Friday, February 11, 2011

Sand, pine shavings, or even dirt for the chicken coop/ one better than the other?

Is one better than the other? Well if you are asking ME ,yes, however I am sure there are plenty of other people who would argue differently. But since this is my blog and I'm asking the question..I'll tell you why I think that one is better than the other. Again, I am going off my results based on where I live and what I've tried, your results may be different.

 For the first 3 years I had my chickens I used pine shavings in the coop and had a dirt run. It only took me a year to have both drive me crazy! For me a large part of my frustration was the fact the shavings were forever spilling out into the dirt run making everything messy and hard to keep the run clean. The shavings mixed in with the dirt which was often soft and freshly turned up due to the girls taking dust baths. Then I found it difficult to clean the poop out of the coop without removing too much shavings. As a result I would end up removing most of the shavings and replacing it with new shavings. I also did not like the sound of deep litter method or whatever you call it. Adding more shavings on top of the poo just didn't sound clean, or smell good and it just sounded plain gross! So I would end up having to buy large bags of pine shavings. It was just a pain in the rear anyway you slice it and I was sick of it. Again this is me we are talking about here. I wanted a solution but didn't know what to do. So I stuck it out and dealt with it. The other thing I would get frustrated with was the dirt run. Reason being chickens like to dig nice large holes with which to take dust baths. What happens is they don't just make one but many. The dirt in the rest of the run becomes hard and compact and the dirt in the holes gets dispersed around the run and hardened and now you have holes everywhere and no dirt to rake back into the holes. Then it rains, and it rains, and now you have tons of mud holes. The chickens, though they have nice fresh clean water in the coop to drink, decide they like the nasty dirty muddy water instead. Just not good!

 So a year ago we decided to get more chickens and in doing so the small coop would have to get larger. So since it would be built from scratch I wanted to change some things that didn't work for me and see how I could make the new coop and run better and work for years to come. I did some research and came across an article about using sand in both the coop and the run. Hmmm, interesting! The sand they were talking about was a coarse river type sand, more small pebbles then fine sand. Something I can't get here. However I read some folks saying they used construction grade sand from their local landscape/dirt yard because they too couldn't get the coarser sand. So I thought great I will give it a try. So I lined the new coop floor with 2 layers of very thick plastic the kind that come in huge rolls in the paint section. I bought the thickest one they had. I doubled it and stapled it up 3" from the floor all the way around then put the plywood on top of that for the wall. Bought a half yard enough to fill the back of our pick up and shoveled 3/4 of it into the 8x10' coop. Started it in the run but ran out (on my list of things to finish this week or next!). I have now had the sand a full year and let me tell you what a difference it has made!! I love the sand!

 Reasons why I think sand is the best way to go...It is super fast and easy to clean. Most of the poop is under the roost (chickens sure make a lot of poop at night!) with some scattered here and there in the rest of the coop. I bought myself a kitty little scoop and a 5 gal. bucket and once a week I sift it out like a cat litter box. The poop sits right on top for the most part, the sand dries it out, and it scoops right up. Takes me 5-10 minutes to clean out the coop. Now because I am sifting the poop out I am hardly removing any actual sand so after a year I may need to only replace about a bag of sand worth and that is it. No waste! The poop goes into the compost to be added to the garden. Because the sand really helps to dry the poop (sorry to keep using this word but I don't know how else to put it) it actually cuts down on the oder big time! Shaving used to get wet and smell but not with sand. If can build up a little ammonia at times but just get a bag of stall lime (it is extremely important to get the right lime which is the kind used in horse stalls and not the kind for your garden!) and spread it around the coop mainly under where they roost for the night. This "sweetens" it and greatly cuts any ammonia smell. Another good thing to use is diatomaceous earth (food grade if you can get it, look for it in your local feed & seed if they don't have it ask if they can get it) it should be spread around in the coop, run and even nest boxes. This will kill any fleas, mites or other soft bodied critter because though it is super soft to you to those little bugs it acts like sharp glass cutting them up and killing them. You can even mix a little in the chickens feed too to help with internal parasites. Another thing with sand is the chickens really seem to love it as well. I think in the shade of the coop it is cool to them in summer. They spend a great deal of time in there coop in the hottest months laying in the cool sand. When is is raining for several days and they can't get outside to take a dust bath they will do so in the sand of the coop. They couldn't do that with shavings.

Sand in the run is also equally good. It drains far better than dirt does. It doesn't get compact like dirt does and that is good because as I said earlier chickens love to dig out big holes and trenches to bathe in and then you are left with holes and the dirt around gets hard so you can't rake it back. Sand allows then to scratch about and take dust baths without leaving giant holes which turn into mud holes when it rains. The sand can easily be raked back into place. Also just like in the coop the poop dries out in the sand and for the most part just dissipates but if you do need to rake it out it is very easy to do. I just love it and I think you should give it a try. My sister adopted 3 chickens and she too was tired of the shaving making a mess and being difficult to clean. She made the switch and says she too is happy she did. I really think you would never go back!
*I want to post some pics but right now everything is so ugly out so I will wait till spring to post some pictures for you to see.


  1. did you put anything beneath the sand in the run to prevent the chickens from mixing the sand in with the soil? I am wondering how to prevent the soil from mixing since the chickens love to scratch.

  2. Hi, we are new to the chicken world. Just got our first chicks today... so lots of silly questions. Do you put the sand in the area where they lay the eggs or is this still the shavings? Also can you just do a pull out tray under the roosting area with nothing and pull it out and scrape off the poop? Thanks, Tara


  3. Thanks for sharing this great info with us.

    Clean Fill Wanted