Dealing with muddy chickens runs.

A flock of my chickens stood around in a muddy field

How do you manage the mud that inevitably appears in the chicken run?

Wherever chickens stand around it leads to the soil becoming compacted very quickly and a thin crust forms on the soil making the water sit on the surface.

You can deal with it by covering the mess up, diverting the water away, covering the run or moving them around every few days or free ranging your birds.

The problem here is that chickens will quickly reduce even the greenest lush grass to ground level and damage the roots in a few days, especially if confined in a small area like they would be in a run.

I live in North Yorkshire and we get a lot of rain and snow and managing the mud in chicken runs is something I have had a lot of practice doing.

You can see from the picture at the top that It is a problem I have as well, every Autumn (Fall) and Spring when the weather is usually the wettest but the sun is quite weak. 

This is a problem that never seems to go away especially in places like the United Kingdom and the wetter parts of the world or in the winter months when the sun is at it's weakest.

Then when it dries out again it gets rock hard and remains a bald patch forever.

Is mud bad for chickens?

In a word yes,

  1. They get infections and bumble foot much more easily.
  2. They have muddy feet which dirties the eggs.
  3. Its unsightly and smelly.
  4. It's not the safest for the keeper. I recently spent 6 weeks with my foot in a pot after I broke a bone slipping in the mud.
  5. Viruses like bird flu survive for much longer periods of time in damp environments.

And you wouldn't choose to stand around in a swamp all day. They need somewhere to scratch and mud is far from ideal for this. Bored hens get destructive.

Wherever chickens stand around it leads to the soil becoming compacted very quickly and a thin crust forms on the soil making the water sit on the surface.

As a chicken owner you should prefer it if your birds have clean feet. I think chickens would rather clean feet. It dirties eggs and spreads infection and disease. Muddy runs increase the likelihood of Bumblefoot.

Below: A muddy run with some ducks.

Do not be tempted to use short term measures. Sand, shavings and even gravel have the tendency to disappear into mud quite quickly.

Products like hay, bark and wood chip can grow mould if left damp for any length of time.

You should try to confront it before it becomes a problem.

Words about drainage. This like everything else in the poultry keeping sphere is best tackled before it becomes a problem.

Here are a few possible solutions for you to consider:

  1. Wood Chip, bark or pine pellets or shavings.
  2. Gravel.
  3. Ground cover like sprouted wheat.
  4. Hay, leaves, grass clippings or straw.
  5. Rubber shredding
  6. Moving the run around.
  7. Raising the run up on pallets or a floor.
  8. Cover with paving slabs or solid surface.
  9. Cover the run or divert the water.
  10. Improve the drainage.

Surface coverings like gravel tend to be better than compostable ones and the gravel does not grow mould.

Below: Straw used to cover a muddy chicken run. You need several inches to be effective.

Make a run with a raised mesh floor. This allows the grass to grow up through the mesh and prevents the hens feet making contact with the ground.

The gap from the ground should be at least 6 inches, any less and you may struggle to deal with rodents that choose to make a home under your run.

Care must be taken with the choice of floor mesh, to big and the feet will pop through and too small means the dropping will build up on the mesh. It should also be sturdy to keep predators out.

Build you run on several inches to two feet of compacted builders rubble and then cover with sand or gravel. this will ensure water runs away into the ground and never becomes a crisis that needs dealing with in the cold and wet with short days in winter.

Alternatively build a raised coop base with planks of wood or cinder/breeze blocks. Make sure they are secure and predator proof and then fill the inside with at least 12 inches of free draining course sand or hardwood chip.

A simple short term measure that works as well is to cover the floor with pallets. This raises it up, gives the ground time to recover. This is also cheap, quick and simple.

It needs to keep rodents out as well as predators.

Build or buy a bigger coop so they can spend more time inside in the warm and dry. let them out only in the afternoon when they have laid there eggs.

How do you clean and sanitise a muddy chicken run?

How do you stop the run from smelling when it is already a muddy mess. Your first effort should be to intercept the water before it causes a problem.

Trying to cover the problem without dealing with the water flow will probably just result in your covering just being washed away.

Lime can be used to sanitise the chicken run. It is caustic however and needs to be use sparingly, a little at a time over the course of a few weeks.

Sunshine is another good steriliser.

Ensure water doesn't run through the coop area or puddle or pool anywhere it can cause an issue. cover the run in a suitable covering like roofing sheets.

The best way to clean out a muddy run is to first remove the mud with a rake or by digging.

Then fill with gravel or whatever your choice of floor covering is and raise up the surface so it stays above the level of the surrounding ground.

This will not do away with the bare earth that is inevitable from having chicken scratching around but it will ensure it stays dry.


  1. Build your coop on high ground.
  2. Check the drainage before the wet season.
  3. Cover the run and use gutters to channel the water away.

Dig a channel or swale to keep water away from the birds and their home.

A quick word about snow. if you live where it snows you will know it can blow into the smallest of cracks and make some deep drifts. when it melts you will end up with a muddy quagmire again so prep for snow with a windbreak or channel.

List of possible solutions for muddy chicken runs:

Use a mobile ark or move the birds around.

Solid surfaces like concrete, slabs or brick pavings. Make sure to leave drainage gaps between the flags.

Make use of plants. This is not suitable for everyone and every location but I have used it successfully in the past. Buy a sack of wheat or barley or whatever is your grain of choice and sow a thick layer into the mud.

The seed will soak up the water and begin to germinate. As it does so a carpet of fresh green will appear. This technique works when you are able to keep the hens off it until the growth is well underway

Use a raised mesh floor or pallets to keep the hens from scratching in the mud. The pallets can be burned after.

Keeping birds amused for the sake of the run. Birds kept confined should not even be allowed to become bored. logs, perches, bales of hay and suspended greens

Surface coverings like gravel, hay, sand or shavings and other mulches like bark or wood chippings. Bark apparently can grow aspergillosis but I have never seen that happen.

Whatever you choose to make use of, the run will need raised edges to stop the hens scratching the filling out and it will need to be at least 3 inches deep. It will also need a solid base at the entrance / exit to the run.