If you have ever dealt with a wet chicken run, you know what a headache it can be. Puddles of water, deep thick mud, and no drainage can make it all be a huge nasty mess. This post will help you deal with a wet chicken run and give you a few tips on what you can do to help your backyard chickens stay dry and warm.
If you have chickens, you already know what a fun and quirky animal they are. I love nothing more than watching my flock chatter and cluck as they make their way around the yard.
Chickens also have a few habits that can cause negative effects to a coop and run. One of them being scratching.
What do chickens eat when they scratch the ground?
When a chicken scratches at the ground, what they are doing is raking at the soil with its clawed feet. This helps to uncover any worms, bugs, and slugs that they enjoy eating. The good news is that chickens can cut down on the number of pests in your lawn and garden. The bad news is their scratching can transform a grassy area into a pile of dirt in no time.
And that dirt pile, in turn, can become a plot of mud with just one rainfall.
Our chicken run is one of the worst places on our farm in springtime.
There is just no way around it. When the snow melts all that water then sits there in the chicken run in stagnant puddles. We desperately need drainage, but that is buried somewhere at the bottom of Hubby’s to-do list, so I don’t expect it will get done anytime soon.
This usually means I am looking for a plan B to hold me over (and the chickens) until the problem can be fixed.
Please note that I live in Northwestern, PA, and that means my tips may not work for you if you live in a much wetter climate. Also, these tips are meant to be a temporary fix, and if your area is prone to heavy rains, you will want to find a more permanent solution, such as the drainage I mentioned above.
How to Deal With a Wet Chicken Run
Yes, a wet run is a concern in the warmer months, but it is even more so in the colder months. If you are not careful, chickens can get frostbite on their combs and wattles, and that is why it is so important to be sure you have shelter for them year-round.
Although uncommon, chickens can get frostbite on their feet, and for that reason, it is important to have a dry and warm place for them to stand in any weather.
Tip #1. Lay Down Some Hay
My goats, well actually, most goats, are very picky eaters, especially when it comes to their hay. They are notorious for picking out only the best grass and letting the rest fall to the ground where it sits and piles up. Rather than toss all that discarded hay into the compost pile, I have found second use in the wet chicken run.
If the chicken run gets really muddy I remove this hay and toss it into the chicken coop in thick piles. The hay provides a temporary dry surface for the hens in the run and keeps them and the inside coop much cleaner. No, it’s true, this is not the best fix, but in a pinch, it will get you by until you can do more permanent solutions.
Chickens love to scratch in any mulch such as hay and will work it into the soil in the run pooping as they do so. This will give you a layer of compost in your chicken run that you can remove and add to your garden.
Around April, I just wait for a warm and sunny day. (Make sure it’s sunny so you can dry out the run quicker)
I head to my coop armed with a wheelbarrow, pitchfork, and hopefully, a willing child of mine to help. It is pretty thick at this point (about 4-8 inches), and it’s not an easy task, but the payoff is a good one, so I don’t mind too much.
Once I take all I need for my garden, I will keep the hens out of the run for about an hour or two. This will allow the warm sun to dry up the new ground pretty quickly, taking us back down to the original soil to get us through the summer.
What if you do not have excess discarded hay to use in your run?
Other Wet Chicken Run Options
Below are a few options that you can use to help build up a few dry areas inside of your chicken run.
Straw, in my opinion, works better than hay since there are no seeds found in straw, keeping your coop and surrounding yard free of weeds and other unwanted growth. Just as you would with the straw, you can lay down a few piles in the really wet areas. This will just help to keep the mud down a bit as you wait for the weather to make up its mind.
In a pinch, you can use grass clippings in your chicken run but know it will not be as effective as straw in providing a barrier for your chickens to stay dry. Although it is not the best solution, it will do a good enough job to get you through.
My chickens LOVE grass clippings. There are usually many bugs found mixed in with the cut grass, so the chickens will spend time looking for treats. Cut grass is a great boredom buster for hens any time of year.
If it’s fall, dry leaves will work well and are another favorite of chickens. There can be quite a few bugs in those leaves, and chickens love their bugs. Again, your goal is to put your focus where the worst of the mud is; usually, this ends up being the main path in your coop. Drop-in piles of leaves to give a dryer spot for them to stand.
Spare Wood Scraps
If you find yourself without lawn clippings or leaves to use in the run, wooden pallets or discarded wood can be a good temporary fix until things dry up. We burn wood in the winter for our heat, so we have quite a bit of bark and wood chips to dump into our run if needed.
Another option is to place in a few logs. Chickens will use these as perches and stand on them throughout the day. Logs are more of a long-term fix as they can stay in the run all year long.
Make a Move
In particularly wet seasons, sometimes I have found that no amount of fixing will help other than letting the ground dry up on its own. That is when I will move my gals to a dry spot with a portable fence.
I have several portable electric nettings that are great for this. I can move the hens anywhere I need them to be, and they love the change of scenery, and their run gets a well-deserved rest.
If you have an extra bale or two of straw or hay, you can put a few of them into your wet chicken run as is. Your chickens will climb on top of them often as they love to be up high, even in the run outside.
Usually, within a few months, the wear and tear from the flock will tear the bale apart, and they will get busy working it into the ground.
Where we live, straw and hay are pretty affordable, just $3-$5 a bale, so, for us, it’s an inexpensive alternative.
SLCG Pro Tip: Remember to watch your chicken run. If you find you are having an overly wet season, what you added in may rot before it can compost down. If you find this is happening to you, it is important to remove it at this point before it has a chance to mold, risking the health of your chickens.
Get your chickens up off the ground.
You can also put in a few random things to help get your chickens up and out of the mud. Remember your goal is to keep your chickens dry and clean by adding in items they can stand on you will help them to stay healthy.
A few ideas are:
- Step ladder
- Cinder blocks
Build a buffer from the rain.
If things are really wet where you live, you can build a temporary roof to help dry a patch out. The quickest and easiest way to do this is with a heavy-duty tarp. Over the years, I have used tarps to keep the rain and snow away from an area in our run, which has worked quite well.
Be sure to use a heavy-duty tarp so it will withstand the entire season before it begins to tear and shred.
When installing a tarp, you will want to set it at an angle allowing any water or snow to run off more easily.
Step #1. Place a spare piece of wood over the top of the tap and nail it to the shelter. The wood will help keep the tarp from tearing in any heavy winds common in stormy weather.
Step #2. Use zip ties to attach the tarp to any fencing you have nearby to keep the wind from pulling it up.
Step #3. Finally, use stakes or bricks at the bottom of the tarp to anchor it more securely down to the ground.
Build a more permanent solution.
If you have the tools and supplies, you can also build a small roof off the side of the coop. This added shelter is a great way to keep a dry spot throughout the entire year. Not only in the spring but in winter as well.
We constructed this roof using scrap metal roofing that was leftover from another project.
A small wooden board at one end stops the wind from coming in, giving a nice dry area in an otherwise messy and muddy chicken run.
When homesteading, it is important to think outside of the box. Look at the situation from all sides and see what you can come up with using supplies you already have on hand. Remember, it doesn’t have to be pretty, although that is nice, just effective, and you may be surprised at how well an idea of yours will work out.
When dealing with a situation such as a wet chicken run, look at the tools and supplies you have all around you and think creatively about how to resolve a problem. I love the challenge of making something out of nothing and see this as an essential homesteading skill.
Discarded hay? Random cinder block? Extra cut logs? Instead, see it as a solution for your soggy and wet chicken run.