Readers, this is the second of 12 basic homestead skills we’ll be presenting throughout the year from Kimberlee Bastien’s new book, 52 Homestead Skills. We invite you to join Kimberlee and her family on their homesteading journey. Visit the homestead skills page to learn more about this series.
Currently, my husband and I free range our feathered friends, which, for the most part, works out great. They can forage for a good portion of their own food, while getting plenty of exercise and stimulation along the way. But there are hidden challenges with free ranging.
In just one day, the young chickens in this chicken tunnel cleared the path to bare dirt. Photo by Kimberlee Bastien.
First, if given a choice, your chickens will spend at least some of their time ranging on your front porch, leaving a welcome mat of droppings for anyone who comes to visit. At some point, you’re guaranteed to accidentally step in it right before you hop in your car or truck and wonder, “What the heck is that nasty smell?”
Your chickens could even decide to range on top of your car, in your garden, or in the middle of the road. They may even try to range themselves right into your house because those chickens are no fools; they know where the food and treats come from. At this point, you really don’t have a choice but to find a way to contain your wayward flock.
Movable chicken runs, such as a chicken tunnel (also called a “chunnel”) for garden pathways, or a round “fertilization station” to go around fruit trees, solve many of these problems. Chickens are tireless workers who love to scratch (it’s basically all they do), and are great help when it comes to controlling grass, weeds, and bugs. In just one day, they cleared our garden path to bare dirt.
Construct a Movable Chicken Tunnel
Tools & Materials:
- 4-foot-wide roll of 16-gauge, 1/2 inch, galvanized wire mesh
- 4 pieces of exterior-grade 1-by-3 lumber of desired length
- 1 piece exterior-grade 1-by-3 lumber, 8 feet, optional
- 2 pieces of 3/4-inch plywood, about 22 by 19 inches each
- 4-foot piece of string
- Sturdy gloves
- Circular saw
- Staple gun and staples
- Wire cutters
To make a secure chunnel, you’ll start with a 4-foot-wide roll of 16-gauge, galvanized wire mesh. The chunnel can be as long as you want, but you’ll have to attach it to a wooden base, so it’s easiest to match it to a common length of lumber. We chose to build ours 12 feet long, so we used 12-foot 1-by-3 boards and 12 feet of wire mesh.
You’ll begin by cutting 1 1/2 inches off the ends of two of the 1-by-3 boards. Lay them parallel to one another 4 feet apart. With the help of another person, roll out the wire mesh over the boards, stapling it even with the outside edge of the boards as you go. Leave at least 3/4 inch of mesh overhanging at each end of the boards.
Next, attach the two uncut 1-by-3s over the wire mesh to sandwich and secure it. This added security will prevent raccoons from ripping the staples out. It also creates a ledge to help secure the frame to the ground.
Now, you’ll need to make the ends of the chicken tunnel out of plywood pieces, which will help shape and reinforce the run. The ends will be about 22 inches wide by 19 inches tall, cut into an oblong shape. The critical part is to make sure the perimeter of the curve is 4 feet long to match the width of the wire mesh when you wrap it over. A simple way to accomplish this is to cut a piece of string 4 feet long, use it to create the curve, then trace and cut it out. Once you cut out one end (and double-check that it fits the wire mesh), copy it onto the other piece of plywood.
With the shorter 1-by-3 boards facing in, drape the wire mesh over the ends. Center it over the ends, and affix it to the top of each end cap with a large washer and a screw. Continue attaching the mesh along the perimeter in this fashion to create the tunnel shape. Then, screw the 1-by-3 boards into the end caps. If you plan to move the chunnel, I recommend cutting a minimum of three 2-foot cross pieces from the optional 8-foot 1-by-3 board in the materials list, and fastening them across the bottom of the frame to keep everything solid.
Because we sometimes house our chickens in the chunnel overnight, we decided to cut some old wire shelving we had on hand and stick it in the ground along the edges of the chicken tunnel to prevent predators from digging underneath. You can use whatever fasteners you have available — just make sure you use them.
Although this design is predator-proof, it’s not permanent. You should move it on a regular basis to provide your chickens with regular forage and to avoid over-fertilization of a single spot.
Build a Movable Coop for Around Trees
Tools & Materials
- 2 sheets of 1/2-inch plywood, 4 by 8 feet
- 4-foot piece of string
- 25 feet of 2-foot-wide, 1/2-inch, galvanized wire mesh
- 2 pieces of 1-by-4 lumber, 35 inches long
- 16 pieces of 1-by-3 lumber, 4 inches long
- Exterior grade glue
- Wire cutters
Another great movable chicken run we utilize is our circular “fertilization station” that we use for controlling grass and pests around our young fruit trees. We don’t mow, ever. This was fine when we lived in a forest, but now we live amongst grass and hayfields. And yet, we still don’t mow, partly because we never seem to have enough time and partly because the lawn becomes a meadow for bees and fodder for animals. This is great — except when you’re planting fruit trees that can’t compete with the grass.
If you place a fertilization station around a tree for a few days, your chickens will remove any vegetation from around the base, eat pests, and deposit a healthy dose of manure. Photo by Kimberlee Bastien.
So, my husband, Jérémie, came up with another solution — a circular “fertilization station” that surrounds a tree so the chickens can keep the grass at bay while providing their fertilizer services. In just 15 minutes, you can disassemble this run from one tree and reassemble it around another.
The design is simple and utilizes materials that are long lasting, recyclable, and biodegradable.
To create the roof of the movable coop, lay two sheets of plywood side-by-side to create an 8-foot square. Find the center, and, using a 4-foot piece of string as a guide, scribe an 8-foot-wide circle on the boards.
Next, scribe three smaller 18-inch circles within the larger circle. Mark one circle in the middle, overlapping the two plywood pieces. This circle will provide the space for a young tree to pass through. Scribe the other two circles approximately 24 inches from and at 90 degrees to the center of the long edge of each 8-foot semicircle piece. Cut the circles out with a jigsaw. Be extra careful when you cut the two full 18-inch circles because you’ll use those pieces as lids. To support the lids, add two small lips parallel to each other on both sides (see photo, below). This will allow the lids to rest flush with the plywood. You may want to install a handle or drill a hole so you can easily remove the lid — just keep raccoons in mind. These two openings will allow you to provide your chickens with food and water.
Add 1 3/4-inch lips along the straight edges of one of the plywood semicircles by attaching two 35-inch 1-by-4 boards. Stop approximately 4 inches short of the outside ends. This lip will act as a support for the other large plywood semicircle, which you’ll screw on when putting them together to create the roof.
Adding lips to the 18-inch holes will allow you to utilize the cutouts as lids. Photo by Kimberlee Bastien.
Next, screw and glue eight of the 4-inch 1-by-3 boards about every 3 feet along the inside perimeter of what will be the bottom side of the roof. Install the remaining 4-inch 1-by-3 boards about 3/8 inch in from the previous eight pieces, creating slots to sandwich the mesh in place. Pre-drill a hole through each pair of wooden stops for a “locking” screw. These screws should pass through both boards and a hole in the mesh (see illustration). This will prevent raccoons from lifting the top.
Installing 1-by-3 boards around the perimeter of the fertilization station roof will create slots for holding the wire-mesh walls in place and also allow you to lock the roof down to prevent predators from lifting it. Photo by Ben Burghart.
Now, you’re ready to assemble the fertilization station. One way to put it all together is to rest the two large plywood pieces on the ground with the tree in the middle. Unroll the wire mesh so it runs the perimeter, then lift the plywood pieces, and place them on top of the wire mesh.
After you’ve assembled the run, create a small door in the wire mesh so you can gather your chickens into a movable chunnel before disassembling and then reassembling the unit around the next tree.
We used leftover pieces of mesh and wood to fill in the area between the tree and the plywood. You’ll need to adjust this for every tree. Keep in mind that with this design, there isn’t a space for your chickens to roost. Unless you plan to use this system with meat chickens or, as in our case, your chickens are still young, you could expand upward.
Bastien’s flock made short work of the tall grass around this fruit tree. Photo by Kimberlee Bastien.
Just like the chunnel, this system isn’t permanent. You must move it from tree to tree every few days because it won’t take long for your chickens to fertilize the area and scratch away anything that dare grows. If you use this system in early spring, your chickens will also take care of any overwintering pests. Bonus!
Kimberlee Bastien is a homesteader and author who traded her suburban life for a century-old farm where she and her husband challenged themselves to learn 52 homesteading skills in a year.