There are three basic categories of chicken coop runs: standalone coops, coops with an attached run, and chicken tractors. All chicken coop runs must provide the basic requirements for raising healthy chickens, but the architectural options for doing this are nearly infinite. The type of chicken coop used in any given situation will depend predominately on the number of chickens, the environmental conditions, and the presence of predators.
All chicken coop runs have several fundamental features in common. Each coop and run must provide shelter from the elements, protection from predators, perches and lay boxes, access to dirt, and food and water. The coop, or henhouse, must provide enough space for each chicken to roost comfortably. Chickens usually require 2 or 3 square feet (60 to 90 square cm) per chicken, although this number does depend on the size of the breed.
Several human considerations also influence the choice and design of chicken coop runs. Specifically, it is usually desirable for the coops to provide easy access for feeding, cleaning, and collecting eggs. In some cases, particularly if the chickens are also pets, the run may need to serve as a place for socialization. Additionally, if the coop is being built within city limits, building permits may be required if the structure is of a certain size.
Perhaps the most traditional types of chicken coop runs are stand-alone coops surrounded by a pen. The size and shape of the pen may be a completely open area allowing the chickens to be entirely free range. In contrast, the pen may be a relatively small fenced area around the coop. The distinguishing factor of this coop style is that the coop itself is not attached to the run or pen. Usually, this style of pen does not include a ceiling or net, although there are exceptions.
Chicken coops with an attached run are organized precisely as the name suggests. The coop, or henhouse, is directly attached to the chicken run. Often, the run is only attached to one side of the henhouse, which allows easy access to the back of the coop for cleaning and egg collection. Coops with runs usually take up less space than a coop and pen combination, but do require more area than a chicken tractor.
Chicken tractors are chicken coop runs on wheels. The entire henhouse, perch, and chicken run is framed on wheels so that it can be moved around as a unit. Chicken tractors are popular with individuals who have backyard chickens because the chickens can be moved to a different part of the yard each day. The mobility allows the chickens to explore new ground and prevents the lawn or garden from being destroyed by the birds. Chicken tractors are best suited to a small number of chickens so that it is light enough to be easily moved.
The design of a successful chicken coop can be as utilitarian or fantastical as is desired by the owner. The most straightforward approach to constructing a coop is to purchase a prefabricated system. Alternatively, chicken coops can be modified from existing structures such as sheds, barns, or dog runs. The most creative option is to construct a chicken run from scratch, in which case it can take on any style desired.