Sand vs. Shavings is one of those things, each chicken keeper has their own personal preference on, based on their run situation and location of their coop. My coop and run are over concrete, not dirt. I have used both sand and shavings in the chicken run, and I can honestly say I HATE sand.
Okay, it did work out fine at first, that is until winter, about 8 or 9 months later. Daily raking out of the poop with my fine tooth rake kept it looking fresh and got out all the solids. But then Southern California winter rains came. The sand got wet, and it got stinky, I mean really, really stinky! probably the kind of stinky that gives backyard chickens a bad name. It was awful and would take many days to dry out after each storm. It was wretched to be within a few feet of the coop. Plus, I felt terrible about leaving the chickens in the stinky run, so of course they got to free range to their hearts content during the drying periods. As it dried out with the door open, it attracted flies by the thousands. Bad, bad, bad! I didn’t want a complaint from neighbors that my chickens stink and they had been attracting flies, but for the time being, it was true. I had to fix it.
What had been happening was the chickens were incorporating some of their poop into the sand each day with their scratching, and the rake wasn’t able to get the wetness. The runnier wet poops weren’t rake-able, they just leached into the sand. I wasn’t really cleaning it as well as I thought. The fact my coop was built to prevent rodents and critters from getting in at the base and with the concrete underneath it, may have aggravated the drying problem after the rains. After a half dozen winter storms, I decided to muck it all out and start over.
I am ashamed to say, much of the sand ended up in the city’s trash collection. Southern California garden experts all warn against adding sand to our clay soils, and sand won’t break down in the compost. Adding sand to clay soil creates a nightmare for gardeners by destroying the soil’s natural structure and takes on a concrete like consistency that is impossible to correct, short of disposing of the soil. So very little of the sand ended up in the yard or compost.
I switched to biodegradeble things for bedding, mainly pine shavings in the run, and I haven’t used sand since. I am so much happier with shavings. In the fall, I also use fallen leaves from the chinese elm tree. It works out so much better because the all the litter goes into the compost and creates an almost perfect balance of greens and browns. The compost normally heats up to between 150 to160 degrees and I usually have hot finished compost within 6 to 8 weeks.
If my run was over dirt, my experience with sand may have been a little different; I don’t know. I am curious if other locals have had a similar experience after long term use of sand and how it was remedied.