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Is it a good idea to put plastic board under chicken run?

post #1 of 6
Thread Starter 

I just started raising backyard chicken. I have a open-air chicken run and rains can get in from the side.

It was raining heavily last week and the chicken run is muddy and very smelly now. I searched in the forum and a lot of people suggested to remove the dirt in the run and use sand instead.

I was wondering if not using sand, is it a good idea to just place a big plastic board in the run that is heavy enough, so that chicken can walk on that. Well, not grass anymore for sure.

I believe people have thought of this before. Would love to hear the pros and cons regarding that.


In the beginning I used American Saturated Felt Roofing Paper as the roof and it turned out that it's too soft to guide the water. Unfortunately that's when we had the heavy rain.

So I changed the roof to the corrugated PC board. This is from the left side of the run.

From the top

Top with my three red sexlinks.

From the right side.

Inside the run. You can see the mud and chicken coop. sad.pngsad.png

Edited by alexga - 1/27/16 at 8:13am
post #2 of 6

Welcome to BYC!


I've never heard of that, but seems to me you'd be inviting a whole host of other issues.  Plastic board would be slick to walk on, especially when it's wet, and I envision some serious foot/leg/joint issues coming from that.  Also all you would accomplish is covering the mud, which would still be under there wet and stinky.  First thing I'd do is take a good look at your drainage around the run and coop. Does water run down into it?  Next would be covering the run with a tarp or something to keep it dryer.   Until you solve the problems of how it's getting so wet, you can't really put anything down and be successful in the battle against the water.  As you've already learned, water + dirt = mud and ammonia smells.....not pleasant for you and even less pleasant (and possibly dangerous) to the chickens.


So, now that you've examined your drainage, what can you do if that's the problem and you can't move your setup?  Well, you can start by digging a shallow trench around it on the high side, maybe filling that with river rock or the like, maybe even perforated drain pipe, and forcing the water away from the run. Or you could stack bricks or pavers all the way around the run to act as a dam. From what I've been seeing, much of California is really getting pounded with rain, so the next thing you need to consider is covering your run.  You can do that with clear plastic, available at most home centers, or with a plain old tarp...anything that's not permeable and won't let water in. Photos of your set up would help us all help you immensely, and I'm just taking stabs in the dark here.  I don't know how your run is constructed. You may need to put supports up to hold the tarp so it doesn't simply collapse inside the run, but again without seeing it it's hard to advise.  DON'T totally encase the run with the tarp or plastic - you need air flow and ventilation in there or it will never dry out...instead address the areas where the most water is getting in - maybe cover the top and three sides where the rain tends to blow in, but leave the most leeward side wide open.  Without air, you're just putting a sponge in a baggie - it won't dry.


Now, you've addressed how the water is getting in.  Next step is to alleviate the mud/smell issue.  I know you want to use sand, but I'm not sure that's a good idea given how saturated the area under that sand would be already.  Sand is a very good substrate once you've gotten things dried out and can prevent more water damage, but your immediate problem is drying the run so the chickens can use it safely and it's a more pleasant place for you and for them.  To do that, I'd recommend getting a few bales of pine flakes - pine shavings - from your local feed store.  Dump a bag or two in there.  They are absorbent and will soak up quite a bit of that moisture. Take a fork and turn them over every few days to get the dryer stuff and the wet stuff flipped.  You're not trying to get a deep litter going  right just want to get things to dry out and be workable.  It may take quite awhile - you've still got more rain in your forecast from what I can see, depending again on where in California you are located - it's a pretty big place!  Once the run is dried out, then you can remove the pine shavings to your compost heap and put your sand down.  


I hope someone with more experience with sand than I have chimes in.  They may see things totally differently and advise you to go with sand from the get-go.  It just seems to me that until you can soak up the maximum amount of water, give your chickens a warmer, dryer surface to walk on, and stop future water from getting in, the sand isn't going to help much.  And as I said, photos would help tremendously!  Good luck!!  And again, welcome!

post #3 of 6
Blooie's advice is, as always, really, really helpful. I also live in CA, so I have some sense of the rain you are dealing with.

I think Blooie is totally right about drainage. My run is also open on all four sides (hardware cloth) but has a solid roof, and becuase it is on higher ground than the rest of the yard, the floor doesn't get muddy even though it's very open on the sides, even in really bad rain. So, good drainage and possibly a solid roof (mine is polycarbonate panels) will probably help. Before I roofed my run, it did get muddy in bad storms.

I also agree about the sand. I have sand in a part of my run that is under the coop, so it is very protected from moisture and works great there, but seeing how it behaves when it gets a little wet, I don't think I would add it to an already damp area. Sand can smell a lot when it's wet.
post #4 of 6
Thread Starter 
Thank you Blooie and Ballerina! Just got a chance to take some photos. smile.png
You advice are very helpful. I'll think of some other way to solve the problem.

I also updated the original post with several photos from different angle. The backyard is not leveled perfectly. It's sloppy a little bit from the chicken coop to chicken run so water should flow towards the end of the chicken run.

Should I get a broader PC panel to cover bigger area of the roof of the run? Should I cover the side as well? Probably I can make some retractable plastic cover on the side and use it when it rains?

As for the sand, I'll hold off until current field is dried out. I'll try the pine shaves. But it will rain in two days! sad.pngsad.png

post #5 of 6

Hi Alex. You might want to consider redesigning a bit so that the roof is sloped, with the channels in your roofing material running in the same direction as the slope, to channel the water, and with the roof having some overhang all around so that when water falls off the roof it will fall away from the run floor.

Edited by Ballerina Bird - 1/27/16 at 8:49am
post #6 of 6
Read this. It has things I’ll miss. Maybe one or two of them will strike a spark for you. I’ll repeat some things others have said.

Pat’s Big Ol' Mud Page (fixing muddy runs):

There are two basic concepts, keep water out and, if it gets in, get it out.

Put berms or swales on the upslope side to divert groundwater. Your roof does need a slope, water that pools on top will either seep through or rot a wooden roof. Slope it so the water runs away from the run or use downspouts and gutters to direct it away.

A roof is good but wind blows rain in from the sides too. Covering the direction the rain comes from is a huge benefit. You can use tarps, that 3 mil clear plastic, or anything that stops water from getting in. That will increase wind area so you may need to do some additional bracing. Putting a diagonal from one top corner to the opposite bottom corner of an open space does a whole lot of good. It’s generally not the weight of the siding that’s the problem, it’s the wind.

Then you have the problem of getting the water out when it gets in. When it sets in wet like you are seeing it’s next to impossible to keep all the water out. Gravity pulls water downhill but it has to have a place to drain to. Sand is permeable, water drains through it really well. Clay is not, it will hold water forever. If you dig a hole in clay and fil it with sand, all you’ve done is create a bathtub filled with sand. The water won’t go anywhere. Sand is great for removing water, but the water has to have a place to go.

There are a few issues with sand. Eventually it will disappear down into the mud. Its density is greater than clay so gravity pulls it down. The chickens scratching doesn’t help. Not only does their scratching help mix it with the clay and get it to sink, they will scratch a lot of it through the fence. Eventually you’ll need to top off the sand. You can help yourself by putting down a layer of gravel on top of the clay and under the sand. Don’t dig the clay out, put the gravel on top of the clay. That really helps stop sand from disappearing downward. And put some type of barrier around the bottom of your run to stop them from scratching the sand out. A heavy rain can wash it out but that barrier helps with that too.

I know I said put sides up to keep rain out, but once it quits raining evaporation really helps it dry. Maybe like Blooie said, keep one end open or remove some of that siding after the rain stops.

The water needs a low place to drain to. Your slope probably provides that. But a “French drain” from that run to a low spot may be greatly beneficial. That French drain might involve a pipe with holes in it, but just a ditch backfilled with gravel or even coarse sand will move a lot of water.

Chickens need a place to get their feet dry. Walking in mud and water some won’t hurt them but if their feet are constantly wet that can cause problems. You can put things in there for them to stand on, cinder blocks, timbers or planks, plywood, a lot of different stuff. I’d also be a little nervous about most plastic as it might be slick.

Another option is to scatter straw, hay, wood shavings, wood chips, things that give them a surface to get above the water. People do that and it works, but there are some potential issues with it. When you have a compost pile you want it damp so the aerobic bugs can eat that stuff and turn it into compost. Aerobic bugs give it a nice earthy smell. But if it stays soaking wet anaerobic bugs (bugs that don’t breathe oxygen) take over. They’ll still break it down but the compost is lower quality and it becomes slimy and stinky. Whoo, man does it stink! A lot of people compost in the run, keep stuff in there all the time and it works great, but occasionally if it stays too wet some people have to dig this stuff out and replace it in the run. Everything is not always clear cut. What works for some won’t necessarily work for everyone.

Your stinky problem is poop. Poop is like that compost pile. If it is dry or just barely damp it’s fine, no smell. But when it gets wet it starts to stink. Chickens poop all the time. The more chickens you have in a small space the more the poop builds up. No matter what kind of floor you have in your run, they are going to poop in it. Even with sand that drains well you might get a whiff but it’s nothing like a run that holds water. Some people with sand in their run are out there every day scooping up clumps of poop to help with this. Some of us with clay floors or other run flooring never clean them out and don’t have any real problems. We are all unique. Different things work for different people.

I don’t know it any of this will help you or not. I hope you get some benefit out of it. When it sets in wet it can get tough in many ways.

 I grow a little impatient when people seem to think that they are unique in the world. Of course they are. Just like everyone else.


 I grow a little impatient when people seem to think that they are unique in the world. Of course they are. Just like everyone else.

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