free range vs. the run


12 Years
May 11, 2010
Plymouth, Massachusetts
We've had our 6 girls (red sexlinks) since April and just love em
now with that said we're going crazy with them free ranging
we have a 4X8 coop and 8x8 run with a decent size fenced in backyard (pix are on my homepage) ... so here's our dilemma --- they are totally destroying our yard
if we leave them in the run will that cause them to be stressed now that they have been free ranging all day for about a month
any comments will be appreciated
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9 Years
Jun 5, 2010
Moline, MI
We have 11 RIRs in the same size area (both coop: 4x8x8 and run:8x8x3) currently and they don't have issues. They usually stay in the run/coop all day except when I come down to change their water and refill their feed, then they get to free range for about 15 minutes.

They definitely like the 15 minutes of free ranging and I do hear complaints from them when I shoo them back up in the coop
, but I think they understand that they get whatever they get.

With that being said, I am expanding their outdoor run to about 20x12x6. I would like to add on to their coop too, but I haven't decided what I want to do with it yet, but I think they could tough it out for now (they have since May without any issues).


10 Years
Mar 16, 2009
Oakland, CA
I have had similar problems. They may complain/squawk a bit when you take away the free ranging, but it sounds like you don't have much choice if you don't want your yard destroyed. Here are some things you could consider:

-let them out for a little while each day when possible. the easiest time is about an hour or so before sunset because they'll put themselves back in the coop. I let mine out morning and evening. In the morning, I let them out for an hour or two but I do not give them their feed until I put them back in the coop - this makes it easier to get them back in.

-you could build a chicken tractor, something light weight that you can move around to different parts of your yard to give them access to new ground/bugs/weeds but restrict their access to other parts of the yard.

-do a search on chicken toys on BYC, there are some good ideas on how to keep the chickens occupied.

-you could just start confining them and let them squawk, I think in time they will get used to it.

-you could be crazy like me and put plastic fencing around the plants you don't want destroyed and still let them out. but to be honest, I'm ready to change my own situation as i keep planting more and more nice things that I have to fence off, and I'm about to remodel my patio and don't want poop all over I will likely start trying the above options myself!


9 Years
Sep 7, 2010
We live on five acres. If I let our girls out about a half hour before they go in house, will they run off? Do they stay pretty close? Should I let a "few out" just to see how they act? I'd love to let them out more "not in a tractor'. We do have coyotes but only at night....


12 Years
May 11, 2010
Plymouth, Massachusetts
The girls always make their way to the coop just before it becomes dark ... we don't ever worry about that - our fenced in area is about a half acre ... starting tomorrow we've decided to keep them in the coop and let them out about 1-2 hours before sunset to let them stretch (and scratch) ... I like the chicken toy idea so I'll do some searching on that ... thanks!!!


9 Years
Aug 15, 2010
West Michigan
I have a 1/3 acre fenced in back yard which is part woods & meadow, part grass, part woodpile, part terraced decorative planting area and part under the deck. The coop's against the woods. It is does not have an attached run or would be comfortable for so many in what is really a sleeping coop. (pic on my page) My 12 chickens have access to the whole thing except up onto the deck.
There are a few plantings I've had to put chicken wire around, mostly my clematis. So far they've avoided the hydrangeas, wisteria, marigolds, lavender, basil, daylilies, hosta, asters and roses. They can't get at my tomatoes, but they've love to.

They use part of a terrace as a dust bath, so whatever was planted there is gone. In the early summer they decided to take naps under the peonies and almost destroyed them by wallowing and taking dustbaths. I used black plastic stakes and string to keep the peonies upright. They didn't eat them, just loved the shade.
Under the deck I have their straw bales stored under tarps, with part of a broken bale strewn around for them to have fun with. They take shelter from wind and rain under some 4X8 sheets of tar paper covered wood siding.

I think part of the success of having my girls in my backyard is there is a lot for them to do. Lots of places to scratch, explore, discover bugs and worms, and do general chicken stuff without it causing mischief or create havoc. I'm not trying to have a Good Housekeeping backyard and coexist with chickens, though it was pretty close to GH before the chickens got dawn-to-dusk free range capability.

Not sure what next spring will be like, when the masses of daffodils, tulips, and grape hyacinths emerge again. They were too little this spring to be interested. This year they may be chicken yummies. The majority of my GH-type plantings are in the front yard where the girls can't go.
I might extend their fenced area further into the wooded area and close off their access to the terraces. I use 2' high green rabbit fencing. Since the girls' wings are clipped they have trouble flying up over it when they're close to the fencing.
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9 Years
May 19, 2010
Ringgold, GA
They are always going to LOVE free ranging but they wont be stressed if you keep them in the run. Those birds are bred to adapt to confinment so, I doubt you will ever notice a bit of difference in their behavior. I would still make sure and give them grass clippings and other greens just as treats.


Covered in Pet Hair & Feathers
10 Years
Sep 22, 2009
My slice of heaven in Somerset, CA
Each new plant my chickens destroy makes me sad that it was once pretty and I had put some effort into planting it. But then I look at the girls enjoying themselves, and I smile once again. There are few things more cute than a big ol' Delaware who has stuffed herself into a square planter and peeks up over the edge to go "Birk?" when I ask her what she's doing there.

Or the several chickens who have constructed their own dust-bathing "spa" depressions in the front yard, and sometimes there are five or six of them happily resting in them. Like planted chickens. Or little soldiers in fox holes!

My yard is remarkably bug free. The chickens come running - and what is funnier looking than a running chicken?? - when I come home from work and surround my car, buk buk bukking "Hello! So glad to see you! Where are our treats??" at me.

I have chicken wire and/or green, plastic poultry fencing around my tomatoes and lemon cucumbers. The lower branches of the rose bushes, hibiscus and bougainvillea are stripped clean.

Life with chickens. I love it.


9 Years
Apr 5, 2010
Austin, TX
I have 6 hens and a fairly large backyard. There is one area they really like to lay in and I have just decided to hand it over and let that part be dirt. I do let one area in the back grow higher so they have lots of green to eat. I don't let them out of the run all day because I am at work. They are out a couple of hours before dark and on the weekends. They seem to be fine staying in the run but they love to be out. I usually pull up some grass or throw in some shredded cabbage in the run in the morning to give them something to pick at and eat. It is always gone when I get home.


10 Years
Dec 14, 2009
Carmichael, CA
i had the exact same questions, free range = destroy the yard that cost good money and time to develop, so i did 2 things (i have 9 ladies, 3 rir's, 3 barred rocks, 1 EE, 1 GSL and 1 Belgian D'uccle)

1.) Built picket fences around my vegetable gardens
2.) Built them a picket fence run of 6x16. They come out 3 or 4 times a week for about 1-2 hours before sunset to scratch, explore, find worms, eat bugs etc. They are not stressed, they are remarkably healthy birds.

So, my advice for what its worth, make a cute run that "enhances" your yard, make it a feature, let your yard recover for a couple weeks, then re introduce them to the yard for just small amounts of time. What i have found is, that when the come out of the run, there is enough to do on the lawn for them that they leave the flower beds alone.

You wont harm them or cause them stress, just try and keep approx 10 sq ft space for them

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