Sand has been used as litter overseas but trials in Australia have been unsuccessful. With careful management, it may be suitable as a floor covering for rearing birds, but it has the potential to damage equipment at the processing plant. Before considering sand as a bedding material, ensure you talk with your processor. Sand is a granular material composed of fine rock and mineral particles. The most common component of sand is silica, usually in the form of quartz. It is defined by size, being finer than gravel and coarser than silt.

When properly maintained, sand may be useful as a litter material for chickens and is typically graded into particle sizes ranging from fine to coarse, i.e. 0.05–5 mm. Coarse natural sand consisting of variable particle sizes has been used as chicken litter, however, using sand manufactured by crushing can create dust problems.

When used as litter, sand may be re-used for 2–5 years. During this time, manure will breakdown and accumulate in the litter. This accumulated biomass increases the absorption and thermal retention in a similar way to re-used litter. Therefore the properties of sand litter after several years of use are significantly different to the properties of the original sand.

Application in the Australian chicken meat industry

Sand has been used as bedding successfully in commercial chicken meat production oversea. It is commonly used on concrete floors in arid and desert regions where litter supply is limited. It is managed in a similar way to sawdust; however, birds have difficulty moving about if it is spread too deeply.

Many studies have shown that birds raised on sand performed as well as, or better than, those raised on traditional litter materials. Using sand as litter can help chicken growers reduce pollution, improve production and lower costs, as it can be re-used for long periods (with de-caking). Additionally, sand can be washed to remove organic matter and then used again.

The relatively high thermal conductivity of sand makes it difficult to maintain suitable floor temperatures during cold weather and there needs to be ample time and ventilation before brooding to assure dryness after the previous flock. While cold floors can be detrimental to starting chicks, they can be beneficial for older birds in hot weather because sand acts as a heat sink (e.g. in southern USA). A commercial trial in Tasmania found that sand litter was unsuitable for their temperate conditions, due to its high density and heating requirements. Sand has not been used extensively as litter in chicken meat production in Australia. This is likely due to the different management systems required to optimise its use as a bedding material, i.e. full re-use over several years.

Practical considerations of using sand as chicken litter

Practical considerations that need to be assessed before using sand as litter in the Australian chicken meat industry include:

Table 1: Practical considerations of using straw pellets as chicken litter

Practical considerations Straw pellet litter
Supply Commercially available in Australia? Yes
Operation Optimisation required for Australian conditions? The manufacturing process is different between species of cereal crop residuals.
Could it be available if demand was high? Yes
What might it cost if demand was high? Cost could be reduced with new pelletisation machines if demand was high enough.
Management Additional management practises needed? No
Regulation Are there regulatory or market barriers to using straw pellets as litter? Depth—straw pellets expand by ~308% when they absorb moisture and could be spread at a lower depth. While initial depth would be below the RSPCA standard, once used it would expand and reach the standard depth. This would require consultation with the RSPCA.
Other Cost Minimum requirements for depth of spread


Sand is an inert inorganic material, so it can be flame disinfected (i.e. organic material can be removed by burning off) without the risk of the litter igniting or degrading. If growers have sufficient space, the sand could be washed and dried, and then used again. While washing occurs overseas, the economic feasibility of washing in Australian production systems has not been assessed.

Content source: Review of fresh litter supply, management and spent litter utilisation, AgriFutures Australia final report 2018

Downloads and resources

Best practice litter management manual for Australian chicken meat farms (PDF, 3MB) | online version

Review of fresh litter supply, management and spent litter utilisation (PDF, 3.5MB)

Litter re-use: an evidence-based guide to re-using litter (PDF, 1.3MB)


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