Most folks use convention bedding materials in the coop, spreading straw, hay or similar over the floors and in the nest boxes.
Some people however, use sand as flooring material. This prompted us to take a look at the positives and negatives of using sand as a bedding material in the coop and run.
Here we will give you reasons for and against and will let you decide whether or not this is for you and your flock.
If you decide it is for you, then we also have a section in this article about how to use sand in your coop and which type of sand to use.
Should you Use Sand in your Coop?
There seem to be two camps in the sand issue – either for or against with few people taking the middle road of compromise. It would seem you either love it or hate it!
Reasons against Sand
- Sand has little in the way of insulating properties, unlike hay, straw etc.
- Cold in winter, if wet it can freeze
- Hot in summer, possible to burn the chickens feet
- No bugs or worms for the birds to search for
- Bacteria can thrive
Reasons for Sand
- Dries out the poop, less bacteria
- Doesn’t retain moisture, better drainage
- Cleaner chicken feet, shorter nails
How to Set Up Sand in Your Coop
The initial setting up of a sand based coop and/or run is probably the most time consuming and expensive part of the process – not to mention heavy work.
You will need to calculate how much sand you need for the given area.
As an example, an area of 8ft x 12ft covered to a depth of 6 inches would require approximately 2 ½ ton of river sand. This costs around $25.00-40.00 per ton.
You will need a strong back and arms or sufficient funds to employ someone to do the hauling and settling for you.
Obviously, before adding the sand you should make sure your coop’s floor is strong enough to support the added weight of the sand.
How to Set Up Sand in Your Run
If you’re planning to use sand in your run, you need to prepare the ground for sand.
If your run area is a muddy mess in the winter and spring, you might consider laying down a good 3-4 inches of gravel under the sand to allow for better drainage.
If the entire area around the coop and run are always wet and muddy, it might be best to consider laying down some drainage tiles first. This option is expensive but the benefits will be better ground to walk on and less mosquitoes!
If you haven’t already sited your coop, this might be a good time to reconsider placement and move it to a drier location.
Although sand is said to provide better drainage, it won’t if you don’t prepare the area well. Simply laying sand on top of mud may disguise the problem for a year or so, but eventually the sand will sink into the mud necessitating new sand.
Which Type of Sand Should You Use?
In my research I found there are several different types of sand – who knew?
Sand that is considered unacceptable for coops and runs is play sand and sandbox sand. This stuff is actually ground up quartz which has a great deal of dust in it – not good for you or your birds’ respiratory system.
This is probably the stuff that can freeze solid in winter and cook the chickens’ feet in summer and has minimal insulation properties.
Also, this type of sand should not be used in a brooder in my opinion. There have been a few articles that have mentioned small chicks eating the sand and dying from an impacted crop.
All-purpose sand is considered ‘ok’. The best sand to use is construction, bank run or river sand. This stuff looks like what you would see on a river bed, it contains multiple sizes of particles including small pebbles etc. This stuff is great for the birds’ grit intake.
Maintenance and Sand Replacement Intervals
Once the hard work of laying the sand is done, maintenance is fairly basic. Most folks do a daily ‘poop scoop’ and done.
Some folks ‘freshen’ the sand using PDZ (zeolite), wood ashes or Diatomaceous Earth – it also encourages dust bathing. They can be used separately or together, your choice.
If your run area is not covered, you may need to rake it over after a heavy rainstorm or other inclement weather; otherwise the area should be raked and turned over at least once a month to prevent compacting. You could either hand rake or use a small rototiller to turn it over.
In watching my chickens they love nothing better than a good dirt bath. I’m not sure how they would feel about sand and pebbles…I did ask them and they were non-committal.
The ‘pro’ folks seem to enjoy the cleanliness of the sand type run. They say there is little to no odor, flies are minimal and of course, there is very little to compost!
Admittedly, it would seem that cleanliness is a huge bonus to the chicken keeper, but I haven’t met too many fastidious hens in my time. In fact, my ladies take positive delight in messing up a clean coop and creating a small dust storm!
One argument ‘for’ was that it kept the chickens feet cleaner and nails shorter. If your current run is muddy in the wet seasons, I’m sure this would help to keep their feet cleaner and in turn keep the nests and eggs much cleaner.
Having less flies around the coop would be nice, but if you do a quick ‘housekeeping’ every day by removing the fresh deposits and hanging fly papers, flies should be minimal anyway.
There is no such thing as a ‘maintenance free’ hen house – unless you hire out the daily chores and what fun would there be in that?
Health Problems with Using Sand
We have already mentioned that sand should not be used in brooders due to the risk of crop impaction. Another issue is the fact that fresh poop would ‘adhere’ to the sand, effectively disguising it and young chicks might ingest a lot of poop leaving them susceptible to coccidiosis.
Some sources stated that sand was a good medium for hiding and growing E. coli and coccidiosis, yet others state it is a great medium for inhibiting bacteria such as E. coli and coccidiosis – apparently even the experts can’t agree!
It may be true that sand dessicates most of the poop produced, but the cecal poops will ‘trickle down’ into the lower layers. So I’m not convinced that it would be much more germ free than regular straw if you look deep enough.
Of course, if you have an OCD personality, then whatever you choose as ‘flooring’ will be uber-clean!
Using the wrong type of sand can cause respiratory issues for both birds and people. If you decide to use sand make sure it is the right type.
Another person mentioned the possibility of sand fleas. While true sand fleas are not insects and will not bite humans, sand flies however, will bite both humans and chickens and may live amongst the sandy floor if the climate is right.
The use of sand in poultry houses is not new. The first ever written word on the subject was printed back in 1919 regarding egg farming in California.
It would seem that for whatever reason the use of sand really didn’t catch on since most large poultry houses and the majority of backyard folks use some other substrate such as; hay, straw, shavings, mulch and leaf litter.
Over the next year I will be adding on to my coops and I will try sand in one of the runs to see how it works out. If it doesn’t I will just add some soil and grass seed and wait for the following spring.
As always, do your research ahead of time, it may save you money in the long run.
Each of the reasons put forward for the ‘for/against’ perspectives have merit, but some of them are overstated, it’s up to you to look carefully at each one and decide if it is valid for you.
Many of the folks who had used sand and who were generally unhappy with the results had used the wrong type of sand – hence many of the complaints – too wet, frozen, cold etc. If you decide to use sand, as always do your homework and choose the right item(s) for the project you have in mind.
Do you have sand in your coop? Let us know how it works for you in the comments below – any problems and their solutions…