Sand verses mulch in run

Grandma Quinn

May 29, 2016
Girard IL
I live in Illinois and have had my girls for a year now. Their runs are covered and the floor is dirt. The dirt has became very hard. I was thinking of tilling them to break up the dirt then add mulch but I am on the fence post with a decision. I am looking into the best run coverage material. With sand they cannot scratch around for bugs, keeps their feet clean, and they can dust bathe in it.

On the other hand with mulch...they can scratch around for bugs. The mulch will dry out since the runs are covered.

What is your choice of material for runs?
We're new to chickens only had our hens a couple of days. I have built a 6m x 2m covered run and we have opted for sand. The reason for this is for an easy clean up of chicken poop. We live in an urban area and have a miserable neighbour, therefore we can't afford for things to get smelly. So
far so good!
It’s funny how different people, in different parts of the world, do things.

Here in NC, we found that our coops/runs on our native sand were TERRIBLE. Smell very, very bad - no matter how much you rake and pick up the poop. Flies and no-see-ums & gnats were also bad.

We went to "mulch" - using a combo of whatever we have on hand. The results have been no flies, no smell, no unsightly moonscape and usable compost to add to raised bed gardens (haven't gotten those complete yet) and spread on pasture sand to slowly upgrade it to better soil for grass for the ponies (& the chickens when we go back to free range).

The mulch we use is a variety of hays/straws, grass & weeds mowed around our property/yard/pastures (trying to upgrade those, too), garden waste, pine straw & leaves, pony manure (in small amounts). We found that shredded paper needed to be done in smaller amounts at one time, usually layered with pine straw and leaves if at all possible - shredded from phone books (yes, we still get a lot of those!), newspaper, junk mail, documents that are out of date or no longer needed.

Once a decent layer of mulch, we put kitchen cuttings from fruits/veggies, foods turning (bread/buns, veggies, fruit, even meats in small amounts) on top. The chickens pick through it all and turn under what they can’t/won’t eat, mix it well while digging and poop on it and it’s all good!

Some pics. 1st pic shows how much sand we have outside the coop (was same inside) next to our barn. 2nd pic shows same hoop coop a little over a month later w/ different materials added (not much build up yet). These combo coops are about 8'x8'. We were free ranging birds but due to having predator issues, we are working on building a yard around the coop for them and a 2nd coop behind this one.

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Pics of different coop/run set ups. They are currently still in existence, but not being used while we gather materials to remove these & rebuild into hoop coop/run combos - some of the compost from the pics below will be used in the new garden beds, some will be retained to "start" the new litter in the hoop coop/run combos. 1st pic - wagon load of natural materials. The coops/pens had already become "naked" moonscapes and very smelly. Wish I had pics of those, you can kind of see the bare ground in the 2nd pic.

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Close up of materials in same pen. I did not spread the materials - left in piles & chickens do a great job of spreading themselves.


Pics from 2 other pens being used (there are actually 4 of them - 2 have never been used by us for chickens)... 1st pic shows both pens. 2nd pen shows covered pen. 3rd pic shows the roosters pen (wasn't covered yet).

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.... keeps their feet clean, and they can dust bathe in it.

On the other hand with mulch...they can scratch around for bugs. The mulch will dry out since the runs are covered.

What is your choice of material for runs?
I use sand in brooder, poops mixed with sand turn to 'concrete' stuck to toenails.

Go with 'mulch'.
A mix of dry plant materials in various size, shapes, materials is the best.
Too much of any one thing can make an anaerobic mess, so keep an eye out for that.

Here's a great description of contents and how to manage organic 'bedding' in a run or coop...and there's a great video of what it looks like.

I lucked out with aged tree trimmings from a buddy and add other stuff regularly.

Let grass grow long in yard, spread it out with mowing pattern while cutting,
then scooped it all up after a few dry days, made great 'hay':
When Hurricane Matthew came thru and dumped "tons"(we got measured 11" in just a few hours) of water on us, the chickens in the tarped coop/pens DID get a bit wet & bedraggled looking (we replaced the tarps) BUT the layer(s) of mulch did a GREAT job of soaking up the water and keeping the pens from smelling bad. W/I 24 hours of drying time, the mulch or bottoms of them were light and fluffy again.

You can see the grass growing in front of the barn coop. There is water running between the barn and the hoop coop - u can see it in the 2nd pic (tan streaks top left of pic)Sorry it's so blurry, still raining pretty heavily and we did have damage & some flooding in other areas of our property. 2nd pic shows some of the younger pullets - why they weren't on the roosts (which were under the tarp still intact in first pic), I've never figured out. BUT there were worms popping up in that mulch whenever the rain was lighter so maybe that's why? I did collect up more mulch the following week and threw it in that coop w/ the birds - no pics, though. Those pullets fluffed up and dried out just fine! Started getting eggs in February 2017 from them.

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I seem to be missing pics - I know I had some other pics of the two coops behind the barn (can see behind the pony wagon in 1st pic above) - showing mulch bedding both before and after Hurricane Matthew.

This one shows some of the flow of water going in front of the barn. This year we are putting in a swale/berm around the round pen AND around part of our "pond" (which doesn't hold water at all except during some of these major weather events) that will have trees planted in it to soak up some more of the water during any more such events AND to provide fruit and shade for us & both ponies and birds. Wish Hurricane Matthew had come thru about 8 months earlier - before we put up the round pen where we did. We are currently considering moving it - though right now it's in a REALLY nice location for us to utilize. It's had ponies kept/living in it more often then it's been used for training since built :( .

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You can also see just how much bare sand we are dealing with. When we do have ponies living in the round pen, we clean out manure and hay from the round bales and spread it on that sand between the barn and the feeding pen. This year, for the first time, we have grass growing in that slightly improved sand. We are no where near done with it yet - but getting there. The grass growing is not planted grass - but from whatever was there or in the hay. I have oats coming up this year too, from the oat hay we've also used.

when the hoop coops have gotten more than 10" deep, I've stripped some of the composted material out and thrown it in/onto that sand as well. Win/win all the way around. Now we are putting some of it into the berms as we build them up. Not purchasing top soil or clay.
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here's another vote for mulched wood chips (I prefer non fir, like maple). my most challenging run is for the broilers and even that did beautifully with partially rotted wood chips this year. they seemed to benefit from the microbes and stay healthier, it dried more quickly and stayed more aerobic/less smelly. it makes great compost/soil amendement too! three cheers for the micro biome!
I too was torn between sand & DLM A BYC member, knowing our Hawaii weather (rain & humidity) recommend DLM. My run has hard clay ground for the fun floor, the chickens are loosening it up, which I then remove to fill low lying areas in my yard. I add more shavings, grass clipping, leaves as needed....When it gets wet, I mix it around or the girls do it. I installed a poop board under their roost (adding PDZ & DE), clean that daily & the girls shuffle the shavings/mulch around. No flies, no smell.
We did sand before and after the winter it was awful! It hardened and smelled nasty! We are putting down peat moss and mulch and hope to have better luck this time around.
We are in an urban area and did sand. It worked really well for about 6 months, now the smell is getting noticeable, though not terrible yet. Plenty of flies, though sand has been much better than dirt was for us as far as clean up. I was trying to figure out solutions to the odor when I came to your post. I've also been using the PDZ. After reading other posts, I might just try the mulch option and see what happens. Good luck!

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