Chicken bedding is used to manage chicken waste. It helps support a clean, comfortable, and healthy chicken coop. It provides comfort and safety. From providing a cozy nesting spot for your hens to absorbing odors and moisture, poultry bedding plays a crucial role in creating an optimal living area for your feathered flock.
Bedding keeps your chickens dry and warm with minimal unpleasant smells and damp conditions. By choosing the right chicken litter, you can reduce the risk of bacteria and parasites that may otherwise thrive in your coop.
The best chicken bedding will serve many purposes:
- Capture chicken manure
- Help reduce levels of ammonia
- Cushiony nesting spot for laying eggs
- Help absorb odors keeping it more sanitary
- Help absorb moisture, keeping the chickens dry
- Work as insulation to keep chickens warm
- Help reduce bacteria and parasites in the coop
- Depending on the type, can be repurposed as compost
- Keep chickens comfortable
- Safeguard eggs from rolling and breaking
Chicken droppings contain high levels of ammonia and moisture. Choosing absorbent bedding is essential to reduce the risk of ammonia buildup and prevent potential issues associated with excessive moisture. It should also be easy for you to clean it up.
Creating a clean and healthy coop environment for your chickens begins with selecting a bedding material that helps manage moisture and controls odor effectively.
Here I describe the types of chicken coop bedding (you can also use it in the chicken run) as well as bedding for chicks. I include where it should be placed, how to maintain it, and other important things to know about keeping a clean and hygienic coop. I also explain what not to use for chicken bedding.
Inspecting the Coop
No matter what type of chicken bedding you choose, maintenance is key. I wanted to take a second to tell you that when you do a big cleaning and remove all the litter, you should check for signs of moisture or mold.
If you find any, make sure to clean and scrub the area. Let it dry thoroughly before putting down fresh bedding. Also look out for any pests that may have made their way into the coop such as mice, rats, or flies.
Proper ventilation is also important. Ensure adequate airflow and ventilation in the coop to minimize moisture buildup and reduce the risk of mold formation. Good ventilation creates a healthier environment for the chickens. Be sure there aren’t drafts though.
What to Use for Chicken Bedding
There are different types of chicken bedding, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. Some popular choices include straw, sand, wood shavings, cardboard, hemp bedding, peat moss or coco husk chips, newspaper strips, corncob bedding, as well as grass clippings. Some of these are better than others.
Depending on your needs and budget you can find something that suits your flock’s requirements. You can put bedding in the coop, nesting boxes, and chicken run.
Ultimately finding the best solution for your chickens depends on what works for you – including availability, the convenience of cleaning, cost, ability to lift and carry it, and ability to store it.
Types of Chicken Bedding
Choosing the right type of poultry bedding and understanding how to use it effectively can significantly contribute to your flock’s wellness.
Using straw as bedding for chicken coops is a way to get back to the basics and do what generations of farmers did before us: Make use of available resources. Before wood chippers and packaged shavings from supply stores, farmers used straw to keep their chickens warm and dry.
And more often than not, I find myself thinking that if it was good enough for our predecessors, then it’s still good enough for me today.
When using straw as bedding, only buy good quality bales that specifically say “straw” and not hay. Straw has hollow shafts and is considered a livestock bedding whereas hay is made of dried grasses and usually given as animal feed.
When your chickens run around the coop, it is natural for them to scratch at things as part of their instinct. They will likely scratch for the seeds within the straw.
Note: You’ll need a dry place to store the bales. You don’t want to chance them getting wet outdoors. Also, straw is different than hay. Hay is not suitable as chicken bedding.
How to Choose Straw Bales for Chicken Bedding
- Pick bales with long-shafted straw.
- Select only bundled straw bales which will have fewer pests than loose straw.
- Look for straw that looks fluffy. This indicates less dust and other potential respiratory irritations which can be hazardous to your birds’ health.
- Look for freshness. It shouldn’t have any smells (other than smelling like straw!) or discoloration when you open the bale.
Easy to Maintain
Straw is easy to sweep up, especially when you keep up with it regularly. How often to change chicken bedding depends on how large the area is and how many hens you have. Maintaining straw on a daily-to-weekly basis helps prevent droppings from becoming matted or over-saturating the top layer.
Turning the litter regularly, like with wood shavings, mixes the droppings in with the straw. This helps aerates the litter and promotes a composting process. If you use a droppings management system, like droppings boards, you only need to stir the straw weekly.
Entirely replacing straw every 3 to 4 months is necessary since it will compost down over time. This allows you to use different types of litter in each season as well. You can use straw in the fall and winter as it gets colder and then switch to other types of litter during spring and summer.
The best wood shavings for your chicken coop are large flake shavings. They produce less dust than smaller flakes, which means chickens are not as likely to inhale or eat them accidentally.
Large flake shavings provide better insulation and odor control as well. To begin, put down a layer of fresh shavings, about 5 – 6 inches thick. Doing so will help keep your chickens comfortable and healthy while also reducing any potential odor issues due to accumulated droppings sticking around in the old wood shavings.
Two common types of wood shavings used for chicken bedding are:
- Pine shavings
- Aspen shavings
Do not use cedar shavings
Cedar is not recommended since it can be toxic for chickens if they ingest it. It also has a strong scent.
When dealing with wood shavings, it’s helpful to use a droppings board or other droppings management system in place in order to help extend the life of the bedding material. This will enable you to remove droppings every day or two, promoting coop hygiene and greater comfort for your flock.
Wood shavings make an excellent choice for beginner chicken keepers due to their overall affordability. They are readily available; many local pet stores stock them. Pine or aspen shavings are easy to maintain.
Wood shavings absorb moisture well and create a fragrant environment for your chickens. They also provide good insulation against cold temperatures.
Another advantage of using aspen or pine shavings is you can toss them along with the manure in your compost pile. Learn how to start a compost pile if you haven’t already.
Pine shavings for chickens are widely used and considered a popular choice for chicken bedding. They have a pleasant aroma and provide good absorbency, helping to keep the coop dry. They are relatively affordable, lightweight, easy to replenish and clean, and readily available in many stores.
Depending on the processing and treatments, pine shavings may contain abietic acid from pine resin. This may pose a concern for chickens using it as bedding. This compound can damage lung cells in chickens through inhalation, including the fine dust particles from the shavings. However, many experts believe pine shavings are generally safe for chickens and do not pose health risks when used properly.
Aspen shavings are a less common option for chicken bedding but can be used if pine shavings are not available. They provide good absorbency and create a soft surface for chickens.
Aspen shavings are generally considered safe for chickens and do not have the same respiratory risks as cedar shavings. However, they may be less readily available and potentially more expensive compared to pine shavings. This makes them a less popular choice. You may find them locally in farm and fleet type stores, Walmart, ACE Hardware, and home improvement stores.
Cedar shavings are known for their strong and pleasant aroma, which can help deter pests. However, cedar shavings contain aromatic oils that can be irritating to chickens’ respiratory systems. The oils in cedar can also affect the liver function of chickens, making them less suitable as bedding material.
Due to these potential health concerns, it is typically recommended to avoid using cedar shavings as chicken bedding.
Keeping Up With Maintenance
To maintain a coop with wood shavings, it’s important to stir and turn the shavings on a regular basis, usually weekly. This will mix in any droppings that have accumulated. A long rake works well. If you use a droppings management system, you may only need to stir it every couple of weeks.
Every 3 – 4 months you should clean out all of the wood shavings and replace them with a fresh layer, about 5 inches thick.
America’s Choice Eco-Flake Wood Animal Bedding
I used to use straw but now I use wood animal bedding that I buy from my local ACE Hardware. It’s called America’s Choice Eco-Flake Wood Animal Bedding. It comes in 5.5 cubic feet bags and is made from screened, kiln dried softwood byproduct. The package says it’s triple-screened to remove dust.
I think it’s very easy to use, especially if you keep up with a bit of maintenance every week. I do a full cleanout and replace all the wood flakes every 2 – 3 months. It’s absorbent and provides good nesting for the hens.
Another popular method for dealing with chicken manure is sand. Sand is inexpensive and pretty easy to come by, making it an attractive option for many people. Chicken sand requires minimal replacement and occasional refilling. Choose medium-to-coarse grained sand when possible.
It’s a safe option for chickens because it’s has low levels of dust, is non-toxic, and dries quickly. It also provides chickens with a natural dust bathing environment.
Disadvantages to Using Sand
The downside to using sand is that it’s heavy! Keep this in mind when considering bringing bags of sand to your flock.
You’ll also need to carry the sand when you disperse it in the coop and again when you rotate it (shovel the soiled top layer to the bottom and bring clean sand from the bottom to the top), and again when you shovel it out for your quarterly (or sooner) coop cleaning.
Another con to using sand in coops is you can’t compost it. Sand does not break down. Dry sand also creates dust which can contribute to respiratory issues.
Sand will not help insulate your chickens nor will it keep them warm. If you put it under their roosting bars, it won’t provide a cushion for them as they land.
It’s also not as odor absorbent as other litter options.
Using Sand in Hot Climates
Consider using sand if you live in a hot climate with mild winters. You can use sand bedding in the warmer months and switch to something more insulating (such as straw or aspen shavings) in the winter. Sand will help keep your chickens cool in the summer heat.
Maintenance Using Sand as Chicken Bedding
When the chickens use sand as bedding, it will clump like cat litter. To maintain it, you will need to turn the top layer of the sand over when it becomes overly soiled. The goal is to bring the clean sand from the bottom up to the top.
In hot months or to keep up with maintenance, you may want to remove the top layer completely. You need to add more sand when you do this. Keeping up with it regularly will mean you can go 2 – 3 months before doing a complete coop cleanout.
If you use sand in the chicken run too, you may be able to keep up with maintenance regularly and not ever need to do a complete replacement.
Hemp Chicken Bedding
Hemp bedding, derived from the stalks of the hemp plant, offers several advantages as a chicken bedding option. Its superior absorbency compared to pine shavings and straw helps to control moisture and odors in the coop, creating a more pleasant environment.
With little dust and excellent absorbency, hemp bedding is a popular choice for reducing odor and flies in the coop.
In addition to its absorbency and odor-reducing properties, hemp chicken bedding is also highly regarded for its durability and longevity. It requires less frequent changing compared to some other bedding options, making it a cost-effective choice in the long run.
However, it’s important to note that availability and cost may vary depending on the region.
When considering hemp bedding for chickens, it’s crucial to ensure that the bedding used is specifically designed and safe for use with poultry. This ensures that the chickens are provided with a clean and comfortable environment while minimizing potential health risks.
Overall, hemp bedding is gaining recognition as a natural, eco-friendly, and efficient choice for chicken coop bedding. You can toss it in the compost after cleaning out the coop.
Cons to Using Hemp Bedding
One disadvantage is the limited availability of hemp bedding in some areas. It may not be readily accessible in every feed store, making it challenging to obtain.
Hemp chicken bedding tends to be more expensive compared to traditional options like pine shavings or straw. The higher cost may impact your budget, especially if you have a large coop and/or a large flock.
Maintaining Hemp Bedding in Chicken Coop
To ensure the effectiveness of hemp bedding and provide a clean and cozy environment for your flock, proper maintenance is crucial. Regular spot cleaning helps remove wet or soiled areas and chicken droppings, while periodic deep cleaning ensures optimal hygiene.
Their absorbency, low dust production, easy cleanup, and natural scent make pine pellets a desirable option for maintaining a clean and comfortable coop environment.
One of the key advantages of pine pellets is their exceptional absorbency. These pellets effectively soak up moisture, helping to keep the coop dry and reducing odors. This absorbency is beneficial for maintaining a cleaner and more hygienic environment for the chickens.
Pine pellets also produce minimal dust, which is important for maintaining good air quality in the coop. Dust can contribute to respiratory issues in both chickens and their owners, so the low-dust nature of pine pellets is beneficial for the overall health and well-being of everyone involved.
When it comes to cleanup, pine pellets offer convenience. When exposed to moisture, the pellets disintegrate into sawdust, making it easier to clean and remove soiled bedding from the coop.
This simplifies the cleaning process and helps maintain a cleaner and fresher coop environment.
Drawbacks of Using Pine Pellets in the Coop
There are some downsides to using pine pellets as chicken bedding. Compared to some other bedding materials, pine pellets may provide less cushioning and comfort for chickens, especially for nesting or roosting.
Additionally, the size of pine pellets can vary. Larger pellets may be less suitable for smaller chicken breeds or chicks. It’s crucial to ensure that the pellet size is appropriate for the comfort and well-being of your flock. Ask at your local feed store what they recommend.
What Not to Use for Chicken Bedding
When it comes to chicken bedding, it’s important to prioritize clean and safe bedding materials, such as fresh straw, wood shavings, or hemp, to ensure the best living environment for your chickens. Here’s what not to use for chicken bedding.
Cat litter should never be used as bedding in chicken coops. Cat litter is specifically designed for absorbing moisture and odors in a cat’s litter box, using materials like clay, silica gel, or other additives that may be harmful to chickens.
These substances can be ingested by the birds while foraging or dust bathing, leading to potential health issues. It’s important to choose bedding options specifically designed for chickens to provide a safe and suitable environment for your flock.
- It’s made for cats, not chickens
- It’s dusty
- Chickens might eat cat litter which may make them (very) sick
Using cedar shavings as bedding in chicken coops is not recommended. While cedar has a pleasant aroma and natural insect-repelling properties, it contains oils and phenols that can be harmful to chickens.
These compounds can cause respiratory issues and irritation to their sensitive respiratory systems.
- Scent is strong
- May cause respiratory issues
Hay is often mistaken for straw, but they differ in their suitability for chicken bedding. While straw is an excellent choice, hay falls short in several aspects. Hay is commonly used as animal feed, serving as a substitute for forage during the winter months for animals like cows, horses, rabbits, and sheep.
Hay has a tendency to mold when wet, posing potential health risks for the chickens. Hay also easily becomes packed down and matted, lacking the absorbency required to keep the coop clean and dry.
It also tends to be more expensive than alternatives like straw or wood shavings, making it a less cost-effective option for chicken bedding.
- Hay can mold when wet, posing health risks.
- It becomes packed down and matted easily, lacking absorbency.
- Hay tends to be more expensive than other bedding options.
If You Used Hay With Mold
If you used hay and it’s moldy, remove all of it along with all the soiled materials.
- Remove the chickens.
- Open doors and windows.
- Clean the coop with mixture of bleach and water to disinfect the nest boxes, feeders, water containers, walls, floors, etc.
- Rinse with cold, clean water.
- Add fans as necessary to dry completely before adding new bedding materials.
Newspaper is not suitable for chicken bedding due to the ink and chemicals it contains. Chickens may peck at and ingest these substances, which can be harmful to their health. Additionally, newspaper lacks absorbency, which can lead to a wet and unsanitary environment in the coop.
Newspaper tends to become slippery when wet, increasing the risk of leg injuries for the chickens. This is a reason why you shouldn’t use newspaper in a brooder box with chicks.
You can use newspaper as a liner under wood shavings or straw.
- Newspaper contains ink and chemicals
- Not absorbent
- Doesn’t provide cushioning for chickens
- Slippery when wet; difficult for chicks to find their footing
The only time I recommend using sand is if you are raising chickens in a very hot climate. During the summers, sand can help keep chickens cool.
While some flock owners like using sand, I do not. It’s heavy, and I can’t toss it in my compost pile when I want to discard it.
Sand doesn’t absorb moisture well, leading to a damp and potentially unsanitary environment. It can also be challenging to clean, as waste tends to mix with the sand, making it difficult to remove. Sand can cause respiratory issues when chickens kick it up, leading to respiratory distress.
- Doesn’t keep chickens warm
- Sand does not absorb moisture well, leading to a damp environment.
- Sand can cause respiratory issues when chickens kick it up.
Using walnut shavings as bedding in chicken coops is not recommended. Walnut shavings contain a substance called juglone, which can be toxic to chickens. Exposure to juglone can lead to respiratory issues, skin irritation, and even liver damage in chickens.
It is best to avoid using walnut shavings as bedding material to ensure the health and well-being of your flock.
- Contains juglone, a substance toxic to chickens.
- Exposure to juglone can cause respiratory issues, skin irritation, and liver damage.
Using sawdust as bedding in chicken coops is not recommended for a few reasons. Sawdust tends to compact easily, reducing its absorbency and creating a damp environment that can harbor bacteria and promote odor.
It can also create respiratory issues for chickens as the fine particles can be easily inhaled, leading to respiratory distress.
Sawdust may contain harmful chemicals or residues depending on its source.
- Sawdust compacts easily, reducing absorbency and promoting a damp environment.
- Fine particles of sawdust can be inhaled, causing respiratory issues for chickens.
- May contain harmful chemicals or residues
Straw with Mold
Using straw with mold as bedding in chicken coops should be avoided as it poses potential health risks for the birds. Moldy straw can release harmful spores that can cause respiratory issues and other health problems in chickens.
Store extra straw so it stays dry. It is essential to keep straw dry to prevent mold growth and maintain a safe and hygienic environment for the flock.
- Moldy straw releases harmful spores that can lead to respiratory issues in chickens.
- Moldy straw poses health risks.
Using grass clippings as bedding in chicken coops is not recommended for a few reasons. Freshly cut grass clippings can generate heat as they decompose, which can create an environment that is too warm for chickens.
Grass clippings can quickly become compacted and create a damp, potentially moldy environment. There is also a risk of herbicide or pesticide residues present on the grass clippings, which can be harmful to the chickens.
- Grass clippings generate heat as they decompose, potentially making the coop too warm for chickens.
- Can become compacted and create a damp, mold-prone environment
- Risk of herbicide or pesticide residues
Similar to cedar shavings, cedar chips can release aromatic compounds that may harm chickens’ respiratory systems. I wouldn’t use them for chicken bedding. They contain oils and phenols that can be harmful to chickens’ respiratory systems.
Using Cardboard or Newspaper in the Coop
Use newspaper or cardboard boxes to line your chicken coop. Do not use it as bedding. It’s a way to be environmentally friendly as you will be using what you would discard.
Cardboard and newspaper are cost-effective bedding options. They are often readily available at low or no cost. Ask your friends and neighbors to save their boxes and newspapers for you.
I wouldn’t only use cardboard as chicken bedding. I would use cardboard to line the ground and then layer it with other materials such as straw or wood shavings. This will add to the absorbency and durability while helping to insulate the chickens.
Cardboard has good absorbency, effectively soaking up moisture and helping to maintain a dry environment in the coop. Additionally, cardboard provides some insulation from the cold and damp ground, helping to keep chickens warm during colder months. It’s lightweight, and easy to manage.
You also will be able to toss the soiled cardboard and newspaper in a compost heap if you have one.
Cons of Using Cardboard as a Liner
Cardboard won’t necessarily keep your hens dry. Over time, the cardboard will break down and become mushy and eventually disintegrate, requiring more frequent bedding changes.
Additionally, cardboard can attract pests such as mites or rodents, posing cleanliness and health risks to the flock.
To effectively maintain cardboard bedding, be sure to keep a few inches of other bedding on top. Despite its absorbency, cardboard bedding may require more frequent replacement compared to other options.
Assess the bedding’s condition regularly and change it as necessary to maintain cleanliness and prevent issues like odor or mold. Depending on if you only use newspaper or if you add other bedding, along with the size of your flock, will determine how often you have to change it out completely.
Like with all of these types of chicken bedding, I think it’s best to keep up with cleaning every few days.
Chicken Bedding for Brooders
Chicken bedding plays a crucial role in providing a clean and comfortable environment for young chicks in brooders. When selecting bedding for brooders, it is important to choose materials that are soft, absorbent, and safe for the delicate chicks. Here are a few options commonly used as chicken bedding for brooders:
1. Pine Shavings
Pine shavings are a popular choice for brooder bedding due to their soft texture, absorbency, and availability. They provide a cozy and comfortable surface for the chicks to rest and walk on. Make sure to use dust-free pine shavings to prevent respiratory issues.
Straw can be another suitable option for brooder bedding. It provides a soft and insulating layer for the chicks, keeping them warm and comfortable. However, it is essential to ensure that the straw is clean and mold-free to maintain a healthy environment for the chicks.
3. Hemp Bedding
Hemp bedding is gaining popularity as a safe and absorbent choice for brooders. It offers excellent moisture absorption, reducing the risk of wet bedding and related health issues. Additionally, hemp bedding is virtually dust-free, which helps to maintain better air quality for the chicks.
Remember to regularly clean and replace soiled bedding in the brooder to maintain cleanliness and prevent the buildup of harmful bacteria.
The bedding should be deep enough to provide cushioning for the chicks. Monitor it for dryness and cleanliness to ensure the overall well-being of the young birds.
Where to Use Chicken Bedding
- In nesting boxes
- On the coop floor
- Under roosting bars
Factors to Consider When Choosing Chicken Bedding
- Dust levels
- Ease of cleaning it up
- How much will it insulate
- How often to clean it and replace it
- Can you store it
- How heavy is it
You can discard some types of chicken bedding — such as wood shavings and straw — and use them for compost. You cannot compost sand.
How Often to Change Chicken Bedding
How often to change chicken bedding depends on a few factors unique to your situation. These include:
- How many chickens you have
- How large the coop is
- If the hens all favor the same one or two nesting boxes or area
- How warm or cold it is
- If it’s humid (can start to smell and be damp/moist) or dry
- If your chickens have been “cooped up” in the coop or if they have been free-ranging — meaning is the poop all in the coop or also spread outside in the chicken run, garden, your yard, etc.
- Whether or not you keep up with weekly maintenance
It really comes down to how spread out the poop is and if you keep up with some weekly maintenance. If you don’t do anything for weeks, you may need to change the bedding every 6 – 8 weeks.
However, if you rotate the litter (deep litter method) or scoop some out of the soiled bedding a few times a week or weekly, you may be able to wait and change out the chicken bedding every 2 – 3 months.
- Maintenance every few days: Scooping up and removing littered areas.
- Weekly clean: Scooping up soiled areas and replacing with some new litter.
- Deep cleaning every 2 – 3+ months: Big job where you remove all the bedding and replace it with all new bedding; check areas for signs of mold; etc.
Again, a lot depends on the factors above. More chickens means more maintenance. A large coop with lots of room per hen means you may be able to go longer. Keeping up with it along the way will also mean you can change and replace the bedding less frequently.
A complete coop cleaning, including a full bedding change, should be done periodically. The frequency depends on factors such as the number of chickens, coop size, and climate. On average, deep cleaning every 2 – 3+ months is recommended.
Tips for Maintaining a Clean Coop
- Regular spot cleaning
- Providing dust bathing areas
- Coop ventilation
- Pest control
Mistakes to Avoid with Chicken Coop Bedding
- Using toxic bedding materials
- Overcrowding the coop; have enough space per hen (4 – 5 square feet; more is better; consider if you are raising large chickens)
- Not keeping up with regular maintenance
Importance of Chicken Bedding
Proper chicken bedding plays a crucial role in maintaining a clean and hygienic coop environment. Here are some key reasons why it is important:
Absorption: Bedding helps absorb moisture from droppings, keeping the coop drier and preventing the growth of bacteria and fungi.
Insulation: It provides insulation during colder months, keeping the coop warmer and protecting the chickens from extreme temperatures.
Comfort: A soft and comfortable bedding material helps chickens rest, sleep, and lay eggs comfortably.
Odor control: Bedding helps control odors by absorbing the ammonia present in chicken droppings.
Disease prevention: Clean bedding reduces the chances of bacterial and parasitic infections, such as coccidiosis, by minimizing contact with fecal matter.
Purpose of Chicken Bedding
In addition to maintaining cleanliness, preventing odor, absorbing moisture, helping minimize ammonia buildup, helping them stay warm, chicken bedding also helps with safety.
With chickens frequently jumping up and down from roosting bars, having a layer of bedding that is 6 – 8 inches thick helps cushion their landings, reducing the risk of injury and minimizing the likelihood of developing bumblefoot.
Additionally, the chicken litter also safeguards the eggs. When hens lay eggs on a hard surface, the eggs are more prone to breaking because they may roll around. A soft and protective bedding layer helps to safeguard them.
Bedding Helps Chickens Stay Warm
Using well-insulating bedding will create a warm and comfortable environment in the coop — this is helpful in the colder months.
The right bedding material will serve as an insulator for your chickens and roosters by providing a barrier against cold temperatures. Learn more about how cold can chickens tolerate.
Additionally, the bedding helps regulate moisture levels, reduce ammonia buildup, and prevents drafts, ensuring a comfortable space. This is important as the flock may be indoors more often in the colder months.
Bedding Can Help Chickens Stay Cool
You may want to consider using sand in the summertime if you live in a particularly hot climate. I’m in the southwestern United States, and summers are hot!
Composting Chicken Bedding
Chicken bedding can be a valuable addition to your composting system. Bedding materials like straw, hay, wood shavings, hemp bedding, and pine pellets are rich in nitrogen and carbon, making them excellent components for compost.
Most types of bedding will do for composting purposes — except for sand — though you should check beforehand for any pesticides or chemicals.
Do not add bedding with chicken droppings directly to your garden, as it can be too high in nitrogen and may burn plants. Compost the bedding first to allow the heat and microbial activity to break down the droppings.
Where to Put Chicken Bedding
In Nesting Boxes
Bedding should be placed in nesting boxes to provide a comfortable and clean environment for hens to lay their eggs. Use a thick layer of bedding to cushion the eggs and prevent breakage. Wood shavings and straw are commonly used in nesting boxes.
Under Roosting Bars
Bedding is not typically required on roosting bars, as chickens prefer a smooth surface to perch on. However, you can place a removable tray or droppings board with bedding beneath the roosts to collect droppings.
Chicken Coop Floor
The coop floor should be covered with bedding materials to provide insulation, absorb moisture, and maintain cleanliness.
Some flock owners also put bedding in the chicken run. Depending on the space, you may want to put in one area, not the entire run.
Factors to Consider When Choosing Chicken Bedding
Absorbency: Choose bedding materials with high absorbency to effectively control moisture and odor in the coop.
Dust levels: Some bedding materials, such as straw, can be dusty and may cause respiratory issues in chickens. Opt for low-dust or dust-free options, especially if you or your chickens have respiratory sensitivities.
Cost: Consider your budget when selecting bedding materials, as the cost can vary depending on availability and region.
Availability: Choose bedding materials that are easily accessible in your area to ensure a consistent supply.
Storage: Consider where you will store the litter so it remains dry and no critters can access it.
Tips for Maintaining a Clean Coop
Regular spot cleaning: Remove soiled bedding and droppings from the coop on a daily basis or every other day to prevent the buildup of bacteria and odors. Keeping up with it regularly means it will never become an overwhelming chore.
Provide dust bath areas: Chickens naturally engage in dust bathing to keep their feathers clean and control pests. Set up a designated area filled with fine sand or loose soil for chickens to dust bathe in.
If your chickens don’t free range, you can put sand in an area of their chicken run.
Coop ventilation: Proper airflow and ventilation are crucial in maintaining a clean and healthy coop environment. Good ventilation helps remove moisture, ammonia, and odors. Ensure the coop has windows, vents, or fans to promote air circulation. It also needs to be draft free.
Pest control: Implement pest control measures to prevent infestations of mites, lice, or rodents. Regularly clean and treat the coop and bedding to keep pests at bay.
Have enough space: How much space do chickens need is important. If you raise large chicken breeds, they need more space than bantams and smaller breeds. Enough space will help keep stress down to a minimum.
Tips for Choosing Chicken Bedding
1. Only Use Safe Bedding Materials
Avoid using toxic bedding materials, such as cedar shavings, as they can harm chickens. Opt for safe and non-toxic options like straw, hemp bedding, pine shavings, or recycled paper bedding (not newsprint or magazines).
2. Don’t Overcrowd the Coop
Overcrowding can lead to increased moisture and ammonia levels, making it harder to maintain a clean and healthy coop. Provide adequate space for your chickens based on their breed and size.
3. Keep Up With Regular Maintenance
Regular cleaning and maintenance are essential for preventing health issues and maintaining a pleasant living environment for your flock. Neglecting these tasks can lead to the buildup of harmful bacteria and unpleasant odors. It also makes the coop cleanout a lot easier.
4. Avoid Cedar Shavings
When it comes to chicken bedding, it is generally recommended to avoid using cedar shavings. While cedar shavings have a pleasant scent and may have some natural pest-repelling properties, they can be harmful to chickens.
Cedar contains natural oils and aromatic compounds that can cause respiratory irritation and other health issues in chickens. These oils can be toxic when inhaled, leading to respiratory distress and respiratory tract inflammation.
Bedding for Free-Range Chickens
If you have free-range chickens that spend a significant amount of time outdoors, bedding in the coop may not be as crucial. However, you may still want to provide bedding in nesting boxes for comfort and egg protection.
Additionally, consider providing dust bathing areas with fine sand or loose soil for your free-range chickens to indulge in their natural dust bathing behaviors.
Deep Litter Method
The deep litter method is an alternative approach to maintaining chicken bedding. Instead of completely changing the bedding every few months, this method involves periodically adding fresh bedding material on top of the existing bedding.
As the top layer decomposes, it creates heat, which helps break down waste and control odors. Regular stirring and monitoring of moisture levels are necessary to prevent excessive ammonia buildup.
The deep litter method has been gaining popularity with chicken owners as a convenient and easy way to keep their coop clean, warm, and healthy.
This method utilizes the natural abilities of chickens to scratch and aerate bedding material, creating their own compost which is beneficial for both the chickens and the coop environment.
Initially, a thick layer of straw or shavings is added to the coop floor which serves as insulation and also helps promote decomposition of manure. Over time, more fresh litter material is added on top along with food scraps or treats that will encourage the chickens to scratch and dig further into the litter.
Through this continual process, no removal of old bedding is required as it decomposes into rich fertilizer for your chicken coop.
Advantages to Using Deep Litter Method
The deep litter method provides numerous advantages:
- Warmth during colder weather
- Can be easier to deal with
- Fertility for your garden
With proper month-to-month maintenance, this method keeps a clean coop.
The deep litter method can provide warmth during colder weather. As the bedding material decomposes, it produces heat, creating a warm and cozy environment for your chickens during winter months. This can help to protect them from cold drafts and ensure that their immune systems stay strong.
The deep litter method eliminates a lot of the labor associated with more conventional waste management methods such as daily cleaning or weekly scooping out of old bedding material.
The deep litter method is an ideal way to provide a clean and healthy home for your chickens while also helping to improve the quality of your garden soil.
With proper monthly maintenance, you can keep your chicken coop free of odors and parasites while also fertilizing your garden with organic matter.
Bedding for Broody Hens
When a hen goes broody and begins nesting to hatch eggs, she may require special bedding. Choose soft and comfortable materials like straw or wood shavings to provide a cozy environment for the broody hen and her eggs. Ensure that the bedding is regularly checked for cleanliness and replaced if soiled.
Storing Chicken Bedding
Proper storage of bedding materials is essential to maintain their quality. Store bedding in a dry, well-ventilated area to prevent moisture absorption and the growth of molds or mildew. Ensure that the storage location is secure and protected from pests. The last thing you want is for mice and rats to find it.
What’s Easiest to Clean
Cleaning up shavings is easier than cleaning straw or hay because the latter tend to mat or become easily wet, creating a favorable environment for bacterial growth.
Both cedar and pine shavings are simple to scoop out and replace when soiled, allowing for fresh bedding without the need to completely overhaul the entire coop.
This way, new material can be added to address only the affected areas, making the cleaning process more efficient and manageable.
Best Chicken Bedding
When it comes to choosing the best chicken bedding, there are several options to consider.
- Wood shavings, such as pine or aspen, are popular choices due to their absorbency, low dust levels, and insulation properties.
- Straw offers many benefits including odor control, affordability, and accessibility. Be sure to store it so it stays dry.
- Pine pellets offer excellent absorbency and odor control, making them a convenient and effective choice.
- Hemp bedding is gaining popularity as an eco-friendly, natural bedding as it becomes more available.
- Recycled paper bedding is a eco-friendly option that provides high absorbency and minimal dust.
Ultimately, the best chicken bedding depends on your specific needs and preferences, considering factors such as availability, cost, ability to lift and shovel it, and the size of your flock, chicken coop, and chicken run.
Using Bedding for the First Time
Every flock is unique. What works for one may not work for another. When changing types of chicken bedding or giving it to your flock for the first time, observe your chickens’ behavior and health and activity.
Pay attention to any signs of discomfort, respiratory issues, or excessive odor, as these may indicate the need for a change in bedding material or more frequent cleaning.
What is the best bedding for chickens?
The best bedding for chickens depends on factors like absorbency, dust levels, and availability. Popular options include straw, wood shavings, hemp chicken bedding, pine pellets, and recycled paper bedding.
What else can you use for chicken bedding?
Aside from traditional bedding materials, alternatives like straw and dry shredded leaves can be used as bedding for chickens.
Is sand or mulch better for chicken run?
Sand is generally better for chicken runs as it allows for easy cleaning, discourages pests, and provides a natural dust bathing area. Mulch can be used but may require more maintenance and can potentially harbor pests. Be sure the mulch is safe for chickens and isn’t treated.
Should a chicken coop have bedding?
Yes, a chicken coop should have bedding. Bedding helps maintain cleanliness, absorb moisture, provide insulation, protects the eggs from breaking, and promote the overall comfort and well-being of the chickens.
What is the best bedding for a wet chicken coop?
For a wet chicken coop, options with high absorbency like pine pellets or wood shavings are recommended to help control moisture and prevent dampness.
Is sand better than pine shavings for a chicken coop?
Sand and pine shavings both have their advantages. Sand is easy to clean, discourages pests, and provides a natural dust bathing area. However, it’s heavy, not insulating (in fact, it’s cold!), and does not compost.
Pine shavings offer good insulation and absorbency and is lighter and easier to shovel. The choice depends on personal preference and specific coop conditions.
What do you put in the bottom of a chicken coop?
The bottom of a chicken coop can be lined with materials like gravel, sand, or wood shavings to provide a clean, comfortable, and moisture-absorbing surface.
Is straw better than shavings for chickens?
Straw and shavings both have their pros and cons. Straw is comfortable but can be dusty and may require more frequent changing. Shavings offer good absorbency and insulation. The choice depends on factors like availability, cost, and personal preference.
Choosing and Using Chicken Bedding
Providing the best bedding for your chickens is a crucial aspect of their overall care and well-being. Regular maintenance, including daily spot cleaning and periodic deep cleaning, is essential to prevent the buildup of bacteria, odors, and potential health issues.
Keeping up with cleaning, providing dust bathing areas, and ensuring proper ventilation, you can create a clean, comfortable, and healthy environment for your flock.
Remember, each type of bedding has its advantages and considerations. Consider factors such as absorbency, dust levels, cost, ability to store it, ability to lift it and shovel it, and availability when selecting the best option for your chickens and coop.
Also remember to consider specific scenarios such as brooders, free-range chickens, and broody hens, as their bedding requirements may vary.
Additionally, if you or anyone in your household has allergies or sensitivities, opt for low-dust or dust-free bedding options to prioritize your health while still providing optimal care for your flock.
A clean and comfortable coop leads to happy and healthy chickens, which, in turn, rewards you with fresh eggs and/or meat. Choose the right chicken bedding, maintain cleanliness, and enjoy the fulfilling experience of chicken keeping.
With proper bedding for chickens, you can ensure your hens stays warm and protected, even during colder seasons.
Learn more info about caring for chickens:
Featured image credit: Katarína Gibalova, Pixabay