You want to create a comfortable environment for your chickens for maximum egg production—but you also wish to have a coop and egg boxes that are easy to clean and stay fresh for as long as possible. Is straw for your chicken coop the answer? Or is the best chicken coop bedding another material, like pine shavings, hemp bedding, or wood chips?
In today’s blog post, you’ll learn about the pros and cons of different types of bedding for chickens, including what we’ve discovered at our family’s hatcheries.
If you’re new to raising chickens, you might wonder why you need bedding. Bedding provides several benefits to you and your flock, including:
Your chicken coop needs bedding to maintain cleanliness, make your chickens comfortable, and keep eggs from cracking on hard surfaces.
Now that you know why you’ll need some type of bedding for chickens, let’s talk about what kinds of bedding you should never use for new chicks and how you can choose the best chicken coop bedding for your growing flock.
Before we get into the best chicken coop bedding options, we want to take a moment to warn you about the types of bedding that can be harmful to day-old chicks. These babies are more sensitive than grown chickens, so it’s essential to avoid the kinds of bedding that could cause problems.
In general, we suggest not using fine sawdust, cedar shavings, newspaper, sand, or wet bedding. For more information about the health problems these materials can cause for chicks, we encourage you to read Chick Care on Day One.
There are many chicken-bedding options, but we’ve narrowed them down to the five most popular. We’re not suggesting one type over another. Instead, we’d like you to choose from these bedding options based on what’s most important to you: cost, renewability, sustainability, safety, labor, and more.
Straw has been a staple on farms for centuries. However, even though this material provides a comfortable barrier between cattle or pigs and the ground, it’s not ideal for chickens.
One of the main reasons we use chicken bedding is its absorbency. We also use bedding that dries quickly, so it won’t grow the mold that can harm chickens’ respiratory systems. Straw does not have either of these qualities. Furthermore, straw does nothing to hold heat in the winter or dispense it in the summer. Plus, hens will scratch straw out of the way before laying their eggs—defeating the purpose of lining nesting boxes with it.
Wood shavings are one of the most popular bedding materials for chickens. They are relatively inexpensive, but they also drink up moisture, dry quickly, are resistant to mold, cushion eggs nicely, and help keep coops warm in the winter.
A drawback of using cedar shavings and pine shavings is that the dust from these products can have carcinogenic qualities, damage chickens’ livers, and cause respiratory disease. Young chicks may mistake the shavings for food, and chickens of any age can experience health problems when they breathe the dust.
As an alternative to shavings, you might choose to use wood chips. There will be little or no dust, and they will counteract the nitrogen in waste that causes odor. You can still use wood chips in the deep litter method, which involves placing eight to 12” of material on the floor and in nesting boxes to allow waste and bedding to compost in the coop.
Hemp bedding for chickens is made from the hemp plant’s inner stalk or hurd. It has excellent odor-control qualities, is highly absorbent, is compostable, produces very little dust, and retains heat. Because it clumps when soiled, it’s accessible to spot-clean and will last longer than most any other type of bedding for chickens, putting it at the top of the list for its sustainability.
Grass clippings can be an enticing bedding option because they’re free and chickens will enjoy snacking on them—but you should take caution.
Grass clippings must be entirely dry before adding to the chicken coop. Otherwise, they could cause respiratory disease when they grow mold. They are not very absorbent and will pack down and become slippery when they decompose. All of this means you should not use them as a sole bedding option, but instead, add them to shavings, chips, or hemp bedding as part of the deep litter method.
Finally, we should mention the use of sand in coops. It is highly absorbent, and you’ll find that it’s easy to remove clumped waste from a bed of sand. Coarse sand will help keep your chickens’ beaks and claws from becoming too sharp but beware of fine playground sand—if your chickens overeat it, it could cause digestive-tract impactions.
We hope that the information provided here will help you decide on the best chicken coop bedding for your birds. Whether you use hemp, sand, wood shavings, wood chips, or straw for chicken coops, know that each comes with advantages and disadvantages. Give a few methods a try to see which one works best for you. And if you would like specific advice for your unique chicken coop, be sure to contact us.