Overrun: How I made my chicken run predator-proof November 7, 2012

Working in the Run

Working in the Run

In an earlier post I mentioned the damage done by hurricane Irene to our enclosed chicken run. Our run hadn’t been predator-proof for almost a year. Things have been very busy at My Pet Chicken and it took a scheduled one-week family vacation this summer to finally pull me from behind the keyboard and put on my tool belt.  Instead of just replacing what was originally there, I decided to try some enhancements. 

One of the best things about keeping chickens as pets is that if you have a proper setup with a secure coop and chicken run, and automatic feeders and waterers, you can go away for a week with minimal flock oversight. A quick call to friends to have them check on the chickens every couple days in exchange for any eggs they collect, and you’re done. Here’s how I made our run secure so we could go on that vacation without worrying.

A-frames for Chicken Run

A-frame supports for the inside of the run

The walls of our thousand-plus square foot chicken run are made from 7′ tall, heavy-gauge  vinyl-coated chicken wire, buried 10″ deep to keep out burrowing predators. (Chicken wire isn’t the best choice for predator protection, but that’s all we could find in a 7′ height, and the heavier gauge and vinyl coating add to the quality and durability of the material. If you want the safest possible run material, choose a heavy gauge, half inch hardware cloth.)

Previously we were using plastic deer netting to cover the run. It’s light and inexpensive, and will keep out birds of prey, but a determined predator could rip into it. Plus, stretched straight across the top of the run as it was, in the fall and winter it would collect branches, leaves, and snow, causing it sag like an overloaded paper plate an all-you-can-eat BBQ. So this time I decided to use 1″, medium weight aviary netting. It’s made from knotted nylon fibers that are much stronger than the deer netting, but also heavier. To prevent the aforementioned sag, I decided to construct an A-frame structure to support the netting and provide additional height to the middle of the run.

I started by building seven A-frames out of two by fours with a notch at the top – to hold a two by four cross support to be strung between the As. I decided on an angle of 30 degrees for the As, to create decent stability. For roosting, 18″ above the ground, I added two by twos, completing the “A” shape.

Then, I strung the A-frames together in the middle of the chicken run (with some help!), attaching two by fours between them, along the top. For increased stability, and to offer the “girls” even more roosts, I attached two by twos between each A-frame at a similar height to the roosting poles on each of the seven “A”s.

The chickens are loving their new run

The chickens are loving their new run

Next came the aviary netting, which I draped over the chicken run walls and A-frames. I sandwiched the wire to my coop walls by screwing a single piece of one by two on top of the netting, and drilling it right into the coop wall. Then, I attached the netting to the wire walls of the run by sandwiching it between two one by twos, screwed together, as shown.

The netting was only twenty five feet wide–not nearly wide enough to cover our whole run, so I joined pieces of the netting by overlapping them 18″, and then using zip ties to “stitch” them together. I kept some small trees in our run for shade, so to accommodate them, I cut holes in the netting and shirred them by affixing 1/4″ hardware cloth to the netting with more zip ties. (Man, did I go through a lot of  zip ties. They are so handy…)

So far, so good. We’re able to keep the door from the chicken coop to the run open at all times, so the chickens can come and go as they please–and we can avoid those heart attacks around 3:00 on the occasional afternoon we’ve forgotten to let them out.

Terry Golson November 7th, 2012

In my (sad) experience, the netting will not keep out nighttime predators. I had a raccoon rip off the netting and go into the coop at night, killing almost everyone. Granted, I didn’t have it sandwiched between wood like you do, (we thought it was securely laced all around) but I’d still not trust it. A fisher cat, which are plentiful around here, could get in. So, I’d still recommend latching the hens in at night. Perhaps you could put in an electric pop door closer? Also, maybe I’m a worrier, but I’d want someone to check on the chickens daily. In the summer if that water runs out or tips over and the hens go for 2 days without, they’ll die. Sorry to be all doom and gloom, but I’ve learned the hard way.

mary November 7th, 2012

enjoyed seeing that. a lot of work that was.

Holly November 7th, 2012

I agree, with the above. I have found that neither heavy duty deer fence nor aviary netting is sufficient to keep out predators, they will eat right through it. The only predator proof wire I have found is the 1/2″ hardware cloth which I have totally wrapped under, over and on all sides, my run in. Even with that, I mistakenly believed that my run and coop (wooden house, totally enclosed attached to run) were predator proof! Not! When I left the door open to the run, while standing nearby watching my hens free range a large black snake slithered in and I didn’t see it. Luckily I figured it out after several days with no eggs. The snake was eating the eggs, thank God, not my beautiful hens.

Angie November 7th, 2012

Spend the $$ and proof everything with hardware cloth or electric fencing. I have hardware cloth EVERYWHERE and buried 18″.

George Castonguay November 7th, 2012

A friend uses aviary netting on his large pen and last Spring a racoon or two got in and killed about twenty young chickens. They had to be trapped out and for a while the chicken coop had to be sealed up at night. A determined racoon will tear that netting to shreds in order to get a chicken dinner.

Aria November 7th, 2012

I agree with Terry. This is a wonderful daytime run but I still would not leave the pop door open at night. My outer run is similar to yours. Within it there are two hen houses attached to an inner run. The pop doors open into the inner run. The birds can be let into the outer run through a regular door that is latched and locked at night. The inner run is framed out in wood like a greenhouse. Instead of glass or plastic, the top, bottom, and sides are covered with 1/2 inch hardware cloth. It was constructed this way so that I could leave the pop doors open if I needed to. The outer run adds an extra layer of protection and around that is another fence.

As secure as it is, I still rarely do leave the pop doors open at night and I would never do it if they opened straight into the outer run, the one like yours. Better safe than sorry. Maybe I am paranoid. I don’t know.

Carlos November 7th, 2012

That is a beautiful run made with a lot of effort and love, but I honestly dont thing its safe enough to protect your chicks or eggs from snakes, rats and other predators. It looks nice though and Id wish I had a run. I built my chicken coop using plywood, two by fours and 16 gauge 1/2 by 1″ welded wire and it just couldnt get any better. I have 15×15 stones on the ground so roedents cant dig in and a pretty big wooden box with soil, sand and DE so my chicks can take a dust bath. Congrats though

Jan November 7th, 2012

This does look like a pretty sound setup if your predators are like mine. Our raccoons and opossums are pretty fat and lazy, so I used construction netting for the ceiling supported by a bamboo frame that holds it up without sagging. Not entirely sure on the lifespan of the bamboo, as it was from a friend, but it seems to be holding 3 months in.

Our fence is pretty crappy chicken wire, but I supported the bottom 36″ of the front of the fence, where we walk up to it and what is displayed to our neighbors, with 4 layers of fencing so dogs can’t really hurt it. The sides and back 30″ has house siding at the bottom of the fence to prevent our cats from looking in where we can’t get to them. And around the bottom of the fence, since we didn’t dig it into the ground, is fill concrete and brick to obscure digging.

We still shut the coop door at night, though, which I actually need to go do now!

Don November 14th, 2012

You have built a well thought out run ,for your chickens..Unfortunately we can never feel that they are predator proof ..About the only way to know for sure would be to live trap a couple coons ,coyotes ,and foxes and lock them in the pen ,and I can guarentee they will find a way out ,..I’m not really suggesting that you do that , but that’s the way you have to think when building it. Iwould suggest that you get a solar powered , or conventional fence charger , and run 3 hot wires around the outside of the enclosure ..One at ground level ,one in the middle and one at the top..When that wet nose hits either hot wire ,I promise they will look elsewhere for supper..

Eleanore November 16th, 2012

Whew! Wow how long did that take you?! You must be super man in disguise!

Svetlana November 25th, 2012

I got 5 chickens in an overrun that is just enought for them all, but it is starting to smell like ammonia. It’s raining cats and dogs, and water is starting to puddle in the run creating the stench. I am afraid my chickens will get too wet and cold! I put some pieces of wood on the floor of the run as a temporary measure. Can anyone help with a suggestion?

derek December 4th, 2012

Svetlana, The ammonia can be a problem for the chickens’ sensitive respiratory system. To help you can add untreated wood chips to your run. The chips will absorb the water and also give your chickens something to scratch through. You can usually find wood chips cheap at a nursery or you can contact a tree service and see if they’d deliver a free load. However, most tree services will only deliver a full load, which can be 10-20 yards. I don’t have personal experience with it, but some people like pea gravel. It adds nice drainage and can easily be washed down.

Kristen E. Martin January 8th, 2013

We have a 4′ chain link fence around our property, but it stops at ground-level, allowing every neighborhood dog, cat, ‘coon, weasel, etc…to dig inside. I lock the chickens up at night, but they are loose during the day, at least when there’s no garden. What can I do about this floppy-bottomed fence? I thought about laying chicken wire underneath it, but some parts are stuck in the ground, others are loose and flappy. Then, I thought about hardware cloth connected to the bottom and buried. Soil’s hard, and no one wants to help me do that. Suggestions?

derek January 8th, 2013

Kristen, The best method is to bury the wire, but another easier method is to run “apron fencing” at the bottom of the fence. You can see a picture here. Most animals aren’t smart enough to realize to start digging before the fence and end up trying to dig through the horizontal part of the apron. I’d recommend the horizontal portion be at least 16″ and you’ll want to cover it with a little dirt so that the animals don’t try to pull it up. Remember this will only help prevent animals from borrowing under the fence. raccoons, cats, etc. can still climb over the fence and gain unwanted entry to your property. Good luck!

Kristen E. Martin January 9th, 2013

Thanks, Derek. Oddly, thankfully, I’ve never seen anything in the yard during the day. The neighborhood dogs are what bothers me. They all seem to be some hound breed, bent on killing ANYTHING they get their mouth on. And the occasional hawk is disconcerting, but the girls *before they were killed* would head for cover in the brush. At night, they were locked in a secure coop.

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