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I am a seasoned chicken keeper with over 20 years of experience in keeping, breeding, and showing these beautiful birds. Over that time, there is one foe I have battled continuously.
Every year without fail, my arch enemy returns to plague me and my chickens for around 5 to 6 months. I have tried everything within my powers to defeat the enemy, but there are very few solutions to such an awful problem.
Who is my nemesis? MUD!
If you have kept chickens for more than a few months, and certainly if you have kept them during the autumn and winter months, there is no doubt you too will have come up against the issue of a muddy run.
The problem is, that chickens are messy birds. They poop a lot, they spill their water and they trample their bedding out of their coop and around their run.
Add to this the rain that no doubt falls every autumn and winter and you have the perfect recipe for a muddy chicken run.
Over the years I have worked hard to try to reduce the amount of mud that builds up both in the chicken run, and around the homestead in general, but it really is a persistent problem. It drives my wife mad when I walk into the house with my muddy boots on, especially as she has invariable just washed the kitchen floor.
I think my chicken run could give the pigs a run for their money when it comes to the muddiest enclosure.
In this article, I will share some of my top tips for dealing with a muddy chicken run, and discuss some of the options that worked, and others that didn’t.
Why Do Chicken Runs Get So Muddy?
I look around my own homestead and I sometimes struggle to work out why the chicken run is so muddy compared to all the other animals. With the possible exception of the pigs, the chickens are by far the muddiest.
We live in an area that has very heavy soil. Drainage is poor and the dirt is sticky, especially when wet.
During the summer months, the ground is like concrete, and in the winter it is a slippery, sticky mess. As the rain falls, it has nowhere to go and it typically sits in puddles, soaking only into the top few inches of the dirt.
Add to this the vast quantities of poop my chickens insist on dropping daily, not to mention the bedding they walk out of their coop.
All of this makes for the perfect mud pie recipe.
Is a muddy chicken run bad?
A muddy chicken run isn’t just annoying because so much of it sticks to your boots every time you enter the enclosure, it can also be dangerous, both to you and your chickens.
If you have ever had to enter a very muddy chicken run you will no doubt know how slippery it can be.
If I am honest, I will admit that I have slipped over more than once in my own chicken enclosures. For me, the only thing I ever damaged was my pride, but it could have been worse!
Very muddy chicken runs are not only slippery, but wet conditions can also harbor pests and diseases.
The worms that live inside a chicken’s intestines spread much more easily in damp conditions, and mold and fungus also typically find life much more pleasant when everything is wet.
Flies and mosquitos can also be more of a problem in a wet, muddy run. The flies are drawn to all the poop the chicken’s drop, which never has a chance to dry out, and mosquitos just love the pools of water that form in the muddy.
The chickens themselves can also start to suffer from issues with their feet when the run is very muddy.
Not only can the chickens get infections in the legs and feet because they are constantly damp, but the mud can build up in clumps on the feet, especially in breeds that have feathery feet.
Our Buff Orpington Bantam hens suffer from large balls of clay that form on their claws. We have to catch them on a regular basis and trim back the feet feathers, removing the clay balls at the same time.
How To Fix and Prevent a Chicken run from becoming muddy
There are many different things you can do to both prevent a chicken run from becoming muddy in the first place, and to solve the problem once the mud has set in.
Some of these suggestions have worked for me in the past, others haven’t, but I know they have worked for fellow homesteaders, so hopefully at least one of these will work for you.
1. Make the chicken run movable
So, this is a tactic I used when I just had a small flock in my backyard. A moveable chicken run, sometimes called a chicken tractor, is essentially a run on wheels, and the idea is you move it to a new location every few days.
By moving the chicken run frequently you give the ground a chance to recover after the chickens have walked and pooped all over it.
You can make most small runs mobile by adding a few wheels. Alternatively, you could look at a coop and run that has been designed to be mobile, like this one on Amazon.com which is ideal for a small flock of chickens.
Chicken tractors not only reduce the chances of mud building up, but they also help to create a healthier environment for the chickens to live in as the they are moved to fresh ground every few days, reducing the chances of pests like worms spreading around your flock.
2. Increase drainage
If making a moveable chicken run is not a viable option, consider increasing the drainage around the chicken run.
Often, it is not just the rain that lands in the run that creates the mud, but also water coming from the land surrounding the chicken run.
One of my chicken runs is in a slight dip. I could not have put it in a worse place. Every time we have rain, the water from all around the enclosure finds its way into the chicken run, creating almost swamp like conditions.
I managed to reduce this issue by digging a 2′ x 2′ (60cm x 60cm) trench around the perimeter of the run and filling it with shingle.
This was a lot of work, but that particular chicken run is now much drier in the winter months.
If creating such substantial ground works is not an option for you, then a smaller trench down just one side of the run will almost certainly still help.
3. Cover the chicken run
Although surface runoff into the chicken run can be a problem, the vast majority of the issue will be rain that lands directly in the chicken run.
Adding a roof over some or all of the run will help reduce the amount to rain that lands in the run and should reduce the amount of mud that builds up.
In the past, I have tried covering a chicken run with a ridged polycarbonate roof, and the truth be told, I found the run to get smelly as there was never any rain falling on the ground, washing away the chicken poop and freshening the dirt.
Based on my own previous experiences I would probably recommend covering around half the run, allowing the rain to fall freely on the other half.
Covering half the run will also keep the snow off the chicken run and potentially create a shaded area to protect the chickens in the heat of the summer.
A full or partial roof also reduces the problem of aerial predators than may be tempted to take one of your chickens.
4. Grow a cover crop
A cover crop is essentially any crop that is cheap, easy, and fast-growing. Cereal rye, winter peas, and crimson clover are all examples of popular cover crops.
For a cover crop to be effective, you will need to be able to partition off parts of the run so the chickens can not access it whilst the cover crop is growing.
If you just sprinkle a handful of cover crop seeds into your run with the chickens, they will likely quickly eat it all before it has a chance to grow. Even if by some miracle some of the seeds germinate before being eaten, the chickens will quickly peck the shoots as they poke through the surface of the dirt.
Growing a cover crop will require you to rotate your chickens around sections of an enclosure, maybe dividing your run into thirds or quarters so you always have at least one section with a thick growth of the cover crop.
5. Build some platforms or raised areas
If solving the muddy run is not working for you, why not try adding some platforms or raised areas for the chickens so they can get themselves out of the mud and spend time standing in a dry area.
Platforms do not have to be fantastic works of engineering that require immense DIY skills. A pile of old pallets will work, as will laying down old fence panels directly on the floor of the run.
Over the years I have also used sheets of board laid directly on the muddy run floor, although, I found these became very slippery when they themselves were covered in the mud either from my own boots or my chicken’s feet.
Adding some roosts directly in the run can also create places the chickens can go to get their feet out of the mud. I have used an old wooden ladder to great effect.
I simply placed the ladder in the run against an old tree stump, and I instantly created space for half a dozen hens to get themselves up off the ground and out of the mud, although they did then argue about who should be on the top rung, but that’s chickens for you!
6. Raise the floor level of the run
If you find yourself in a position where you have a large quantity of dirt, perhaps from leveling some ground elsewhere on the homestead, or maybe where you have been digging a pond, consider adding it to the floor of the chicken run.
If you can raise the floor level of the run by even just a few inches, you will naturally increase the drainage of that area and reduce the chances that water from the surrounding areas will work its way into the run.
When we dug out a pond for our ducks, we simply dumped all the dirt that came out of the hole into the chicken runs, raising the ground level and making the chicken runs drier over the winter.
Avoid Short-Term Fixes
Solving a problem like a muddy chicken run can take some long-term solutions. As tempting as it can be, don’t be tempted to go for any of the quick fix solutions you may find around the internet.
There are sites that will suggest adding wood shavings, pine needles, or chipped tree bark to the run. Chopped straw is another thing that is often recommended as a way to solve a muddy chicken run.
In reality, an organic matter added to a muddy chicken run will typically feel like an instant fix, but, like all organic matter, whatever you have spread around the run will quickly absorb water and begin to break down, making your problem worse rather than better.
I once invested in some bales of straw, and I spent 2 days spreading this straw in all my chicken runs. For the next few days, it felt like I had solved all my problems. However, within a week, the runs were in a worse condition than ever, and I now not only had mud to contend with, but the added straw had turned the mud into great, wet clumps that stuck to everything!
Having a muddy chicken run is not just annoying, it can also be dangerous, both to you and your chickens.
Mud is typically wet and slippery. You can easily fall over and injure yourself, and the damp conditions provide the perfect environment for pests and diseases to develop.
There are many different long-term solutions to the issue of a muddy run, and based on my experience, it is well worth taking the time to find a solution that works for you.
Try to avoid using quick fixes like spreading straw or pine shavings in the run as the feeling of an easy win will soon disappear as you realize in the long, adding organic matter only makes the problem worse.
If you found this article interesting, why not check out another one I wrote recently titled ‘Why Has My Hen Gone Broody?‘.