Deciding on bedding for your chickens can be a difficult and confusing decision, with many options available. From pine shavings, sand, recycled paper and grass clippings, each option comes with its own set of applications.
We have compiled the best chicken bedding options out there and covered the key topics that frequently confuse poultry owners such as bedding for chicks and what to use in winter. Let’s get stuck in!
Why The Right Chicken Bedding Is Crucial
The right Bedding is essential for a number of reasons. It provides comfort and warmth, but most importantly is to reduce unpleasant smells. If left unchecked, ammonia will gather and will eventually pose a serious threat to both humans dealing with your chickens and your chickens themselves, potentially leading to a range of respiratory and eye diseases.
The ideal bedding will provide a neat, easily replaceable layer that soaks up and absorbs droppings which can then be disposed of or used as manure. Beyond odour control, bedding also provides warmth for your chickens which is crucial for their health. Chickens are sensitive to temperature changes and stress so if they are placed in an environment that is inadequately insulated, they will not lay their eggs properly.
With this in mind, it is vital that you find the best and most appropriate bedding for your chickens to ensure their wellbeing. Now let’s take a look at some of the different bedding types and the best applications for each.
Probably the most popular poultry bedding option, wood shavings are widely available and a popular choice, available online, at local pet shops or can be made yourself if you have a wood chipper.
Why we love it
(+) Cleaning is easy with wood shavings which can be easily raked.
(+) Wood shavings are absorbent. Your chicken coop will be kept tidy and unpleasant odours are kept to the minimum.
(+) They are affordable and widely available from local farm or pet shops
(+) If you plan on using your chicken’s excrement as manure in your garden or farm, wood shavings will be perfect. They can be easily removed and absorb urea and ammonia effectively, composting quickly
(+) Wood shavings make for great thermal insulators that will keep your chickens warm throughout the year
(-) Gizzard impaction is unfortunately a very real problem with wood shavings. Chickens can be naturally curious and may decide to nibble out of the wood shavings. If you have chicks, avoid wood shavings as they tend to peck around and eat whatever they find until they familiarise themselves with where to find food. You should always wait a few weeks after hatching if you are using wood shavings .
(-) While wood shavings are affordable, this does depend on the size of your coop. If you have many chickens in a large coop, it can become expensive
(-) Some wood shavings may contain sawdust which is harmful to chickens and lead to respiratory issues. Always check the shavings have been dust extracted.
(-) Wood shavings can be made out of a variety of sawdusts, and some of these varieties can be harmful.For instance, shavings made out of hardwood timber are dangerous as they often harbour fungi and mould that can negatively affect your chickens.
Though not quite as popular as wood shavings, pine is becoming increasingly popular thanks to its affordable price and wide availability. Aesthetically, Pine looks great too and can give a fresh, organised look to any chicken coop. Best of all, it smells great! Just don’t expect its smell to last forever as it can quickly fade.
Why we love it
(+) Pine shavings make for fantastic moisture absorbers and are great at insulating chicken coops even during the coldest of months. Pine tends to remain drier, and needs changing less regularly than normal shavings.
(+) It produces minimal dust so long as you purchase the right type. This means getting flaked shavings and never fine which keeps dust levels low and provides a more comfortable, softer bedding for your chickens.
(+) Packs of pine shavings are often cheap unlike other alternatives such as aspen shavings and are widely available online on sites like Amazon and at farm supply stores.
(+) Not only are they super lightweight but you’ll find them packaged in sturdy, large bags which makes storage and moving around your smallholding easy.
(-) Pine shavings aren’t very absorbent when compared to alternatives like sand.
(-) The majority of pine shavings for chickens are made out of treated wood which can lead to complications if you plan on composting it later.
(-) While pine shaving’s smell tends to fade over time as it contains resin, it risks permeating into the structure of your coop. This is dangerous because it can negatively impact your chicken’s respiratory health and even seep into eggs.
(-) Pine shavings aren’t known to be dusty unless you have a reasonably large coop where chickens constantly kick around the bedding. Purchase higher quality shavings to avoid this.
Often praised for being one of the best options for chickens, hemp – derived from the cannabis plant’s stalk – provides bedding that is virtually odourless yet highly absorbent while playing the role of natural pesticide.
Why we love it
(+) Hemp is 100% sustainable and will break down naturally. Just collect the remains from your coop and compost it. Likewise, hemp is often grown naturally without chemicals like pesticides, so you need not worry about your chickens being exposed to unwanted chemical residue.
(+) Hemp bedding is one of the most absorbent options out there
(+) You don’t have to worry about dust and the respiratory problems it can cause. Hemp is an incredibly fluffy material. This quality not only ensures that eggs laid are protected but that your chickens are provided with a comfortable padded surface to roam about which keep issues like bumblefoot at bay.
(+) If you get good-quality hemp bedding, it will come with a long shelf life that will give you your full return on your money so long as you use the product sensibly.
(+) Hemp bedding has good thermal insulation properties that will ensure your chicken coop is kept warm. This can help keep electric heating costs low if this applies to you.
(-) Hemp bedding sits on the more expensive side and will cost more to furnish the coop initially. However, because hemp is durable and sturdy, you won’t need to change it as often as wood shavings.
(-) Hemp is still relatively new to the market, and research isn’t as extensive as other traditional alternatives onto possible side effects.
Winter is Coming: Chicken Bedding for Cold Winters
When summer fades and winter is in its full swing, ensuring your chickens are kept warm and cosy is essential. Thankfully there are a number of tried and tested methods to ensure your coop is properly insulated. We’ve listed three ways you can ensure your chicken bedding is ready for winter.
The Deep Litter Method:
A convenient trick that has been done for centuries, it takes advantage of decomposition. To do this, you turn over a layer of used bedding while adding further, fresh layers which allows your chicken’s excrement to decompose on the coop’s floor throughout winter. Through the process of decomposition, natural warmth will be produced. The best part? You’ll have wonderful compost to use once spring arrives.
While it’s important to pick a bedding option that is known to retain heat well, don’t forget the biggest source of heat: the sun. Even during the shortened days of winter, you must ensure that adequate sunlight is captured during the warmest hours of day. One way to do this is to install insulated windows and if you’re doing the deep litter method at the same time, even more heat will be able to be retained.
Ensuring your chicken coop receives adequate airflow can be a delicate balancing act. On one hand, you want to ensure that enough air can flow in and out to minimise any build-up of ammonia. And on the other, you want to prevent as much cold air from entering. This is a tricky dilemma but one that can be resolved if you install a proper ventilation system. Without proper ventilation, your bedding will turn mouldy quicker which will force you to spend more on replacing it while exposing your chickens to potential harm.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How often should I change chicken bedding?
The answer to this common question is it depends. Specifically, on the type of chicken coop bedding you’re using. That being said, the general rule of thumb to look for is odour. If you notice a strong odour from your coop, it is a good indicator that you need to change the bedding. Further, we suggest that each time you change your bedding that you disinfect the entire coop for your chicken’s health.
Do I need special chicken bedding for my chicks?
If you have a sizable population of chicks in your coop, you’ll be familiar with how delicate they are. Though adorable, chicks are fragile and aren’t always the brightest. They need as much care and attention you can give. When it comes to bedding, you’ll need to ensure that they have sufficient bedding so as to have a proper surface to live, walk, and eat upon. While there isn’t any specific option that is ideal for chicks, there are many options which you should avoid. This includes wood chips and aromatic wood chips as they can be poisonous.
Can I use hay for chicken bedding?
While hay can easily be used as poultry bedding and is often cheap, we suggest avoiding it. Hay is a poor moisture absorber so unless you meticulously maintain your coop, things will get mouldy fast and cause fungal spore outbreaks. Worse, this can cause aspergillosis (an infection of the lungs) in your chickens. Hay also isn’t the most durable of bedding options so you may find yourself spending large amounts on just maintaining supply.
Can I use shredded paper for chicken bedding?
Surprisingly, shredded paper makes pretty good chicken bedding. It also is a green option if you’re using recycled paper and have a shredder and much like hay, paper can be cheap if you’re opting to use scraps. Just ensure you keep two things in mind. First, that the ink used on your paper is safe for your chickens. This means ensuring they’re made out of something like soy-based inks. And secondly, that you change the bedding frequently. Paper tends to be a very good absorber of water and if left unchecked, you might end up with a gooey mess before long.