Annual Chicken Pen Maintenance

Despite the fact that hens have strong and active dinosaur feet, and that they use them to dig holes and scratch the ground for hours on end, the dirt in the run does get packed down. Although I frequently rake up manure, much of the hens’ waste sinks into the earth, but it doesn’t disappear. The soil becomes compacted and over time as hard as cement. Pathogens accumulate. Once a year, I turn it over with a

. Not only does this improve drainage, but it also exposes germs and lurking insects to disinfecting sunlight – two essential components of my management plant to keep my flock healthy.

I used to do this hard chore myself, but now my teenage son does it. You can see how the dense and impervious to rain it had become. We don’t have clay soil here – those chunks are all due to manure and the ground being pounded on by chicken feet.



To loosen things up, I bought bags of all-purpose sand.



These aren’t so big, but weigh 70 pounds each! I appreciate having that teenager.

pouring sand

(Note that the dispenser hanging on the right is filled with oyster shell – a calcium supplement. Offered like that, free choice, but up off of the ground, is tidy and prevents waste.)

Three bags of sand in each chicken run are enough to aerate the soil. Right now everything is uneven and in big chunks. But the hens will set to work and smooth things out. Phoebe and the goats watch.



The last two mornings saw hard frosts. Today it was 28 degrees F when the hens were let out. The ground is hard, and there aren’t many bugs to scratch for. It might be awhile before the Girls are finished smoothing out the surface of the run. That’s okay. Change like this adds interest to their lives. In the meanwhile, those piles of sand make excellent dust bathing spots, and even with this cold weather, the hens will have their baths.


  1. Yay for teenagers! They make great slave labor! :D

    I checked in yesterday with half an eye and saw lumps and chunks and was momentarily startled. Then I laughed at myself and said, “Terry’s tearing up the yard!” But weirdly enough, there wasn’t a chicken or goat to be seen. No clay soil up by you, eh? *sighs wistfully*

  2. Your hard frosts will soon sort out the lumps and kill off any nasties !! I have the time so am able to poop pick the girls large area once sometimes twice everyday, bonus of being retired. The lawn area is mowed and kept free off leaves and the area that is earth I dig every few months so very crumbly. I had to get on my knees to get under covered trampoline to clean out their 2′ x 6′ dust bath it was full of feathers, added extra fresh sieved soil and de powder, now all set for winter. I don’t think the Girls realize how lucky they are !!…)

  3. My hubby uses his heavy duty garden tiller to break up our chicken pen..and it needs doing now. There are still a few big chunks out there, but the girls are working on them, LOL Hadn’t thought about using sand, good idea!!

  4. Also our temp’s still very mild, lots of veg still growing, Girls will have to wait, before they can have other side of garden.
    No teenage son’s here, all grown up, grandkids to young. Adults would help if I asked but like to do it myself while I can..:)

  5. Well, you learn something every day. While I totally get digging up the compacted surface soil, and adding sand to make it more friable, I would never have thought the chickens’ walking over it repeatedly would be enough to smooth it out. Huh. Fascinating. I’ll be interested to see how long it takes.

  6. I will be doing that also, I saw you doing it last year and thought what a good idea! I also have a forage frame in my chicken run where I plant grass seed etc. It grows tall and the hens eat it. When it gets too full of weeds or the grass stops growing I move it to another spot in the pen and the hens work all day in the new area, eating what was uncovered. This helps stir up the dirt in the pen too..thanks for sharing all you do!

  7. I have often wondered if this type of sand was ok–I usually buy play sand. I will worry no more!

  8. You say it turns up pathogens . So I take it this is not best done in spring.? Do it now and the cold will kill anything? I am worried it will bring up stuff and also the ground here is already pretty hard.

    • Anytime is good! Exposing them to sunlight and air kills a lot of them. If you have to wait for spring, that’s okay. If the run gets too mucky during frozen mud season, you can put sand on top.