Maintaining The Chicken Run

Due to predators and the fact that I like my gardens intact, my chickens spend the majority of their time in their runs. Anyone who keeps poultry knows that even the densest sod is no match for the dinosaur-like feet of a flock of hens. In no time at all grass turns into dirt. And then it becomes a mixture of dirt and chicken manure.

Active and young hens will keep the ground loose enough. Regular raking and tidying up will keep the manure from becoming a problem. Low spots can be filled in with coarse builders sand, which will also helps with the drainage. A compost in the run will give the girls something to do for hours on end. So, an enclosed run can be a fine place for a small flock of backyard hens.

But I have a flock of elderly hens. They no longer scratch the ground. They sunbathe. They peck leisurely at little treats. They stand around. The other day I noticed that despite the heat and the drought, that there was standing water and algae near the faucet.

The earth in the pen had become so compacted that it wasn’t draining at all. There was a layer of dirt that broke into pieces like brittle concrete. It was time to do some maintenance. I used a pitchfork to turn over the layer of hardpan. Here I’ve taken a break halfway through the job.

The chickens were delighted. Without any work (barely any bending over!) there were tiny tidbits for them to find and eat.

The girls were more active than I’ve seen in a long time.

However, the old hens still didn’t scratch. If the young Gems had been put in this pen the clods would have flown in all directions. It would have been shredded and spread in no time. But, after a day, my elderly hens hadn’t broken up a single lump of dirt. I went in the with rake and smoothed it out.

It rained the evening after I did this chore, and the water drained quickly away. Standing water and a damp environment almost always precede respiratory ailments. So, not only does it look better, but the pen is now a healthier place for my old girls.

I recommend that everyone does this sort of pen maintenance on at least a half-yearly basis.

Even Candy appreciated the newly-fluffed dirt.


  1. I thought there was something wrong with the run floor on the Hencam! Glad all is well for the old girls. I dig my run over regularly and scatter a handful of dried mealworms around. Keeps them busy and they love hunting for the worms. I poo pick it every day as well, especially in the hot weather, keeps the flies away :o)

  2. Candy looks so well groomed! Is that something you do for her, or do rabbits “self-clean” like cats?

    • Actually, she needs a good grooming. Old animals don’t shed efficiently and she has tufts of hair coming off. But, as you can imagine, she doesn’t show appreciation for my efforts :)

  3. Our oldest hen, Betty, is four.
    We’ve wondered ‘how old is an old hen?’
    It makes me happy to have discovered
    a happy flock, in their golden years, and to
    learn what you do for them, and what we may expect
    to do for Betty. Thank you.

  4. Ooo, yes. So much work. My back aches just looking at all your efforts. I do this a few times a year to my run too. Even though I go through twice a day and scoop up the poops, let’s face it, there’s poop out there. So it’s also a great way to naturally clean the soil and till that into the earth and work up some fresh dirt for the run.

  5. The lesson here is: People with hens keep trim without going to a gym. And they have fresh eggs as well!

  6. How fun! One of the Polish gals taking a dust bath LIVE!

  7. The pen looks great and the animals happy as always. Thanks once again for sharing such useful information, a novice would probably take years of trial and error to learn these lessons on their own. You really “up” the quality of life for all your readers’ animals. By the way, shout out to Lily and Scooter.

  8. I noticed you had done something to the run but I was not sure what it was. It looked like it was rototilled. All your efforts and work paid off. The hens and bunny benefit and enjoy the change.

    The other day I was watching as you were trying to put Candy away and she was being a challenge to say the least. I think you remember the day I’m referring to. I was laughing so hard I almost fell over in my computer chair. Finally, she went in. Normally she’ll go in on her own or sometimes with a little nudge from you.

    • Sheri, I saw that too! It was so hilarious, Candy is so wry! Terry’s facial expressions were priceless!

      • I was wondering if anyone was watching. And this is why there is no sound on HenCam! Not that I was swearing…. The weather had gotten a little cooler and Candy had no interest in going into her house. Most of the time she hops right in if I ask. Not always!

  9. Terry- Re your older gals- on average at what age would you say they stopped laying?

    • The hybrids stop by age 3. They wear out. But the fancy hens who don’t lay a lot will keep going and going. Then again, the total number of eggs over a lifetime for those hens is still probably less than the good layers!

  10. I am so tickled pink. I got my first egg today. It was squishy though but an egg. She acted so odd right before. Very lethargic for a couple hours. After the egg she was still very still but she made it up and perched for the night. Poor girl. I guess that is hard for a body to figure out.

    • She’ll get it soon enough, I’m sure. You’ll notice that each hen has their own style of laying – I’m working on a blog post about that. Some will be loud. Some will sit for an hour before. It all depends on the hen.

  11. What a coincidence. I did the same thing last weekend. Then added dust to the floor and wormed. Everything clean and pretty!

  12. I just watched the Polish do synchronized dust bathing. Adorable! Should be an Olympic sport.

  13. Therapeutic. Chickens and all that goes with them is a fun hobby. They are hilarious and sweet.

  14. In terms of run maintenance do you use anything on the earth? Any kind of disinfectant (Stalosan??)? Or do you find if they have sufficient space it’s ok?

  15. If older hens don’t scratch. Can you plant anything in their run?

    • They do still scratch, just not with vigor. I imagine that I could put them on turf and it would stay good for awhile. But – they’d eat the seeds! Also, chicken manure burns, so it’d be hard to keep grass growing. I do know that I can put them out in my lawn without them tearing up pits in a few minutes like the Gems do.