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The Real Scoop on Using Sand in your Chicken Coop, Run or Brooder


When something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Latest case in point: using sand in your coop, run or chick brooder. 

Just going with common sense and logical thinking, using sand in chicken keeping didn't make any sense to me.

Recently I've been watching several other bloggers praise the benefits of sand - how easy it is to keep clean, how much the chickens love it, etc. but I quickly discounted it because wild poultry don't choose to live at the beach. They're not seagulls after all!

Not only that, one of the biggest proponents of sand seems to have had more than her fair share of sick and dead chickens apparently  since switching to sand, and so as more and more readers started asking my opinion on sand, trusting me to provide accurate, solid advice based on what's best for their chickens, I decided it was time to do some research.

The Real Scoop on Using Sand

So I spoke with a long-time (30 years+) chicken keeper from a long line of chicken farmers, our vet (who not only treats but also raises chickens), and an herbalist who is also chicken keeper.

I also read a few scientific studies and listened to a very informative podcast by Dr. Peter Brown on The Chicken Whisperer's show. It turns out that my initial instinct was correct. The REAL scoop on sand is - DON'T USE IT.

While proponents of sand cite benefits such as 'it looks better', 'it's inexpensive' and 'it's easy', I don't consider ANY of those to be valid reasons to chose to use something with our animals or not.

 

The Real Scoop on Using Sand in your Brooder

According to the reputable experts I consulted, using sand in the brooder can be very dangerous for young chicks (and in fact I have heard from one Facebook fan who lost a chick to impacted crop after brooding on sand).

One expert said "Chicks can mistake the sand for feed and eat it. Though chicks need grit to help digest their food, sand gets sodden and can clump in the chick's crop unlike commercial grit or dirt. This can lead to complications causing suffocation, impacted crops and even death.

Additionally, feces in the brooder becomes "breaded" with the sand and often chicks will eat it not recognizing it as feces. I agree it does make for easy cleaning, since you can use a kitty litter plastic scoop, but it is not a safe medium to use. Another point to consider, sand fosters the growth of e-coli bacteria much like water. "

I read a study that said in part "Sand (silica) is very dusty and can lead to silicosis, a respiratory disease caused by repeated inhalation of fine particles, especially in younger hens." 

Let's face it, it's not a good idea to take any chances considering chicken's propensity to contract breathing issues due to their complicated respiratory systems.

Not only that, just imagine how hot sand will get under a heat lamp for the poor little chick's feet. After all, do you want to have to stand on sand at the beach on a 95 degree day for very long?

Another long-time chicken keeper said "Sand is known to harbor e.Coli and coccidiosis. The combination in a brooder of sand, feces and the warm, moist environment under a heat lamp is a disaster waiting to happen. It's the perfect climate for all types of bacteria and pathogens to grow very rapidly and sicken chicks."

From The Chicken Whisperer Facebook page:

The Chicken Whisperer
June 24
SAND IN YOUR RUN/COOP/BROODER? (click HERE to listen) Peter Brown, aka The Chicken Doctor just explained how having sand in your run may increase the chance of having a coccidiosis breakout!!! Great show today about managing litter, bedding, and runs to control coccidiosis!

I learned from the podcast by Peter Brown hosted by The Chicken Whisperer this past June that sand seems to run the gamut as far as coccidiosis goes. 

In some cases, the pathogen will multiply out of control for the reasons stated above. In other cases, the sharp edges of the sand actually kill all the coccidia microbes, which can be just as bad since that prevents the chicks from being exposed to even small amounts, which they need in order to build an immunity.

The Chicken Doctor actually recommends cleaning out a brooder less often (and using shavings preferably), allowing the natural bacteria and pathogens to be present so the baby chicks get small doses, reading them for the outside world where they will presumably have built a natural immunity to keep them protected. 

Either way, sand is not the way to go.


The Real Scoop on Using Sand in your Chicken Coop 

A long time chicken keeper shared his thoughts with me that sand has NO insulating properties like straw or shavings, so in the winter will provide no help in keeping your coop warm, unlike straw which is a wonderful insulation material. 

Additionally, wet sand will freeze in the winter and be like hopping off the roost onto cement pavement - in fact we've heard from two readers who ended up with chickens with broken legs from doing just that.

Sure, having a truckload of sand delivered and spread in your coop sounds great. It sounds pretty much maintenance-free, other than requiring a raking out from time to time of the area under the roost mostly.

But sand retains all sorts of pathogens, and if you just periodically remove the visibly soiled portions, you're leaving a virtual breeding ground inside your coop that you can't see. 

When I change out the litter in our coop, I change it ALL out. Down to the floor boards. Sure, it's not my most favorite job, but it's necessary in my opinion for a healthy flock. Raising chickens isn't about what's easiest for US, but what's best for THEM.

Another important consideration, unlike straw or shavings, sand doesn't compost. So when you eventually DO need to change it out, what do you do with it? 

I don't know about you, but I certainly don't want a toxic pile of E.coli-laden sand piling up in my backyard where children, cats or dogs could pick up all kinds of nasty stuff from playing in it!


We use straw in our coop, which composts wonderfully. Since we use the Deep Litter Method throughout the winter, by spring we are left with a coop full of beautifully composted 'soil', most of which is ready for our spring garden. The rest of the year, the straw goes into our compost pile to finish decomposing until spring.


The Real Scoop on Using Sand in your Chicken Run 


You know what it's like walking barefoot on beach sand in the summer sun. Just think what hot sand feels like on chicken feet all summer in the run? I'm betting downright uncomfortable and unbearably HOT. 

Also, one important way that chickens cool off is to dig holes to get down into nice cool damp dirt....and that's not happening if you use sand in your run.

According to one expert, "[In the run] plain old dirt would be cooler than sand. Sand does not hold moisture and that can be preferable if you are looking for "dry". However a chicken scratches down into the dirt and can press their bodies against it to draw heat from their bodies [in the summer]." 

Then went on to say "I have tried probably every litter material there is (except sand because of my speculations). To be honest, I have never heard of anyone using it in all my years of poultry keeping. However, I do like to compost the litter and no way would I be piling sand on my gardens."

Even more importantly, insects and earthworms don't live in sand. By covering your run in sand, you're depriving your flock the enjoyment of scratching for bugs, larvae and worms. 

Our chickens spend an inordinate part of their day scratching and cackling excitedly when they dig up a tasty treat. It keeps them busy and supplements their diet with a nutritious free source of protein. If your run is sand, you remove that from their daily routine.

Additionally, in the run, similar to in the brooder, feces will get 'breaded' in the sand and possibly eaten. Sodden sand can also lead to impacted crops in grown hens as well as chicks.

Here are some thoughts on sand from the Backyard Chicken forum:

Free Feather: Sand is no good in cold climates. It might drain well, but it is really no fun to scratch in or find bugs. It is good for only in a box for dust bathing. It does not compost, and you cannot plant in it. It also has a tendency to stink and cause diseases like Coccidiosis. It just really is not natural.

Cedar Crest Farm: I could not agree more with "Free Feather" in regards to sand in the coop.  I switched all my coops to construction grade sand last year and ended up with several cases of Coccidiosis, sinus infection and mites. (Needless to say I switched back) The sand is still in my compost pile.  


The Real Scoop on Using Sand in your Chicken Coop, Run or Brooder


In summary, sand is a bad choice for your chickens' environment for many reasons, which include:
  • harbors E.coli 
  • allows coccidiosis to run rampant or in some cases eradicates it completely (both extremes are harmful) 
  • dust can lead to respiratory/breathing problems 
  • can lead to impacted crops 
  • real possibility of 'breaded' feces being eaten by your flock 
  • hot in the summer 
  • no insulating factors in the winter 
  • not 'green', i.e. not compostable 
In our opinion, as well as that of experts we trust, the scoop on sand is ... steer clear. Far better choices for your chicken keeping are: 

Brooder - pine shavings
Run - dirt

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