There are two main parts when it comes to housing requirements for chickens; chicken coops and chicken runs. And while most of the focus is on the chicken coop, chicken runs need to be thoughtfully designed too. Not only do they allow the chickens to happily roam outside in the fresh air and sunlight, a well constructed chicken run provides protection from predators.
Even if you've never been around chickens before, you're probably well aware that they have many different predators. Foxes and coyotes, along with racoons and dogs lead the list in the most harmful predators to chickens. Not only are these ground based predators a problem, they can also be attacked from above. Hawks for instance, are a great threat to the well being of most any flock. For these reasons, the design of chicken runs needs to be well well thought out in order to protect your chickens.
The design of your chicken run should work perfectly with your chicken coop. Typically, professional chicken coop designs include the layout and design of the run too. With that said, there are a few design guidelines that you should keep in mind.
Your chicken run needs to provide complete protection to your chickens. This includes attack from all sides and even from above if they're not able to take refuge elsewhere. Most people use some type of wire mesh to accomplish this. Normally the mesh is sized so that the spacing of the wire mesh is 3/4' or less.
Since most predators are more than capable of digging under a fence to get a meal, careful attention must be paid to the bottom of the chicken run. Ideally, you should bury the wire mesh below the surface far enough so that predators can't easily get into the run. How deep you go largely depends on the types of predators, but it's a good idea to bury the mesh at least one foot below the surface. This may not stop the determined predators, but it will definitely slow them down. Most likely, the chickens will make enough noise to alert you before the predator can get into their area. Another option, although a lot more costly and not as popular, is to pen them with an electric fence.
And finally, make sure that you have an ample supply of food and water for everyone in the run area. They'll get hungry and thirsty when they're exercising out in the fresh air and sun. With the right chicken coop plans you'll be raising happy, safe, and productive chickens for years to come.