*What is the Best Bedding Material? for Brooding chickens*
1 – Wood Shavings
2 – Hay or Straw
3 – Paper cuttings
4 – Sand
here are a number of choices when it comes to bedding for chickens, ducks and other poultry. The most obvious requirement is that it should be safe for your birds to use but there are other desirable qualities in bedding: it should not compact down and be absorbent for as long as possible. Damp bedding not only encourages bacteria, some of which can be harmful to poultry but also releases ammonia which damages the respiratory system.
Here are the bedding materials we have tried, some have worked well and others not so well in the chicken house but every set-up is different and it can take a little trial and error to find suitable bedding for the size of your coop and the time you leave between cleaning your birds out. Hopefully this article will put you on the right track though.
White wood shavings (dust extracted, not sawdust) is one of the most popular bedding materials for chickens, ducks and other poultry as they are relatively cheap, very absorbent and easy to use. Shavings keep smells down and reduce ammonia in the air from droppings that can cause respiratory damage and eye problems.
Shavings also provide insulation from the cold ground during harsh winter weather.
Be very careful when rearing young chicks or ducklings on wood shavings. Chicks will often peck at them until they know where to find their food whilst ducklings can be killed because they will eat wood shavings when they are young. If shavings are introduced after 4-6 weeks, they are less likely to eat them than when they are newly hatched – but care must be taken when introducing them.
Shavings must not be derived from hardwood timber because there are certain fungi and moulds that can cause problems. Sawdust should also be avoided as the dust can cause respiratory problems.
Wood shavings can usually be bought in a compressed ‘block’ from pet shops or on-line but do ensure they are ‘dust extracted’. Dusty wood shavings and inadequate ventilation in the hen-house will cause no end of problems.
-Easily attainable – Shavings can be picked up at local feed stores
-Easy to Clean – Shavings can be fluffed and forked up much easier than straw bedding.
Great Odor Control – Because shavings are typically more absorbent than straw, it is also better at controlling odors.
-Cost – Depending upon coop size, using shavings can become somewhat pricey.
-Crop impaction – Since chickens love to scratch and peck, they may decide to ingest the shavings which have been known to cause crop impaction.
-Can be dusty – The smaller the shavings, the more likely they are to cause respiratory issues in a flock.
*Straw and Hay*
Ex Battery Hens in HouseStraw can be used as a bedding material although it compacts easily and isn’t very absorbent so needs changing regularly.
It is best to use straw in nest boxes and not for bedding. I would only consider using straw if I had a plentiful / cheap supply of it. Chopped straw is the most convenient to use. A major advantage is that it will compost quickly.
Hay must not be used for bedding as it soon gets damp and can cause fungal spores to grow that can cause aspergillosis. This disease is contracted by inhalation when there is a high spore count in the air which can happen in a relatively short period of time given the right conditions.
Nest boxes for hens are usually an exception with hay (although I wouldn’t really recommend it) but you must ensure they are kept clean and dry.
*Chopped Cardboard Paper*
Chopped cardboard is my personal favourite and a good choice for bedding material. It is more absorbent than shredded paper and doesn’t get as compacted as paper or straw. It will compost quickly and can then be dug into the ground as compost. It is dust free which is a big advantage over other bedding types.
Sand for chicken bedding is a time-consuming kind of litter to use, but those who use it, seem to prefer this method above all others. Sand is widely used with the deep-litter method and merely is “turned” when it becomes overly soiled, thus the clean sand from the bottom is brought to the top. The sand clumps like cat litter and when it is turned, it is sent to the bottom and seemingly disappears. Although, it could be said it’s like sweeping dust under a rug. It’s still there and since chickens love to root around the old droppings will most likely catch their eye, and they will peck at it. To prevent this from happening the litter would have to be quite deep and turned often. Some chicken owners chose to remove the clumps of feces as though they were cleaning a litter box; this is where the time commitment comes into play. I have never used this method; however, I would imagine that chickens would love to be able to take dust baths whenever they like. Plus, sand for a chicken coop probably doubles as free-choice grit.
-Clumping Litter – Soiled sand litter is easy to see and clean when needed.
-Dust baths – Chooks will love having 24/7 access to the spa.
-Odor Control – Most people who use this method say that it has great odor control.
-Does Not Compost – Sand does not compost, thus it would be impossible to use as fertilizer.
-Less Cushioning – Chickens jumping from their roosts will have a rough landing.
-Dusty – Sand can be dusty, especially when dry. This could lead to respiratory issues.
-Lack of Odor Control – People who don’t use this method say it smells.