My new chicken run - dreams and potential problems


11 Years
Jul 1, 2008
Portland, Oregon
Pictures in the first comment!

I'm so excited about the new chicken run I've been working on building. In its design, I'm attempting to address several problems that I've had over the years and to achieve a huge dream, which is to produce a lot of the chickens' feed! The problems are:

  1. The dog and the chickens shouldn't co-mingle. I don't like the disgusting shenanigans that they all get up to when they are around each other!
  2. The chickens should not get into the main yard area. My husband doesn't like stepping in their poop!
  3. The dog should no longer have access to the back fence, because she fence-runs and barks at all the people walking through the alley behind our house all day and night.

So my solution was to build a second low fence going across the width of the backyard about 6 feet from the back fence. Right now, the dog and the hens can jump the fence, but that should be addressed this week. I'm taking down the current fence and putting up a new one that I hope the dog will be too lazy to jump. If either hens or dog occasionally cross the fence, it's not the end of the world, but it should keep most animals on the correct side most of the time.

Now inside the chicken run, I have a small compost pile next to the coop. This has turned out to be genius because every time I turn the compost (on days I confine the hens), they go crazy picking at bugs or whatever pops out of the compost. They love it. Inside the run there is also a covered dust bath area, which I will be adding wood ash to whenever we have a fire pit. But the best part is the plants.

I know it is commonly accepted that you can't have plants and chickens in a confined space, but I'm bound and determined to make it work. I probably have too small of a space to truly make this work, but my hopes are high right now because several test days have shown that the chickens aren't too determined to destroy everything. Here's an incomplete list of what I currently have growing:

  • Cornelian cherry tree
  • Illinois everbearing mulberry tree
  • Strawberries
  • Raspberries
  • 3 blueberry bushes
  • Twinberry
  • Bamboo
  • Corn
  • Wheat
  • Sunflowers
  • Squash
  • Borage
  • Clover
  • Mustard greens
  • Lettuce

For new seeds, I protect them with some chicken wire boxes that I have from an old project. For delicate seedlings, I use upside down mason jars. So far it seems to be working! Some things have been destroyed, while other things are being left mostly alone.

So I was showing off my run to a friend and she said that I was going to get a huge rat infestation. Honestly, this had already occurred to me, but I haven't had too much of a rat problem in the past. I've had rats a few times over the years, and each time I've been able to successfully deter them for long periods before a new change invites new ones. So to prevent rats, here is what is already in place:

  • Chicken coop has cement pavers lining it to make the rats have to dig farther to enter. This has been successful for nearly a year now. One rat tried to dig through and gave up before making it in. I put another paver over the tunnel and I haven't found any new ones.
  • Treadle feeder in the coop
  • Hardware cloth on the sides of the coop.
  • Feed stored indoors in the garage

A few weeks ago, I found baby rats in an old compost bin that I hadn't been turning. I demolished that bin and now I regularly turn my compost. I don't put food scraps in the compost and I usually don't leave food scraps in the run (although there are some in there tonight!). I only compost chicken poop and bedding. The mother rat was attracted to the safflower seeds that I was trying to compost because their bin had let in moisture and the seeds began to ferment. Once I'm done getting rid of those old seeds, there shouldn't be much else attracting rats.

That is, of course, until the plants in the run begin producing! I'm being forced to realize that there's not much I can do to minimize food in a garden specifically designed to produce as much chicken food as possible! So I have to come up with safe ways to keep the rats out and the chickens fed. This is the main purpose of this massive post and all of its background information up above (besides bragging about my awesome new run and all the work I have put into it!). I have read many of the other posts on this forum about rats and most of the time, the main solutions are poisoning them, trapping them, and removing the food source. Well, I'm not hot on the idea of keeping poison in my chicken run...or traps...or of rats crawling around and dying in my yard and my neighbors' yards! Everyone is going to hate me!

So what can I do? My thoughts are going crazy! Sometimes I'm thinking along the lines of attracting natural predators (how does one get feral cats to hang around without feeding them? Should I get a pet gopher snake???). If I put in a small pond, that will attract thirsty rats, but won't it also attract thirsty cats?

Mostly I want to make it very inconvenient for rats to get into my yard. Over the years, they've chewed holes in the privacy fence, so the wood isn't any obstacle. I know if I fix the holes and put down hardware cloth, they'll probably just climb over the top of the fence, right? So if I address the weakness at the bottom of the fence, what do I do about the top of the fence? Is there something I can attach that will foil them? What other suggestions do you guys have? And can I get some kudos on the garden please :) ?

I'm also very open to any gardening suggestions you all may have. I want this run to be awesome!
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Ok, here are the pictures!

This is the front of the coop, showing the compost bin (made from pallets) on the side.

Here are the hens, exiting the coop in the morning, straight into the run through the side door.

On the left side, is the cornelian cherry tree, wheat, and a blueberry bush with a cage protecting it. By the fence is (along with some scrap wood I'll be using today) the covered dust bath area and a chicken wire seed protector.

Stepping farther back, now you can see my potato tower, more caged blueberries, and the twinberry (under a protective cage).

Raspberry canes and a baby mulberry tree (between the posts).
Wow, looks good! Do the chickens stay in their run or are you going to have to add a roof? I like all the plants and I am sure the chickens do too.
Well, they've been occasionally escaping their run, but then they can't remember how to get back over to the other side! So I spent yesterday putting in a new fence that's a foot higher. It's not done yet, but I'm hoping it'll solve the problem of both the dogs and the hens escaping over. I'm not going to be putting a roof on because some of the plants are trees! I've toyed with the idea of doing a grape trellis after the trees get higher, but I think it'll be too much, too crowded. We'll see.
I will be doing the same as you. I am building the run into an existing garden with some small fruit trees, bushes and all sorts of perrennials. I know they'll eat lots but I'm hoping if they get fed well they won't much? I'm rooting for you!

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