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Using Sand In Your Chicken Coop

Shoveling sandUsing Sand as a floor covering in my coops has been one of the BEST decisions I have made in terms of how to properly care for my chickens; open-air coops is the other.   The idea was of course not mine, I picked it up from an ebook from the 1919 written by a California Egg Farmer named Charles Weeks, who spent a great deal of time testing the best conditions in which to raise chickens.  Finding this information was timely, and I can thank BYC member Davaroo for pointing me in the correct direction when it comes to no nonesense-tride & true methods to refer to. 

Now, I'm not talking about your child's playground sand, or the stuff you find on the beach! I'm talking about course and sharp local river sand.  Its rough, filled with differet size pebbles & stones and if your a tenderfoot, you do NOT want to walk barefoot on it.  You can find this type of sand at your local Sand & Gravel yard or quarry, where they have it washed & piled up high.  If you don't know right off the top of your head where that is, no worries, there always seems to be one not too far away and likely a little time with your phone book will get you started in the right direction.  

*********  Many BYC Members have tried & used with success Playground Sand products from their local Home Improvement store.  I think that this seems like a fine alternative even though it does NOT provide ALL of the benefits that River Sand would.  If this is all you have available VS. using wood chips or the Deep Litter Method... I would definitely give it a try first.  Not every method is right for everyone, but I think sand should at least be investigated in EVERY coop to see if it can be the right match.  The following reasons should illustrate why I feel so passionately about it's use *************

Course Sand/River Sand is amazingly great for the following reasons:

  1. Cost effective floor covering!  I can cover 100sf for a lot less than $20 for 6 months or more!
  2. Preening & exfoliating help.  Yes, I said exfoliating!  My chickens feet are smooth and the sharp sand helps them clean and keep their feathers nice & pretty.
  3. Natural Grit.  No need to add additional grit.  Construction sand has pebbles, sharp sand, small rocks of all variations all of which make digestion for the chickens easier
  4. Super fast clean up, and lots cleaner PERIOD.  There are not layers and layers of poop, the poop stays ontop of the sand and in just 5 minutes a day we can scoop around 200sf of chicken coop floors with a small kitty litter scooper.  The chickens do not have to live in or above composting wood chips & poop for months or weeks on end therefore providing them a healthier environment, or at least one I wouldn't mind living in.
  5. Sand is very dry and has no ability to retain moisture, the poops dry out very quickly and so smells disappear rather quickly and we are not harboring any moisture conducive to mold or bug growth.
  6. It's Cool!  Yes, temperature wise, sand is a cool substance and makes for a great way to help beat the summer heatwaves.
  7. Conserves food!  Who wants to waste food?  Not me!  Food and pellets can not hide in sand that is only a couple of inches deep!  It's easy to dig through and they are able to eat every last pellet of food if I give them.
  8. Better compost.  Why add tons of slow to breakdown woodchips to your compost pile?  When you use a scooper in sand, you pretty much just get poop! 
  9. Aesthetically pleasing.  I like the look of sand, I like that I can see if there is poop or not, I like that it's a natural color and doesn't look dirty. 
  10. Environmentally Friendly.   River sand is likely to have come from your local river basin or quarry yard, and therefore is not commercially processed and bagged.  It is not usually transported over any long distances and therefore uses less energy, fuel & waste to become a useful bedding for your chickens!

 What are the downsides to sand?  Well.. it's more difficult to transport than feed store woodchips, as you'll need a pick up truck or to have it delivered to your home by the 1/2 ton.  It can become dusty when you are replacing or shoveling the sand after several months of use and also during the really hot & dry times.  We installed a water misting system around the perimeter of our coops along the roofline for those really hot days and it too helps with any sand dust.  Prior to that.. a few quick sprays of a trigger water sprayer/misting bottle or even a quick douse with the hose worked wonders.  When we are replacing sand in our coops, shoveling out the old to bring in the new, we try to wear some type of respiratory protection device; mask or wet cloth, to prevent it from getting in our lungs.  We also prefer to have the chickens OUT of the coop while changing the bedding.

In short, I can think of almost  NO reasons to use anything else in your coops! (SEE PRECAUTIONS BELOW) 

In our main hen house, we have a pond liner over our plywood floors and we keep the sand on that.  In dirt floor coops, we simply pile in the sand to a couple inches of depth, refreshing it monthly or every other month with a few more buckets worth.  Additionally a substrate, gravel bed or concrete chip floor, can be put down first with sand over the top to assist with drainage & cleaning.  On our back porch deck, we covered it with metal window screen and then piled the sand ontop of that, it drains fantastically through the screen!  There are so many ways to make sand part of your regular routine. 

Use a kitty litter scooper, fine combed garden rake or even a shop vac for clean up!  I use all 3 depending on the situation!
Changing the sand need only be done once or twice per year at the most, although I DO change the sand out COMPLETELY if I move new or different chickens in. 

If the sand gets extremely wet or caked, I remove that entire area.  If it's only a little damp or a small water spill, I simply redistribute the wet sand throughout the coop and mix it with the dry.  It will dry up fairly quickly.

Threads & Discussions on Sand in Your Coops to get you started:
http://www.backyardchickens.com/forum/viewtopic.php?id=250190 
http://www.backyardchickens.com/forum/viewtopic.php?id=100027

http://www.backyardchickens.com/forum/viewtopic.php?id=78543
http://www.backyardchickens.com/forum/viewtopic.php?id=99993
http://www.backyardchickens.com/forum/viewtopic.php?id=74198

PRECAUTIONS & THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN DECIDING IF SAND IS RIGHT FOR YOU

Respiratory Concerns
If you or your family have any respiratory concerns, sand may NOT be right for you.  Sand is largely comprised of Silica, a substance that can be harmful to your lungs with repeated exposure to silica dust.  While construction sand is mostly small to medium size pepples & particles, after time it will be ground down through normal chicken coop use into a fine powder.  This fine powder, when inhaled, can collect in your lungs and cannot be expelled.  Long term exposure and inhalation of silica dust causes a respiratory disease called Silicosis.  A quick spray with the hose before working with old finely ground sand and/or face mask protection is advisable for everyone, regardless if you have a compromised respiratory system.

Climate Concerns
Several folks have expressed a concern regarding sand usage in extremely cold climates.  It WILL BE COLD, unless you have a heated coop.  While I haven't measured the difference myself, I do believe that it will maintain about the same temperature as the ground surface in your climate.  Therefore it is just as cold as the ground is to walk on.   So if you prefer for you chickens to have something warmer underfoot, you might consider a different bedding method during the winter months.  I DO NOT recommend putting woodchips ONTOP of a sand base.  The resulting mix will hold moisture thanks to the woodchips.  If you would like to keep your sand but still have concerns, a sparse layer of straw on top of your sand base will be great.  The straw will mat together with the poop and create a secondary surface which is easily raked out and replaced as often as you feel is necessary.

 

PLEASE READ THIS WARNING!!!!

DO NOT MIX wood chips and or straw with wet poopy sand!  If you have a drainage issue, adding straw or wood chips on top of mucky sand is going to make the problem WORSE and seriously foul smelling!!!

 

 

 

Coop & Run - Design, Construction & Maintenance Forum Section

Comments (111)

Could I use dune sand? I live near Florence, on the Oregon Dunes.
Does anyone know about using Sweet PDZ in the chicken coops? A customer at the Feed store said he uses this and it’s excellent with dealing with the ammonia issues. Is it safe?
i love this idea im definitely gonna try this one!
Is it okay if chickens start eating the sand?
Sven - eating the sand is totally normal! Chickens need grit in their crops to help them digest their food, and anything not large enough to remain in the crop just exits the bird normally. We keep a feeder of construction sand in our coop for grit in the winter, as we live WAY too far north to put sand on the floor in the winter; we use the composting floor method, instead. The birds just take what they want/need and go on their way.
Inherited my neighbor's 7 chickens and his coop. He has a big pile of sandbox type sand and a pile of soil with wood chips in it. Can I use the sand on the floor and the soil/wood chips in the nesting boxes?
So does the Silica affect the chickens lungs as they scratch it and kick the dust up? Thank you.
Also, is there anyway of knowing who wrote this article? Thank you.
I had not seen this page since the upgrade here, my apologies for not answering questions sooner.
NewChickHere, the silica COULD affect the lungs of the chickens, it's highly debated often. However, I don't feel it is an issue with proper ventilation and when you replace the sand occasionally.
Hbwfan, I'm sure you've found a solution since but wanted to say that sand and woodchips do not usually mix with positive results. Once they are dirty it just seems to create a compounding problem.
We got our first eight chicks this year. I decided to go with sand in our run after reading this article. I needed something to fill in and level, and because I live on the Gulf Coast sand is sure easy to get. My son decided to be helpful and came home with a trailer load of river sand--unlike what the article says, our river sand is fine as play sand. I worried a bit, but it is working great for us. We are a humid clime anyway, so even with a bit of wind this spring, it doesn't blow. Have it in the run and all around the chicken house and run. I love it. All the points above are proving true, especially about keeping things dry. I do not use it in the chicken house. Our hen house is elevated, use the deep layer wood shavings, working great. Where we are, everything is sandy, even our dark soil. I do plan to purchase the coarser sand when the time comes for filling in. Thanks for the article and comments!
This plan sounds perfect for our climate and yard. It should work perfectly.
Thank you so much for this info I will definitely be using it when we construct our coop and yard for our new chicks!!
Why would you replace the sand??? Once it's in, and if it's cleaned regularly, why not just leave it????
I've been wondering the same thing about replacement. I'll learn by experience. I have the soft sand, not the coarse spoken of, could not get that as readily. Clean it with a large kitty litter scoop with screen over it thus far, hope to find something better. Don't get it all clean, but just the larger chunks, like when cleaning a horse stall. The sand keeps everything dry, so there is no yucky odor or mess, when all the large poops and feedstuffs is cleaned out. Some sand does come out with it, though, and I'm seeing a need to replenish. I'm doubting I'll every scoop it all out and change over. Hey, I'm a small person, only have 8 chickens at present.
We put in course sand in the coop bottom over the weekend. As I suspected, its very nice and cool for the ladies feet and the LOVE it. So fun to watch them scratch, peck and run around in their new coop/run area. I can already see clean up will be easy.
I also don't see a need to replace the sand but I expect at some point to replenish.
I have some baby chicks, how old do they need to be before you can use the sand method?
When chicks are ready for wood chips or anything else other than paper towels, they can handle the sand. Be sure to use the same training you would for wood chips, introducing the new sand to them slowly, and making sure that they are eating food well on their own and know the difference between food and sand. Usually they will taste and move on, not eating anything like large quantities. It SHOULD be fine, and they will enjoy dust bathing early on but always keep an eye out for that one chick who forgot to "read the manual" so to speak. :)
I think this will be great for my coop. Clean up is so much harder with shavings/hay! Will be switching to this.
I have a very small henhouse and a run, should I put sand in only the henhouse or both?
Will definitely try sand, my run is quite muddy as its been really wet lately.
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