Safe Free Ranging Using Chunnels

Reader Contribution by Susan Berry and Horticulturist/Homesteader
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After losing three hens to poisonous edibles in the woods behind the coop, I had to come up with a safe free-range solution for my girls. After doing a little research, I discovered these “Chunnels” on the internet and made a modified version that I felt would suit our needs. They give Mom a sense of comfort concerning safety and the girls seem to enjoy them a great deal. We also have a 10-by-16-foot enclosed roofed run area where they can stretch their wings if they so choose.

The chunnels that I found online were done in a few different versions, one being attached to 2-by-3s and were only built in one section, laid end to end and moved around to accommodate garden placement utilizing the hens as weeders and fertilizers. My yard is not large enough to utilize this model, and I personally don’t think as a horticulturist that fresh chicken manure is good to incorporate into the gardens, it should be well composted.

I opted to make my chunnels one continuous length. This limits moving capabilities but it has worked well for our small homestead. This version is also the least expensive to make. One other reason I like this variation is … it is FUN! It sort of looks like a maze and can be laid out in a few designs with bends and curves and be put just about anywhere.

Here is the list of supplies you will need:

  • Red Brand No Climb Horse Fence (or similar 12 gauge fencing) 36 inches or 48 inches in height
  • Hardware cloth
  • Landscape staples
  • Zip ties (minimum 6 inches in length)
  • Heavy cuty wire cutters
  • Chickens 🙂

You are working with the roll of fence standing on end in front of you. Open and unroll fencing and straighten out enough to be able to cut a section off roll but not enough to remove curve; you want the section you cut to still have a natural curve to it after you cut it. I counted 24 small rectangles wide and, using the wire cutters, cut that section, leaving half a piece of wire when you cut. So you are cutting the 24th small rectangle in the middle of that rectangle.

At this point, cut a piece of hardware cloth the same size and place it over this tunnel section for added protection.

After cutting a few panels, now begin laying out your chunnel placement. Using the zip ties, tie the sections together. In straight areas, you can tie the sections together just meeting them at one another. At curves or bend you must overlap them a bit.

Once you have all your sections together, it is time to tie the ends into your starting point and final destination. I started mine from the main run. I cut an opening in the run wall, which is hardware cloth and tied the first chunnel section into the opening, measure this carefully so there are no gaps. I also cut a piece of plywood to fit and use that to close the opening at night to stop predators from entering. For the other end, I got lazy and used hardware cloth to close off the ends and stop escape.

Once the entire chunnel is in place and sealed off, using the landscape staples, simply go along the sides and push the staples over the tunnel wire into the ground. I spaced these out using about three staples per section on one side. Sometimes due to the lay of the ground, they pop out; in that case I just moved the staple to a flatter piece of ground. I have found over time I hardly need the staples, and with rain and the girls scratching and changing the lay of the ground many of the staples have come out.

The half piece of wire that you left at the cutting can be used to hold the sections to the ground. The hens are not going to be able to lift the sections and get out, so the purpose of the staples at the beginning was to prevent predators from digging under. But to be honest I don’t let the girls in the tunnels unless I am home. I simply leave them in the run and many times they want to be in the run anyway for food, or roosting.

I have been very happy with this set-up, and I have moved them around a little bit to place on top of fresh grass. The chickens will wear down the path pretty quickly so I move the chunnels from side to side a little. I did have to do a total move recently, which required shortening some of the chunnels by removing a few sections and laying it out differently. But again, I have limited space; I think if you have lots of area and can make the chunnels long or to go in different areas, you would possibly not have to move them at all.

Testimonial straight from the hens.


“We love our chunnels!” ~ Abigail of Itzy Bitzy Farm