Chicken Run Maintenance

Even a spacious chicken run will turn to dirt, and over time that will become so packed down that water can no longer drain through. I rake the manure and remove it from the pen weekly, but still, much gets worked into the ground, and eventually the surface of the run will become hardpan. For the chickens, it will be like scratching on concrete. An algae bloom appeared on mine, along with weeds that no one wanted to peck at.



When this happens, manure becomes a slick and nasty coating on the surface. There are few nice places to dust bathe. Simply put, it’s yucky.

We’ve been in the midst of a miserable heat wave, but I couldn’t bear seeing my flock in such conditions. So, at six in the morning last Friday, I got out my pitchfork. Owly was interested.



I dug. You can see how there was an impermeable layer at the surface.

owly and Beatrix


Turning over the dirt exposed all sorts of interesting things for the chickens. Betsy led the way.



Soon everyone was investigating what was unearthed.



Bunnies are curious, and Phoebe liked having a different surface to hop on.



I bought 5 tubes of sand.



I mixed it a bit with the dirt and raked the surface smooth. The sand adds drainage.



The pullets immediately began to scratch in the soft surface, seemingly delighted that they could.

pullets in corner


Buffy made the best use of the new loose soil. It was cool. It was comfortable. It was the perfect place to wait out the heat wave.



If only it was that easy for me to cool off! By the time I was done, I was hot, drenched with sweat, and streaked with dirt. A shower and an iced coffee revived me. All of the effort was worth it. The animals clearly said Thank You.


  1. Terry that is hard work in this hot weather. Could you maybe had used an electric garden tiller in break up the dirt, and then mix in the sand that way ?

  2. I saw your chick yard all dug up and thought you had a flood go through, which is what is happening to mine on a regular basis due to all this rain. Where I live in Vermont we have had the heat PLUS 19 inches of rain since May 19th, a foot more than usual at this time of year. My chick yard is 3 inches of mud rather than hard pack. After the last two rains the area became clogged with debris up against the fence and about 1/3 of it had over 3″ of standing water. I have spent countless hours digging out stuck mud, raking against the fence to get rid of debris, and hauling bags of mulch to make higher areas so my poor chicks can get their feet out of the muck (at last count? 32 50lb bags!). I had the coop moved this year to higher ground because of too much standing water in the old location – then the new location is what I’ve described above. If this weather is the “new normal” as the meteorologists are saying, I am just going to have to move my coop again, to even higher ground. My husband says we must have the most expensive eggs in the state! (I remind him that he has spent a lot more on his hobby – golf over the last 42 years of our marriage lol !).

    • I’ve ridden horses for most of my life, which makes all other hobbies seem inexpensive and not at all time-consuming! :)

  3. Great post. I just did the same thing after you had given me previous advice on this subject. Thx for shring photos! Stay cool.

  4. All of your chicken related posts have been calls to action for me lately- mites, boredom, heat. Last week I noticed how compacted the surface was in our chicken yard when some juice I brought spilled and puddled up on the ground. And stayed there. It’s clearly pitch fork time for us, too. Thanks for all the practical and common sense information you share on a regular basis, It is invaluable to our chicken’s quality of life.

  5. yes – this is a timely article because of the slick mud in our run too. We’re debating the sand, but perhaps some pea gravel as well in paths, to provide a better surface for humans to walk on. I have been tossing in some peat moss to make the coop surface more soft – wondering about the wisdom of that now, ha ha. I just feel bad for the girls and it’s terrible for the eggs when they lay – I’ve never had to wash our eggs like I do now….

    • I don’t recommend pea gravel. I just went through the hoops to get rid of all the gravel under our deck. The birds were hanging out and digging under in the gravel there. I am fairly certain it’s why there was an epidemic of bumblefoot in my flock. It’s pretty rough on their feet.

  6. When I read these comments I wonder about the sanity of those who say it’s easy to have a backyard flock of chickens. Much joy, yes. But loads of hard work and lots to learn.

  7. My coop floor and run are in disparate need of attention! I have wanted to add sand just like you did but I’m not sure which would be the best?

    • I buy the inexpensive coarse builders’ sand sold in the tubes at Agway. Easy (sort of, 60 pounds each) to haul around.

  8. And you clearly wore out Pip and Caper…they couldn’t even bear to look at someone working so hard!

  9. You made that job look like a walk in the park!
    Looks great.

  10. Back from vacation and excited to catch up here. (it’s my favorite thing to do at work lol )
    Our run gets exactly like this but NOTHING grows –not even weeds. I commend you for this hard work…even at 6 am it was miserably hot on Friday.

  11. I did some similar work this weekend. It was so fun watching them enjoy the fresh dirt. Makes all the sweat worthwhile!

  12. Thanks for the post. We are always turning over the packed soil and removing some of it as well. I didn’t think to add sand to it. What a great idea!

  13. I have only 3 hens in a smaller area, on deep well-drained sand, but I turn it all over with a fork each week. They love it…it keeps them busy for ages and helps bury most of the poo.