Should You Use Sand In Your Chicken Coop?

Should You Use Sand In Your Chicken Coop Blog Cover

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?

Buff Orpington in SandThere 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
  • Inexpensive
  • Eco-friendly
  • 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

Rooster Walking on SandIf 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

Chicken Scratching in SandOnce 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

Chick in Fine SandWe 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.
If you are thinking about adding sand to your coop out of curiosity, perhaps try putting it in a section of the coop and leaving the rest as your current bedding. Your chickens will undoubtedly love the new dust bath space (as that is what they will most likely view it as) and will happily fluff themselves up and cover their feathers with the sand.
Test it out and see how it works for you and your birds before committing to the new type of better. You may love it…or you may hate it.


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…
Read Bantam Chickens: Breeds, Egg Laying, Size and Care Guide

50 thoughts on “Should You Use Sand In Your Chicken Coop?

  1. I used sand in my coop before my girls were old enough to safely free range all day. It did seem great for a lot of reasons you listed but the down side was I couldn’t keep out ants, and food was getting mixed in that made it hard to get out & I worry of them eating old spoiled food. When hurricane Irma came along and flooded the flooring, I was left with a heavy stinking mess. With their coop on concrete, I opted to only put a box of sand in their coop and leave the floor bare. No more ant & flies, no more stinky mess & a cleanup job in 5-7 minutes daily.

  2. Always read your NEWS!!! My girls (Hens) and I are so much happier for your knowledge. By the way, we use hay in our coop and the girls love scratching around in it! During COLD weather hay is perfect!

  3. We use washed construction sand in our big coop and I LOVE it. So much easier to clean the chunks out, even the frozen urine only goes so far down and works like clumping cat litter. This is the first year we haven’t had even one chicken with respiratory issues. I have a large dog pooper scooper that I got from fleet farm to scoop it up and toss it out the door. When the temp dropped to 35 BELOW we did add some dry straw to the floor for extra comfort since we don’t heat our coops. The nesting boxes have plenty of straw. The hens did fine, my big Bielfelder roo got a little bit of frostbite on his comb and wattles. In the little coop, with the bantams and large cochins, we have a layer of sand and then 6 inches of straw. I take the top layer of straw off every week and turn the rest. The bantams do fine too. We live in a very sandy soil area so our run has excellent drainage. We throw all our grass clippings, leaves, and the straw from the coops in the run. The chickens love turning everything over. and we now have fabulous night crawlers too. We have basically no smell with 35 chickens 30 feet from our house and very few flies. We use two bug zappers just outside the coops and the flies die and fall, making fun crispy snacks for the girls in the morning. I am so grateful someone put me on to bug zappers! Please DO NOT use sticky fly paper in coops as flying birds will fly into it at some point.

  4. I use sand here in the Mohave dessert and I love it. It is only in the coop though. Just dirt everywhere else. It is so easy to clean. I still use wood shavings in the laying boxes.

    1. I’m in the Mojave desert too. I only have the natural sandy dirt floor in mine & they seem to be doing fine. I spray it down good every night and rake every morning. I have been worried about them in the 114° heat day after day, so I’ve been putting a couple of frozen milk jugs of water in there. That did the trick. They’re happy. I’m new to chickens. Just got them in May. I’m hoping to see Eggs in September.

  5. I have been using sand in my coop since we started having chickens, we got as chicks. We use the sand that comes in the long sand bags that you use in the winter because it is clean sand. I do use PDZ as well as Diatomaceous Earth. I have never had a problem with any of my chicks or chickens. I have fashioned a large scoop out of a 5 prong pitch fork using 1/4 in hardware cloth on the fork, it makes a great scoop. I clean my coop once a day and put in new sand twice a year. I use about 10 bags of sand and all the old goes in my garden. My chickens feet are clean and because of the Diatomaceous Earth, free of bugs. All my girls and boys are happy and healthy, I will always use and recommend the right sand.

      1. I saw them at Lowe’s, but there could be different kinds, I wish I knew what one is ok!

  6. I have a question as far as bedding for the coop. We have a lot of cedar trees that we use for firewood. We have a lot of shavings. My friend told me that it’s not good to use cedar shavings in the coop because it has too much oil in them. Is my friend right? I would appreciate any answers thank you

  7. Thank you! This was so helpful! I really appreciate your articles. I’m loving my chickens more as a result of what I learn here. Cheers!

  8. I live in south Florida, all I’ve got is sandy soil in my run. My girls love it, easy to dig in & easy for dusting. I do have grass, so I move the run every week to a different location,, now there are holes all over my yard! Lol!

    1. I live in southwest Florida and was wondering if the sand you are using is the natural Florida sand in every yard?? That is what is in my run now. I am thinking about getting a few pieces of sod for one corner for them and replace as they dig it up. Would this work? I can’t move the coop so trying to keep my 4 girls happy.

      1. They will tear up the sod in 2 days max. I dont think it is worth it because you will have to replace it often. The sand you are using is fine.

      2. If you’re going to try the grass route, make them a “salad box.” I have a 6′ x 3′ box made from 2x4s and 1″ hardware cloth over top. The chooks can eat the grass and other planted goodies that poke through the hardware cloth without scratching up the roots.

  9. I also don’t understand why play box sand is not suitable for chickens yet it is perfectly safe for human “chicks”!! I used play box sand for my chick’s because it was safe for children. They showed no sign of illness!
    I live in Australia .

    1. Actually if you read on the bags of play sand it does have a ‘warning’ that it can cause cancer. The first time I saw that I couldn’t believe it that it was being sold for children to play in . . but yes!

  10. I have been using river sand in my coop and run. I love it! I use cat litter scoops duck taped to a pole and clean up is a breeze. I have a cement floor heated coop with lots of ventilation and a fan. I use DE in the sand for dust bathing. I have to mix it in well or my girls avoid the DE. I have used landscape cloth in the coop; but we live in a wet climate and landscape cloth can fray and let the sand get wet so so I will put down greenhouse plastic under my sand. The outside run is covered because it rains here alot. (Vancouver). My chickens don’t like rain! I will change out the sand every 6 months but I don’t need 6 inches in the coop, I use about 2 to 3 inches. I disagree that the sand harbors more bacteria than other types of litter because it makes cleanup so easy and sand desicates bugs. I like that there are less bugs for the chickens to eat so they have less risk of worms.There is no offensive odour or flies, and the girls can use the grit, dig and bath in the sand. It really is multipurpose. Also I read that straw can get ingested and tangled in the crop so to avoid straw with chickens:)

    1. I’m thinking of trying sand, sounds good. If you put DE in the sand they are probably ingesting some, which keeps away worms. I usually use shaving for bedding and over the winter on the nice days I put hay outside for them to stand on out of the snow and they loved scratching through it and picking off bits of grain. Never had a problem with ingesting it.

  11. My view is that the BEST bedding for chickens is wood shavings. It is not expensive (once you find where it is available), is easy to bring in, is light, mixes nicely with the manure, will become great garden soil once the manure composts in it. You can find data on how to do it on line. It does not smell, tends to be clean, is healthy for chickens.

  12. I really enjoy your newsletter and look forward to receiving it. I have had backyard chickens for almost 6 years and there is always something new to be learned.

  13. Have you mix sand (desert sand) with manure from layer? I am looking to see if is possible to mix it an reduce the humidity and odor. Somebody has experience with this?

  14. I’m about to acquire my first flock. I have a coop and enclosed run. We will move it every week but I decided for in the coop to use sand. This was suggested by the hatchery that my chickens are coming from. I was researching and came across DE and PDZ. I thought to mix the DE with the sand in the coop and to use PDZ in the run. Is this a good plan?

  15. Love your book and read the blog often. We will be getting our pullets soon. The chicken run is hard packed clay soil, native to NC. We put in 4-6 inches of masonry sand, it rained hard, like sideways, the sand was soaked. It’s now in the 8o’s but the sand is not drying out. What can we do? What can we add to make this right? We want to get the girls soon.

    1. Drainage is the issue here, best option is first to put gravel base to irrigate and drain, and sand on top of that. Eventually things will settle and gravel will pack in the clay, and the sand base will be more drainable.

  16. Looking to get our first chicks in a couple of weeks. We moved to a new place last fall and they already have a tool shed converted into a chicken coop and run and our house is located near a river and after all the rain the ground is finding it hard to dry. (we live in the 4 corners area) My question is this. The coop has no floor and after leaving the door open. it has plenty of open air holes for air flow the floor is still wet and muddy. I was thinking to put down some pavers to keep the chickens away from possible wet conditions in the coop. on top of the pavers i was thinking 6″ of sand. would this be too much? not enough? I am not worried about the run i just want a nice place for them in the coop.

    1. Two things to remember Christine. DRY and controllable DRAFT. Meaning, it needs to always be dry and you need to control the air, a wet draft mix and your asking for trouble. Pavers to stop the air flow and 6″ sand is great, if you can mix with DE here and there for their dust bathing and mite control even better. I have similar wet conditions and it can get frustrating.

  17. When I first began keeping chickens I used wood shavings or wood pellets inside the coop. The wood shavings were super stinky, grow ALOT (and I do mean a ton) of bacteria, were expensive over time because how often they had to be changed and labor intensive to replace because it had to be completely removed. After a bout of coccidiosis ran through the coop wiping out my chicks and two adult birds, I got rid of the shavings completely.
    I’ve been using children’s play beach sand inside the coop for several years and I’ve never had another outbreak of coccidiosis since, in fact there has been no viral/bacterial/respitory illnesses or mites/lice/worms in my birds whatsoever. I have never amended the sand with other products. My neighbor still uses wood shavings and still has frequent outbreaks of coccidiosis, lice and mites. My coop never smells like chicken poop, my chickens feet and eggs are cleaner. Also, the chickens will use the sand for dust bathing which has been very effective in keeping parasites away and I don’t find the play beach sand too dusty until it gets covered in bird dander.
    I absolutely LOVE the sand!!! I lightly spray the sand with a water spray bottle too keep the dust from the bird dander down and use a square piece of 1/2 inch hardware cloth mesh threaded over a pitch fork (could use 1/4 inch mesh if you wanted it cleaner)..makes a perfect litter scooper. I cover the plywood coop floor with about 3 inches of sand, scoop the dried poop three times a week and toss in the garden. I do this until the sand is almost gone, then replenish (about twice a year). I never have to thoroughly remove the substrate in the coop as is done with straw or shavings. Another benefit is that sand does not rot like straw, hay or wood that leaves behind a stinky slime when wet with droppings or when the birds come in dripping wet (my birds don’t mind some rain), so the plywood floor is better protected and stays dry. The chicken poop clumps up in the sand making scooping super easy, fast, and it’s true there is WAY less compost to deal with.
    The price can’t be beat either, 1 yard of beach play sand costs $34 dollars and is enough to cover my 8×8 coop all year, plus fill a 6×6 sandbox for kiddos in the summer. I have 24 birds and I don’t have to scoop daily.
    I live in the Willamette Valley (Oregon) which has a moderate temperature throughout the year (so coop insulation is not an issue), but very wet, moist, and muddy. I will point out that sand is not so great when it is soaking wet, I would not recommend it for runs exposed to rain and use it in dry areas only.

  18. I live in Iowa, to Long tubes of sand here are the ones that are used for putting in your car or the back of your truck to give more traction during the winter months in the snow driving. I honestly don’t know what it’s called otherwise.

    1. I looked up ‘long tube sand’ and Home Depot has 60 lbs bags of it by Quikrete. They just call it tube sand.

  19. We are just changing over to sand. Have the gravel down. Sand is being delivered tomorrow. Should I lay landscaping fabric to keep the sand from washing in the ares exposed to rain?

    1. How deep of sand are you laying? If you do not put erosion protection your sand will go through the gravel base absolutely, but you need a thicker layer of sand or your chickens will tear the fabric out as well.

  20. Hi all,
    What size of drainage rock(gravel) would be most appropriate to use underneath the sand? I’m in the process of moving my ladies into the coop from their current home and am planning on using approx 6-8inches of river bank sand for the coop+run bedding. My coop flooring is dirt, in a soggy/boggy type area with lots of ventilation provided by the chicken wire used for the surrounding wall + the roof is completely covered with a heavy duty tarp to keep the rain from getting in.

  21. After reading all the pros and cons, decided to give sand a Go and it has been life changing! We’re in SC and have very wet winters. The soil is a filthy mess with 12 hens when it rains and tried shavings but they get bogged down and nasty and same with hay. Construction sand has been a life saver. Still shavings in nesting boxes and one enclosed nighttime coop but sand otherwise. Drains well, easy to rake and clean, keeps odor down and eggs cleaner. Wish I knew this trick years ago 😉

  22. I use construction grade sand. Provides insulation on the floor of coop. Liquids drain into sand. Cuts down on odor. Cat litter scoop cleans out solids in coop, rake in run . Have small coop. Beach or sandbox sand stays wet and compacts and freezes. The girls love to take dust baths. Have had it for 3 yrs. Now adding more whenever the rock quarry opens for the season. 1/2 Yard runs about $25 if you pick up. They will deliver. Check landscaping places also.

    1. I put wood shavings mixed with DE in the nesting boxes. Had my chickens for three years without any problems. (construction sand on the floor)

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