Help Settle a Husband/Wife debate on coop design


9 Years
May 14, 2011
Oakland, California
We are leveling the ground for our fully enclosed coop and run. My husband would like to lay brick inside the run to help keep it clean. On the one hand that seems like a nice idea. But wasn't sure if our ladies would prefer dirt to peck at bugs and weeds. We plan to lay down hay in either case and clean it out every week or so. With the ground only, DH is worried that when we clean up poop and hay, we will take down soil and expose the hardware cloth underneath and will have to refill it with soil periodically. I like the idea of brick and if DH is willing to put in the work, I'm all for it. Is there any downside to the brick floor for the run? Problems with feet or toes? Pecking issues?
This is where they will be 90% of the day (weekends, they will be out more with us in the garden). Any help from the experts would be great!
With brick you will be able to hose it down, but do you really want to do that everyday? Sand is great, you can rake it under and leave it or rake it to a spot and remove it. By no means am I an expert, but I like having a covered area in sand and the rest dirt/grass.
Well, what I observe is my chickens scratching all day long...and scratching deeply. My run is dirt. I add dried leaves from the fall to it from time to time and they make more dirt. I can't remember the last time I've had to clean the run and it does not smell.
Chicken like to scratch and find things, whether there is anything there or not. Honestly, I think you will be sorry if you fill your run with hay and change it out every week. Hay is very slow to compost and soon you will have a mountain of unusable compost.

I recommend filling your run with about 4-6" of sand. It's easy to clean up with a sifter made out of 1/4" welded wire and a couple sticks of wood. It provides your chickens a great place to scratch. Every week after sifting out the unwanted materials, just spread a layer of oyster shell flour and DE and you are good to go. Another good thing about this is that when using oyster shell flour and DE, there are no flies in the compost pile when you start piling it up.

I have 4" of pine chips in my coop, but sand in the run. Good stuff.
Why not do a little of both. Brick will be good for the chickens to keep there beaks filed down along with their nails. If it's hot the bricks maybe cool for the birds if they are in the shade and warm in the winter if the sun is on them. Easy to clean as well. The chickens may pull the sand out from between the bricks though. Now, if you have sand in another section that would be wonderful because they do like to scratch, alot. Also, chickens take dust baths. They do like to burrow in certain areas to keep clean. It is also easy to clean with a rake. If you have a manure rake that is used in horse barns that is even better. Since my birds (chickens, turkeys,ducks and geese) free range my manure rake comes in handy picking up chicken poop as well as horse poop. It's not very bad but sometimes birds can poop like dogs.
I really like my sand run which is 4-6 inches deep. They never scratch down to the wire and they take their baths in there even when out free ranging in the yard. I rake it with a dogs pooper scooper metal rake. My plastic rake froze and broke in the winter. I throw some straw in there in the winter for warmth under their feet, I heard it stayed drier than hay.
A cheaper option than brick would be rubber stall mats. It will provide an impervious surface for critters digging in, and make a solid cleanable surface to clean. The ones I have are 3'x5' and 1" thick. There are less expensive ones for less that are 1/2" or less.
Laying hardwarecloth underneath all the run is not the best plan in most circumstances IMO, unless you are trying to keep rats completely out (and even then, honestly, chances are pretty good rats will find a way in, there or elsewhere). Just do a good 2-3' wide apron, properly installed, along the OUTSIDE of the run fence, and you will be fine on digproofing. Brick laid in the run, btw, will NOT ratproof unless there is also hardwarecloth under it (and then, as I say, they will just come in elsewhere)

The problem with a hard surface (hardwarecloth, brick, stall mats, whatever else) in your run is that one of chickens' biggest strongest instincts is to scratch around and dig in the dirt with their feet. Mine *easily* go down 8" or more in their activities. You'd have to put a LOT of stuff on top of the hard bottom in order not to be interfering significantly with their life. Even if you don't mind interfering with their instincts somewhat, I wouldn't go less than 3-4" packed material (i.e. 3-4" *after* the fluffiness has been stomped out of the hay) just to protect their feet. (I speak from experience here, having some of my runs on concrete slabs just cuz the slab was preexisting).

The only reason I could see for using a hard surface in your run would be if it's unavoidably preexisting (like mine) or if you expect flooding problems. And frankly if you expect flooding problems, you'd be as well or better off (in the long run at least) FIXING the flooding problem -- by relocating the coop, by getting in a big dumpload of roadbase to make a raised pad, and/or by doing various water-diversion things. See my 'fixing a muddy run' page for mroe on the subject, link in .sig below.

Otherwise personally I think you'd be WAY best off with just plain dirt (possibly with sand or some other aggregate added on top of it).

You can TRY the "fill run with hay and remove it each week" thing if you want, but I strongly suspect you'll become dissatisfied and change your tactics pretty soon. That is going to be a lot of hay and work, and make a rather laaaarge long-lasting compost pile, and may STILL have stink and fly problems (especially if you do it over hardwarecloth rather than brick). Also, I don't personally feel this is a huge concern, but I will pass on the information that a number of BYCers have had chickens get impacted-crop problems from hay-bedded coops/runs... this seems to be infrequent and unpredictable, but probably likelier in chickens with a small boring run than in chickens who have a larger area and more things to do. So, I mean, by all means try it if you want, but it's worth looking at what your other options are going to be, too

Good luck, have fun,

I am new and use pine shavings over dirt floor (converted a horse stall). Mine also free-range.

My question to direct (and I may be wrong), but unless you plan to remove hay on a routine basis... won't it mold? I know when my horses hay gets damp, pooped on, etc it will grow mold... when it gets poopy/wet... it is extremely heavy to remove.

I prefer the pine shavings or sand as others have suggested.

I personally wouldn't use brick (maybe around the edge to keep the cloth down and leave the inside dirt/sand/shavings for them to dig in).

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