Help me enjoy my chickens again by solving my coop and run issues!

Discussion in 'Coop & Run - Design, Construction, & Maintenance' started by rarneson, Sep 27, 2015.

  1. rarneson

    rarneson New Egg

    Sep 23, 2015
    We've got four hens that are coming up on five months old. We've started getting eggs are we're around one per day. I've got three kids, ages 3, 5 and 7. The chics started out enjoyable for us; now they are mostly just enjoyable for the kids who torment them! While I've read chickens and kids get along great, I can assure you my chickens don't like the manhandling they have to endure!

    I don't mind the day to day upkeep that goes into it, but the setup we have for the coop and run is driving me nuts! I started out wanting to try the deep litter method using pine chips but quickly found that when it rains it gets nasty in there. Plus the flies congregated quite a bit. I think maybe I didn't try it long enough, and I was trying too hard to clean droppings instead of just applying new wood chips and letting it decompose.

    I read up on sand and it sounded like that would be a great solution, so I swapped out. I loved it! Cleanup was a breeze and flies were gone. Then the rain started. I'm in Minneapolis, and this summer has been a wet one. Now I'm dealing with sand that is constantly packed down. I put a tarp over the run, but it still gets plenty wet in there. Now the poop just sits on top, and the chickens trample it into the sand. It never seems to dry, so it's very hard to clean. I use a shovel to stir it up to help with drying, but it just gets packed back down. It's never been the same since the first rain. What a mess! Not to mention it gets pretty dusty inside the coop, and they kick away the sand from the area they lay the eggs. I think this is what's resulting in about 1/3 of our eggs being cracked.

    One thing I know I need to do is to build a slightly slanted roof over the run to help when it rains. But other than that, I need some serious advice!

    Now, for my barrage of questions:
    1. For my setup, would you recommend sand or wood chips? Keep in mind Winter is coming and I'm in Minneapolis.
    2. Would you recommend the same in both? I started with pine chips in the coop and sand in the run, but they just kicked the wood chips into the sand.
    3. If wood chips in the run, deep litter method? The run sits on top of the soil. What happens in the winter when it's frozen and covered in snow? Do I even have enough vertical space for DLM?
    4. If wood chips in the coop, I assume DLM isn't an option, so just sweep it into the run every week or so and add new?
    5. If I stick with sand, what can I do to combat the packed down wetness? PDZ? Is sad a bad idea for the winter?
    6. In addition to a roof, should I tack some sides up? I was planning to do that on at least one side for winter to help block the wind.

    So many frustrations and questions but I figured this was the best place to come! If you have any other ideas to help with mysetup I'd great appciate it. Thank you!






  2. Max0106

    Max0106 New Egg

    Sep 17, 2015
    Kent, England
    When i was setting up my run this was the biggest problem i saw when looking on all the forums. Everyone has a different opinion but i have found that this works really well. I made a concrete slab for the run to sit on with groves in it for drainage. Its raised about 6 inches above the ground but its fantastic. It stops water sitting in the run and stops any predators digging underneath. The chickens do not like standing on concrete so on top of that i use hardwood chips which is a lot better for their feet, stops them standing in water and give them something to scratch around in. It sounds like a lot of work but it does not take long (less than a day) It didn't cost a lot to do and it is a proper permanent solution. Mine also have about 3 hours a day to free range, and thats when they take dust baths and stuff so if yours don't you will need to put a dust bath in the run. Hope this helps
  3. Chipper Chicken

    Chipper Chicken Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jul 16, 2014
    My Coop
    Maybe this idea is just a short term solution.....but get a pop up canopy (Costco?) with walls to erect over the whole thing. Maybe 10'x 10' or the curtains/walls on nice days. This will keep them a lot dryer obviously, which will help with the litter...... but will still let in enough air for ventilation to get rid of the ammonia buildup.
    If you can build them a taller run, big enough to stand up in and enough room for them not to have issues from being in such a small area....I think you all would be happier. Give them more room somehow, 4 large fowl need space. I like all the hardware cloth you used, that's really good!
  4. justplainbatty

    justplainbatty Chillin' With My Peeps

    Nov 30, 2007
    emmet MI
  5. TalkALittle

    TalkALittle Chillin' With My Peeps

    Dec 15, 2014
    Unfortunately, I think much of your problems arise from how little space your chickens have. Deep litter relies on a natural composting action. In a small space the poop builds up faster than it can break down. In order to effectively use DL method there has to be enough material in the run. From the pictures, it looks like there isn't too much height to your run to begin with so I'd wager that your pine chips weren't deep enough. (You were using pine chips and not pine shavings, correct? )

    I'm not a fan of sand. Let's just say that the problem you had with sand is common. It's also more likely in a wetter climate and in an uncovered run. It probably didn't help that your poop output to square footage ratio is high.

    I would expand your run and give your birds more room. Preferably make it a covered run and one you can walk in to perform maintenance and cleaning. If no expansion is possible then I suggest that you modify your existing run. If it were me, I'd build a frame using landscaping timbers that was the same dimension as your run. Kind of like a big raised garden bed. I'd fill it half full with wood chips, dried grass, and leaves. Then I'd sit your run on top of it. Add more stuff periodically as needed. When it gets full empty it out and start over.
    Last edited: Sep 28, 2015
  6. TalkALittle

    TalkALittle Chillin' With My Peeps

    Dec 15, 2014
    Oops. I didn't address your problem of moisture. With a deeper base of DL the run will be able to handle some rain. I would try to rig up some kind of roof for the run. It doesn't have to be elaborate to do the job but you will want it sturdy enough to withstand winter conditions.
  7. Cacique500

    Cacique500 Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jun 2, 2013
    Atlanta, Georgia
    From the pictures it looks like the run is way too small - I'm guessing the run is maybe 8x2 or 8x3? I would at least double what you currently have, and give them a little more height as well. The general rule is 10 sq feet per chicken in the run, 4 sq feet in the coop. When the weather gets bad, I think your coop is going to be too small for them as well, especially if it's snowing/sleeting and they stay inside.

    Definitely find a way to cover the entire run - dry is better and will keep the smell down. If you can cover it, I would recommend PDZ in the coop and entire run. The pdz will be fine in the just need to keep it dry for it to work. It takes me less than 5 minutes each day to use a sifter to clean an 8x10 coop and a 10x20 run with the pdz. Pdz will also keep their feet clean, so when the kids are handling the chickens they'll be less chance of poopy feet. Pdz is great because it takes the moisture out of the poop, almost making it into a rock. Flies won't mess with it when its dry. It also absorbs ammonia, so no smell as well.

    I would also suggest a wind break for the winter winds - block off the north and west sides at a minimum.

    Also just noticed that your patio is higher than the run - I'm guessing any water that hits that patio is going to drain towards the run, keeping it wet/moist.

    Do you have a plan yet for water in the winter? Looks like you have a small pvc line and nipples above the run and those are going to freeze. We use a cooler/nipple system in the summer and then switch to a heated dog bowl in well for us.

    I would also cover the feeder - looks like it's exposed right now so if it rains the feed will get don't want moldy feed.

    I think picture 5 is the nest absolutely need wood shavings or straw in there. Chickens will actually stand up at the last minute when they lay an egg, so if you've got nothing there to cushion the fall that's most likely why you're getting cracked eggs. In our new coop we used kitty litter trays filled with pine shavings for nest really well and if I need to clean one out I simply remove the tray, change out the shavings, and put back in. The wood of nest box never gets dirty this way and makes cleanup a snap.

    Not trying to be too critical here but keep in mind this is all a learning process. We had a MUCH smaller coop for the first two years and I learned what worked and what didn't work. I kept a list and then built a MUCH LARGER coop/run that incorporated changes for everything I didn't like about the smaller coop.

    Space + dry + draft free (with good ventilation) = happy chickens!
    Last edited: Sep 28, 2015
    1 person likes this.
  8. rarneson

    rarneson New Egg

    Sep 23, 2015
    Excellent feedback, thank you! Good observations, the back patio does slope a bit down toward the run which I'm sure is not helping.

    What about a solution like this one? I could put it up on the patio. This should be sufficient indoor space for them and easy access for me. Do you think I could use the same run but move it up on the slab as well or would I still need to increase the size of it?

    Considering the frustrations I have with my current setup and my non-handyman status I'm not opposed to selling it and upgrading.
    Last edited: Sep 28, 2015
  9. Bryant Redhawk

    Bryant Redhawk Chillin' With My Peeps

    May 11, 2015
    Vilonia, AR. USA
    The others have given some good ideas

    There is no way to not increase the size of that run, it is just large enough for one standard sized chook as it is.

    The water issue could be handled by installing a French drain right next to the patio, this will need to be designed so it carries water away from the run (the further the better). you could increase the effectiveness of that drain if you also raised the floor of the run, some boards and fill dirt would go a long way to keeping the run dryer.

    When people usually speak of the minimum, space wise, they are usually thinking of medium size birds, large birds need at least 12 sq. ft. per each in the run. We use 12 sq. feet per bird in a covered run (6.5 feet high) and 6 sq. ft. inside the coop, not counting nest boxes (we have large birds). Our birds also get to free range when we are home, but the little bit of extra space helps them not get into pecking wars while we are away. We have an open top that has criss crossing wires to keep the hawks out (faster, easier and cheaper than putting up chicken wire or some other wire top). We have a roof over half of the out door fenced in run to give them outside access in rain or snow too. Our birds are locked in just before dusk to deter night time predators.

    Bantams need less space, so using the "normal" space recommendations with these birds works out great.

    Giving them more height in the run gives them vertical space. If you put in things like roost poles, swings, ledges, they can make use of vertical space and that means you could go with a smallish foot print, if you have to.
  10. dolly85

    dolly85 Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jun 1, 2010
    Howdy neighbor! I'm just a few hrs away in Western Wisconsin. :) This rain has taken a toll on our feathered friends feet and coop as well. We covered our run with tarp and put down wood chips which has helped tremendously! Have you considered a dog kennel to give you extra run space? There are some nice covered ones which I think may help with the mess.

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