Hello, and welcome to my article on managing your chicken run for a minimum of stress and cleaning. Using this method, my chicken run stays clean enough to sit down in with no poop removal on my behalf!
Constructing a Run
First off, make sure your run is large enough for your chickens. Minimum square feet per chicken is ten, but I prefer 20+ as I think ten is too crowded, at least if you don't want the soil to become overloaded. If you can't do a large run, then just make do with what you have.
An important consideration that is too often overlooked is soil type. I chose an area that had lush grass and dark brown dirt. This all means there are lots of earthworms in the soil, which reduces stink by exponential numbers!
Caring for an Existing RunSo now you have your run placed in an appropriate place. What now? In order to preserve as many sprouts, bugs, and roots as possible, I dump lots of leaves into the run. As well as adding to the soil after they get broken down, it gives the chickens have something to do, other than ruin any soil by digging and eating all the seeds out. I also dump my dirty coop bedding (pine shavings) right beside the run. After a year or so, I rake it into the run. It has broken into many small pieces by then, and is a very airy, spongy soil. This, when mixed in with the rest of the dirt, help eliminate the packed-down, bare look that chicken runs are notorious for.
This is what my coop bedding looks like before I compost it. It is already fairly broken up.
This is what it looks like after sitting behind the run for almost a year. See how spongy this is? This "dirt" does not compact easily, making for MUCH easier upkeep.
Adding lots of small sticks also impedes scratching, thereby preserving the soil.
This is what you want your run to look like. See the leaf litter?
This is what you do NOT want your run to look like. See how the dirt is compacted and there is mushed poop on top? If you see this, dig it up, mix it around, and add leaf litter.
MoistureYou want most of your run to be slightly damp, not so much wet as more, well.... Cool. You still want it to crumble in your hands, but not completely dry and sandy. This makes it easier for sprouts to get a hold, and we want to encourage that as much as we can! Too wet, and it STINKS, as well as encouraging worms. Too dry, and it doesn't have anything to hold itself up with. Balance is the key here!
Having trees, shrubs, and tough grasses with strong root systems also really helps to hold the soil together. If you are going to try and get grass to grow in your run (and stay there) you will need to rotate between two runs, therefore giving the soil a break from the constant abuse of chickens.
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