How do you choose the best bedding for a chicken coop? Providing the best bedding for your chickens isn’t about luxury. It’s a basic need for them to feel comfortable and happy. The proper bedding will keep your flock healthy and clean, but it also prevents eggs from cracking.
When choosing the right bedding for your chicken coop, you should address several issues. We’ll tell you all about it in this article.
Best bedding for a chicken coop
The most common beddings are
- Pine shavings or cedar shavings
- Shredded paper
Let’s dive in with the extensive overview and then go over them one by one.
Chicken keepers commonly use straw for bedding the nesting boxes or inside the coop. If you’re an animal farmer, chances are you stored an amount of straw. It works fine as chicken coop bedding; however, there are some things you need to keep in mind.
Straw is controversial. Some people love straw as a bedding solution, and others hate it.
Let’s look at the pros and cons.
Pros of Straw as Bedding
- Accessibility. It can be purchased almost everywhere.
- Comfort. Chickens like to snuggle into the straw and play with it by scratching their feet around. Straw is a warm material that comes in handy in winter or cold areas.
Cons of Straw as bedding
- Lack of odor control. Straw will rot after using it for a while and start to smell.
- Not all varieties are very absorbent and need to be replaced quite often.
- Difficult to clean. Due to rotting and lack of clumping it’s quite the chore to clean any used straw.
Pine or Cedar Shaving
Wood shavings are a favorite bedding material among chicken owners and come from different kinds of wood. Most common are pine and cedar shavings. Wood shavings, especially cedar shavings, are very popular because of their pleasant aroma and neutralizing effect. The smell also works as a natural insect repellent.
But we can’t discuss the pros without addressing the cons, and there is one major issue concerning wood shavings. The enchanting smell of cedar shavings can irritate the respiratory system of your chickens, albeit a controversial topic.
Nonetheless, better to be safe than sorry and only use pine or cedar shavings if your chickens have enough ventilation, outside space, or other places to inhabit.
Pros of Pine or Cedar Shaving
- Accessibility. Can be purchased almost everywhere.
- Comfortable and warm
- Compostable, although it takes some time to break down
- Excellent absorption
- Easy to clean the chicken coop
Cons of Pine or Cedar Shaving
- Cost. Can be pricey if you have a large chicken coop.
- Can irritate the respiratory system of chickens as they can ingest the small dust shavings which can cause crop impaction.
Can sand be the best bedding material for a chicken coop?
Sand is a valuable bedding material when you have the time to devote to it. When done right, sand as bedding material only needs replacing a couple of times a year, so it’s relatively cheap to use in the long run. Sand dries very quickly, clumps, and can be used as a deep littering method if turned quite often.
Like cat sand or cat litter, sand inside the coop clumps and dries the droppings. For cleaning, use a rake or a shovel to turn the sand over a couple of times. The waste will sink to the bottom, and a clean layer of sand will form at the top. The easy maintenance comes in very handy when you have a larger-sized chicken coop and a large flock of chickens.
When you own a small-sized chicken coop, scoop out the droppings with a cat litter scooper and turn the sand afterward. Just like you do when cleaning the cat’s litter box.
It’s a great way to dispose of the chickens’ waste as it only needs to be replaced a couple of times a year.
What type of sand do I use?
Never use play sand or sandbox sand as it can cause crop infection and may cause serious respiratory illness in the long run. Always use a construction sand mix with different-sized grains. River or bank-run sand can also be used. Construction, river, or bank-run sand proves beneficial to the digestive tract. When ingested, it functions as grit. Just make sure the sand is dry before you put it in place.
Pros of using sand as bedding
- Easy to clean and absorbs well
- When turned or scooped regularly, smelliness will be controlled
cons of using sand as bedding
- Non-compostable. Do not add sand to your compost heap.
- If not turned or scooped regularly, sand will get smelly
- Quite pricey when purchased, but will be less expensive in the long run when used correctly
This article addresses commonly used bedding, not only the best materials. Shredded newspaper is a no-go for us. We’ll explain by giving some examples and tell you why you should not use shredded newspaper as bedding inside your chicken coop.
Common cause of spraddle leg with baby chicks
Spraddle leg is a deformity of a chick’s legs, where the legs spread and point to the side instead of forward, making it very difficult to walk. A common cause of spraddle leg is the wrong bedding, such as shredded newspaper.
Newspaper shreds are very slippery, which causes a chick to twist its legs out from the hip and stay deformed unless treated. Spraddle legs treatment involves bracing and providing stability to the legs, so the chick learns to stand up by herself.
Some newspapers use ink that easily rubs off on your chickens, leaving them with black residue on their feathers. Most modern newspapers don’t use petroleum-laden inks anymore, but that doesn’t mean ink is beneficial for your chickens. They eat just about anything, so it’s not uncommon for chickens to ingest newspaper shreds. Colored magazines use heavy metal-based ink that’s toxic for your flock.
Non absorbent, smelly, chore to clean
The best way to convince you newspaper shredding is no good bedding material: cleaning the coop will be a real chore. When paper gets moist and wet, it starts to smell, molt and is harder to clean. Absorption is very poor, so you’ll need to replace the shredded newspaper regularly. Save yourself the trouble and go for a different chicken coop bedding.
Pros of using shredded newspaper as bedding
- Comfortable and warm
Cons of shredded newspaper
- No odor control
- Lacks absorption
- Not easy to clean as it has to be done regularly
- Causes spraddle legs with chicks
Best bedding materials for a nesting box
Now we know what the best bedding or a chicken coop is, you’ll have to think about the bedding in the nesting boxes. There is a big difference in usage, so choosing another type of bedding for the nesting boxes makes perfect sense.
Chickens use nesting boxes solely for laying eggs or brooding. Don’t allow your chickens to eat, poop, or sleep inside the nesting box; that’s what the chicken coop and outside space are for.
When trying out new materials for the nesting boxes, keep an eye on your flock. If they’re not happy with the new bedding, they’ll start laying eggs in undesirable dirty places. So keep your chickens happy and comfortable.
Most popular bedding materials for a nesting box:
- Pine or cedar shavings
- Grass clippings
- Nesting box pads
Pine or Cedar shavings
Any wood shavings are popular to put inside a nesting box. They’re warm, soft, comfortable, clean, economical, and easy to purchase in farm stores. Cedar shavings even may drive mites away. The downside of shavings is that they are known to trigger respiratory problems. So if you notice some heavy breathing or squeaking, this might not be the ideal solution for you.
First of all, there’s a difference between hay and straw. They’re not the same. Hay is a crop grown as a feed crop for farm animals. On the other hand, straw is a byproduct of a grain crop and is used as bedding material.
Many hay and non-leafy beddings can be used for a nesting box. But truth be told, there are far better options for nesting box bedding than hay. Hay inside nesting boxes can quickly become messy, and you’ll have to replace it regularly. It also attracts mites which can cause health issues in your flock.
Straw is commonly used as bedding for farm animals. In addition to being compostable, it offers comfort, residual warmth, and healthy germ balance. The downsides are its lack of odor control and difficulty to clean. The straw will rot after using it for a while and smell. It also needs to be replaced quite often. Look out for more absorbent varieties, such as oat straw.
You can turn to grass clippings as bedding material when on a tight budget. They can be used as a bedding material as long as they’re dried out first. Wet grass clippings begin to molt and rot inside the nesting box. The clippings must be free of pesticides or lawn fertilizer.
Nesting Box Pads
There are numerous advantages to using nesting box pads instead of loose materials as a bedding option.
- Chickens can’t kick nesting pads out of the nesting box (unlike loose materials)
- Less chance of broken eggs
- Easier to clean or simply throw away
Chickens always scratch their feet anywhere, even inside the nesting box. After using straw or wood shavings as bedding for a while, you’ll realize your hens kick out the material by scratching their feet. This results in empty nesting boxes, which leads to higher chances of broken eggs. Broken, freshly laid eggs are more likely to be eaten by the hen. A very hard-to-break habit!
Reusable nesting pads made out of plastic or rubber are pretty popular because of their ease of cleaning. You can simply shake out any loose dirt or hose them down. Reusable nesting pads are also washable.
Another popular nesting pad material is organic bedding like straw, hemp, or aspen. These kinds of nesting pads aren’t reusable but need to be disposed of (or composted) after use.
What type to use is up to you! Prices of nesting pads are relatively low, so you can try out whichever suits your hens best.
Let’s sum things up!
Various bedding materials can be found in stores, farm shops, or your backyard but always look for the best option for your flock. Some need more replacing (hence: more work) or are more expensive. Whatever works for your neighbors’ chickens may not work for yours. Try out a few options and choose the best bedding for your flock when in doubt.
Credits Featured Image: @tinyfarm_homestead (IG)