Chicken Coop Update: Sand Bed-Deep Litter Hybrid System

I’ve had a few readers ask for coop updates since we switched the area under the rooting bars from straw to sand. Ask and ye shall receive.

Sand Bed Update

The sand bed under the roosting bars is working out very well. The sand works like kitty litter and dries the chicken poop out. There is no smell at all associated with the sand bed, even when a few days or more pass between clean-outs.

At first I wasn’t sure the rake I was using would do the trick because it seems to break up poop clumps more than a litter-box style scoop would. After a few days of not getting every tiny piece of poop out of the sand bed I kinda shrugged my shoulders and said, “Meh. Good enough.” And so it has been.

Maintenance on the sand bed is about as easy as I’d predicted.

Here it is, after many days (ahem….weeks?) without a good cleaning. Actually, this doesn’t look that bad but I really have no idea when I last cleaned the coop so it must have been awhile.

Here it is after exactly 30 seconds of methodical raking. Yes, I timed myself cleaning out chicken shit because that’s how I roll when it comes to procuring info for my awesome readers.

The poop and whatever attached sand is clinging to it is swept down to the run.

I make a point to swipe some clean-ish straw from the run over the poop, but for the most part the chickens take care of turning and aerating the bedding just fine without my help.

Verdict

The biggest up-side to the Sand Bed is that the eggs are consistently cleaner than they had been with a straw bed. I think this is because the poop dries out so quickly and is less likely to be tracked into the nesting boxes on little chicken feet.

The deep-litter in the run continues to supply huge amounts of chicken-created compost which gets used around the garden for mulch and new bed creation. I would be loathe to give up the bulky compost benefit of a deep-litter coop, so for me this hybrid system is working extremely well.

I’m happy we switched and would recommend a sand bed-deep litter combo coop management system to others with a similar coop set-up to ours.

Anyone else going for a hybrid coop-management system?

Ginger Breadcrumb Fried Cauliflower with Sriracha Dipping Sauce
While I'm Away, Check These Out

Comments

  1. NT Gardener says:

    What type of predator protection did you incorporate into your coop, if any, to keep things from burrowing in from underneath? Did you line the bottom of your coop with hardware cloth as well? Do you think this would be an issue with the deep litter method (with a supplemental “dirt box” for dirt baths)?

    • NT Gardener says:

      and by chicken coop, what I really meant was chicken run…

      • The entire chicken coop structure is wrapped in 1/2″ galvanized hardware cloth buried under about 4-6 inches of soil. The litter sits atop that. And when I say wrapped, I mean that stuff goes all the way under. :) There hasn’t been an issue with the chickens scratching too deep. The only issue is I’m careful when I clean and scrape out the litter to not snag and tear the under-mesh.

  2. Funny how the poop is both the treasure and the problem. I like the idea of cleaner eggs.

  3. I’m even more lazy about chicken coop cleaning. We can’t seem to keep enough hay in the coop to start deep litter (the hens just scatter it everywhere). That said, our hens free range a large area of our property so their shit isn’t ever concentrated in one place. Now if I can just get them from not sleeping in the nest boxes…maybe we should put sand in those?

    • Yes when they range more it’s less of an issue for sure. When the coop needs it, I just drop a full bale in the run and pop the twine. The chickens take care of spreading it for me.

  4. I wish I had chickens! DH is dead set against them (his family had them when he was young and offing and plucking was his designated chore … so he hates chickens). And I saw a great looking hen house/run today on Pinterest … maybe next spring I’ll manage to convince him chickens can be a good thing …

  5. I’m glad to hear another happy chicken keeper loves sand under the roost. I’ve heard a lot of people say they love it. I think there are a few more years of life in my coop, but when we rebuild the coop I’d like to integrate sand under the roost.

    I’ve filled my garden beds with mulches of composted chicken litter for years now and I think I’d keep chickens for that reason alone. When we bought this house 10 years ago, the yard looked so nice. But as a new gardener, I didn’t realize the previous owners had been using so much fertilizer and weed killer to keep it looking “suburban landscape” perfect. The plants were alive, but the soil looked like a nuclear wasteland. Powdery, dry, and compacted. No microbes, no earthy scent, no worms. It’s taken so long for it too recover. It’s now rich, black and absolutely teaming with life. Thanks Chickens!

    • Good job chickens! I’m also kinda obsessed with wood chips as a mulch now that I’ve seen that Back to Eden movie…I’m throwing as many chips as I can all over the garden beds. The chicken litter I tend to hoard for the productive areas.

      • Arrianne says:

        I’ve got more chickens that I actually need to feed us, so we haven’t ever wanted for compost! But I believe the woodchips are very beneficial if you can get them. Mother Earth News had an article siting a University of WA study about the myths surrounding using wood in a vegi garden. But, I have seen that movie yet.

        The area near our woodshed is covered with a natural mulch of wood chips from chopping wood. I have the biggest, lushest dandelions with thick, deep roots growing there.

  6. Neta Courcey says:

    I am new to reading your blog and have neglected some garden chores and some inside chores to read it. I have a variation of the garden coop and have been using hardwood pellets in an attempt to do what you are doing with sand. I ran to home depot and got the sand and installed it in my coop after seeing what you have done. Managing poop is top priority for my garden. I have about 1/4 of an acre in NE Portland, 3 chicken and 3 ducks so I have a large fertilizer to acreage ratio.
    I use leaves in the deep bed of the coop. They are a constant gift from my neighbors who rake their park like lawn and were putting lots of leaves in the yard compost bin. They were incredulous that I would love it if they just dumped them over our short fence. The addition of the sandbed will make it just one step closer to the ever elusive perfect. The poop/compost is as valuable to me as the eggs. Thanks for your blog. I will try to send a picture of my garden by email. Neta

    Neta

    • Oooh, thanks for letting me distract you! :) I’d love a photo. nwedible at gmail dot com. Do your chickens and ducks co-habitate? Our chickens love leaves too but mostly they just get straw. :)

  7. Love it – our coop is set up perfectly for this and I’m going to try the sand method out. Plus, our clay soil definitely wouldn’t mind geting some sandy compost every now and again.

    Thanks!

  8. Tanaya Ropp says:

    I changed over during our spring break. We have loved it. I use a dog’s pooper scooper rake and pooper panish thing. I drilled some hole in the panish thing so the sand would sift out. It has been awesome. I have shared the idea with everyone I know who has chickens.

  9. Lady Banksia says:

    …now, if I only HAD a coop… I could talk chicken-sh*t with y’all, but alas – city codes prevent them. One day…

    • ::cough:: work around, ignore… ::cough, cough:: ;)

      • Oh, don’t you even dare to tempt me in such ways… (giggle…) Trust me, I’ve thought about it. But somehow, I can’t seem to find more than 50 open feet from the birds to the nearest dwelling. Like sardines in a can…

  10. I’m glad you’ve updated on the chickens – we’ve been planning to get chickens but are waiting for the chicken house and run to be built. (It looks like it’ll be a while…) But we have a shed that would work well with the sand with only minor changes to the inside and I could add a big run outside.

    I read your post a while back and the idea’s been percolating since. Now I just need to move the stuff out of the shed, which includes the guinea pigs. I’ve read mixed reviews about having the two in together – I could do a covered cage on the floor to keep the chickens out of their space but pigs pee a lot, I’m thinking I’d end up having to replace the sand too often.

    • Nothing motivates coop building like growing chicks in the house, in my experience. :)

      • I showed him the coop plans and he said “yep, get both” so we’ll have a big coop for the chickens, an ark for the guinea pigs and keep the shed for storage. Starting this weekend! Serious chook purchasing research coming up.

  11. Are you still using the shredded paper in the nests? If so, how does that work with the sand and deep litter compost? Are your chickens happy with the paper, or did you convert back to straw in the nestboxes? Do you also put the paper scraps on the ground for composting?

    I think I am loving the idea of having sand litter box style. That will make cleaning up so much easier. Thanks for actually timing your cleanup. 30 seconds – AWESOME!

    If you can answer a few more questions, that would be great. I read this article to learn more about deep litter composting (because until a few days ago I had never heard of this method). http://smallfarm.about.com/od/farmanimals/a/deeplitter.htm Are you satisfied with the straw on the ground inside the garden coop? How often do you plan to clean up the run?

    Appreciate you sharing your knowledge and expertise!! Have you ever thought of offering a “raising backyard chicken 101″ course to local people? (I live on the Eastside too.)

    • Hi Miina – I’ve got two or three more coop update posts in the works addressing all these questions! They should be publishing over the next 6-8 weeks. But, briefly: the paper didn’t work out too well and we went back to paper. The straw in the run works great, I haul out litter about once or twice a year, based on how deep it is building up and what new bed-building projects I need. I “steel” the most broken down compost from the coop when I need it too. You are so sweet – this is only are second year with hens; I don’t think I’m qualified to teach that class! :) But I do highly recommend backyardchickens.com and Storey’s Guide to Chickens as great resources. Thanks for your great questions!

  12. Using sand on the coop floor is absolute genius! Our little coop has a floor that can be pulled out and cleaned from outside so it’s already in the form of a tray. I’ll definitely look into using sand to line it…

  13. curiositykt says:

    Do you have any problem with the deep litter run getting wet in the rain?

    • Nope. But the entire run is covered.

      • curiositykt says:

        I too am using the garden coop, but in a good rain it gets a little wet under the roof.. But it’s still under construction so perhaps the hardware cloth will help with that.

        • We also have this same coop design and we do get rain in ours even when the bottom half is wrapped in plastic (like they recommended) during the winter. Ours in is sort of the middle of our yard so there aren’t any trees, hedge, or fence to shield it. We have a cement floor to keep the rodents out so we haven’t tried deep little in the coop. The girls have a large fenced run in front of the coop that is sort of a deep litter area for good wallowing, worm hunting and composting.

  14. chaya's momy says:

    ola – just got our first chicks this spring & are building their coop NOW! – thought I’d share an idea & see what you all think – will this work?

    My brother who has chicks says the poop is most concentrated under the roost – soo – to facilitate cleaning & minimize chicks tracking through poop – I’m planning to leave one end of the coop dedicated to roost/poop. for the 16 inches or so width (8″ on either side of the roost) I plan on installing a welded wire ‘floor’. Under this floor, the poop will drop to the ground (coop is 30″ off ground). The coop wall will extend to the ground around the poop area, with doors that open to allow to scoop out. The walls will need to extend to the ground to reduce cold drafts over the winter. Inside the coop, there will need to be an 8″ or so high board to keep the wood chips covering the rest of the floor from sliding through the wire grate.

    Sand will be in the chick run (converted dog run that he HATED until it was repurposed – he hangs out there while we’re building the attached coop now, sigh), but hadn’t completely thought through what needed to be under the roost drop. Was thinking shavings to facilitate composting the manure – but may rethink this & use sand here too.

    Any thoughts on type of sand? – read you comment about play sand & clay = cement – sharp sand? – is that the same thing as quartz sand?

  15. I am thinking of using sand for my chicken coop and run. In Missouri we have washed lime sand. I can see all the benefits of sand, but can anyone tell me the negitives? My hens are 6 months and this is my first go around. I do and will have many questions. I didn’t think I would like/love chickens this much. I’m still getting up in the middle of the night to check on them. Soooo, for a crazy chicken lady, any advise is appreciated!

  16. Soooo, does the sand go in the run and in the coop? Our coop is raised about 3 feet off the ground and is completely fenced in with the attached run. The floor of the coop slides out to clean. Is this where the sand should be? We already had it in the run. Will the girls scratch through the sand to get to the dirt? They will be free ranged in a few days as soon as they get used to there home. We already got 3 eggs and it’s only day 1. I guess they are happy!

  17. Hi Erica,

    Is this hybrid system still working for you? How often do you change out the sand, and what do you use the sand for after you are done with it in the coop?

    Thanks,

    Ryan

    • Hi Ryan, I just responded over on the Crappy Compost thread, but, yes, this method works great for us and our set up. The sand and dried manure just gets raked down into the straw bedding about every…um….week? And from there the sand and poop and everything just get incorporated into the deep mulch. I note that I wrote this post last April. As of January the sand had become too thin to do as good a job, and I scraped all that remained down into the coop and added in another few 50# bags worth of sand. So, for our size coop, etc. we got about 8-9 months out of the sand bed. If I was being particularly frugal, I could have saved more of the old sand, but at a few dollars for the bag, I liked the clean slate approach. I also lined the wooden floor of my coop with a scrap of vinyl flooring when we built and I also highly recommend this. Makes cleanup simple and prevents moisture (poop) from soaking into the coop floor.

  18. kathy walker says:

    So you use sraw in the nesting boxes and sand under the roosting area? What about outside the coop in the run area? My run floor is dirt do you recommend putting sand on the run floor over the dirt? Or do chickens mind being in a dirt run? I am new to keeping chickens and I want to do the right thing for my girls.

  19. I have two buff orps and one leghorn. The buffs are 20 weeks old and don’t roost.they sleep either in nesting boxes or next to the perch. Would sand be ok if they insist on sleeping on it? Right now it’s just newspaper because of a red mite incident.but soon with winter looming I will be using cosy bed in the nesting area. There isn’t much room next to the perches,I assumed they would eventually use them ,the rate they are growing,they will either have to use nest boxes or I will have to shorten the perch length….

  20. I purchased a kit for a 4-hen raised coop. The floor is hardware cloth, and the coop is about three feet above the ground. Can I do “deep litter” effectively? What about winter drafts? The nesting boxes have a ceiling about 8 inches high, and are separated from the hardware cloth area by a 1″ board. I’m using a combination of pine shavings and shredded paper in the nesting boxes — and am experimenting with the same, as litter, in the hardware cloth area. Suggestions? ALSO: the roosts are simply 1″x1″ boards, notched to fit the edges of the coop/hardware cloth area — and the girls don’t use them! They sleep in the nesting boxes! Should I raise them? (loved your picture of black girl looking down on her buddy in the nesting box!) Thanks!

    • That’s what I purchased — recycled redwood. I filled the nesting boxes with shredded paper and the hardware cloth under the roost (my own handbuilt ladder) is a mix of paper and horse bedding/wood shavings. Easy to clean: a handful of chicken poop comes with paper & wood and goes into its own plastic composter for next year (or fall). The “deep litter” method is used in the 10×10 run that surrounds that coop: sand base about 2″ thick, then straw, and spring garden gleanings — cone flower stalks, daylilies that couldn’t be saved, some raspberry & dogwood prunings.

  21. We use sand in our coop also! It’s so easy to clean up the poop! We just built our chickens a Pullet Palace, check it out: http://justthisside.com/the-pullet-palace/

  22. I’ve been reading your blog for several months now and I love the things you share, especially about chickens. I have a question, reading other blogs and internet information I came across a post that stated that sand can harbor E. Coli. Since you use sand in your coop, have you read this and what do you think about this issue? Also, I read that if chickens eat the sand it can lead to impacted crops.

  23. Julie F says:

    Hi Erica,
    I’ve just converted my coop to a sand bed litter method…yesterday! But I am confident it is the correct thing especially after reading your blog. The sand is primary a means to quickly/easily get rid of droppings and keep coop dry and smells at bay. Also makes a nice firm but soft landing for them jumping from the perch. Using the hybrid system, the chicken run/enclosure encompasses a garden of citrus trees (which tolerate/thrive well on the chicken manure) and will remain as soil with straw spread over it which the trees like plus keeps mud at bay in the wet weather. It give the chooks an alternative to sand should they chose. I have read some info out there on the great www about e coli etc associated with sand as litter but I have found conflicting information too. It’s good to look at all options though. I am of the opinion that my 5 chickens (of which I do not bring in new stock unless hatched from eggs) are kept clean and healthy may have a less stressed immune system, as opposed to broilers living in the groups of hundreds under a certain amount of stress. So they may tolerate better any bacteria that ‘may’ harbour in the sand? Early days!

    • From midWisconsin: I went with sand because it would wick the moisture of snow and snow melt, and I’m very happy with it. The situation here is a doghouse-size coop and a 10×10 wired, roofed, &plastic run. I bedded the run very deep with straw this winter, piling it up against the wire walls. In the spring, I started carting the straw out to the compost bin. What’s left is a nice hilly run, thin straw in some places & thick in others, that I rake up into new & exciting hillocks every couple days; what’s left is dry straw in tiny pieces, over the sand — and most of the run area stayed dry during a wet spring and quick thaw. Sand! I use Mississippi dredge sand and will replenish it over the summer. The girls seem to like it —

Trackbacks

  1. [...] stuff on Craigslist. No Dice. I’m not ruling out a sand litter conversion at a later date. (Erica has had good luck with it.) The chips are what they are used to, what I had, and as it is, the Ladies were quite curious about [...]

Your participation makes this whole thing work, so join in! Comment policy: Wheaton's Law enforced here.

*