What is the best bedding for chickens?
The best chicken coop bedding is medium- to coarse-grained sand because it is non-toxic, dries quickly, maintains cleanliness, is low in pathogens, and has low levels of dust.
Sand is a much safer choice than all other bedding materials. Chopped straw is a mediocre choice, but carries a risk of pathogens, and pine shavings should be avoided due to toxicity.
Without citing any studies or other sources, a great deal of people are making claims about the reliability of various chicken coop bedding materials. I’ve compiled dozens of scientific studies on the three most popular types of chicken coop bedding in this article: pine shavings, straw, and sand. I’ve provided a long list of citations down below.
Please read on as I provide you with more specific information about the best bedding for chickens.
Table of Contents
Best Bedding For Chickens
Due to its capacity to lessen the ammonia odor from chicken waste, hemp chicken bedding is becoming more and more well-liked among backyard chicken keepers. In the colder months, it keeps your chickens warm and is also incredibly absorbent.
The cannabis stalk is turned into thick straw and mulched to create hemp bedding.
This bedding is suitable for your nesting boxes because, despite being fairly thick and straw-like, it is also quite soft.
This all-natural and environmentally friendly alternative is also well-liked because you can use it with the deep litter method, which means you only need to buy it occasionally. Additionally, it acts as a natural insecticide and slows down bacterial and microbial growth in your coop.
It’s also a great alternative for pet owners who are allergic to more typical bedding materials like straw and pine.
Hemp’s only drawbacks are that it can be expensive and challenging to find.
The average price per pound for hemp bedding is $1.36.
- Highly absorbent
- Long lasting
- Natural insecticide
- Good insulation
- Hides ammonia odor well
- Can be tricky to find
- Some forms can be dusty
- Quality varies with the seasons
Mulch is basically wood chips, often the bark part of the wood. It is easily accessible in your neighborhood feed and tractor supply stores. It makes a good material for deep bedding for chickens because it’s typically used in landscaping to aid in water drainage.
“The chickens break down the bedding material, all the veg scraps you give them, and their own manure, through their constant scratching. Compost deposits become deep and soft on the coop’s floor over time.”
When it’s too cold outside, the compost produces heat that you can use to keep your chickens warm. Additionally, when you replace the poo mulch, you can use it as fertilizer for your garden’s soil. The plants in your garden will grow; weeds won’t. This homestead offer is three for one!
- highly absorbent
- adds floor insulation
- makes good fertilizer
- prone to mold growth
- some mulch mixes are toxic to chickens
There is a vast supply of free bedding for chickens if you live in pine country. Dried pine needles are a great chicken coop addition. They are fragrant and effectively remove moisture. DRY, folks, is the key word here. Fresh pine needles might smell better, but they won’t last as long as fresh grass.
Oh, and be sure you get the pine needles of the non-toxic pines so everyone is safe.
- can be easy to source depending on your location
- smells good
- easy to clean
- some varieties are toxic to chickens
Due to their capacity for absorption and appealing aroma, wood and pine shavings are among the most widely used materials.
Pine shavings are accessible and reasonably priced.
On average you will find pine shavings for chicken bedding will cost you around $0.31 per pound.
They dry out quickly and hold up relatively well which means you will only need to change out the bedding around 2-4 times a year. The respiratory system of your chickens is less sensitive to pine shavings than it is to wood shavings like cedar.
Perhaps the biggest drawback of pine shavings is that they do not insulate as well. This is particularly important to keep in mind if you live in a colder climate.
Just make sure to avoid pine shavings that are extremely fine.
- Available everywhere
- Fast drying
- Can lead to respiratory issues
- Damp wood shavings should be replaced
- Expensive for bigger coops
Let’s just get this over with. It’s debatable to use cedar shavings as chicken bedding. It works well to mask smells, which is why some people adore it. Furthermore, it serves as a natural snake and bug repellent. But the thing that makes cedar smell so good is also the thing that irritates the lungs of chickens.
Assume you are imprisoned in a perfume vat that is empty. When you get too close to it, the smell overpowers you.
The Solution? Use only if your chicken coop has excellent ventilation. We’re talking about a coop with more screens and fewer solid walls. The best chicken coops also all have ample ventilation, as you may have noticed. So long as your coop is properly ventilated, cedar shaving is acceptable.
- eliminates odors well
- bug and snake repellant
- easily available
- can cause respiratory issues with long exposure
It’s got a pretty cool name, don’t you think? Excelsior fiber is one of the simplest options for animal bedding to use because they come in pads, which is even better. Consider it to be more like a large loofah than a fibrous sponge. Any moisture simply permeates. With this chicken bedding, dust is not a concern. Additionally, it is gentle and soft on the chickens’ feet. However, it is extremely expensive animal bedding. The price of a 10 pack can cost $36 or more!
- easy to clean
- zero dust
- one of the most expensive chicken bedding options
Grass clippings are the best option available for free if you’re looking for one.
Grass clippings are both a tasty treat and a fantastic way to compost.
They will keep your hens occupied and amused as they pick through the grass to get rid of the seeds and insects that are present with these clippings by nature.
If you choose to use grass clippings, you can use the deep litter method, which will give you some rich compost when it’s time to switch out the bedding. You will need to change the bedding every two weeks because it is not incredibly absorbent.
As long as your grass clippings are dried out first, they are a great addition to your coop and are often alongside other forms of bedding that are more absorbent.
- Doubles as a treat
- Keeps hens busy
- Only available seasonally
- Tends to rot/smell easily
- Not good for insulation
Recycled paper is a good option and is commonly used because of its extremely low cost and readily availability.
Your newspaper purchase would be the only expense for you.
Recycled paper is known for holding onto heat well which makes it a great choice for those keeping chickens in colder climates.
Additionally, it is very absorbent.
Because of this you will need to change the bedding every week to prevent any bad smells.
Furthermore, hazardous and harmful plastics and ink that can cause health problems can be found in recycled paper. Before adding your paper to your coop, you should double-check it.
Overall, recycled paper is incredibly affordable and sustainable chicken bedding that is soft, warm, and absorbent. Simply make sure that the bedding is changed frequently and does not contain any hazardous materials.
- Great insulator
- Available everywhere
- Must be changed frequently
- Can contain hazardous material (ink, plastics)
- Does not reduce bad smells
- Can get slippery
Rocks obviously only work as a floor material for ground-level chicken coops. Now I know you’re thinking, “Rocks, that sounds uncomfortable.” Use the blunt ones instead, I suppose. For the chicken coop, pick out smooth river rocks or pebbles.
There is no need to swap out the rock bedding. Even moving them is not necessary. You only need to rinse them off, and you’re good to go.
It’s completely low maintenance and a free alternative for chicken bedding. However, it is obviously not suitable for a nesting box.
- easy to clean
- takes time to collect the right size and smooth finish
- can get hot if exposed to the sun
Another preferred option is sand.
However you cannot just use any type of sand. You must use mortar sand, because sand from the beach or for play can lead to serious health issues for your chickens.
Sand does not have the problem of rapid rot that organic material like wood and hay do, which makes them a breeding ground for bacteria and pathogens.
This also means no bad smells in the coop.
Make sure your chicken coop floor can support the weight by considering how much sand weighs in comparison to other types of bedding.
You should avoid using sand in very hot or cold climates as sand can quickly freeze to the ground or get too hot in direct sunlight. Sand is also one of the higher maintenance bedding alternatives. Daily scooping is required to remove dirt and chicken droppings. This does however imply that it lasts much longer and is a more affordable option over time.
- Easy to clean
- Reduces bacteria and pathogens
- Helps to reduce odor
- Lasts for a long time
- Cannot compost
- Does not insulate
- Can be dusty
- Very heavy
Another low-cost option for chicken bedding is sawdust. However, it already has a drawback because the word “dust” is present. If your hens spend the majority of their time in the coop, don’t use this. All that scratching around just circulates the dust. As it takes in waste, it does, however, become less dusty. Insects may begin to lay their eggs on them if it becomes too wet. So simply check on it occasionally to see if it needs to be changed.
- extremely dusty
- can cause respiratory infection and eye irritation
This chicken bedding is like the newspaper option, but with less sticking. Because it is already layered, the cardboard absorbs more moisture. That means it will do its job longer. Just ask some from your neighborhood warehouses or grocery stores; it’s also free.
Since it’s organic, you can chuck it in your compost pit for future fertilizing.
- helps reduce trash
- cheap or even free
- doesn’t help much with odors
- if printed, inks can be toxic
Shredded Dried Leaves
There are many positive aspects to autumn. Cooler temperatures, pumpkins, and no-cost lodging. Yup, all those dried falling leaves make for good DIY natural bedding. In any case, chickens enjoy scratching leaves.
So chop up the leaves and put them in your chicken coop. It will keep them content, manage their waste, and keep your yard free of leaves. Oh, and as they scratch and poop, they’re turning those leaves into instant fertilizer. So you can just toss the soiled leaves into your garden patches.
- good for composting
- gives a more natural environment
- zero costs
- rots faster
- not much odor control
- harbors bugs
One of the more conventional types of bedding is straw.
It is well liked for its natural smell, feel, cost, accessibility, and ability to be composted.
Straw is also an excellent insulator so it can be used in coops during cold winters. It is suitable for people with allergies because it can be made from various grains, including wheat, rye, and barley.
Just remember that it needs to be changed every week to prevent health risks. It can also mat down, making it difficult to remove and producing a lot of unappealing ammonia.
At around $0.57 per pound, straw is also affordable.
Overall straw is one of the cheapest and simplest types of chicken bedding. You will just need to replace it often to avoid any health concerns.
- Available everywhere
- Great for insulation
- Helps to mentally stimulate chickens
- Not absorbent
- Molds easily
- Must be changed often
- Low odor prevention
Picking the right bedding for your hens mostly comes down to preference.
There are, however, specific bedding types that work better in particular climates and coops. Below are the seven best types of chicken bedding for you to choose from.
The Nest Box For The Best Bedding For Chickens
The ideal bedding for nest boxes, in my opinion, is pine or cedar shavings. They have a fresh, woodsy scent, dry quickly, and provide good egg padding. The nest box is a great place to experiment with cedar shavings if you’re hesitant to use them in the coop. Unless they are brooding, chickens rarely spend enough time in a nest box for any aromatic oils to affect their respiratory systems.
To ward off some pests, mix in some crushed, dried herbs like mint, rosemary, or lavender. This is a common practice to naturally fight pests, and most chickens don’t suffer any adverse effects from aromatic oils of the herbs.
The Coop For The Best Bedding For Chickens
It appears that pine and cedar shavings would prevail once more for the chicken coop. (Again, this is my article and my opinion!) Shavings are the best material to line the coop for all of the reasons previously mentioned. By using deep litter, you can prevent waste of anything, including bedding, and provide a healthy option for your flock without having to make a sizable investment in litter.
The Run For The Best Bedding For Chickens
Sand wins the race for an outdoor run. And once more, your flock will adore taking a dust bath in it. It dries quickly, doesn’t decompose, is simple to turn over to use the deep-litter method, and is all of these things. I’ve never replaced the sand in my run; I’ve only added to it, as the dust-bathing chickens toss it out!
Going Deep For The Best Bedding For Chickens
A little planning, prompt attendance, and some deliberate laziness are required for the deep-litter method of coop cleaning. The deep-litter approach’s basic premise is as follows: Begin with several inches of bedding material, and build the bedding, lasagna-style. Depending on the size of your coop, the number of birds you keep, and how much time they spend in their coop, add a few extra inches of material about once a month, give or take.
With each layer, add a small amount of diatomaceous earth suitable for food. Keep a rake close by to occasionally flip the bedding, typically once a week. Add more bedding and turn it more frequently if you notice insects, pests, or an abundance of manure.
There is no extra bedding material needed for the deep-litter method compared to other methods, but it does build up over time and leak out as the birds come and go. To keep the bedding in place at the coop door, use a piece of plywood or something comparable.
The idea behind the deep-litter method is to give the old bedding and chicken waste time to decompose and, in a sense, compost inside the coop while also providing some mild warmth. It’s also a fabulous method designed to save the chicken keeper’s time, energy and back. The deep-litter method of coop maintenance calls for a thorough cleaning of the coop once a year, though even that may be too frequently. To decide when it’s time to change the bedding and start over, use your eyes, nose, and common sense. A clean, cared-for coop should never emit odor.
Use A Dropping Board To Save Money
The best way to save money on the bedding you buy and use in your coops is to install and use a dropping board or tray placed under the roosts. Chickens produce the majority of their waste during the night while roosting. The boards will catch all the nighttime waste, sparing your bedding of large amounts of waste trafficked across the coop and will remain dry and (mostly) clean.
Dropping boards also make transfer of pure waste to composts easy and efficient. In addition to the deep-litter method, a board can be used effectively. By using both methods, you may be able to save more money on bedding than you would if you only used one.
All coops require bedding unless your birds are housed in wire-bottom hutches, which I do not advise. Remember, lining the coop with comfortable, quality litter isn’t spoiling your birds; by providing them a soft foundation and keeping it clean, you are ensuring the health of your flock, their comfort and clean eggs. Your birds will appreciate it (as well as their unbroken eggs)!
Chickens Need Litter Not Bedding In The Chicken Coop
The majority of us have a lot of misconceptions about why chicken coop bedding is necessary for contemporary backyard chickens, regardless of how experienced you are with keeping chickens or how new you are to it.
The majority of us have out-of-date conceptions of what constitutes chicken coop bedding, and as a result, our chickens suffer. This is due to the fact that backyard chickens, unlike commercial broiler chickens, do not require bedding. The Chicken Chick deserves special recognition for being the one to first draw my attention to the fact that they only require litter.
Then what precisely separates litter from bedding?
Chicken bedding is the material used on the floor of factory farm poultry houses. Litter is material used for the management of chicken waste.
In the broiler industry, bedding is required because the chickens are raised using “floor-based poultry production systems” (Munir et al., 2019, p. 5).
How are these systems different from backyards? During their brief lives—usually a month or two—chickens in floor-based poultry production houses are kept indoors on bedding.
These broilers don’t usually roost as backyard chickens do. Because of their rapid growth and abundance of meat, these birds are extremely low energy and prone to leg pain. Roosting is not an option. Many of them struggle to walk, let alone, jump up on a roost for the night.
Because of this, broilers both live and sleep in their bedding. This means they actually need bedding for more than just litter purposes, so their floor material serves as both bedding and as litter. In these systems, litter is defined as “… a combination of bedding and fecal material” (Shepherd et al., 2017).
Most chicken keepers abide by this definition for litter, but, as you can now see, it doesn’t quite apply to modern-day backyard chickens. We believe the following to be a more sensible definition of litter: a combination of low moisture-retention material and fecal matter.
Instead of considering the floor material for chicken coops as animal bedding, we should think of it more like cat litter. Of course, chickens have a lot more exposure to their litter than do cats, so we need to make sure we’re providing them material that’s not toxic.
Scientific Studies On Chicken Coop Bedding Have A Problem
So now, when reviewing the academic literature on bedding, we have a major problem. The majority of the research has been conducted in poultry factories, where bedding is actually used as bedding.
This is something you’ll have to always keep in mind when you read a scientific study on chickens. You are using bedding for a different purpose than they are.
Another problem is that broiler chickens don’t live very long (usually a month or two), so noneof the academic studies address the long-term effects of bedding materials. This is incredibly unfortunate for backyard chicken keepers as many bedding types that are very safe in the short term are very dangerous in the long term.
Pine shavings are one such type of bedding, as you’ll discover in this article. Peat moss and cedar shavings are also included in this category, though they are not discussed here.
And even straw and, yes, my favorite, sand, may have potentially dangerous long-term health effects, although more evidence is needed to know (more on this later). This is why I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:
There is no perfect chicken coop bedding.
In my discussions below, I’ve also drawn on other sources of information about bedding, such as other livestock studies, rodent medical research, and human occupational diseases research, to help you anticipate the long-term effects of these bedding materials on your chickens’ health.
For The Winter, Do Chickens Require Bedding?
Yes, they do. Like most birds, chickens can endure harsh weather conditions. The most difficult season for chickens, though, is winter.
Weaker members of your flock can easily fall sick due to the cold weather. While chickens don’t necessarily require heated coops, these birds need bedding in winter to endure the cold weather.
Best Bedding For Chicken Coops During Winter
All year long, chicken bedding is crucial to the health and happiness of your flock.
However it is especially important during the cold, harsh winter months.
During these months the bedding should not only help with insulation, but also be capable of keeping your coop free from harmful bacteria and microbes.
Your bedding is not doing a good job of preventing the growth of these dangerous microorganisms if your coop has an unpleasant odor.
Although hay, straw, and recycled paper are all effective insulators, they must be replaced frequently.
Pine shavings are a fantastic alternative in the winter.
The best choice is hemp bedding but it is expensive.
It is soft, highly absorbent, long-lasting without needing to be changed, and effective at controlling odors, so it does just about everything right when it comes to winter bedding.
Choosing the right bedding for your chickens to withstand harsh, cold seasons can be nerve wracking, but you can’t go wrong with any of the options mentioned above.
What Do Chickens Enjoy Using As A Mattress?
Chickens prefer to rest their heads on roosts that are cozy for their feet. Strong branches with soft bark work well. Other than when they are broody, they rarely sleep on the ground.
Although, it’s different for young chickens transitioning from brooder box to coop. They occasionally enjoy sleeping in the cozy nesting boxes because they are not yet accustomed to roosting. Avoid allowing them to do this to avoid having contaminated eggs.
How Often Should You Change Chicken Bedding?
Every two days, you should replace the bedding for your chickens. However, it depends on the type of bedding you use and how you sleep.
The deep litter method requires less frequent bedding changes. You start with a thick layer of bedding, and then, instead of replacing it, you keep adding bedding. Eventually, the bottom layer turns into compost.
What Should I Lay Down In My Chicken Run?
You don’t always need to add bedding to the ground in your chicken coop. If your run is on dirt, then your chickens’ feet will already be happy. If your coop is located in a wet area or on hard cement, bedding is only necessary for the chicken run. You need bedding that will drain the water and keep your hens’ feet comfy.
What to Use for Bedding for Laying Hens?
Grass clippings, pine or cedar shavings, dried leaves, and even hay have been known to work, but we recommend not using the same amount as you use inside your coop. It only requires a thin layer, up to an inch. You’ve got it now, then!
Do Chickens Need Bedding in Their Coop?
While livestock need bedding for a layer of protection between them and the cold, damp floor while they sleep, chickens do not sleep on the ground, they sleep on roosts, therefore, they do not need bedding– chickens need litter on the floor of the coop to manage waste.
The best bedding for chickens is the non-toxic, all-natural, and very absorbent kind. There is a wide selection of bedding. But you should also consider what is the most readily available to you. Sometimes you don’t even need to purchase bedding. Ones you can find in your backyard or house include dried leaves and recycled paper.
In the end, do you understand best bedding for chickens? Thank you so much for reading. Enjoy your trip! Last but not least, have a good day!