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.

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 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…

GET A COPY OF OUR BOOK: BACKYARD CHICKENS
Chicken Raising Book

  • How to choose the perfect breed of chicken for you- including our top 5 beginner picks.
  • What to feed them for optimal health and egg laying, including if you’re on a tight budget.
  • From bringing your chicks home for the first time to putting eggs on the table, we’ve got it all covered.

Check Price on Amazon

Read More Eggcellent Articles

Comments

  1. Aurora says

    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. Helen says

    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. Christa Guenther says

    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. Judy Jones says

    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.

    • ALICE SHUE says

      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. Karen says

    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.

  6. Tony Thompson says

    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. Leah Jo says

    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. Laura Samuel says

    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!

  9. Marilyn Carpenter says

    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 .

  10. Maureen says

    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:)

  11. Toby says

    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. Linda Eckstone says

    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. hector says

    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. Katie S says

    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?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *