Different types of chicken bedding have different uses in the coop.
Using sand in the coop is something you either love or hate.
Why opinions are so strong we are not sure but there is not much middle ground on this subject.
Those who praise the use of sand can sometimes get a bit carried away and those who have negative opinions really do not have anything good to say about it.
So today we are going to try and set the record straight and give you the facts.
You may be surprised by what you find in this article, so keep reading…
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Sand and Chicken Coops 101
Sand has been used in chicken coops since the last century when it was first used in the California egg industry.
At the time few people paid attention because traditionally chickens have always been a farm animal and as such were mostly found in barns and areas where hay was kept.
In the human mind that has translated all these years later as chickens need straw or hay for bedding. In actual fact chickens really do not need any bedding except in the nesting boxes.
What Is The Fuss About?
Sand came to the forefront of the bedding material debate in 2010.
Several popular bloggers tried it in their coops and found it to be very useful, with the added benefits of it lasting for a long time and not needing to change out litter and keep the coop clean.
Sand is also an all-weather item.
It really does not matter if it gets wet as long as you there is enough drainage it will dry our fairly quickly. You do not have to worry about rotting, mildew or mold as it is impervious to all types of weather.
Yet others have come out firmly against it (mainly for health reasons).
Since the earlier debates the use of sand has been somewhat modified into using river sand (this is a much better product).
However with regards to the debate the line in the sand has been drawn and nobody is changing their opinion any time soon!
What To Know Before Using Sand
The main thing to consider is the weight of the sand.
Unless you have a strong back and arms (and are in reasonable physical shape), you are not going to be able to do the initial set up yourself. Also if you have an elevated coop then sand can also be problematic from a weight aspect. You will need to reinforce the coop before adding sand (more on this later).
Price wise the initial setup can be high.
One ton of river sand will cost you between $25-40 here in the US.
That 1 ton will cover an area of approximately 35 square feet to a depth of one inch.
In run areas you may need up to six or seven inches of coverage depending on the soil type below the sand. So the initial cost for a typical coop setup will be around $50 and around $150 for the run.
The good news is after the initial setup it is very cheap to maintain.
You will only need to a small amounts of sand a couple of times each year.
As long as the correct type of sand is used then it should not cause any health concers.
However using the wrong type of sand can cause some health problems. Without a doubt there have been health issues with small chicks and respiratory issues in adult hens. Using the wrong kind of sand can also cause respiratory problems in adults with certain lung conditions so care must be taken to use the correct type of sand.
Types Of Sand To Use
The sand you will need to use is call river sand.
It may also be called bank sand, coarse sand or construction sand.
This type of sand is not really sandy at all! It is a composition of sand and larger sized particles all the way up to small pebbles – similar to what you would find on a river bed.
You should avoid using plan sand in your coop. Play sand is actually ground up quartz which gives off a lot of dust – this can cause or exacerbate respiratory issues.
Picking the right sand is important for a few reasons.
The first being drainage.
Coarse sand (like river sand) drains much more effectively than play or beach sand.
With river sand the water drains straight to the bottom to the soil, whereas play sand retains the moisture and this creates hard and cold sand.
The second and most important reason is health. There has been a small but significant reporting of hens eating play sand and getting an impacted crop. This is especially true with more active breeds like Silver Laced Wyandottes.
Whereas with river sand the larger particles will be ingested by the hens and used as grit in the crop which is fine.
Play sand also tends to retain pathogens whereas coarse sand can easily be hosed down or sifted if the manure load gets too high.
Pros and Cons
- Has very low dust levels: There may be some initial dust but once the sand has settled the dust will be considerably less. While other bedding materials can degrade and produce microscopic dust particles, sand does not.
- Helps to keep coop temperature stable: Sand appears to remain at a fairly constant temperature and will help keep the coop a consistent temperature too.
- Does not decay: Sand is basically rot proof. Softer beddings (like straw) will quickly start to decompose once they get wet or soiled. This can create bacteria problems if you are not diligent about cleaning the coop.
- Sand does not hold moisture: This is great if you live in a damp area. As long as you have good drainage under the sand then the water will dissipate into the ground quickly.
- Sand is very heavy to install: It is hard on the back and arms to move around in large quantities so you may need to hire out the work to someone young and pretty fit.
- Initial cost is high: Although it is a one-time cost it can be fairly high depending on the size of your coop and run. Keep in mind you will also need to pay for delivery.
- Not a renewable source: It takes thousands of years to make river sand and resources are diminishing. If you are concerned about the environmental impact then you probably should not use sand.
- Your coop/run may need resigning: You need to use around four inches of sand inside your coop so you may need to reinforce the coop (especially with coops that are off the floor).
- Can not be used in a compost: Apart from breaking up clay soil, sand is not very useful in the garden. Straw and other compostable bedding has a secondary use in the garden as mulch or compost.
How To Use Sand In The Coop
How you use sand as a bedding material in your coop will depend on your coop.
Do you have a flat coop or an elevated coop?
With coops that sit directly on the ground, you will need to dig down a few inches down before adding the sand. Once you have finished digging you will need to lay hardware cloth and fix it to the sides of the coop – this will stop predators from digging into the coop to get your chickens.
You will also need to put down some sort of retaining barrier (groundsheet) such as landscaping fabric to prevent your sand from migrating away from the coop.
Once you have done this you can add your sand.
For elevated coops, you will need to add some structural reinforcement before adding the sand.
A 10 foot by 10 foot coop will need approximately four inches of sand. This weighs around 1.6 tons.
Inside the elevated coop the depth of the sand is not that deep so using a barrier will not be necessary as the sand will be held in place by the coop itself.
This is without a doubt the easiest way to incorporate sand into your coop.
Retro-fitting can be difficult to do well.
Make sure your chickens have enough space after adding the sand, you can read our how much space do chickens need article.
How To Use Sand In The Run
You need to assess your run carefully before laying down sand.
What sort of drainage do you have?
If you have wet clay type soil that becomes a sticky mud bath after it rains then you have some hard work ahead of you.
You will need to dig down around twelve inches to make sure you get good drainage and that the water simply does not sit under the sand. You will also need some sort of barrier cloth (groundsheet) to prevent the sand from falling outside the perimeter.
Once the area is leveled out and the barrier is applied you will be ready for your sand.
A 10 foot by 10 foot run with a depth of twelve inches will require 5 ton of sand.
Runs that are drier and have better drainage will not need as much sand, so you could use around 3 ton of sand in the example.
How Often Does Sand Need Replacing?
Once you have your sand in place it really does not need to be replaced, it just needs refilling every so often.
Over time when you clean the coop you will need to remove larger sand particles that are spoiled – this will reduce the total amount of sand in your coop/run.
All you need to do is buy a bag or order a small amount of replacement sand from your local builders yard or home improvement center.
This is probably the biggest single advantage to using sand in the coop.
Barring disasters, the setup is a one-time deal that does not need to be repeated.
Alternative Bedding Materials
There are several types of bedding material you can use instead of sand.
The most popular bedding materials are straw, hay or grass.
However the problem with all of these is that they hold moisture and bacteria. Also over time they will degrade. With each of these bedding materials you need to change them frequently because they can cause respiratory problems when they get moldy.
If you have your own source of hay or straw this is a very cheap bedding material. Grass clippings are free but they should not have been treated with any pesticides or lawn chemicals.
Chickens do seem to like this bedding though as they can pick through and find seeds and other little morsels.
Another good option is pine shavings, needles or leaves.
They do a good job and smell great for at least the first few days.
The best use for dry pine needles is in the nesting boxes. I generally throw all the leaves into the run so the chickens can scratch and peck through them. The leaves will decompose quickly and can be used as mulch in the garden next year.
Chickens can get enthusiastic when scratching through them and often some bedding will find its way into the run. Where pine shaving really stands out is in nesting boxes and in the brooder for small chicks. They are easily to remove, can be easily replaced and are fairly cheap.
Newspaper or shredded paper can be used but it is not very absorbent.
Use it when you are in a pinch, but I do not recommend it for full time use.
Hemp can be difficult to find but it is worth trying it out for your chickens. It is quite absorbent, soft, low dust and composts very well. Since it is a fairly new product it can be a bit expensive but hopefully the price will fall as it becomes more popular.
Finally, wood chips can be used.
They usually smell nice and chickens love to peck at them.
However after a few short weeks they will become damp and start to mold.
They are best used in the run area.
As they break down they attract lots of insects for your hens to snack on. Also once they are finished the chips make great compost to add to the garden.
Should You Use Sand In Your Coop? (Summary)
If you are thinking about using sand in your chicken coop then without a doubt the best time to do it is when you are setting up the coop and run.
Of course you can make adjustments to an existing coop but it requires a good deal of thought, planning and work.
Just remember that sand in a brooder is a big no since chicks will eat the sand and become impacted and likely die.
You should only use sand with pullets or older hens (read our chicken age article for more information).
If you want your coop to be environmentally low impact then you will have to consider whether or not the use of a limited resource (such as river sand) can be justified.
The bottom line is that there are several types of bedding available and you have to pick and choose which you think will be best for your situation.
Let us know in the comments section below which bedding material you use…
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