Sand in your chicken coop is a good question.
Most folks use conventional bedding materials in the coop and run.
Spreading straw, hay, or similar over the floors and in the nest boxes.
Some people, however, use sand as a flooring material.
This prompted us to 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 let you decide whether or not this is for you and your flock.
If you decide it is for you, we also have a section in this article about how to use sand in your coop and which type.
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 for Your Chicken Coop or Run
- 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 chicken’s feet
- No bugs or worms for the birds to search for
- Bacteria can thrive
Reasons to Use Sand in Your Chicken Coop and Run
- Dries out the poop, fewer 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.
For example, an area of 8ft x 12ft covered to a depth of 6 inches would require approximately 2 ½ tons 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 ensure 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 must prepare the ground for sand.
If your run area is a muddy mess in the winter and spring, you might consider laying down 3-4 inches of gravel under the sand. This allows for better drainage.
When the entire area around the coop and run is 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 fewer mosquitoes!
If you haven’t sited your coop, now’s a good time to reconsider placement and move it to a drier location.
Although the 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. Eventually, the sand will sink into the mud necessitating new sand.
Which Type of Sand Should You Use?
In my research, I found several different types of sand – who knew?
Sand that is considered unacceptable for coops and runs is playing sand and sandbox sand.
This stuff is ground-up quartz with 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, 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.
A few articles have mentioned small chicks eating the sand and dying from an impacted crop.
All-purpose sand is considered ‘ok.’ The best sand is construction, bank run, or river sand.
This stuff looks like what you would see on a riverbed. It contains multiple sizes of particles, including small pebbles, etc. This stuff is great for the birds’ grit intake.
Sand In Your Chicken Coop Maintenance and Replacement Intervals
Once the hard work of laying the sand is done, maintenance is pretty standard.
Most folks do a daily ‘poop scoop’ and are 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 it is very little to compost!
Admittedly, it would seem that cleanliness is a huge bonus to the chicken keeper. Still, I haven’t met too many fastidious hens in my time.
My ladies take a positive delight in messing up a clean coop and creating a small dust storm!
One argument was that it kept the chicken’s feet cleaner and nails shorter.
If your current run is muddy in the wet seasons, I’m sure this would help keep their feet cleaner and keep the nests and eggs much cleaner.
Having fewer flies around the coop would be nice. Still, if you do a quick ‘housekeeping’ every day by removing the fresh deposits and hanging flypapers, 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 in Your Chicken Coop
We have already mentioned that sand should not be used in brooders due to the risk of crop impaction.
Another issue is that fresh poop would ‘adhere’ to the sand.
Effectively disguising it, 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 an excellent medium for inhibiting bacteria such as E. coli and coccidiosis. Apparently, even the experts can’t agree!
It may be true that sand dissipates 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 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 actual sand fleas are not insects and will not bite humans, sand flies will bite humans and chickens and may live on the sandy floor if the climate is suitable.
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 better. You may love it…or you may hate it.
Sand In Your Chicken Coop Summary
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 the use of sand didn’t catch on for whatever reason.
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 add 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.
The reasons for the ‘for/against’ perspectives have merit, but some are overstated.
It’s up to you to look carefully at each one and decide if it is valid.
Many folks who used sand and were generally unhappy with the results had used the wrong type of sand – hence many complaints – were too wet, frozen, cold, etc.
If you decide to use sand, as always, do your homework and choose the correct 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 solutions…