Help! Springtime Stink in the Run

Discussion in 'Coop & Run - Design, Construction, & Maintenance' started by TalkALittle, Mar 13, 2015.

  1. TalkALittle

    TalkALittle Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Ok. First a little background.
    9 chickens (soon to be 8).
    Approx. 8'x12' covered run, poorly placed in lowest part of the yard.
    Yard backs up to wetlands so high water table and ground is really moist, especially in Spring.
    Soil is mostly clay.

    Currently I have about 3-4 inches of sand in the run. It started out as 6" last spring (May) but has sunk into the soil. I fully expected this and anticipated adding sand each year. I diligently scoop and sift through the run each morning and evening, removing the poop to the compost pile. I was thrilled with the sand last year when I installed it in May and into the winter. All winter long I was sifting away and the girls had plenty of clean, dry sand to scratch in while the 4+ feet of snow fell outside the covered and tarped run--life was great.

    Enter the spring thaw and snow melt. The run is wet--not sopping wet, but no longer siftable. The water table is rising and the sand is getting wet from beneath. The poops are getting trod upon and ground into the sand and things are starting to stink. Only half the snow is melted and we've still got spring rains to come. I'm keeping illegal chickens on the down-low so "stink factor" is big for me. This is my first early spring with the chickens so the first time dealing with this issue. I would really like to stick with the sand because it was so nice for most of the year, but due to the current problem I'm contemplating a conversion to deep litter.

    If I stick with sand, what measures do I need to take to remedy my current situation and prevent this from becoming an annual problem? If the solution is to get more sand, remember that I still have 2+ feet of snow in the yard so the truck can't get back to dump it near the run and I would have to wheelbarrow it back there. Not impossible if it were a one time thing, but not practical if it becomes a required annual event. Plus, there's no guarantee I can get dry sand delivered. The sand I got last year was moist and did not sift well until it dried out.

    If I go with DL, will it remedy my current situation and possibly prevent future springtime stink worries? Secondly, if I go with DL what mix of materials should I use. I have access to wood shavings (from feed store), free woodshop sweepings (a mixture ranging from sawdust to big wood curls but not consistent from bag to bag), shredded leaves or whole leaves (would be damp as I have to dig them from the middle of last autumn's leaf pile that is beneath snow), chopped hay bits swept from the feed store's barn floor that I can get cheaply by the garbage bagful), 1/2 bale of straw that I already have but am not keen to use because I've read it goes moldy before breaking down. That's a lot of "browns" right now but there is the chicken poop for "greens" and once spring really hits, I'll have grass clippings too. Given my moist environment, what proportions should I mix in and how deep to best combat the stink right now?

    Let me add that my situation doesn't come as a complete shock to me. I knew that I'd have issues in the spring season regardless of what substrate I used in the run and that my first year (or two) would be a big experiment. Originally the run was not roofed so I figured it was better to experiment with the sand first. Unfortunately, relocating the coop and run are not an option as the only really dryer place is in the front yard.
     
  2. ChickenCanoe

    ChickenCanoe Chicken Obsessed

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    Anything that can absorb moisture will get wet and stay that way for a while.
    To prevent an annual problem. Move it to a slope or the top of a hill.
     
  3. TalkALittle

    TalkALittle Chillin' With My Peeps

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    The backyard is actually quite level. I don't have a slope or hill to put it on. The property is low-lying wetlands.
     
    Last edited: Mar 13, 2015
  4. TalkALittle

    TalkALittle Chillin' With My Peeps

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    This really isn't a "how do I dry out my run?" post. It's more a "given my situation can I hope to eliminate odor and still use sand or should I just go with DL?"

    I'm always going to have to deal with the moisture--it's the price I pay for living where I do. I'm hoping for advice on whether it is realistic to expect to be able to eliminate the odor problem I am now encountering with my current sand situation by modifying it in some way, and if not, advise on whether DLM would do a better job at mediating the odor problem.

    Many people who use DLM recommend adding some moisture to their litter. When composting, it is common to have to add moisture to the pile. I compost elsewhere on my property and usually don't have to add much water to the pile. Annual rainfall plus moisture from the ground below are usually sufficient. I actually think that in my covered run DLM might work well but don't want to completely abandon the sand until I've heard if there are other options.

    Oh, I also know I could dig a French drain or put in a dry well which would improve drainage around the coop. But if DLM gets me low-odor results without digging then I'd rather do that.
     
  5. ChickenCanoe

    ChickenCanoe Chicken Obsessed

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    I don't think it will help the odor. Deep litter will just get wet and stay wet. Can you bring in soil to elevate the ground in that part of the yard? The smell is likely from anaerobic bacteria thriving in the wet conditions.
    I've had some luck with this stuff. http://www.gro2max.com/#!farm360
     
    Last edited: Mar 13, 2015
  6. TalkALittle

    TalkALittle Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Theoretically, I could elevate the ground under the coop but it would be a hardship plus I wouldn't be able to do it for another month or so and the run stinks now. As I wrote, for most of the year the sand was nice and dry. I actually wouldn't mind the sand being as moist as it is if there wasn't an odor. I have no doubt that eventually my sand will dry out and I will be back to sifting like before. The problem is that there will be poo bits ground into it. I don't think it would stink much in the summer and fall when it is dry, but I anticipate the same thing happening every spring if I don't take some additional measures.

    I have considered just applying lime to it but that would require wetting it further. Yes, it would reduce the stink but it wouldn't dry it out and any new poo would continue to get ground in until the spring has passed. The product you linked to is much more appealing to me than caustic lime. Thanks.

    I guess I need to know how wet can deep litter get before it becomes ineffective? I've seen pictures and videos of DLM and it seems like it is always a bit moist and crumbly. I don't live in the swamp, lol. Most of the year, the yard is fine. It's really just the spring that gives us a problem but even then, it's not like it's standing water or a river running through the yard. If I put in 12" of dry organic material in the run I would expect that it would absorb moisture from the ground, but I don't think it would get any wetter over all than the sand that's there now. I would expect that some decomposition would start to occur, but I imagine it would be the good smelling, composting kind, not the sour poop smell I've got now. I also imagine that regular turning would aerate it and allow it to dry some.

    I'm flirting with the idea of putting 18" square concrete pavers under the run (I've already got a nice sandy base) and doing 12" of DL on top of them. Ironically, pavers would be easier and less expensive than building up with soil and it would get things up above ground level. The sand the birds are currently housed on doesn't provide much in the way of interesting stuff to scratch around in and bugs don't live in it so I'm thinking DL over concrete pavers might actually be better in that respect.
     
  7. yellowchicks

    yellowchicks Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Keep the sand layer in place to use as a permeable filter layer for ground water fluctuation. Put 4" to 6" thick layer of pine shaving on top, and do your DLM directly on top of the sand layer. You may need to build up the perimeter to contain the pine shaving. Keep stirring the pine shaving daily to absorb the moisture, add more pine shaving as needed.

    Materials such as leaves, grass, straw, hay and wood chips are not as absorbent for your situation, and saw dust is too fine which will make a mess.

    Keep the roof above the run or else the deep litter will stink too if it gets wet.
     
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  8. RonP

    RonP Chillin' With My Peeps

    For odor control, think compost...

    Add more browns...lock up the nitrates, and odor.

    After reading your situation, I would advise to put down at least 12 inches of wood chips, preferably free.

    The carbon will lock up the nitrates, the top layer will stay dry, the birds will have a blast.

    It will take about 2 years to break down, just add more when needed to keep the level high enough to stay dry.

    Your run will smell like a forest floor on a rainy day...
     
  9. TalkALittle

    TalkALittle Chillin' With My Peeps

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    A nice woodsy earthy smell would be lovely. When you say "wood chips" I picture pretty sizable chunks of wood. Is that what you recommend or would a shredded bark mulch work? I can't imagine big chunks being particularly comfortable to walk around in for the hens. They absolutely loved getting into my mulched flower beds last year though. Could you post a picture of the type and texture of material you'd recommend?

    And yes, I agree free would be preferable although I'd gladly pay to prevent the stink.
     
  10. TalkALittle

    TalkALittle Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Oh, any thoughts on my idea of placing pavers first and doing deep litter on top of them? I believe I'd still get composting occurring.
     

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