Chickens are a wonderful addition to any backyard farm and the benefits of raising chickens go far beyond fresh eggs (although that is an awesome benefit). You can maximize the benefits of backyard chickens by incorporating smart runs, moveable fencing and chicken tunnels into your backyard.
Depending on your setup you can also free range chickens all the time or part of the time. It is helpful to think about how chickens fit into your overall homestead and if there are small changes you can make for healthier chickens and your garden.
In this article, you can find general information on how to set up a chicken run, how to use a chicken tunnel (or chunnel), and more suggestions for maintaining your backyard chickens space.
If you’re looking for more ideas on raising chickens, chicken coops, runs, chicken tunnels and more, follow along on Pinterest, or see the article below for a list of chicken supplies to get started:
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How do Chicken Tunnels, Moveable Runs, and other Fencing Designs Work?
Chickens are typically housed in stand alone chicken coops, barns, or moveable coops with some type of outdoor enclosure. If you are free ranging your chickens you may select to keep your garden fenced instead of your chickens, but either way, there are benefits to using fencing with your chickens.
The most common outdoor enclosure for your chickens is a chicken run. This can be an open or fully enclosed run.
Depending on the number of chickens and the size of your run, your chickens will quickly eat all the bugs and vegetation in the run. You can use moveable runs, rotating runs, and chicken tunnels to provide more space for your chickens and move your chickens around your yard for help with weeding and fertilizing. There are many different design options for your moveable runs depending on the purpose and how predator proof you need to make your run.
Another option is to make the entire chicken coop and run moveable with a chicken tractor. These can be large scale operations or smaller moveable coops for just a few hens.
What are the Hidden Benefits of Chicken Tunnels and Runs
There are 2 main benefits that using a well thought out chicken run setup can have for your backyard farm. First, it is beneficial for your chickens and second it can benefit other aspects of your backyard farm. If you can think creatively about how best to incorporate chickens into your backyard farm instead of thinking of them as a separate piece, you will double your benefit.
Another way to think about it is through inputs and outputs. Most of the time it is beneficial to decrease the inputs on your backyard farm. Can you use chicken tunnels or runs to lower the amount of store bought food? On the other end, you should consider what are the various outputs from keeping chickens (besides eggs or meat) – can you compost the chicken bedding, or clear your garden beds with your chickens foraging?
Benefits to Your Chickens
Chickens need space to look for food and spread out. Typically the bigger the run the better, but you want at least 5-10 square feet of space for each chicken. If chickens have enough outdoor space there will naturally be more food available (bugs, grass, seeds, etc). By rotating your chicken runs, moving your chicken runs or using chicken tunnels, you can provide fresh space for your chickens. Chickens will also pick on each other if they are not given enough room so for your chickens health it is important to give them ample space within their run.
Benefits to Your Garden
Creating a system of chicken tunnels and runs that rotate your chickens through garden space will help clear out the garden. Chickens are excellent at scratching up a garden at the end of the season or in early spring. If you are rotating your chickens through pasture, you should move them when the grass gets down no lower than 2 inches as it will regrow faster. In addition, their droppings will help fertilize the soil. Chicken coop bedding can also be added to compost to create a rich amendment for your garden.
If you have other backyard farm animals you can rotate your chickens into the same space. Chickens will break up other animal droppings such as cows and help with bug control.
Outside Chicken Enclosures
If you are new to raising chickens, make sure you check out the article about getting started raising backyard chickens. An important aspect of designing the perfect living space for chickens is thinking carefully about your chicken run set up.
Building a Chicken Run
There are some important elements to consider for your chicken run. You should determine what predators are common in your area. This will help you determine the best fencing material. We have a fully enclosed/predator proof run that we can leave our chickens in with full confidence.
Chicken wire is cheap, but is not a good option for fencing a run as it is easy for predators to break through. We use chicken wire in combination with welded wire on the sides and top and bury the fencing 12-18 inches into the ground. This run is very small, so to provide our chickens with more space, we have a second, less secure run.
This larger day use run, uses wire that is 4-6 feet tall. Since the chickens are in this run during the day we have deer netting across the top to stop air attacks and to keep our chickens from flying out. There is also plenty of shade over the run to keep the chickens cool in the summer.
Rotating Chicken Runs
If you have the space you can build multiple runs that all connect to your coop. This allows you to rotate the chickens through the runs ever few days or weeks. This provides benefits to both the chickens and the runs themselves, but it does mean that a large portion of your yard is dedicated to your chickens.
Another option is to create temporary chicken runs. We build ours from the same fencing as our day run. We put these temporary fencing in the garden beds, in the field, and in the yard. We are able to rotate our chickens through these runs without dedicating these spaces to the chickens. We use a series of chicken tunnels to connect these temporary runs to the coop and run.
The temporary runs that we build from wire fencing don’t have overhead protection. Since our dog is kept in this area as well, we do not usually have a problem, but it you have lots of hawks or other birds of prey you will want to add more protection. We have also built an enclosed run with wire and PVC that fits over our raised beds. This would not protect our chickens from a fox or raccoon, but during the day it does protect from overhead predators.
There are many ways to build and create a chicken tunnel. You can then use these chicken tunnels to connect different runs, direct chickens to clear paths of weeds, or find new opportunities for foraging. The image above shows a chicken tractor made with 4 foot wire fencing and left over boards.
This tunnel keeps the chickens in and protects them from some predators, but because it’s open to the bottom, some predators can get under the tunnel. You could build more secure tunnels with fencing under as well. We’ve also connected the fencing to the edges of our raised beds and bent the wire over our garden paths.
If you don’t want to build your own chicken tunnel you can also find a small chicken tunnel for sale online or purchase small or collapsible runs.
Chicken tractors can be an excellent solution to providing chickens with fresh pasture and forage space and not exhausting a fixed run. There are 2 main tractor/run designs. The best chicken tractor design for you will depend on the number of chickens you have, the size of your property and the equipment you have to move your chicken tractor.
The first design is generally for a large number of birds (such as raising meat birds) and includes a large moveable tractor that is typically trailered from space to space. You then build a run around the tractor each time you move usually with electric fencing. This is great for a big flock, but it doesn’t provide overhead protection. This works well when you have a large space and I’ve seen it be very effective in orchards.
The second chicken tractor design is for a smaller flock. These tractors can usually be moved manually and often have a run and coop connected or easily disconnected and reattached. Since they are on wheels or skids you can only keep a few chickens. Our first coop, and the chicken tractor, we still use for growing out our chicks was designed for 5 full grown hens. This design is better for laying hens since there is more limited space. This means the design also needs to include nesting boxes.
Creating a holistic design to your outdoor chicken enclosures can’t greatly improve your backyard farm. Chickens are a fabulous addition to any homestead and with a little careful thought, you can move them around your property to maximize the benefit both for your chickens and the garden.
Common Questions About Chicken Tunnels and Runs
Are chicken tunnels a good idea?
Chickens are an excellent way to give your chickens more room to roam around your yard while also protecting them from predators. They aren’t usually as secure as a permanent run but provide protection from a number of predators. Chicken tunnels are also excellent for helping in your garden.
How tall does a chicken tunnel need to be?
Chicken tunnels should be at least 16 inches tall. This give your hens enough space to stand upright in the tunnel. Tunnels should be at least 12 inches wide so chickens can pass each other in the tunnel.
What is the benefit of a chicken tunnel?
A chicken tunnel provides your chickens fresh grass and bugs to eat. Tunnels are usually moveable so the chickens can be used to help clear garden beds and manage bug populations.