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Idea for composting run...Will this work???

Discussion in 'Coop & Run - Design, Construction, & Maintenance' started by dldolan, Oct 31, 2010.

  1. dldolan

    dldolan WineNChooks

    Aug 11, 2010
    Sonoma County, CA
    Let me pose this here and see if anyone can tell me if they do something similar...

    I am trying to figure out how to do a deep litter, outdoor run here in Northern California. I have completely enclosed an old pony shelter (enclosed on three sides & covered 10x12x 8ft high) for my hens plus another 15 ft by 8 ft, making their run pretty big if they have to stay in (usually they are out in my orchard). The henhouse is inside this big space, but built up four feet above ground so they go up the ladder to sleep and lay, so have the whole open "down" space to roam around in (sort of makes an "L" shape). 1/2 of this big space gets wet (or really wet after last weekend's 6 inches of rain!) as it is open to the weather.

    Issues: -The floor of the "L" shaped run has shale gravel & dirt in the bottom as this is what they had for the drainage for the pony
    -It is sloping downhill away from the run/coop towards the garden creating a little bit of a muddy corner. Otherwise drainage is fine, but it is wet in wet season!
    -We just started rainy season, so rain off and on now through April, then NO rain for 6 months. Temp won't go much below freezing and if so, only for a couple of hours. Cold winter days will still be up to mid-forties by afternoon, and normally around 60*.

    OK, so here's my idea: I put down a layer of sand to help with drainage, then DE sprinkled, then garden grade mulch 4-6 inches...then toss in my sycamore and pear tree leaves for the girls to scratch around in when they can't go out, plus the normal "chicken scraps" they get from the kitchen. Should I be able to make the hens happy, & have compost every year? I can take off half the mix the girls make every Dry season and put it in one of my compost bins for further action before turning it into the garden. I can also replace the garden-grade mulch a few times during rainy season if needed (if it gets too muddy?), and toss it in the compost pile... Wanted results: I need to give the hens something dryer than mud and muddy shale gravel in the open area of the run, and am trying to think how to let the hens make garden mulch for me!

    Thoughts? Any would be greatly appreciated. Here are photos so you have a better idea...

    Here is the corner that gets muddy--where the red chair is...

    Here is the shelter on left and run on right

    Here is the inside of the coop (back cleaning door view)--raised 4 ft up, with wire mesh on the botton so if the girls poop from the roosts it falls through or cleans through the bottom wire very easily... (Roosts are above this door height, so you are just looking in to the nexting boxes. Chicken door on the terrace on the left.)
  2. joebryant

    joebryant Overrun With Chickens

    Since you have two areas, I suggest your filling one with at least six inches of construction grade sand and the other with compost materials for them to go to when they choose. The sand will almost always be relatively dry, especially if you sprinkle it occasionally with food grade diatomaceous earth, and the other section could be loaded with your "...garden grade mulch 4-6 inches...then toss in my sycamore and pear tree leaves for the girls to scratch around in when they can't go out, plus the normal "chicken scraps" they get from the kitchen...", old hay, grass, lots of chicken poo from under the roosts. Throw some bird seed on the sand and the compost pile and the chickens will keep both the sand and compost areas turned. Doing that you can take your compost pile straight to the garden in the spring, spread it, and turn it under.
  3. DAFox

    DAFox Chillin' With My Peeps

    Nov 7, 2009
    SW MO in Vernon Co
    I would try to drain the wet corner away from the coop if you can. But, I can't help you with the "how to". I, also, would suggest putting sand in the ouncovered portion of the run. You will have to watch out for mold during the rainy season. And botulism.
  4. patandchickens

    patandchickens Flock Mistress

    Apr 20, 2007
    Ontario, Canada
    I compost in my runs, but I have roofs on them so wetness and anaerobic nastiness is not a concern.

    Really, with your dampness and runoff problems, a roof would be your best solution. Even if you cannot afford one now maybe you could work on gradually assembling/scrounging materials for an *eventual* roof. Metal roofing is cheapest/most-durable and would also provide summer shade. Make sure to have an appropriate pitch for whatever snow you may get.

    You can put sand in if you want but it won't "help with drainage", not unless you put quite a huge lot in (and properly engineered boards or landscape ties to retain it!). In your situation I'm not sure it's worth bothering... with the exception of your 'wet corner' of the run, which it might be worth digging out (both inside and outside the run fence), replacing the dirt with sand or gravel, and BURYING WIRE MESH THERE because otherwise it will be the obvious easy place for predators to dig in or chickens to dustbathe their way out.

    If shallow groundwater contamination is not a big concern, you could consider digging a deep trench or hole between your run and garden, and filling it with gravel and concrete rubble (topping it with multiple layers of landscape fabric and then maybe 4-6" of dirt) to create a drain to intercept some of the runoff water. How brilliantly this works (or doesn't) depends on how clayey your subsoil is, but if you are not on *severe* wet-and-dense clay it usually helps at least 'some' and sometimes 'a whole lot'. Don't do it near a shallow well though.

    But really your best long-term solution would be a proper roof on the run, with gutters and a downspout and an extension on the downspout (4" corrugated drainpipe works well) to lead the water where you want it to go, i.e. well *away from* the muddy areas. You can also swap in a shorter downspout in summer months if you want to collect roof water for the garden during the drier time of year.

    Good luck, have ufn,

  5. dldolan

    dldolan WineNChooks

    Aug 11, 2010
    Sonoma County, CA
    Thanks for all the feedback. Given the total dryness of the summer months here and that about half of the run is already under cover, putting in an extended roof for the extra 8+ ft section probably doesn't meet the DH cost-benefit anaysis. [​IMG] I think the sand layer, food grade DE and layers of garden grade mulch, leaves and stuff is what I will try first. I don't have standing water as the wet corner does drain out to the garden. Just, as it is the lowest-lying area (thankfully furthest away from the raised henhouse), I am more worried about it becoming more and more of an issue over the rainy winter. I will also put sand under the covered area to make sure and keep it dry!

    I have a friend with horses--could/should I add in some of that hay/horse poop mix to the mulched open area?

  6. joebryant

    joebryant Overrun With Chickens

    Quote:Adding the hay/horse manure will be okay to mix with the chicken litter/poo as long as when you mix them you make sure that you wet it all down and keep it damp so that it will heat up. The composting bacteria die and/or cannot work if the mix is dry.
    Last edited: Oct 31, 2010
  7. dldolan

    dldolan WineNChooks

    Aug 11, 2010
    Sonoma County, CA
    The horse manure won't "burn" the chickens feet when they scratch around in it, i hope? And what anaerobic stuff should I be on the lookout for? I take it nothing is "active" here in the summer due to the prolonged dryness...

    I read through this as a good resource--thanks! "Big Ol' Mud Page (fixing muddy runs)": https://www.backyardchickens.com/web/viewblog.php?id=1642-fix-a-muddy-run

    . And here I was just collecting beautiful rainbow eggs all summer, watching my hens in the orchard, and blissfully ignorant. [​IMG] Guess chickentopia is over. [​IMG]
    Last edited: Nov 1, 2010

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