
- Lavender- increases circulation, and is a great stress reliever.
- Garlic- helps to control fungus.
- Calendula- repels insects and also makes the egg yolks brighter.
If you don’t want to grow the herbs in the chicken run then you can grow them and throw them in for the chickens to peck around at or even put them in hanging baskets for them.
On the side of the coop is also a good place to hang some containers with herbs, I used old tires:
There are many health benefits for the chickens to be able to snack on the herbs and the scent from them is also great for them and the health and cleanliness of their coop and run. However, you want to do this is up to you and your personal preference.
I personally like to plant and forget. Once the herbs are big enough for the chickens to reach they can peck at them as they desire.
Most herbs are not particular with the type of soil they need to grow in and most can reseed themselves for the next growing cycle.
Step 10 (Last). Top Cover
The top cover is important for the protection of my flock. We have several predators around our place that would love to eat my chickens. You can use about anything for a top cover of the chicken run.
You can use chicken wire, snow fencing, tarps, hardware cloth, or shade netting. Some of this you may have laying around and can use.
This is the netting that runs from the coop over the centerboard to the end, and is attached to the framing boards on the end. The net is attached to the boards with staples:
To help provide protection and shade I used shade netting I previously purchased. It is lightweight and has holes for air flow, but also provides shade to keep the birds cool.
There wasn’t enough netting so I got creative: our trampoline had a net that was ripped. I cut the net to fit length-wise for the run, and covered with it too.
Score, free cover and recycled! It still provides them with shade and protection. It also still looks good and serves the purpose.
Now that you have the run finished you can turn your chickens loose:
The chicken run can be as colorful and as fancy as you like, or just a simple safe haven for your flock.
What Can I Use for a Chicken Run Floor?
While technically, a chicken run doesn’t require a floor, some owners choose to equip theirs with an appropriate surface that holds up against harsh weather conditions.
Personally, we don’t have a floor for our chicken run – our birds are allowed to roam around on the ground and nibble on grass, bugs, and even rocks (they need it for the grit) as needed.
It’s great for the soil, too – since we park our chickens in the garden over the winter and spring, it’s a wonderful way to fertilize the soil.
That said, some people may want to put a floor on the run if the area is prone to getting muddy (it’s not covered) or to make it easier to clean.
Options include wood chips, sand, or pea gravel – all of which are easy to clean and maintain. If you have certain space constraints, however, you could always opt for rubber mats that would provide extra insulation during cold winter months, or tarps, which come in handy when it’s rainy. It’s totally up to you!
When deciding on the size run needed for 10 chickens, you must consider not only the breeds of chickens, but also the climate and other outdoor conditions. In ideal outdoor conditions, it is recommended that each chicken have a minimum of four square feet of space in order to stay healthy and happy.
So if you have 10 chickens, then you should provide a minimum of about 40 square feet for them in their run. For 5 chickens, shoot for 20 square feet, and for 20, aim for 80.
However, if your chickens are larger breeds or if certain weather conditions are difficult to manage, then you might need some additional space.
How Tall Should My DIY Chicken Run Be?
If you don’t add a top cover to your run, make it 10 feet high to make sure chickens won’t fly over the fence. If you do have a top cover, you should make it around 2-3 feet tall to allow your birds to stretch their wings.
Remember that the height of your chicken run is also important when it comes to protecting from predators. Backyard chickens are susceptible to all kinds of predators, including coyotes, hawks, foxes, weasels, raccoons, and more.
While you can keep most “ground predators” out of your enclosure by making sure they can’t dig underneath the fence, aerial predators like hawks and owls can be harder to prevent.
If these animals are continuously a problem to you as you are raising chickens, you may want to cover the run just to be on the safe side.
Either way you decide to build, the main goal is to have a chicken run that’s not only cheap, but provides protection and comfort. Whether it be a mansion run or something simple, your chickens will be thankful!
Sarah Rodriguez is a homesteading wife and mother of five living in Appalachia. She grew up in a homesteading and logging family.
She and her husband Arnie work their 10-acre homestead together alongside their growing family. Sarah honed her self-reliance skills through 4-H and FFA at an early age and is now teaching her children to live off the land, raise livestock, and the importance of both sustainability and frugality.