Using 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:
- Cost effective floor covering! I can cover 100sf for a lot less than $20 for 6 months or more!
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- It's Cool! Yes, temperature wise, sand is a cool substance and makes for a great way to help beat the summer heatwaves.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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:
PRECAUTIONS & THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN DECIDING IF SAND IS RIGHT FOR YOU
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.
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.