Choosing the Best Bedding for Chickens
You have a new chicken coop with nesting boxes. But what are you going to put into that coop to keep it clean, cosy and warm? Chicken bedding, of course! But what is the best type of chicken bedding?
Read on to find out what to look for in chicken bedding, the pros and cons of different bedding types, and which chicken bedding is best for Australian chicken coops.
What is the purpose of chicken coop bedding?
99 % of chickens prefer to sleep on a roost overnight, so the term "chicken bedding" is misleading. Chickens don't sleep in chicken bedding, so why do you need bedding in the chicken coop?
All chicken coops need some type of bedding material. But a better term for chicken bedding is floor litter. Chicken bedding, or floor litter, covers the floor of the coop and its main purpose is to keep the coop clean and dry. A clean, dry chicken coop is essential for healthy, productive chickens!
In addition to floor litter, chickens also need nesting material in the nesting boxes. Some chicken keepers use the same type of chicken bedding as floor litter and in the nesting boxes. But not all chicken bedding makes good nesting material, so if you are using something like sand or wood chips as floor litter, it is a good idea to choose a softer, more comfortable type of chicken bedding, like straw or shredded paper, for the nesting box.
The 5 things to look for in chicken bedding
When choosing chicken coop bedding, you are not looking for something for chickens to sleep in. So what should you look for in chicken bedding?
Here are the top 5 things to look for when choosing a chicken coop bedding material:
You want to keep the chicken coop as clean as possible. A clean coop is a hygienic coop, which is essential to chicken health, so a chicken bedding material should absorb droppings and be easy to spot-clean.
You'd be amazed how much moisture there is in chicken droppings! Wet coops are a breeding ground for coccidiosis and other parasites and diseases; they can also cause respiratory illnesses and lead to unhealthy outbreaks of mould and fungi. So the best chicken bedding materials absorb lots of moisture and dry out quickly.
- Natural and non-toxic
Choosing a natural, non-toxic bedding material is important for keeping your chickens healthy. After all, chickens forage and dust-bathe in floor litter, and may even eat it. And natural bedding material is much easier to dispose of, because it can be easily composted or used in the garden.
Chickens have a sensitive respiratory system and dusty beddings can cause issues, especially when chickens scratch the bedding up or dust-bathe in it. Choose low-dust bedding materials and look for bedding products with the dust removed!
Chickens don't need a soft bed to sleep on. But bedding material should be cushioning. Leg and foot injuries, including bumblefoot, are common in chickens that have to jump down onto hard surfaces such as concrete. A cushioning bedding material can help prevent injuries when chickens flutter down from roosts and nesting boxes.
Choosing the right chicken bedding for your coop
Your individual chicken coop also influences the type of chicken bedding that is best for your flock.
- Are you going to spot-clean the coop every day or so? Then choose a bedding material that makes it easy to scoop out droppings, such as sand or chopped straw.
- Do your birds free range most of the time? Do you use a droppings board? You won't have a lot of droppings in your coop to start with, so your bedding will last longer and you can get away with using less absorbent materials.
- Is your chicken coop floor elevated? Then heavy litters like sand aren't the best option.
- Do you live in a cold climate? Choose a cosy bedding to keep your chickens warm in winter!
- Are you going to try the deep litter method? Then you'll need a very absorbent, high-carbon bedding material.
- For the best garden compost addition, chopped straw, shredded cardboard and wood shavings tend to have the best C:N ratio.
Comparing different chicken bedding materials
In this section, we look at the pros and cons of different chicken bedding materials.
Straw, hay and cane mulch
When they think of chicken bedding, most people picture a chicken coop full of fresh, golden straw. And a coop full of fresh straw, hay or cane mulch does smell amazing!
There are some really great chopped straw bedding for chickens, like AniStraw. These materials are super absorbent and low-dust, making them excellent for chicken coops. The smaller pieces are also easier to spot-clean than un-chopped straw.
But a traditional bale of straw (or hay or mulch) is actually a really poor choice for chicken coop bedding. Normal straw is not very absorbent and prone to mould outbreaks. It is also dusty and difficult to spot clean. Not to mention that chickens often get crop issues from eating long pieces of unchopped straw and hay.
Grass clippings can be used as chicken coop bedding, and you can't beat the price! But unless they are perfectly dry, grass clippings tend to become mouldy and can cause respiratory disease. Only short clippings should be used, as long pieces of grass can cause crop impaction.
A lot of chicken keepers, especially in the USA, swear by sand for chicken coop bedding. It is absorbent and easy to spot-clean. But sand only works for chicken keepers who want to spot-clean their coop daily.
Sand definitely isn't the best choice if you are not going to spot-clean the coop daily as it will quickly become soiled. Removing sand to clean it if you have let it get away from you is heavy work. And if you choose to replace the sand instead of cleaning it, it can get expensive. Sand also isn't suitable for elevated coop floors.
We think that sand is better off in the chicken run, if the run is roofed (or at least sunny) and you aren't able to keep it grassed. It is also awesome for droppings boards. But there are better bedding options than sand for inside the coop itself, in our opinion.
Leaves can be used as chicken coop bedding, if they are perfectly dry. However, they are not very absorbent and can be prone to mould. Shredding dried leaves in a mulcher or by running over them with a lawn mower can improve absorption.
The leaves of some deciduous trees, such as oaks, can be toxic to chickens, so ensure you know what you are using is safe. Although some chicken keepers swear by strong-smelling leaves such as pine needles for keeping parasites away, strong smells can irritate chickens' respiratory tracts so we recommend steering clear of things like eucalypt, tea tree, camphor laurel and pine.
Wood products - Wood shavings, wood chips and sawdust
If using a wood-based chicken coop bedding, avoid treated wood and anything aromatic, like cedar shavings.
Wood shavings and wood chips can be good bedding choices for the chicken coop. It is best to buy wood shavings that are sold as animal bedding, as they are dust-extracted and guaranteed to be non-toxic and un-treated. Wood chips last a long time, but are not as absorbent or cosy as wood shavings, so are best in coops where there isn't a lot of moisture and droppings are spot-cleaned regularly.
Sawdust is too dusty to make good chicken coop bedding. While it is very absorbent, it tends to stay damp and grow mould. It is also said to increase the risk of bumblefoot.
Paper and cardboard
Shredded paper and chopped cardboard are both absorbent, soft chicken coop beddings. And shredded paper is an excellent nesting material.
The main concern with paper in the chicken coop is the potential toxicity of ink. Newsprint is non-toxic, as are most modern inks. But glossy paper and metallic inks may pose a risk.
Other bedding options
There are many other options for chicken coop bedding, from hemp bedding to rice hulls. Just make sure whatever you choose is low-dust and non-toxic.
The best bedding for Australian chicken coops
There are plenty of great bedding options for Australian chicken coops.
Because of our extreme weather, including heat and heavy rain, the deep litter method can be really difficult to implement in the chicken coop. For most chicken keepers, a droppings board and spot-cleaning regularly is a better option than deep litter.
While free chicken bedding materials like grass and leaves are tempting, they become wet and mouldy too quickly in our tropical climate, even with a droppings board!
To protect our chooks delicate lungs, we prefer to use an animal-specific product that has been dust-extracted. And this is safer for us when we are cleaning the chicken coop too! We use AniStraw in our coop.
Happy chicken keeping!
Rachael at Dine a Chook Australia