A Case for Sand for Chicken Coop Bedding

Reader Contribution by Kathy Shea Mormino
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By Pixabay/guvo59

The material that covers the floor of a chicken coop is commonly referred to as “bedding,” which is more aptly termed “litter,” as chickens don’t sleep on the floor, they poop on it. Litter’s primary functions are to absorb moisture from droppings and water spills, keep odors down and facilitate coop cleaning. The most commonly used litter options are: wood shavings, wood horse stall pellets, sand, hay and straw, but which choice is right for you?

The Pros and Cons of Pine Shaving Bedding

Pine shavings were the recommendation I had seen most often when researching my litter choices. I knew it was absorbent, readily available at my feed store, and affordable at $5.00 per cubic foot. I had ruled out straw and hay due to their lack of absorbency, propensity to harbor mites and worst of all, to mold when wet. The last thing I wanted in my coop was a droppings-laden mat of respiratory trouble for my chickens, so…pine shavings it was.

The reason I elected to use pine shavings over sand was that idea of fluffy shavings appealed to me aesthetically. I believed shavings would be a cleaner-looking, more comfortable bedding for my peeps. Wrong. What I did not take into consideration, was the frequency of cleaning required or the disproportionately high amount of shavings vs. droppings going into the compost pile. I was also blissfully unaware that my chickens would kick and drag the shavings out of the coop into the run. So much for aesthetics.

So, this spring, when a Facebook fan enthusiastically recommend sand and suggested that I try it, I gave it some serious thought. Due to location of our coops at the bottom of a hill, adjacent to wetlands, I have always used sand in our runs. I purchase 2 yards of sand each year at the cost of $15 per yard. It drains brilliantly and there are never puddles in the run, which is important to the health of our flock as wet conditions are a breeding ground for coccidiosis. The runs are easy to clean and the sand keeps odors and flies to a minimum. Since sand performs so well in the runs, I figured I’d give it a shot in the coops.

Admittedly, I was fairly skeptical that sand would be a viable coop litter choice, I just wasn’t convinced that it could dehydrate droppings as claimed, but since we have a pile on-hand, I concluded that it couldn’t hurt to experiment.

Worst case scenario was that I would hate it, scoop the sand out into the run and revert to pine shavings. No harm, no foul. (pun intended)

Best Chicken Coop Bedding: Pine Shavings vs Sand

Even though most of the daily droppings fall on the droppings boards in my coops, I am still fastidious about the litter. When we had just one, 4’x6′ coop, cleaning it and replacing the shavings weekly cost approximately $5.00 per month. When we built our 8’x8′ Little Deuce Coop, the litter bill increased significantly, as did the amount of time required to change the bedding each week. With the addition of the second coop, sand began to sound like a good idea. So, with shovel in hand…I passed it to my husband. The chickens were pleasantly surprised by their new litter.

After having used sand in both of my chicken coops for the past six months, these are my conclusions:

Benefits of Sand Bedding in Chicken Coops

  • dehydrates droppings
  • doesn’t retain moisture
  • doesn’t decay or degrade
  • superior drainage (if water spills)
  • inexpensive ($15.00 per yard)
  • natural grit/no risk of crop impaction as with straw and hay
  • easy clean-up (a once daily scooping & bi-annual change)
  • doesn’t conduct or retain heat in summer (as straw/hay/shavings do)
  • keeps feet clean and nails manicured
  • exfoliates dead skin
  • cleaner feet=cleaner eggs, particularly in rainy conditions
  • any dropped feed gets found and eaten, not lost in the litter
  • dust-bath mecca
  • no decomposition required in compost pile, great soil amendment to compost
  • looks cleaner than other litter options because it is cleaner

The Cons of Sand Bedding

  • heavy to move
  • dusty (as are shavings, straw and chickens, for that matter!)
  • doesn’t retain heat in the winter (but so what?my chickens don’t sleep in the sand)

Tips on Cleaning Sand for Chicken Coops

The best type of sand to use is a washed, construction grade sand that is silicate-free. River sand or red sand are fine too. We buy our sand at a local quarry for $15.00 per yard and use one to two yards per year for two coops (12x 14 total) and two runs (approx 260 square feet total).

Any water spills can be ‘cleaned up’ easily by raking the wet sand into the dry sand. The moisture dissipates very quickly.

Daily scooping is recommended, it takes all of 2 minutes with a handy bedding fork and a small piece of hardware cloth zip-tied to it.

Now if I could just remember that Facebook fan’s name so I could thank her…

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