Too often, chicken coops and their runs are situated without much thought.
And although coops are frequently decked with everything from chandeliers to curtains, windowboxes to wallpaper (yep, really!), runs tend to remain the poor relation.
Which is how they often end up, particularly in winter, looking more like a mudbath than a place chickens would like to spend their time.
This article covers why mud in the run can become a health and safety issue both for chickens and for their people, how to identify why mud is taking over, and what can be done about it.
Don't skip this. If possible, plan for your run before you start building your coop. Once you have a flock, trying to move the run - unless it's a very small one - will be much more difficult.
Any area where chickens are standing on wet land is a potential health hazard. Here's why.
Being unable to satisfy those needs can give rise to boredom which in turn will inevitably create a number of problematic behaviours: feather-pecking, aggression and egg-eating to name but a few.
It's not only dirty bedding in the coop that causes bumblefoot. Wet conditions combined with poop can host a variety of bacteria and viruses, including E.coli, staphyloccocus, campylobacter and norovirus(1).
Any slight lesion in the pad of the foot will cause an ideal environment for those infections leading to abcesses and pain. Getting rid of it is time-consuming and difficult.
Bird flu is a fatal illness which spreads among flocks by chickens coming into contact with infected poop and feathers from wild birds, in particular waterfowl.
Been there, done that!
Any muddy area in a run is a potential hazard for humans as well as chickens. For chickens it can result in slipped tendons; for humans, anything from a broken hip to (as I know to my cost) torn ligaments.
Which, in my case, took more than six months to heal.
The way to make a mudbath less muddy is to establish what's making it muddy – and then fix it.
Here are the three most common reasons for mud in the run, together with suggestions as to how they might be solved.
If you've already got your coop and run in place and it would be hard (or impossible) to change its position, this won't be of much help to you.
If you're only just planning, though, or if your run is small enough to move, it will.
Whichever type of ground your run has, it should be in as well-drained an area as possible, with some protection from the summer sun.
Don't place it at the bottom of a slope where the water will run down and collect. In the winter that will create a mudbath and in the summer, a haven for mosquitoes.
If moving isn't possible, there are a couple of other options.
If you have a small coop like this, covering the run is not a problem – it already has roof.
Equally, my Eglu – Which I use for isolating new chickens – has its own cover over part of the run, which protects from rain in winter and sun in summer.
What about if you have a large run though? It may be totally impossible to cover it all.
Use a good quality tarpaulin to provide some cover in one part of the run. A heavy duty cover will protect from extremes of weather, particularly if it's both waterproof and UV resistant.
It may look pretty, but once snow begins to melt it leaves behind a cold, wet mess. And if it falls as sleet, even worse.
When it freezes, snow combined with poor ventilation in the coop can lead to frostbite. Outside in the run, it leaves few places for chickens to forage, or stand without their feet becoming frozen.
A lot of "facts" you'll find on the internet are often people's individual views, based on inaccurate information repeated from poor quality sources.
The information I provide in this article and others is based not just on my own experience, but on evidenced facts from scientific, peer-reviewed research and books from highly respected and experienced poultry keepers such as Gail Damerow.
Some of the trusted sources I have used in this article are these.
1. Mud runs and infectious disease risks. Pub. Health Protection Surveillance Centre, 2016.
2. American College of Veterinary Pathologists: Avian Influenza. Pub. ACVP, 2012.
3. Shapiro-Ilan et al: Definitions of pathogenicity and virulence in invertebrate pathology. Pub. Journal of Invertebrate Pathology, 2005.