How to Rotate Permanent Runs for Your Chickens

A permanent rotating chicken run or zone has permanent fencing, and it essentially creates a zone for your chickens to forage in. Rotating runs are directly connected to the chicken coop with its own door. Here is a chicken garden with three rotating runs and a separate centralized area for the chicken coop and a secure outside pen.

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You can design these permanent runs into your overall garden design, cloaked as an orchard, a pasture, a vegetable garden, and more.

Rotating runs ideally have chicken-friendly landscape that provide your chickens food at various times of the year, shelter, and protection from predators.

Variables such as flock size, chicken breed, climate, and the “lay of your land” help determine the size. We suggest using a formula of a minimum of 250 square feet per bird. If your property accommodates more space, allow for more space per bird.

Rotating your chickens among multiple runs is key to the success of this method. If a chicken run is overgrazed, patchy, or barren, try rotating your chickens a week earlier than you have been.

Rotating permanent runs or zones in a landscape require thought and planning. The idea of these runs is to rotate them at intervals, allowing each run vacant time for new growth and replenishment. These runs can be planted for seasonal grazing, using different runs at different times of the year, or planting each run with a mixture of plants for all seasons.

Simple suggestions for this illustration are trees, shrubs, perennial grasses, cover crops, herbs, and mixed greens.

Rotating permanent runs work well for a variety of reasons. Here are some examples:

  • Your garden or landscape setting lends itself well to having runs separated from social entertaining and family areas such as patios and decks.

  • You have a prize-winning garden that your chickens decimate every time they’re in it. You need a separate space for your chickens.

  • You’re an avid gardener and love the idea of growing food specific for your chickens.

This figure illustrates how rotating permanent runs translate into an efficient chicken garden design with a designated chicken coop corner and four runs or zones. Notice how this illustration highlights a vegetable garden that is kept separate from your chickens.

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If you have a vegetable garden, keep it fenced and off-limits to your chickens to avoid any potential salmonella disease exposure on your low-growing edibles. It is highly unlikely that you would be exposed to salmonella from your chicken flock, however, avoid free-ranging your chickens with low-growing edibles for your own consumption.

If you don’t keep your vegetable garden separate from your chickens, 1) your flock will decimate and eat your entire vegetable garden, and 2) you want to avoid eating low-growing edibles that have been exposed to fresh chicken manure.

There is a time and place for chickens in your vegetable garden, which is generally at the end of the growing season or the end of the growing plot. You can let chickens graze through your spent vegetable garden, eating the last of remaining plants, eating any insects, tilling the soil, and fertilizing it with their manure.

If you have created a potager kitchen garden, growing year-round vegetables, you will want to use the mobile chicken tractor method, focusing your chickens on the spent growing plot only.

In both instances, a spent vegetable garden or a spent portion of a potager should be left dormant over the winter once your chickens have ranged over it to allow their manure to age and break down. Come spring time, these plots will be ready for more finished compost, humus, tilling, and planting.

You can, however, plant ornamental edibles such as chard, kale, sorrel, and artichokes intermittently throughout your garden or runs specifically grown for food for your chickens and ascetics for your garden. Ornamental vegetables interspersed in garden landscape are very popular now. These type of edibles would not be for your consumption but for your chickens’.

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