How To Fix A Muddy Run Chicken Coop

If you confine your chickens to a run, you are quite likely to have a mud problem eventually...
  1. patandchickens
    Pat's Big Ol' Mud Page:

    How to Fix A Muddy Run

    When chicken spend a bunch of time in one area, a common consequence is bare dirt, which in wet weather becomes mud. If you confine your chickens to a run, you are quite likely to have a mud problem eventually, unless you live in the desert or on extremely free-draining soil. Even if your chickens roam loose, you can still wind up with a mud problem right around the coop, or in favored areas such as under the bush where it's nice and shady in summertime. The problem is that chickens devegetate the area (thus, no roots to knit the soil together, also no greenery to draw up water to dry the soil) and by several mechanisms tend to slightly lower the soil level in the area, creating a sort of 'bathtub' that catches and holds whatever moisture comes its way.
    Mud is not good for chickens. It can promote bumblefoot and internal parasites, as well as making it less easy and pleasant for chickens to get around. Mud is even worse for chicken owners. A muddy run looks awful, gives you brown bedraggled chickens, stinks to high heaven, and breeds a lot more flies than a dry run does.

    I have worked with horses, quite a lot and all over the place, for most of forty-some years, and believe me, I have been acquainted with more than my share of mud and mudholes and the fixing thereof. I suggest the following three-part strategy:

    Part One: Intercept Water Before It Enters the Run

    Mud happens when water gets into the run. So, as much as possible, keep it out.

    Build your coop and run on high ground, or move them there if at all possible. I know this sounds stupid, but honestly, if your coop and run are in the lowest place around, or lie in the usual path of snowmelt or thunderstorm runoff, or next to a marshy area, then it can be better to have one aggravation once (relocation) than to battle mud and flood for the rest of your life.
    Put gutters and downspouts on all roofs nearby (yes, even a little 4x4 coop can benefit from gutters if you've got a mud problem!), making sure that the downspouts lead the water well away downhill. Nonperforated corrugated black drainage-tile pipe is cheap and makes good long flexible extensions for downspouts.

    If possible, block rain from coming through the top or upwind side(s) of your run. In some climates, a tarp over a small wire-topped run may stay put; in others it will collapse with the weight of pooled rain, or blow away taking half your run with it. In a rainy climate it can be worth building a proper raftered roof (engineered to withstand likely snow load). As long as your run fence is strong and mounted on good posts, you can tie a tarp to the upwind side, or lean a piece of plywood there, or even put up shadecloth (which will keep out much of the rain).

    Dig a little ditch to intercept water coming from higher ground and lead it away elsewhere.

    Dig a little trench or swale around the coop and run; water will drain into it and an extension of the ditch or swale can lead the water away to lower ground. If you are stuck with a coop in the lowest part of the landscape and cannot move the coop, you can try digging a large deep hole (like 3x3x3, or more, I really do mean large and deep); backfill with concrete rubble and gravel to less than a foot of the surface, top with a layer or two of landscape fabric, then cover with soil and sod... this will take care of modest amounts of runoff. When digging a trench or swale around the run, I suggest staying 2' or so from the bottom of the fence, as you do not want to weaken the set of the fenceposts nor invite digging creatures to try their luck. Usually you don't need much depth of trench to get valuable drainage, so I'd suggest starting small and you can always enlarge it later. If you are worried about looks, peel back the turf before digging the shallow trench, then replace it; soon it will knit back together for a nice clean-looking grassy swale.

    Part Two: Temporary "First Aid" for Muddy Footing

    If your run is a mudpit right now (which it probably is, if you're even reading this :p), then I would suggest thinking in terms of a temporary 'band-aid' type fix til you get to a drier season, at which point you can apply a more permanent cure (sand or gravel). Reason being, sand or gravel have a very strong tendency to disappear without a trace (usually within weeks or months) if put into active mud.
    You're looking for something cheap to raise the chickens up above tide level, so to speak. Because cheap materials are generally organic materials they will also to some degree or another absorb moisture and provide greater surface area to evaporate the moisture to the air; but their main role is to just get the chickens up out of the mud. So add a good big whack of whatever you can readily get. The more you add, the more effective it will be and the longer it'll be effective. Don't bother just putting a little bit in -- it will merge with the mud and merely make the mud worse.
    Coarse stuff is better than finer stuff, because it will decompose more slowly and therefore last longer. Coarse bark or woodchips are really good and can last a fairly long time; medium-size wood chippings or finer types of hogfuel are okay; straw and hay and shavings are at least temporarily better than nothing but usually start breaking down pretty quickly. The problem with stuff starting to decompose isn't just that it loses its useful structure -- it will almost always make your mud problem worse in the long run, by providing fine humusy material that makes the soil extra spongy and water-retentive. Good for the garden; bad for the chicken run.
    Therefore, it is really useful to keep an eye on the situation and rake your organic material out (replace with fresh stuff if necessary). At the very least, I suggest raking/shovelling it all out in the dry season (or for those in the Pacific Northwest, "less wet season"). By then it will makes excellent mulch or garden soil amendment by that point, and removing it from the run means your permanent fix (see below) won't have as big a problem TO fix.

    Part Three: Permanent(ish) Fix For Muddy Footing

    So now it's the dry season. Mud? What mud? THIS is the time to create a better all-weather surface for the run.
    If you've just got mud right around the coop, where the chickens come out of the pophol, a fairly cheap and easy solution is to lay down big concrete pavers, ideally atop a couple inches of levelled gravel, or even just a couple of cinderblocks if it's just a small area where they hop out the door.

    For larger-scale problems, if your soil is basically fairly free draining and you don't have serious mud problems, it may be reasonably sufficient to build the run footing up a bit higher. Add retaining boards at the foot of the run fence (I'd suggest pressure treated ;umber or a naturally rot-resistant wood such as cedar, redwood, black locust; or it is possible to use cement blocks, pavers, etc if they are tied in place well enough) and just add however much soil it takes to put the run decidedly higher than the surrounding soil.
    When you put in your retaining boards (or whatever does the job for you), make very sure there is some drainage available through them, either in the form of little gaps between boards or 1/2" drainage holes drilled at frequent intervals. Sometimes it is useful to put small patches of landscape fabric or little wadded-up pieces of scrap windowscreen in front of, or in, those gaps or holes in order to prevent water from rushing out so fast it erodes the run footing. You may have to see what happens and adjust accordingly. If you do not have sufficient drainage openings, your run will become a temporary aboveground pool, which is not what you want, or water can build up high enough that when it DOES rush out it takes a lot of your run footing with it.
    However, lot of us (and I currently live in a low floody spot on clay, so this definitely includes me!) need a bit more help to prevent re-muddification of the run. Sand and gravel are your friends, either individually or mixed together, or even in the form of the sand-gravel-dirt mix typically sold as "roadbase" or "A gravel" or other local names. You may be able to avoid middleman markup by contacting an aggregates company (in Yellow Pages under "aggregates", in many areas) that does retail business and seeing if they'll deliver directly to you. Otherwise you may have to get it from a landscaping contractor or large garden center. The place nearest you may be cheapest because per-mile delivery charges add up, but it's still worth calling around. They'll dump it in your driveway or wherever you want that their truck can get to; wheelbarrowing it to the run is plenty of good exercise :) For very very small runs you can also buy bagged sand or gravel, but they are vastly more expensive on a per-volume basis.
    I'm not sure it's ever worth putting down less than 3" or so of sand or gravel; a run that gets really seriously boggy or submerged may take 6-8" or more. Remember it will settle somewhat over time. You will need to top it up eventually to replace losses, but for most people it will be a number of years before this is needed, if you put enough down in the first place.
    Remember, though, put it on DRY ground, preferably as bone dry as your area gets, or you are almost certainly wasting your money and time.
    Yes, chickens can still scratch and dustbathe in sand or gravel or roadbase runs. There probably wasn't much edible growing in your dirt/mud run anyhow, so not much change in that regard, but I like to chuck all my garden weedings (toxic plants removed) and veg garden surplus and odd bits of sod cut out when enlarging beds, and hay sweepings from the horse hay, and seed-head-bearing mature grasses that I weedwhack from our drainage ditches, and so forth... that gives the chickens plenty of entertainment, and can be removed to the compost pile when the chickens have gotten all the entertainment value out of it.

    What to Do When Your Coop Floods

    Occasionally, even if your coop and run are normally high and dry, circumstances will conspire to flood your coop.
    If the floor is just damp and not likely to get any worse (like very minor flooding from a storm or snowmelt, or if your auto watering system exploded), just change out the bedding (preferably with something very absorbant like good marketed-for-bedding pine shavings, even if you normally use straw or pine straw or other alternatives) and maximize your ventilation, perhaps with a fan added if possible, and things should be fine pretty soon. The bedding that you removed, if still fairly clean, can be spread on a hard surface (driveway, tarp, patio slab, whatever), in the sun but out of excessive wind, for a few days, and stirred occasionally, and once it is thoroughly dry it can be returned to the coop for reuse, providing the coop is good and dry by now too. It may take a couple changes of shavings to dry the coop; once you've got it mostly dried out, it can be useful to leave it unbedded for a day or two to let the floor and lower walls finish drying. Again, maximum ventilation is your friend and if it's possible to point a fan at the wet bits too (without chilling or annoying chickens, or doing electrically-dangerous things) then that will considerably speed the process.You want to get it thoroughly dry as quickly as possible, to prevent rot setting in at hidden points in structural members.
    Sometimes, though, the coop becomes a virtual aquarium. Usually this involves circumstances you can't do anything about, like a giant storm dumping buckets of rain. If you keep some pallets on hand, you can put them on the floor of the coop, several layers thick if necessary, so chickens can stay above the water; if you happen to have some plywood or old carpeting around you can put that on top of the pallets to create a real 'floor'.
    Be very careful about electricity if your coop gets to this point. I would strongly, strongly suggest cutting the breaker in the house that serves the circuit the coop wiring is on, if there is any possibility that standing or flowing water may have gotten to the level of junction boxes, outlets, switches, ends of extension cords, etc etc.
    Once the tide has gone back out, you can shovel out all the soaked bedding (warning: exceedingly heavy), which is probably not worth trying to save, and replace with fresh absorbant bedding, and use the procedure described int he previous paragraph, lather rinse repeat as needed, til the coop is dry again.

    Chances are, though, you will be "blessed" with only a normal run-of-the-mill muddy chicken run, and I think you will find that the measures described above will make a big improvement and maybe even solve the problem entirely. Now if only they worked on an entire property, then my life would be perfect... ;)


    Good luck, have fun,


    Discussion on Muddy Runs

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  1. breege
    Thank you for this - I guess we'd better start preparing for next spring, even though we've had an unually wet summer so far
  2. Jillalder
    First time Chicken Mom, I have a small coop for three birds in the city. It's placed directly on a dirt bed, was wondering about laying sod in the coop for the upcoming wet season. I realize they will eventually destroy it, but thought it may get us thru the rain without the mud. Any reason I shouldn't??
  3. countrydream7
    is sand healthy and good for coops
  4. Whittni
    Cute coop.
  5. peastix
    Just an excellent informative article.Thanks heaps!
  6. Mr Beaks
    Thank you so much for the excellent article! Just what I was looking for!
  7. Clucked Up
    Days of rain and another 2" tonight and tomorrow, then finally turning cold. 9 hens, all happy roosting in a raised 4x4 coop and a smaller one if someone cops an attitude. Problem here is, the run is W-E-T now! What's the recommendation? Straw, pine bark in bags? I can't get out there to cover it until the rain stops. Thanks all. (Blessings on the storm / tornado areas)
  8. cricketmt
    good ideas! My run is downhill, but most everything is on a hill in my yard...I'm currently adding dirt to the run to make high spots, but we also live on "rock pile" as my mom calls it, so it's VERY well drained. The run gets wet with rain, but there's not much opportunity for any mud at all. Good ideas for having spots that dry faster than others though, so thank you!
  9. LI Brad
    I put mulch in my chicken run once all the grass was eaten. I was thinking the mulch would first keep the area from getting mud puddles and second something to scratching.
    Was mulch a good choice or should i change it? They free range my property during the day when am home. the run is 10 feet by 13 feet
  10. jcwaterside
    Thank you so much from the Astoria, Oregon Coast!
  11. MsRiderUp
    Thanks. We moved to an area with clay-y soil, and being used to sandy soil, it didn't occur to me that putting the coop on the flat lower area of the 'chicken yard' was a really BAD idea! I have had a sand floor since March of 2014, and it seems that it's never really dried out. On the outside of the coop we get mud when it rains. Recently someone dropped off about 50 bags of leaves and pine needles. I was going to use them in my compost bin, but the high proportion of pine needles makes them a little impractical for this --- will take longer to decompose than just dried leaves.

    When we got days of rain this past week and the chickens and I were sloshing in the mud, I dumped about 15 bags of the pine needle/leaves around the outside of the coop. This has 'elevated' the chickens out of the mud for now, and they love scratching through it all. Appreciate the idea of cinder blocks for a dry area outside of the popdoor.

    We have a 6 ft. x 10 ft. coop that is heavy, but I may have to hire a crew to relocate it about 25 feet to higher ground. That should be fun . . .

    Thanks for all the good advice!
  12. Mountain Peeps
  13. Bnemi
    Here in NW Ohio the pea gravel works great!
  14. ShadyGroveFarm1
    Thanks, this year has been pretty muddy down here in SW VA and we're looking forward to another hard winter... lucky me! (sarcasm intented)
  15. autumn123
    You can also toss in some diatomaceous earth (the garden kind Red Lake Earth - not the pool filter kind). It dries things out in a hurry! Even if the ground is wet, when I rake the litter out, I put D.E. in every time. It can get dusty when the weather dries out, but you can always spray with water to increase humidity. I put D.E. on the roof and other places the hens like to roost and it makes cleanup easier as it will dry out the poop. I live in Texas, so I use deep litter method in the winter. I use pine shavings, shredded paper, and D.E. and I don't have to rake out the run all winter, just mix it up occasionally, then I rake it out and compost in the spring. I use the same in the coop under the roosts where they sleep which I clean out once per week in winter and twice per week (or more) in summer and this all goes to the compost.
  16. bantybabylover
    our chickens yard sits high, but with the rains we have had, well rain plus dirt means mud. but i will add rock with sand and with the yard on a hill it should help the issue. part of our problem is a big tree in the middle of the yard, it doesnt allow sunlight to hit the area
  17. klilly20
    Thanx Pat just the answer I was looking for I have that problem I have 8 Rhode island reds in this particular run these birds definitely tear up the ground. There is a roof over the entire run but it still gets wet.
  18. AnnieSantiago
    I'm not sure I understand, but thanks.
  19. Extremeduo12
    you can mix sand and dirt in a bukit and add a little of wood savings or if you want a mix of word shavings and 2 and fulls of gravil that the wood shavings can suck in the water while the gravle makes it a little harder and its like if it wasnt wet at all thats what i did with mine
  20. AnnieSantiago
    So you say to put the sand on DRY ground, but here in Portland, things are already damp.
    So should I wait until next summer to put my sand/gravel in the run???
  21. Quailsong
    Love this article. Mine starts like this:

    Step 1: Remove the ducks. ;)
  22. sssharon
    Our chicken coop is in our shed. We sectioned part of the shed to build a nice coop. The shed has a dirt floor and when it rains heavily it does get lots of water in it One side of the shed is open, no doors so water gets in. We actually need to do some work on leveling the ground better. Anyway, I do use pine shavings and I think they are a lifesaver. They are also cheap. They work great and even in the wettest situations it doesn't take long for the floor to dry. I like the ideas of adding sand so I think I will go that route and use the pine shavings also. Thanks for your post. Very informative!
  23. MsRiderUp
    Thanks. Our 8x10 coop is located in a somewhat low point, or rather, our yard slopes downhill a bit, so rain really soaks the coop. In North Georgia our frequent spring/summer rains have kept my coop with a sand floor wet for months. Spilled/billed chicken feed grows mold --- all not a good situation, even though I let the chickens free range during the day. Have 20 chickens and they pretty much just sleep in the coop at night (with baby chicks --- 8 of the 20 below --- have plenty of room. Big hens take a ramp directly into laying area and I lock all up at night).

    I think if we have a dry spell I may get regular red bricks and line the floor, then fill in with small gravel & new sand.

    Main problem also is that about 2/3 of the coop has hardware cloth (1/4") on it. Very secure, but the roof doesn't extend beyond the coop enough to keep the rain out. Am thinking of enclosing more of the coop.

    Anyone's ideas will be appreciated. Don't like this environment for the chickens.
  24. JazzyChicks
    Awesome! very helpful! we just got our run built last week and our overflow from the well is pumping water downhill to the run (our coop is elevated about 10-12"; we intend to re-run the well water soon, but it has shown me where the water is pooling). It has become a bothersome mess and the chickens aren't even out there yet! We are in the midst of our first serious spring rain, so I am loaded with info and ready to implement some drainage strategies once the weather drys up a bit. Thanks again for the ideas!!!
  25. Wishapup
    Thanks for the informative article!
  26. jflanny
    I just spent four days mucking out the old pine shavings that had broken down and had gotten smelly, Then I sprinkled PDZ down and layered small pine bark through-out the COOP. Everything looks so nice and more importantly, is healthy and clean. This was a very helpful posting. My poor back didn't feel so good but as with every job well done, the satisfaction when it was over was worth it!
  27. aspiemomi
    Great article...I live in Western Washington and despite laying down sand and pea gravel and having a tin roof over the run, I am still battling mud. Not super soupy, but everything is just wet this year.
  28. coffeekittie
    I too am using the ideas that Pat presented here, for all of my animals - chickens, turkeyss, rabbits and horse. Well, my waterfowl are getting moved to a low-laying pen, but I'm going to divide it in two to hopefully keep them from eating everything down to dirt. I figure giving the grass time to regrow should help a lot in their case. If not, then more gravel can be delivered!
  29. melodie_a
    Great article. Thanks for sharing! Can anyone tell me what kind of chicken is in the picture on the homepage for this article? She is really pretty but I haven't seen that color before and I was just wondering. :)
  30. Gemoriah
    My run doesn't get too muddy, except where the ducks sit and make mud pies. Those 2 ducks can drain a 3 gallon waterer in just a few hours making mud pies.
  31. OrganicMamma
    Nice to know my girls aren't the only ones "swimming" great article!
  32. jflanny
    VERY TIMELY as I am facing cleaning out a stinky and muddy coop today. I have so old shavings that I used to temporarily soak up the mud but as you said they just up the old stuff. I think some larger bark and gravel is a good idea as it won't break down so easily. Unfortunately my runs are not in much sunshine. The girls get some sun but also don't get overheated which is nice.
    Wish I had a nice strong back to help me get all the yuk out of that coop! Wish my two sons were home from college - but I bet they are glad they aren't here!
  33. MS Rooster Cogb
    love them Pelleted pine shavings use them in cat litter box too. Now I'm waiting on the rain to stop & dry up so I can put these Ideas to work. Thank you Very helpful
  34. Haltey
    Thanks, for the information VERY helpful!
  35. Tough Old Bird
    Part of my coop area is sure to see some mud action in the spring. Thanks for the great suggestions and advice. Pea gravel and sand mixture sound like a great way to go, I'd say. Just have to remember to add during DRY season!
  36. California_chickie
    So helpful!! Thank you!!
  37. Chicken Lover 1
  38. 3riverschick
    oops.that product is Equine Fresh.
  39. 3riverschick
    If you have a small mud hole... In our old run, since replaced, one year the birds dug a deep dusting hole. Then it rained and the hole filled with water. Oh what a wet ,stinky mess! I went to Tractor Supply for answers and found Equine Fesh. A pelleted sawdust product with chlorophyll , used to dry out horse stalls. Got a bag for less than 6.00 (back then) and just poured the whole thing in the putrid hole. Viola!! The pellets swell and burst when they get wet, turning into wet sawdust which releases a pleasant chlorophyll scent. Instantly , the hole was gone, transformed into damp sweet-smelling sawdust. I'm a believer. Didn't have any trouble with birds wanting to eat the pellets (we feed crumbles) and it only takes a litte amount of moisture to make them swell and turn into sawdust. Not sure this would be financially practical for a whole poultry yard, but worked for our small problem.
    Karen in soggy western PA. USA
  40. growyourbrew
    Do you find that the chicken poop forms a layer over the gravel/sand mix after a while? If so, what do you do? Do you scoop the poop out?
  41. CharmedChickens
    THANK YOU!! We live in Northern Ca and though we do not get the rain and inclement weather, I have found that when it does rain the chicken coop is horrible!! Its like a slimy slip and slide in there!! Thank you for all the amazing remedies!! My husband and I have been trying to find solutions and I found them all here!!
  42. judyki2004
    very helpful article, I just have a tiny 3x4 coop and 3x9 run ( plus the 3x4 space under the coop), 3 chickens and rain all around the year... I made 3 mistakes 1st not preparing a good foundation, so with every rainfall they have mud, 2 the coop/run is in the way of the water flow , 3 I put a front window , that with windy rain let the coop get wet... I try adding gravel , coarse sand, and fine sand for the run but with little or none success, inside the coop hay that i change as often as necessary sometimes twice a week...after reading the article i think the best option for me is place big concrete slabs under the coop and most of the run leaving a little area for dust bath of sand ..
  43. HenFriend
    Got a tarpaulin but having trouble fixing it tight enough. The night after I put it up we had gales and torrential rain, the ties ripped out and I ended up with a huge pool in the bit that was still over the coop. Thinking about something a bit more substantial instead.
  44. parkerpeeps7
    Great article Pat! Can't wait to put the tips to use, my run is currently very muddy.
    Thank you!
  45. dragonchild
    When we get a great deal of rain (relatively speaking--this is Texas, so 3" at one time is a great deal for us), my horse barn floods. I use pelleted pine bedding, soaks up the water and expands QUICKLY, and breaks down in the compost much quicker than shavings! Works in the chicken coop, too, but I don't like to leave it down either place very long after it dries, because it gets dusty. Not good for horses, chickens, or ME! It's really heavy to shovel up when wet, so I usually let it dry out, then use shovel and rake to remove as much as I can easily get. (The coop is easier than the barn aisle, because it has vinyl flooring, while the barn is sandy loam/recycled crushed concrete mix. I use my wet/dry vac to clean the coop out!)
  46. NanaArizona
    Great article..........but that pic is makin me SHIVER........BRRRRRR
  47. HenFriend
    Thanks for the tips, think maybe I should invest in a tarpaulin or maybe bark chippings? The clay gets compacted here and then the water doesn't drain off.
  48. apronann
    Great article. Thanks. I used straw last year, and it was really heavy when we removed it. It's too late for gravel this year- the mud season has already begun- but it's good to know what all of the options are. I'll cover the run with a tarp and gutter the house and see if I can make the winter more bearable for my hens.
  49. valschicksrus
    Thanks so much for the info, we just finished our hen pen and coop. Was thinking of sand on top of the dirt. Will use some of your suggestings here.
  50. cluckcluckluke
    very helpful thanks

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