Chicken Sand Bedding Alternatives – Discussion of Alternatives to Sand Bedding in the Chicken Coop

The goal of chicken bedding is to keep your coop clean and comfortable for your chickens, and several materials can accomplish that. Sand is a common choice, but are there alternatives?

Chicken sand bedding alternatives include wood shavings, straw, and hemp. Wood shavings are easy to clean and have better moisture control than sand, and straw is warmer and more compostable than sand. Hemp has similar benefits to wood shavings and straw but is less expensive.

In this article, I’ll share the various alternatives to sand bedding in a chicken coop. I’ll discuss the benefits of using these substitutions or why they may be best avoided. I’ll also explain how to choose the best alternative for you based on your needs and goals.

What Can I Use for Chicken Bedding?

You can use many different materials for chicken bedding, so long as they insulate and absorb smells while allowing water to drain. Common materials used for chicken bedding include sand, straw, hemp, and wood shavings, such as pine or cedar.

Ultimately, the right choice for you depends on your climate and preferences. If you’re a gardener who wants to use chicken bedding to compost, for example, then organic materials may appeal to you more for chicken bedding. Or, if you live in an area that’s prone to flooding, a material like sand that drains well might be best.

Continue reading to learn more about the types of chicken bedding you can use, comparing and contrasting the benefits of each.

Why Use Sand and Best Sand Type for Chicken Coop Litter

There are several benefits to using sand in a chicken coop. It dries out chicken poop, which means that bacteria is less likely to grow in the coop, and it allows water to drain out of the coop rather than pool. It’s also relatively cheap and environmentally friendly, and it doesn’t stick to your chickens’ feet, unlike other bedding options.

The best sand type for chicken coop litter is construction sand, river sand, or all-purpose. Ideally, the sand will look like what you would naturally find on the river bed, including small stones as well as fine particles.

Playing sand for sandbox sand won’t work for a chicken coop and should be avoided. Playing sand can cause crop impaction if ingested and serious respiratory illnesses if inhaled, all due to the fine grain of the sand. Play sand compacts too easily, unlike mixed grain or coarse grain sand.

If you’re looking for sand for your chicken coop, try the Quikrete Coarse Sand (available on Amazon). This sand is coarse enough to be safe for chickens.

Chicken Run Sand or Wood Chips  

Sand and wood chips both have benefits for chicken runs. Both are easy to clean and offer decent moisture control, although wood shavings arguably offer even better drainage than sand. That said, sand allows your chickens to take a natural dust bath.

Wood Shavings 

If you choose wood shavings for chickens, the best options are cedar and pine. Just be careful not to choose shavings that are too fine, as they can cause respiratory issues in some chickens.

The Small Pet Select Pine Shavings (available on Amazon) are a good example of appropriate wood shavings for chickens. These shavings are made especially for use in chicken coops.

Straw Bedding 

Straw bedding has several benefits relative to sand. For one, it retains heat, making it a great insulator for your chickens during the winter months. It’s also compostable, so old bedding will decompose naturally. However, straw is also one of the more expensive kinds of bedding and is hard to clean.

The Double F Farms Straw Bedding (available on Amazon) exemplifies the best of straw bedding. This straw bedding is organic, ideal for outdoor pets and chicken runs.

Hemp Bedding 

Hemp makes great bedding for chickens because it absorbs odors and doesn’t produce dust, and it’s an environmentally friendly material. It’s also a budget-friendly option, much more so than wood shavings especially. Hemp is also a great option for chickens in cold weather climates, as it has thermal insulating properties.

You can find hemp bedding on Amazon, like this Hemp Pet Bedding. This bedding is grown without herbicides or pesticides, so it’s safe for use with chickens.

Cedar Shavings 

Cedar shavings are a good choice for chicken coops because they’re so easy to clean and because they don’t break down quickly. They’re great for regulating moisture, even more so than sand. However, cedar shavings can cause respiratory issues for some chickens, especially if they’re too fine.

This Pestell Easy Clean Cedar Bedding (available on Amazon) is soft and easy to clean, and it’s good for use in outdoor chicken coops and runs.

Pine Needles 

Chickens love scratching through yards filled with pine needles, so why not bring pine needles into their chicken coops, too? These natural materials provide a soft bedding that chickens like to interact with, and they come at a limited cost to you, provided that you have a place to harvest them from.

Shredded Leaves 

One popular option for chicken run bedding is shredded leaves. Shredded leaves are a good choice in that you can use them for composting and in that they are easy to find and use, but they do tend to pack down rather tightly. If you use shredded leaves, consider raking through them to provide a looser bed for your chickens.


Another great option for chickens is paper. You can run the paper through a shredder to produce natural bedding for chickens. Just be sure to use paper that doesn’t have any heavy dyes, as this could potentially harm the chickens. Paper is a great choice if you’re looking for a way to be more environmentally friendly, as you can repurpose and upcycle your garbage.


You can also use pebbles to line the bottom of your chicken run or coop instead of traditional bedding. Although this option doesn’t offer much insulation, it does offer good drainage and easy cleaning. Just make sure that you find smooth stones rather than craggy gravel.

Best Chicken Bedding for Composting

The best chicken bedding for composting is straw from wheat or barley plants, hay from grass or alfalfa, or pine shavings. These organic materials break down easily and have the right nutrient ratios to form usable compost. Straw and hay are both good sources of carbon, where manure provides the necessary nitrogen to balance it. 

Other good chicken bedding types for composting include hemp, paper, shredded leaves, and pine needles. Sand, however, is not a good material for composting. Sand is made primarily from silica and does not break down as carbon-based materials do. For this reason, many chicken owners prefer to use alternatives to sand in their coops.

How To Compost Chicken Bedding

To compost chicken bedding, follow these steps:

  1. Ensure a ratio of manure to bedding of about 20:80 to 40:60. You can achieve this by waiting for the right time to harvest your bedding, or you can mix your bedding and manure with other carbon-rich materials like kitchen scraps and lawn clippings.
  2. Gather your used bedding into a pile. You can keep your compost in a pile or spread it out in a sheet, but make sure that you harvest at least one cubic foot of material at a time. That way, the pile will warm up enough during the decomposition process.
  3. Let the pile reach an internal temperature of 140-160 degrees Fahrenheit. The compost will naturally increase in temperature as it decomposes, but be sure to give it enough time. If the compost doesn’t reach a high enough temperature, you’ll risk spreading pathogenic bacteria from the manure into your garden.
  4. Add water to the compost. The texture of the compost should be similar to that of a wet sponge.
  5. Cure the compost. To do this, you need to cover the pile and let it sit for at least 80 days. That way, you’ll be more likely to kill any harmful bacteria.
  6. Apply the compost to your garden or lawn. When applying to a garden, you should apply 1-2 inches of compost; when applying to a yard, apply just half an inch. 

Take Care When Composting Chicken Manure

Chicken manure may contain several harmful bacteria, including but not limited to E.coli and Salmonella. Therefore it’s incredibly important that you handle used bedding and chicken manure with care, including while you’re composting. 

One of the goals of composting is to kill harmful bacteria. Harmful bacteria die naturally over time, so giving your compost time to sit and cure before you apply it to the garden is sometimes all it takes to make it safe. However, the heat that composting manufactures also plays a part in killing harmful bacteria.

You should never apply raw manure to growing plants, especially when they’re close to producing edible crops. The best time to apply composted poultry manure is before you plant your crops, either in the fall or early spring.

Why Use Chicken Bedding

Chicken bedding makes the difference between a soft, comfortable, clean chicken coop and one that’s overrun with water and manure. Bedding absorbs odor and makes the coop more habitable for your chickens.

Chicken bedding is even better than, say, linoleum flooring because it encourages the manure to break down and naturally decompose. It’s also an effective insulator, great during the colder months.

If you don’t use chicken bedding, you’ll notice that water drainage also becomes a problem. Bedding absorbs moisture and disperses it so that pooling doesn’t happen, and without bedding, you’ll notice more puddles and mess.

Some kinds of bedding also produce dust, which is good for chickens. This may seem counterintuitive, but dust deters parasites, so it’s good for chickens to walk around and play in substances that leave a fine coating of dust behind.

Do Chickens Need Bedding?

Chickens don’t need bedding, but it can help to make them more comfortable. It can also make it easier for you to maintain the chicken coop long-term. Chicken coops with bedding tend to have fewer odor problems and are less prone to flooding than chicken coops without bedding. 

You have some freedom when it comes to choosing which bedding you want. There are multiple options, each with unique benefits and drawbacks. Popular choices include wood shavings, straw, and hemp.

How To Choose the Right Bedding for Your Chicken Coop

To choose the right bedding for your chicken coop, you should consider the following things:

  • How much rain your area gets and how important proper water drainage will be
  • How cold winter seasons will be and whether to concern yourself with insulation
  • Whether or not you want to compost your manure and bedding
  • Whether your chickens are susceptible to respiratory problems
  • How much money you have to spend on your bedding
  • How much time you have to invest in cleaning, keeping in mind that you’ll need to clean regularly

How Much Bedding Do You Need for a Chicken Coop?

You need at least three inches of bedding for a chicken coop. That way, your chickens will be insulated from the weather, and they’ll have protection if they jump from a perch down to the ground. This amount of bedding will also help you keep up a good ratio of manure to bedding for composting.

Keep in mind that you’ll need to completely scoop out and refill the bedding at least every six months, and you’ll need to remove and replace bedding while spot cleaning even more regularly than that. You should invest in bulk quantities of chicken bedding if you’re looking to start a coop.

Final Thoughts

Sand is a great choice for chicken runs, but there are many great alternatives. When composting chicken bedding, the best options are straw, hay, and other carbon-based beddings. Generally, wood shavings, hemp, straw, or hay serve as good options for chicken owners. Keep in mind, however, each has its benefits and drawbacks to consider before choosing.