If you’re new to chickens, you might be wondering what to put on the floor of a chicken coop. There are a lot of great options out there, but I have a personal favorite.
Using sand in the chicken coop is the answer to an obsessive person’s dreams. Close your eyes and imagine: Beautifully manicured chicken feet (free of poo), zen garden furrows on the ground, and everything staying in its place instead of blowing around whenever a wing is flapped. Imagine walking in and smelling… nothing. Sand, my dear readers, is the answer.
I started using sand in the chicken coop and run in 2013. The birds had decimated the lawn leaving treacherous mud in its wake. Getting to the water station without slipping in the muck was becoming an Olympic feat. As usual, I turned to BackYardChickens.com. People were singing the praises of using sand to help with drainage and to replace more traditional bedding options.
Traditional bedding, like pine shavings, can be a nightmare in a run because it is exposed to the elements. It can get soggy, moldy, or just smell terrible. The sand suffers none of those problems. There are, however, things you must do so that your sand performs well.
Choosing the Right Sand
Can I use play sand in my chicken coop?
It should be sand that has various sizes mixed in. Bank run or construction sand are great choices. All Purpose will work if that’s all you have access to. Playsand and sandbox sand floats and you will regret using it. You’ll want to buy dry sand. If you purchase it wet it will take a while to dry out.
How deep does the sand need to be in the coop and run?
A thin layer will not give you the results you want. Poo will shift below to the ground and stink to high heaven. In the coop, you can get away with 3-4″ so long as the coop is raised off the ground with a plywood or a lined floor. If your coop floor is the ground or you are putting sand in an enclosed run, 6-8″ deep is ideal for drainage. If your coop is in an area that tends to be boggy/soggy, 2-3″ of gravel laid down before adding sand can make a world of difference.
Like any bedding option, neglected bedding can cause health issues for your birds. Proper cleaning is important to your birds’ health.
Even More Pros
In addition to the “pros” already mentioned, here are a few more reasons to choose sand for your chicken coop:
- Cost-effective. For anywhere from $10-$20 you can get an entire truckload of sand from a quarry.
- Creates a natural dust bath area and provides all the grit you could need. That’s two less things you need to worry about.
- Stays dry. It quickly dries poo and doesn’t retain moisture so you don’t need to worry about mold or bugs.
- Stays cool in the summer, even during the biggest heat waves. It also preserves heat in the winter.
- Conserves feed. Pelleted feed stays on the surface and can easily be found by hungry birds.
- Makes composting easy! No bedding that needs to be broken down.
- Is aesthetically pleasing. You can even create a nice zen garden feel (though the birds may not appreciate your efforts and destroy it quickly).
- Reduces the chances of frostbite during the winter because there is no moisture to build up.
Maintenance is super easy too! A modified stall rake makes a great sand sifter. Just use zip ties to attach some 1/4″ hardware cloth. Once a year I completely clean out the coop and add new sand. Twice a year I add some pelletized lime or Sweet PDZ to the run and refresh any lost sand in the run. In the winter I throw in some ash from the fireplace and in the summer I sprinkle in some DE (diatomaceous earth).
Sand in the Brooder
Sand works great in a brooder as well. It holds the heat so the chicks stay warm and it doesn’t get tracked into the water dishes (quite as easily). Sand also acts as a grit for the chicks, so you can offer them treats without worrying about binding.
Because sand can cause impaction in tiny chicks, it is wise to wait for two or three days after hatch before using it. This will give the chicks time to figure out what and where food is. Often I will set up the brooder with sand before the chicks arrive and simply lay paper towels over it for the first few days. Once it seems like the chicks have figured things out, I’ll remove the paper towels. You can see how I set up my brooder for all our poultry.
Have you tried sand in your chicken coop or run? What did you think? For more great information on raising laying hens, check out our ultimate guide.