For the Run: Wood Chips or Sand, Back and Forth! Here's a photo - thoughts?

FLXChicken

Chirping
May 2, 2020
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Hi all,

I have read so many threads here on what to use in the chicken run. And, outside of BYC I have watched videos and read articles. But I am now at a point where I am stuck. I have read pros and cons to both. (My husband is losing his patience with me, I think!) And "experts" and experienced chicken people have good arguments for and against each.

Here's what we have to work with:
  • Eight chickens (four Australorps and four Barred Rocks).
  • No free ranging outside the run (not an option here, not safe enough).
  • The coop itself is raised up about 3 feet, so there is space under that which is used for shade and shelter - actually, I'll post a picture below of the coop in progress that shows the footprint of the run really well.
  • This location is the driest part of our property - we have a wet yard overall.
  • The coop is at the highest point and the yard slopes down from the coop (but not necessarily from the run).
  • We purchased gutters to add to the coop.
  • Our soil is pretty much clay.
  • We live in the Finger Lakes of NY State, and get all kinds of weather and a good amount of snow in winter. Very long winters....
  • It's been a rainy spring.
  • It's also incredibly windy here! (Almost constantly.)
  • I talked to the local gravel pit today to learn what type of wood chips they have. During the conversation she told me people most often come to them for "road sand" for chicken runs. She said she uses non-color enhanced mulch in her chicken run.
  • I read that "road sand" is not good, that "washed concrete sand" is the kind to use. But again, she said people come to them for the road sand.
  • My husband is not about using any kind of sand.
  • I'm leaning toward wood chips... but I'm not sure I can get the right kind.
  • I'm slightly worried about splinters, but don't know if that's really a big risk. (One of the cons.)
  • I've read to go only with hardwood wood chips and get the kind with very little bark and smoother edges - THAT is hard to find.
  • The gravel pit has "playground wood chips" but cannot tell me what wood is used. (Photo below.)
  • We went to look at it today (bought some for our gardens separate from the chickens).
  • I sniffed it and couldn't smell cedar... my husband didn't either, but that doesn't mean there isn't cedar.
Our concern is that the grassy run will eventually be a muddy run with poop. (I do the "spot pick ups" but that's not going to work forever, obviously.)

So, below I'm posting two photos, one of the unfinished coop that shows the footprint of the run, and the other is of the "playground wood chips" that we bought for our garden walkways (not the run) for you to look at and offer feedback on. Are these chips too small, too rough, etc.? By the way, there is no solid roof over the run (there is a layer of chicken wire topped with a layer of welded wire for safety). The only "roof" over the run is the chicken coop itself.

Thank you in advance for your feedback. It is much appreciated!

garden-wood.jpg

IMG_1697.jpg
 

3KillerBs

Crossing the Road
11 Years
Jul 10, 2009
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Clay will certainly become a muddy mess once the chickens strip off the grass and start digging it up because clay is more or less impervious to water, but you're being smart to locate your coop in the best-drained part of your yard and in taking measures to keep drainage out. Good job there.

Deep litter is a form of cold composting and all compost works best when made with a mix of materials. The wood chips form a good base that won't compact and will help keep the structure open but you should add additional materials such as shavings, pine straw, straw, old leaves, or whatever other compost "browns" come to hand.

Get started with a good base of wood chips then top it with layers of other materials -- not too thick at once, but adding as you go along. The chickens will stir it all up for you, especially if you throw a handful of scratch into the litter from time to time. Occasionally you might need to use a fork to break up mats or loosen up spots that have gotten crusted or packed.

If you have access to last fall's leaves raked out of the treeline be sure to use a layer of those in the first stage of building your deep litter because they'll inoculate the mix with the good microorganisms needed to get the deep litter ecosystem going. Any bugs or worms that hitch a ride in those leaves will be special treats for the chickens too.

After the initial build you don't even need to spread the material. Just pile it in, maybe being sure to cover any nasty areas, and let the chickens enjoy scratching it around.

Eventually the soil in that area will improve and drain better due to the incorporation of organic material -- just like the drainage in a garden benefits from incorporating plenty of compost topped with mulch. :)
 

rosemarythyme

Scarborough Fair
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Jul 3, 2016
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Splinters aren't a huge issue... chickens can get bumblefoot from almost anything (one of mine has it chronically due to misshapen feet, other birds have never had it, even though they all use same bedding).

Don't sweat the actual type of chips too much. I've got bark, I've got entire small branches, I've got sawdust sized bits... they all work together. I've got cedar in the mix but it's so aged out you wouldn't know there was cedar in it if I didn't mention it. Only wood I'd think about staying away from would be black walnut but that's not going to be commonly sold for commercial use as it can kill other plants.

The chips in photo look to be a decent size. If you have space to store it, consider contacting a tree company and asking what it would cost to get a load of wood chips dumped - far more cost efficient to get it in bulk (often free in my area) and you'll get a very good variety of chunks that way.
 

FLXChicken

Chirping
May 2, 2020
29
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If you have access to last fall's leaves raked out of the treeline be sure to use a layer of those in the first stage of building your deep litter because they'll inoculate the mix with the good microorganisms needed to get the deep litter ecosystem going. Any bugs or worms that hitch a ride in those leaves will be special treats for the chickens too...

@3KillerBs - Thank you so much for such a thoughtful reply. I appreciate the feedback!

Your advice reminds me of a Hobby Farms article I read about using wood chips, shavings, leaves, etc. Your observations are very much the same. I am definitely leaning towards what you have described - BUT I have one hurdle, and if anyone has ideas on how to deal with it, I'm all ears:

We hardly have any trees and it's windy here year round. We don't even need a rake. So.... we have no brown leaves.

The "trees" with leaves that line two sides of the perimeter of the coop are what I call scrub - those overgrown bushes with small leaves (former owners planted these). In fall, they don't even hit the ground... they just blow away. ;-) Now, we do have a maple in the back yard and a flowering pear in the front yard. I can definitely make it a priority to "grab" those leaves in the fall to add to the run.

But in the meantime... outside of wood chips and shavings, are there other ideas anyone has for brown materials? And I've read some people advise against straw - but I am open to try as long if it can help with keeping chickens happy and healthy and a clean, non-smelly run.

:)
Tracy
 

FLXChicken

Chirping
May 2, 2020
29
121
56
Splinters aren't a huge issue... chickens can get bumblefoot from almost anything...The chips in photo look to be a decent size. If you have space to store it, consider contacting a tree company and asking what it would cost to get a load of wood chips dumped - far more cost efficient to get it in bulk (often free in my area) and you'll get a very good variety of chunks that way.

Thanks for your advice, @rosemarythyme - very much appreciated! Yes, I am probably focusing on the bumblefoot / splinters issue too much. (Sometimes I do that... hear about one possible problem and then I'm off!)

But thank you for weighing in on the chips in the picture. Very much appreciated! We bought a yard for the garden from our local gravel pit and it cost $42.12 with tax. (We picked it up.) My husband thinks that a yard would do for the chicken run. I'd be okay with paying that once or twice a year, but yes, contacting a tree company to check price and delivery options is a wise idea. I will do that.

At the end of the day, my husband jokes that these will be the most expensive chicken eggs we've ever eaten (once the girls start laying...). :) But that's okay!
 

3KillerBs

Crossing the Road
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Do you have any neighbors, family, or friends who would love to have you take their leaves off their hands come fall?

Presumably, those leaves stop somewhere downwind. Piling up against a fenceline? Against a building? You only need a little to inoculate your litter with the composting organisms -- but the organisms will appear naturally in due time if you can't get any.

You can use any kind of compost brown as litter, even your shredded bills (though perhaps not ideal in a windy place). In town I used pine straw, straw, leaves, corn husks and cobs (from both my own meals and the corn I husked for fruit stand customers), garden weeds, dried lawn clippings (they have to dry spread out because they'll make a mucky mess), wood chips, shavings, and whatever else came to hand.

The problem with straw is it's tendency to mat, but if you use it in thin layers, shaking the flakes loose and fluffy as you spread it, and break up mats with your manure fork as you notice them, it works fine.

Some people use hay but I never did because it was so much more expensive than shavings or straw.

I've also never used corncob bedding or the pelletized wood, horse stall bedding I've seen mentioned here. Likewise rice hulls, which seem to be regionally abundant in some areas like the pine straw which is inexpensive or free for the raking here in the southeast but pricey elsewhere.

BTW, any fresh wood product you obtain non-commercially -- chips from a landscape company, sawdust from a woodworker or lumber mill, etc. -- needs to be aged before it's used. There is a specific problem fungus that grows on fresh, green wood, but disappears after the wood has aged and dried.
 

FLXChicken

Chirping
May 2, 2020
29
121
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Do you have any neighbors, family, or friends who would love to have you take their leaves off their hands come fall? Presumably, those leaves stop somewhere downwind. Piling up against a fenceline? Against a building?

No buildings or fences downwind (immediate neighbors also have spare amount of trees and the leaves = blown far away), but your idea about getting some leaves from friends/family is a good one. (I was overthinking the problem.) I'm sure they will be happy for me to rake their yard and take leaves come fall! :)

We have a LOT of yard clippings that we can let dry out and use. Corn cobs are another good idea that we have access to every year (we grow a bit of corn for our own use.)

Thank you so much for the time you took in answering. This is why I joined BYC - friendly and thoughtful advice. :)

Sign me, Grateful!
 

3KillerBs

Crossing the Road
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The corn cobs will work best broken up. Can you run them through a chipper/shredder? The dried stalks too.

If you keep in mind that a deep litter system is a cold compost pile it will help you keep the right mindset for success. :)
 

FLXChicken

Chirping
May 2, 2020
29
121
56
The corn cobs will work best broken up. Can you run them through a chipper/shredder? The dried stalks too. If you keep in mind that a deep litter system is a cold compost pile it will help you keep the right mindset for success. :)

We DO have a chipper and ran the corn (cobs and dried stalks) through the chipper to help break down for our compost pile. (Drat, we added the dried stalks to the compost pile just this spring.... wish we would have saved them!)

Cold compost pile - got it! So I've got a new subject to study! :-D
 

aart

Chicken Juggler!
Premium Feather Member
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Chips you 'have in hand'(haha!) are about perfect.
.....and you've got a lot of good advice.
Would be good if you could store a pile and just add in a bit at a time,
along with what every other dry plant matter you have.
Some dried grass clippings, straw, hay, all work in small quantities.

But I'll chip in my two cents:
My runs have semi-deep litter(cold composting), never clean anything out, just add smaller dry materials on occasion, add larger wood chippings as needed.
Aged ramial wood chippings are best IMO.
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MANNA-PRO

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