Not over-stocking is undoubtedly the best way of ensuring that your chicken run remains in good
condition but there are other things that will help – such as fertilising (with an organic, balanced
and ‘chicken-friendly’ general fertiliser) any runs that are not currently in use. My grandfather was
a great believer in sprinkling lime on the ground in order to combat disease. I’m sorry Grandad,
but, although much is made of its inclusion where modern day poultry keeping is concerned, as far
as I’m aware, it only ever acts as a neutralising agent to acidic soil and will not necessarily
eradicate any unwanted pathogens. Creating a good Ph level will, however, help grass growth
within a chicken run.
Some words of advice are as applicable today as they were almost a century ago. F. E. Wilson,
writing in 1916, had this to say: “Good drainage is an important point, and if the runs are not
perfect in this aspect, it should be attended to, and matters remedied as far as possible.” Quite how
you achieve this depends on topography and circumstances, but one simple way which will help is
to note where the wet patches are and, once things have dried up a bit, go over the area with a
garden fork. Push it in to a depth of about six inches (15cm) and wiggle it about to open up holes.
Just as soon as you’ve completed a couple of square yards (the holes created will otherwise close
up), brush in a good dressing of sharp sand. Keep repeating the process until the worst parts are
done.
During the winter, the garden is more or less left to fend for itself but, as soon as spring
approaches, we’re all out there tidying up, improving the soil structure and nipping off to the local
garden centre in order to buy plants that will enhance the summer months!
It’s not just our gardens that need such care to thrive and survive; so too, do our chicken runs.
There can be no sadder sight than a few moth-eaten chickens pecking disconsolately between
clumps of nettles growing in an otherwise barren patch of bare earth or mud.
With only a trio or so kept in a moveable house and run; provided that there’s space to move it on a
regular rotation, there is no problem but if your chickens are kept in a permanent run then it’s a
different matter entirely and spring is the ideal time to ensure that whatever space is allocated is
kept attractive, fresh and of interest to its inhabitants.
Ideally, if space allows, one should design the run in such a way that, if the house is a permanent
fixture, an arrangement is constructed whereby it is possible to have running from it, at least two
outdoor pens. In that way, your birds can be spending time in one whilst the other is recovering.
You will, of course, need two pop-holes.
Freelance writer and author, Jeremy Hobson, lives in the Western Loire area
of France. He has written articles for many publications including
Countryman's Weekly, Your Chickens, Farmer's Weekly, Country Life, and
Horse & Hound. Here he offers some thoughts and tips on improving your
run for the summer after the soggy, muddy winter months.