pine shavings as litter inside the coop primarily because they were a common
recommendation that was readily available fairly inexpensively. It never occurred to me to use sand inside the chicken
coop even though I used sand in the run, but when Facebook
fan Kelly V. enthusiastically vouched for sand’s performance in her chicken coops, I
had plenty of sand on-hand already, so I figured it couldn’t hurt to experiment.
Worst case scenario, I could scoop it out into the run and return to using pine
shavings. Pine shavings are a very good litter choice, but scientific research
and personal experience has proven that sand is even better!
Litter’s primary functions in backyard coops are to keep the coop dry, control smell from fresh droppings and facilitate cleaning, the most common materials being soft wood shavings, chopped straw and sand.
As it turns out, sand is not a novel or modern chicken litter concept; the use of sand is a tried-and-true, old timer’s method of raising laying hens. Poultry visionary, Charles Weeks wrote of the benefits of sand as chicken litter in his 1919 book, “Egg Farming in California,” in which he stated: “Sand is the only material to use on the floors of poultry houses. Clean, dry sand prevents any bacteria from starting. Clean, sharp sand is the freest from dust and easy to keep clean, as the droppings lay on top and are easily lifted off.”
Department of Poultry Science, which were borne out by further field testing, sand performed better than pine shavings with
lower bacterial counts, lower fungal populations and lower moisture levels. The
Auburn research states, “Sand, being
inorganic, contains few nutrients that could be utilized by bacteria and, thus,
would tend to lead to lower bacterial numbers.” “Additionally, sand may lack
binding sites for bacteria.” Straw is a poor choice for litter due to its notorious lack of absorbency, tendency to cause crop impaction,
propensity to form manure mats, and inability to control moisture, insects,
bacteria levels and ammonia. Similarly, hardwoods shavings such as beech should
be avoided due to their propensity to harbor disease causing molds and fungus
as well as containing toxic phenol fumes. The last thing I want in my coop was a droppings-laden mat of respiratory trouble for my chickens.
does not retain moisture or decay inside the coop, which means less risk of
respiratory infections, fewer flies and other insect activity, less bacterial growth, reduced bumblefoot
infections and a lower risk of frostbite compared to shavings and straw. There is no risk of
crop impaction with sand, in fact, sand is beneficial to the digestive tract
since it is used as grit in the gizzard to break down fibrous foods before
being passed in the droppings. Due to its high thermal mass, sand maintains
more stable coop temperatures; the Auburn
found that sand keeps chicken houses cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. In inclement weather, sand inside the coop is dry and dust-bath ready!
Eggs in nest boxes remain cleaner in wet or muddy outdoor conditions because
hens’ feet are cleaned and dried while walking through sand to
reach nest boxes.
researchers found coliform counts, including E.coli, significantly lower in sand than in wood shavings.
continues to be recommended by poultry experts and veterinarians today.
Maryland Poultry Veterinarian, Dr. McKillop, DVM, MSpVM, DACPV states, “Sand is
a wonderful litter/ground source for backyard poultry. I advise all of my clients
to go from shavings to sand. When it gets wet or rains, it drains, sand is easy
to clean, and it’s a wonderful medium for dust bathing. Sand decreases
Coccidiosis problems because coccia require warm, damp environments with oxygen
to sporulate.” Chickens are able to acquire a natural immunity to coccidiosis
gradually without contracting the intestinal disease from an overpopulation of
disease-causing oocysts promoted by wet litter.
discusses sand as brooder bedding, saying, “(Sand) is not as absorbent as other
types of bedding, but it absorbs heat more readily and evaporates moisture more
rapidly and therefore stays drier. Perhaps for the same reason, sand is more
resistant to microbes than other types of bedding, keeping baby birds
healthier. Soiled sand doesn’t stick to feet like other types of bedding can.
When it is kicked into a drinker, sand doesn’t float and discourage drinking
but rather sinks to the bottom so the water remains clean. Provided it is
sifted periodically to remove chick poops, sand lasts much longer than other
types of bedding, making it extremely economical.” While it is uncommon for
baby chicks to ingest litter when feed is available, it’s better to allow them
to become accustomed to starter feed for a few days before introducing any
litter into the brooder, opting for paper towels instead.
construction grade sand, bank run sand, river sand, equestrian sand, etc. The construction
supply company I get my sand has changed what they call it from year-to-year,
so when sourcing sand, it’s better to see or describe the desired product
rather than insist on a certain label. Sand for use as chicken litter and dust baths should be natural and consist of variable particle sizes. Coop sand
should not be manufactured by crushing. Many play sands are manufactured by
crushing quartz, which creates fine, dusty particles that pack closely
together, neither of which are desirable features for chicken litter. Further,
manufactured sands contain a much higher percentage of free silica than natural
sands, which can pose a respiratory hazard to humans and animals over time.
Steer clear of manufactured sands.
inexpensively. Every community has a
local source of sand for use in construction and landscaping projects. Garden
centers, landscaping and construction
companies are all good sources too. Home improvement centers usually carry bags
of sand at a less economical prices than bulk sand, but caution must be used to
be certain the sand is natural, not manufactured. Newly delivered sand is
typically moist from being washed and stored outside. In warm weather, it will
dry quickly; raking the sand a few times during the day facilitates drying. Any
water spills can be easily handled by raking the wet sand into the dry sand or
simply shoveling the affected sand out of the coop. Any residual moisture from spills
dissipates very quickly.
environment for the flock. With all litter types, it is infinitely better not
to keep the flock’s drinking water inside the coop. Encourage outdoor activity
and a healthy coop by placing water and feed in the chicken yard, which should
also eliminate any rodent activity and reduce the fly population in the coop
wood. Inexpensive linoleum placed on top of wood flooring before adding sand
makes deep-cleaning the coop a breeze. A shovel and broom make quick work of
the annual task in my coops. I use approximately 4 inches of sand inside the
chicken coop and as much as a foot in the chicken run.
to minimize droppings inside the coop. Droppings boards are essentially a shelf
that catches droppings produced from chickens roosting at night. Droppings
boards are scraped off into a bucket, ordinarily first thing in the morning,
then added to compost. Any stray droppings found inside the coop are easily
removed with a kitty litter scoop or sifter. Once a year I remove the sand from
my coops, clean the entire coop and fill it with fresh sand. Sand can be
washed, dried thoroughly in the sun and reused.
especially wet climates since water drains through the sand instead of creating
mud puddles filled with decomposing straw or wood shavings. If possible, roof
or cover the chicken run to keep the sand dry and provide the flock an outdoor
oasis in inclement weather. Should sand in the chicken run get wet from
drinking water, blowing snow or rain, using a roto-tiller or shovel to turn
it facilitates drying and keeps the sand fresh and mobile.
and may not be a feasible option for physically limited chicken keepers or in
large chicken tractors.
- desiccates droppings
- does not retain moisture
- does not decay or degrade inside the coop
- superior drainage
- natural grit
- no risk of crop impaction as with straw and hay
- easy daily maintenance
- infrequent deep cleaning required
- keeps feet clean and nails manicured
- cleaner feet=cleaner eggs
- any dropped feed gets eaten, not lost in the litter
- dust-bath Mecca
- no decomposition required in compost pile/great soil amendment especially in clay-heavy soils
- keeps coops cooler in the summer and warmer in winter due to its high thermal mass
- reduces the risk of frostbite
- looks cleaner than other litter options and it is cleaner than other litter choice
- heavy to move
- dusty, but so are pine shavings, straw…and chickens, for that matter!