You have a number of options when choosing a suitable material for your chickens run. However, wood chips are, in my opinion, the best option for a chicken run as they help keep smells to a minimum, are easy to clean, long-lasting, and allow chickens to scratch for bugs.
I know some chicken owners who use sand, hemp, gravel, and straw. Each material has its own pros and cons, and you may be perfectly happy using one of these.
But as I’m going to explain in this article - hardwood chips are (in my opinion) the best for keeping a chicken run from becoming a muddy, smelly place - even during poor weather conditions.
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Why Are Wood Chips Good for a Chicken Run?
First of all, I have no loyalty or preference for a particular brand. The important thing is that you use hardwood chips, not soft chips or bark. There’s a huge difference!
Why I - and a lot of other backyard chicken owners - like hardwood chips is because they help combat to the two main issues we face when maintaining a chicken run:
- Bad smells, mostly due to chicken poop
- Becoming a muddy, messy run
I’m not going to tell you that you can avoid both or either of these things entirely. Chickens are busy animals, they’re constantly scratching, digging, and of course pooping.
But woodchips are one of the easiest run materials to wash and replace. They’re also easy for chickens to move, so they can scratch and find bugs to their heart’s content.
This also keeps the chips turning over, which helps to create a softer, more smell-free environment.
Simply put, they are the easiest, most versatile, odor-resistant, and durable material for a chicken run.
How To Keep Your Chicken Run Wood Chips Clean
You should be using a layer around 2-3” thick. This will stop the wood chips from mixing with the soil beneath and make it easy to clean and turn over the wood chips.
It depends on the size of your run and how many chickens you have. Most people get away with washing out their run and giving the chips a good rake around once a month.
You’ll need to replace all or most of the chippings every 3-6 months. The best part, however, is that soiled chips make for a good mulch you can use around your plants.
This is because there is plenty of nitrogen in there from the chicken poop. It’ll work some magic for your plants, and it’s biodegradable too.
Another tip; it doesn’t harm to sprinkle some sanitizing powder throughout your run and inside the coop periodically.
Sanitizing powders are designed to mask pet odors. I use it as more of a preventative measure, and it works well.
This one from Sweet PDZ available on Amazon is one I’ve used before. It’s very effective at keeping odors to a minimum, it’s not scented, and it helps turn animal waste into potassium and nitrogen for the garden!
What Else Can I Put on the Floor of My Chicken Run?
If you don’t want to use - or can’t get hold of - hardwood chips, you have other options. Here are some of the other common materials people use as chicken run flooring:
Bark chippings are better used for ornamental purposes, not the functional purpose of a chicken run.
It’s inexpensive, which is why some people use it. But in my experience, it’s very porous so it gets soggy easily and holds on to water.
This results in a soggy, messy - and ultimately smelly flooring. It’s not easy to clean either for the same reasons so you’ll end up needing new flooring in no time at all.
Related - Is mulch safe for chickens? (depends what's in it!)
Rubber chippings are basically the same materials as found in children’s playgrounds - they’re chippings made of rubber (hence the name).
The problems with rubber chippings are that they tend to get heavily soiled, are hard to wash, chickens can’t scratch around as easily as with wood chips, and they’re not recyclable.
I still see pea gravel being used from time-to-time and it’s OK as a flooring substance for a run. The downside is that it’s a little on the heavy side and not always easy for chickens to scratch in.
It’s long-lasting though, which is one thing it has going for it. It’s not too difficult to wash down either, so it’s easier to keep clean than some other substances.
I’m not a fan of straw in a chicken coop or run. It’s great on the farm for a number of things, but you don’t often see it used with chickens, do you?
This is because straw gets way too soggy and messy. It’s hard to keep clean, and usually ends up working its way into the ground and getting stuck on chickens.
As you can see, all of these other materials have their own pros and cons, but none are as effective as hardwood chippings.
The tipping point for most people is how easy it is to clean their run. Having a muddy, smelly, run is by far the most common complaint I hear from backyard chicken owners. And let’s be honest, it’s just not nice.
In my opinion, hardwood chips are the best as they’re easy to clean and last for months. Combined with a good sanitizing powder, there’s no reason why you should have a smelly run and you’ll reduce the amount of time you have to spend cleaning it out.
Image credits - Photos by Karly Jones and Dimitri Houtteman on Unsplash