I have a neighborhood app where people post comments of things going on in the neighborhood. A few years ago, there were several people posting sightings of chickens roaming the neighborhood. Someone’s chickens had been escaping their yard during the day when the owners were at work and it was causing a bit of drama with the neighbors.
In general, chickens will stay where their food, water, and shelter are located. If these needs are met a chicken will have less desire to wander away. However, some chickens will leave the yard if they get bored, feel stressed or bullied, or need a more private place to lay an egg.
Read below for 13 ways to keep your chickens in your yard.
1. Provide Plenty of Fresh Feed and Water
While it might seem a bit obvious, this is the number one way to keep your chickens in your yard.
Chickens need access to fresh water at all times during the day. This is especially true on hot days when a chicken will drink more water.
When the weather is comfortable, a chicken will drink 1 to 2 cups of water per day on average. As the temperature starts to rise, chickens can drink double that amount.
If your chickens are older or laying eggs, they can drink even more water. Up to 65% of an egg and more than 50% of a chicken’s body consists of water.
In addition, hungry chickens will roam outside of their enclosure. If your neighbors have a garden or a flower bed that is accessible by your chickens, it will become their free-range buffet.
You can tell if your chickens are getting enough feed during the day by watching how much they eat. If you fill up the feeder in the morning and it’s mostly gone by the end of the day, then they are most likely getting enough food.
However, if the feeder goes empty early in the afternoon, they are most likely not getting enough food and will be hungry in the evening.
Also keep in mind that chickens will go on a foraging blitz right before the sun goes down. They are stocking up on food that they will digest overnight.
Since chickens are prey animals, this digestive process helps keep them safe since they can swallow a bunch of food at once and then finish digesting it later when they are in a safe place, like roosting at night.
Make sure your chickens have access to feed in the evenings and there will be less temptation for them to escape your yard. Alternatively, this could be a great time for you to provide supervised free-range time in your own yard.
2. Provide Private Nesting Boxes
Hens will prefer to lay their eggs in a quiet, secluded location. For most chicken keepers, this means providing nesting boxes for their chickens that are located inside the chicken coop.
A good nesting box will have the following features:
- Enough space
- Dimly lit
- Quiet area
A nesting box should be large enough for a chicken to sit in the box and comfortably lay an egg. If it’s too large, some hens don’t feel like it’s secluded enough and will seek out a more private nesting location elsewhere.
Some chickens will lay eggs in the yard under bushes or other secret places if they don’t feel comfortable in their nesting boxes.
Nesting boxes need to be dimly lit to encourage chickens to lay eggs. If the nesting boxes seem too bright or visible, a hen will seek out another location to lay her eggs.
Some chickens require more privacy than others when they lay eggs. Because of this, it’s best to place your nesting boxes in a quiet area, away from barking dogs, revving engines, or any other distracting noises.
I have some hens that can pop out an egg in the middle of the coop, in the middle of the run, or even in the middle of the yard. However, I have other hens that require just the right conditions before they lay.
When you provide nesting boxes that meet these needs of laying chickens, then they are less likely to wander outside of their enclosure or yard to seek out a more suitable location to lay eggs.
3. Use a Chicken Run During the Day
The best way to keep chickens in your yard is to have them in an enclosed run during the day.
A chicken run is a space for your chickens that is usually surrounded by fencing, netting, or a cage. It will either contain the entire coop within the run or the chicken’s pop door will open into this space.
Chickens will sleep in their coop at night, but during the day they need to have space to move around and get exercise. This is where a run becomes essential.
I have two runs for my chickens:
- the enclosed run that attaches to the coop
- the secondary run that attaches to the enclosed run
I use the OverEZ walk-In 16 foot chicken run for my enclosed run. It is made of metal panels and contains a top so that the chickens cannot fly out of the run.
This run is great to keep my chickens in in case I won’t be home before it gets dark outside. I don’t have an automatic coop door (yet) and this helps to keep out predators before I can get home and close the coop door at night.
The enclosed run opens into my secondary run. The secondary run does not have a roof or a top cover so my chickens are able to fly over the chicken wire fencing if they are feeling flighty.
I added this secondary run since it doubled the amount of space my chickens have during the day to roam. We previously let our chickens free-range during the day, but after they ruined our lawn and ate all my potted plants, I realized they needed to be contained.
The best way to keep chickens in your own yard is to provide them with a run to stay in during the day. If your yard has a fence, then this will help to keep them in the yard in case they escape your run.
If chickens have to escape more than one enclosure they probably won’t because that requires more effort.
4. Install Tall Fencing
If a chicken run is not an option, then provide adequate fencing to keep chickens in your yard. A tall fence, at least 5 feet, will help to keep chickens in your yard.
While most chickens are capable of flight for short distances, they are more likely to fly over fences or into low branches.
While a fence at least 48 inches (or 4 feet) tall will discourage most chickens from flying, it will still be possible for a chicken to fly over the fence.
To be sure, aim for a fence that is at least 60 inches (or 5 feet tall) to keep your chickens in your yard.
My secondary run has a 4 foot tall fence made of chicken wire. I have one chicken that flies over the top of it every morning so she can eat bugs from the yard. I have noticed that she is barely able to clear the fence and will sometimes use the top of the fence as a springboard to clear the top.
5. Secure Bottom of Fencing
Check the fencing around your yard to make sure there are no spaces for a chicken to crawl under to escape.
My chickens enjoy dust bathing near the edges of the fencing on their run which makes an indention in the ground. Once this indention gets deep enough, it takes minimal effort for the chickens to hunker down and crawl under the fence.
Keep in mind that if your chickens can crawl under the gate, so can predators. Burying the fencing or adding a sill (such as scrap lumber) will prevent low spots in the fence where animals can crawl under.
6. Make Sure Your Coop and Nesting Boxes are Large Enough
Another way to keep your chickens in your yard is to ensure your coop, nesting boxes, and run provide adequate space for the number of chickens you have.
If a chicken feels too crowded in their quarters, they might try escaping to find more room elsewhere.
In general, chickens should have between 3 to 4 square feet per chicken in a coop.
This means if you have 10 chickens, you should have a minimum of 30 square feet for the coop. As a guide, this could be a coop that measures 5 feet by 6 feet.
If you live in a climate that has long or very cold winters, you might want to consider more space for the inside of the chicken coop. If chickens spend a significant amount of time in a coop, like in winter, it’s recommended to have at least 5 square feet per chicken.
Nesting boxes are another area that needs enough space for your chickens. In general, a nesting box should meet these size requirements:
|Type of Breed
|Nest Box Dimensions
(long x high x deep)
|12″ x 12″ x 12″
|14″ x 14″ x 12″
|10″ x 12″ x 10″
In addition, you should have 1 nesting box for every 4 to 5 chickens.
Typically, chickens should have between 8 to 10 square feet per chicken in a run.
This means if you have 10 chickens, you should have a minimum of 100 square feet for the run. As a guide, this could be a run that measures 5 feet by 20 feet.
There are several reasons why more space is recommended for the run compared to the coop. Chickens will typically only roost or lay eggs in their coop; therefore, the space required for these activities is less. Their food should be in the run, except during inclement weather where it will stay dry inside the coop or during frigid cold weather when the chickens are more comfortably warm inside the coop.
7. Provide Entertainment for Your Chickens
When chickens get bored they are more likely to break out of their run in search of entertainment elsewhere.
After a chicken’s basic needs of food, water, and shelter have been met, they can become bored. This boredom can manifest itself into loud squawking, bullying other chickens, or escaping in search of adventure elsewhere.
This is why it’s important to have ways to keep your chickens entertained to prevent boredom and keep them out of trouble.
Here are some ideas for entertaining your chickens:
- Provide perches for chickens to roost on. Some chickens prefer to rest on a raised surface during the day, while others have no problem resting on the ground. For the perch, it can be a large stick or small tree branch that is positioned in the corner of your fence or run. You can also provide a small tree stump placed on the ground.
- Give your chickens a food treat. Scratch is a great treat for chickens. My chickens love to eat their scratch. It gives them a job to do by scratching the ground, looking for the seeds. Another food treat that my chickens love is a head of lettuce hanging from a string inside their run.
- Set-up a kiddie pool on hot days. My chickens love to have a kiddie pool in their run. Most chickens will just drink out of the pool, but I have some brave chickens that like to wade around in the water or stand in it on especially hot days.
8. Prevent Bullying Behaviors
If a chicken feels threatened or bullied by another chicken they are more likely to escape.
One way to make sure your chickens are getting along is to provide private nesting boxes.
With my chickens, they will sometimes bicker about who gets to use the preferred nesting box. There is one nesting box that all the hens like to use and if one hen has spent too much time in it, the others will start pecking at her to get out.
Fortunately, this behavior does not escalate with my hens. Some chickens, however, are known to be more violent with each other by pecking until blood is drawn or pulling feathers.
Another way to prevent bullying is to provide plenty of food and water at all times. It’s ideal if you can provide multiple sources of food and especially water. If you have a bully in your flock, you don’t want her to become possessive of those necessities and prevent other chickens from eating and drinking.
If you do have a bully chicken, you might consider these ways for dealing with her:
- Separate the bully from the flock. By removing the bully from the flock, you are giving the more subordinate chickens a break from her, but also allowing the pecking order to be re-established. When the bully is reintroduced to the flock after a few days, she will be in a different position in the pecking order and might be more friendly to the other chickens she previously terrorized.
- Re-home the bully chicken. In some instances, you might have a chicken that will not readjust her attitude no matter how many times she is removed and reintroduced to the flock. In this case, it might be best for your flock (and your sanity) to re-home this problem chicken. If you have a small backyard flock, it’s difficult to deal with an exceptionally bad behaving chicken. She might do better with a larger flock in the country.
9. Check for Secret Escape Routes
Your chickens might be escaping the yard if they have found an interesting way to break out.
Check your fence for any gaps from missing pickets or low lying spots under the fence or gate. Despite their hefty looking appearance, chickens can squeeze their bodies into tight fitting spaces.
If you have a bush or tree in your run or yard, make sure your chickens are not able to jump into it and escape over the top of the fence.
At my old house, we had a 7 foot tall fence. My chickens kept ending up in my neighbor’s yard and I could not figure out how that was happening. One day I looked out the window and saw the chicken jump onto the trash can and then jump onto the top of the fence. She was using the trash can as a launchpad! Once I realized this was how she was escaping I had to find a new location for the trash cans.
Chickens are smart and can find interesting ways to escape. Periodically check your yard to make sure they have not found a new way to escape.
10. Make Sure Other Animals are Not Disturbing Your Chickens
During the day, pets and neighborhood animals can cause a disturbance to your chickens which can cause them to escape the yard to seek out privacy.
Chickens don’t want to be in a stressful environment. When they are stressed or have a perceived threat, they will seek out privacy or safety elsewhere.
Be cautious of pets or neighborhood animals bothering your chickens. For example, a neighborhood cat can enter the run and cause the chickens stress.
11. Provide Shade in Hot Weather
In hot weather make sure your chickens have plenty of shade. You might also consider setting up a fan for your chickens.
Shade is especially important on hot days. Chickens will most likely spend most of their time in a run, unless they free range. It’s important to make sure they have shade during the hottest parts of the day to help keep them cool.
For chickens, extreme heat is more dangerous than frigid cold weather. The optimal temperature for chickens is 70 to 75 degrees F.
A chicken might escape the coop or run in search of a cooler place to spend the heat of the day if they do not have enough shade in hot weather.
12. Provide Shelter in Rainy Weather
During rainy weather make sure your chickens have a dry place to go during the day.
This is similar to chickens escaping the run in search of shade during the summer.
I have a tarp that covers my enclosed run so that when it rains the chickens have a dry place to go.
13. Ensure Access to Sunlight During the Day
Make sure your chickens have access to sunlight during the day.
Chickens love to dust bathe and this activity will oftentimes be done in a sunny location.
Sunlight is essential for a chicken’s good health. It regulates egg laying, tells them when it’s time to sleep or awake, and relates to their absorption of Vitamin D3.
Chickens require at least 14 hours of daylight per day to lay eggs. Daylight enters a chicken’s photosensitive gland in her eye that triggers ovulation. If this trigger does not happen, then a chicken will not ovulate and will not be able to lay an egg.
If chickens are in darkness during the day they might escape in search of a more sunny location.
If chickens are able to escape your yard, make sure they can either get back into the yard or you periodically check on them to make sure you put them back. Loose chickens make for easy prey, especially when they are alone. Also, loose chickens can tear up your neighbors’ gardens or flowerbeds which is not good for neighborly relations.
You ultimately want your chicken coop and their run to be their favorite place to be during the day so they are less likely to have the temptation to escape.
Here are some additional posts that I’ve referenced in writing this post that you might find interesting: