Chicken Pens vs Runs

To Pen or Not to Pen: Chicken Pens vs Runs

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Now I ain’t no expert chicken farmer, but I’ve had my fair share of feathered friends on the homestead over the years.

And let me tell ya, keeping those crazy cluckers contained can be a real pain in the behind!

I’ll never forget the time I decided to let my flock free range and came home to find they’d scratched up every single plant in my veggie garden.

What a dang mess that was! So I quickly learned them chickens need their own space.

But should you use a pen or a run? That’s the age-old question every chicken owner faces.

Well friends, let me walk you through the pros and cons of each so you can decide what’s best for your own flock!

Pens vs Runs: The Key Differences

Chicken Pens vs Runs

First things first, what’s the difference between a chicken pen and run?

A pen is an enclosed outdoor space, usually with fencing or walls on all sides.

It allows chickens to roam freely within its boundaries.

Pens are often attached directly to the coop.

A run is a long, narrow fenced-in area that lets chickens access the outdoors.

Runs extend out from the coop and are often portable so they can be moved around.

Chicken Pens vs Runs

I like to think of pens as your chickens’ secure backyard where they can relax and be chickens.

Runs are more like taking your hens out for a leisurely stroll around the block.

The pen is stationary while the run can move locations.

It’s like the difference between hanging out at home versus going for a walk around the neighborhood.

Make sense?

Good, let’s dig into the pros and cons of each so you can determine what’ll work best for your flock.

The Benefits of Chicken Pens

Chicken Pens vs Runs

Here’s why you might want to keep your chickens contained in a fixed pen:

Pens provide way more space for chickens to roam than a narrow run.

We’re talking often 100+ square feet so your hens can stretch their wings.

It’s easier to enrich a large penned area with bushes, trees, structures, and toys to keep your chickens engaged and active.

Chickens are fully enclosed so less likely to escape or be nabbed by predators like foxes, hawks, raccoons, and dogs.

See also  11+ Chicken Coop Ideas to Keep Your Flock Happy

You can custom design permanent pens to maximize every inch of your available space.

Attach the pen right to your coop so those chickens barely have to lift a feather to access food, water, and nesting boxes.

Install roosting bars and dust bathing spots to let your chickens indulge their natural behaviors.

Throw down some straw, leaves, or wood chips for them to scratch and peck at.

Overall pens allow your chickens the chance to really be chickens – sunbathing, dust bathing, perching, foraging, and meandering at their leisure.

Just be sure to provide 10+ square feet of space per bird inside the pen.

Overcrowding leads to issues like feather pecking and fighting.

Give each hen enough elbow room and she’ll be clucking happily!

The Perks of Chicken Runs

On the other hand, movable runs have some nifty advantages too:

Runs are portable with wheels or skids so you can shift them to fresh pasture whenever you want.

Follow the shade and move your run once the ground gets scratched up.

It’s way quicker and cheaper to set up a basic chicken run than to build a big permanent pen.

Use step-in fence posts or cattle panels to create a simple covered run.

A run allows you to easily limit those feathered renegades’ access to your gardens and landscaping.

Create a small run right where you want your chickens’ destruction contained.

You can add a roofed portion to a run for sun/rain shelter.

This gives your chickens a place to hunker down when the weather gets nasty.

Make sure to anchor any covered run against strong winds!

Runs are great for letting your chickens graze on pasture without demolishing everything.

That mobility means the vegetation gets a chance to recover.

Move your run over your cow fields after the herd’s gone so the chickens can pick it clean of fly larvae.

They’ll gobble up seeds from the cow patties and feast on insects.

It’s a win-win situation when done right.

Pen and Run Floor Options

When setting up a chicken pen or run, you’ll need to decide what to put on the ground.

For pens, good flooring choices are dirt, sand, wood chips, or straw.

These natural options allow chickens to dust bathe and scratch for bugs and treats.

See also  7+ Chicken Pen Ideas to Give Your Flock Room to Roam

A dirt floor is fine, just be sure to occasionally till it up and remove manure buildup.

Wood chips like pine shavings should be replenished often as they decompose.

Straw makes great litter but will also break down over time.

I prefer sand or pine chips for easy cleaning and drainage.

For runs, go with mesh wire or wire hardware cloth laid over grass.

This prevents your chickens from tearing up the ground while letting vegetation grow.

You can also use wood chips or gravel in a mobile run.

Just be sure to check for and remove any chicken poop buildup.

And supplement their diet since they won’t be able to forage in a bare run.

Feeding and Watering Considerations

Feeding and watering your chickens will vary slightly between pens versus runs.

For pens, mount feeders and waterers on the interior walls or fence lines.

This prevents the chickens from soiling their food and water.

Use gravity waterers so your chickens have constant clean access.

For runs, you’ll need to bring food and water inside for your chickens.

Use hanging feeders that attach right to the run or stable ground feeders.

Water should be in stable containers that won’t spill over.

Refill feed and water as needed when moving runs around.

Provide adequate feeder space so all chickens can eat at once.

Same goes for water – they’ll need multiple water sources.

Scattering treats in their pen or run will encourage natural foraging behavior.

Predator Protection Tips

Both pens and runs carry some risk of predators harming your flock.

For pens, use welded wire fencing sunk into the ground to prevent digging.

Bury hardware cloth along the base or lay pavers to stop predators from burrowing.

Check for and block any gaps along doors, feed chutes, or ventilation openings.

Install electric poultry netting or wire overhead to deter aerial attacks.

For runs, check for and repair any breaches in the fencing or gaps.

Use metal skirting around the bottom to prevent entry.

Move runs frequently so predators don’t learn your chickens’ location.

Never leave your birds unattended in a run for long.

Bring them into a secure coop or pen at night.

Weather Considerations

Weather is an important factor when using pens versus runs.

For pens, be sure part of the structure is enclosed for shelter.

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Face the open side away from prevailing winds.

Allow adequate ventilation to prevent moisture buildup.

Runs should have an attached covered portion large enough to hold the entire flock.

Use weather resistant materials like treated wood or metal.

Anchor any tarp or plastic coverings carefully.

Move runs to shady areas on hot days and sunnier spots in winter.

On wet days, put down extra straw or wood chips.

During storms, house chickens in the coop until it passes.

High winds can turn unsecured runs and pens into dangerous projectiles.

Cleaning and Maintenance

Pens and runs both require regular cleaning and maintenance.

For pens, remove soiled litter/flooring frequently to prevent disease.

Scrape droppings and turnover dirt floors regularly.

For runs, check for and promptly remove any manure buildup.

Hose down any soiled mesh flooring as needed.

Apply new wood chips or gravel if they become dirty.

Maintain good ventilation and drainage in both pens and runs.

Check for damage and repair holes promptly using hardware cloth.

Monitor doors, locks, and gates for proper functioning.

Keep grass trimmed inside and around the perimeter.

By doing weekly maintenance, you’ll keep your chickens healthy and housed!

The Bottom Line

When it comes down to it, think about the space you have available and your goals for your flock.

If you want to maximize roaming space for scratching, dust bathing, and just being chickens, then go with a fixed pen attached to the coop.

But if you need to easily limit land access or move your chickens around, then a portable run is likely your best bet.

Over the years, I’ve tried pens, runs, and every setup in between.

Now I use one big main pen connected to the coop as their home base.

Then I got a few portable runs that I plop down wherever the chickens’ destructive talents are needed.

Like tilling up my garden beds between seasons or clearing out weeds.

So my gals get the best of both worlds!

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