What are the Differences between a Chicken Coop and a Run?


When setting yourself up for raising a flock of chickens, you must have a few main aspects of their enclosure set up first. Many of our egg-laying friends have their coops for roosting and resting, but do they also have a run or outdoor space of some kind for them to forage and dust bathe? So, what’s the difference between the two?

A chicken coop is an enclosed space where the hens roost and lay eggs, it also offers protection from predators. A chicken run is fenced in and typically covered, allowing the hens to explore outdoors for foraging and enrichment.

Besides going over the differences between a run and a coop, this article dives into matters concerning why a run benefits your flock and what types of fun and stimulating objects or plants that chickens enjoy. As well as information regarding chicken coops and what should be available for nesting.

If you’re on the fence about having a chicken coop or a chicken run, look no further, below are the answers and comparisons that you are looking for.

What is a coop and what does it need? 

The chicken coop is a valuable structure for protecting your hens as well as providing them a safe place to lay eggs and rest. Ideally, it would be attached to a run for exercise, socialization, and enrichment.

There has been some debate about whether or not a coop is truly necessary for the base instinct of the hens laying eggs. Most people raising a flock would tell you that having a coop is certainly beneficial. Nesting boxes are crucial for your coop since they are where the hens sleep and lay eggs. You should have about one nesting box per 3 to 5 hens, since they tend to nest together.

Do I need a run if I have a chicken coop?

In short, you certainly do not have to have a run if you have a coop, but they are valuable shelters and environments for chickens. Some people live in areas where keeping their flock free-range is safe, and their hens are happier for it.

Unfortunately, many living areas are not feasible for having chickens out wandering around. They are too vulnerable and at high risk of being killed or eaten by predators. Runs help to keep chickens safe in environments where free-range is either not an option or is not desired by the owners.

Chickens can spend a lot of time in their runs, but be sure that they have an appropriate amount of shade and shelter to escape the elements when they need to. While some may spend most of their chicken days foraging or exploring their habitat, it is still crucial that they have their coop to return to for roosting.

Do I need a chicken coop if I have a chicken run?

You can always try to raise a flock of chickens without having a coop for them to roost in. In this case, you need to have a run that still offers some amount of controlled shelter from the elements and predators.

The thought is that chicken coops can become unsanitary and stuffy if they do not have adequate ventilation or are not regularly cleaned. The dust from the straw or pine shavings as well as the urine and feces they produce makes a great environment for upper respiratory infections in your hens.

If you chose to go without a coop it is still necessary to have nesting boxes (something like this), even though they don’t provide shelter from predators, they are an ideal place for the hens to rest and lay eggs. They should still be covered either by an awning or by some other form of cover like a three-sided shed or modified barn. They have an open front and three walls with a roof, making it easy for the hens to go in and out of.

Make sure to have at least 4 square feet of shelter per bird for an outdoor living area that doesn’t have a coop.

What’s the right temperature for chickens?

Chickens do prefer a warmer climate, so having different heating options in their coop and run can benefit them a lot. Although, at rest, a hen’s normal body temp is about 105-109 F, and they can maintain a pretty warm temperature even in the teens. It would still benefit them by having some kind of heating fixture inside to help out if it gets into the single digits or below zero degrees Fahrenheit.

While chickens do enjoy the warmer temperatures, you must have a way to help your flock cool down when the temps reach 75 degrees or higher. Anything over 90 degrees can become dangerous and cause an increased risk of stress, illness, and possibly death.

To help keep your chickens cool, you should have adequate shade, cold and fresh water, and refreshing treats like melon or other fruits and vegetables. Frozen treat blocks are also a good idea for those warmer months. Making sure that they have appropriate ventilation in the coop to keep from becoming too stuffy is also important. 

What items should be in a chicken run?

There are a lot of enrichment materials that you could put in a run for your chickens; starting with plants, rocks, wood, and handmade treats.

Herbaceous plants like sage, rosemary, and thyme are nice choices for greenery in your chicken run. Lavender, sunflowers, and clover are also tasty options for your hens to snack on while foraging in their run.

Most of the time there is only grass present for ground coverage, but this doesn’t last long since the hens will peck it clean eventually, so many people like to put down sawdust or pine shavings that are specifically dust free. This is stressed due to the risk of upper respiratory infections. Some prefer to use sand or even concrete for more permanent structures. It is important that the coop is somewhere with adequate water drainage, as chickens do not do well in the mud.

Keeping rocks of various sizes and large wood fixtures like branches or stumps are nice for perching and keeping an eye on their surroundings.

It is important to provide mental stimulation for your chickens, especially during the winter months, in order to prevent them from feeling “cooped up”. Bored chickens can eventually resort to doing some unhealthy or violent behaviors, so keeping them interested in other things is important for their overall health.

There are several options as far as homemade enrichment like keeping them entertained by hiding seeds in different objects and places or sometimes as simple as corn on the cob on a stick. Then more online toys include some cricket tubes or chicken swings and ladders.

Is having a free-range flock ideal?

Free-range is certainly an option, especially if you have a well-controlled environment with adequate fencing and protection. Even when living in the country with plenty of yardage, it is crucial that the hens have a safe place to go when dealing with the elements or predators.

Having your hens running around without the restrictions of a run and coop has its benefits, like giving them plenty of space to peck and forage. Plus, this helps keep the hens from squabbling too much over not having enough room for everyone inside.

A downside is that the chickens do not have any cares about what’s their space and what’s not.  This means that the hens will most likely tear up any prized garden or flowers and poop on your new lawn furniture if you don’t have them fenced off or kept covered.

Not having the right kind of shelter or fencing for your hens can lead to losing chickens to them wandering off or being eaten by a coyote or fox, sometimes even the neighbor’s dog will decide to be naughty.

What goes in both?

Now we have established the difference between a chicken coop and a chicken run, why they are both beneficial to your flock, and what items should go inside each of them. Here is a quick summary of the essential requirements for housing your hens.

Chicken CoopChicken Run
Size (square feet per bird)2-3 square feet per bird4-5 square feet per bird
MaterialsBarn type structure with a roof Protection from predators *Use recycled items from sheds/old buildingsStrong wire fencing and staples *Chicken wire is not strong enough
Ground coverageStraw/pine shavingsClover/grass/pine shavings
EnrichmentHanging vegetables from a string for them to peck at Seed spraysChicken ladder or swing, etc. Rocks or branches Vegetables/Seeds
Plants/vegetablesHeads of lettuce, corn on the cob, or cucumbersSage, rosemary, parsley, and other herbs
HeatingHeated pads for nesting boxes, ceramic heater, heat lampHeated perches, ceramic heater, heat lamp
CoolingCold water, water-rich fruit and vegetablesIce blocks, frozen seed, cold water
Chicken coop vs chicken run

Overall, a chicken coop and run are both very beneficial for raising a healthy and happy flock of hens. Making sure that the ladies are safe and roosting nicely in their coops and exploring the confines of their runs is what provides a fulfilling and long life for many chickens.

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Patrick FROMAGET

I want to share everything I know about chickens to help you take better care of yours! I grew up raising chickens at home and have learned a lot over the years. I hope you'll find my articles useful and learn something from them.

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