What type of bedding or litter should I use for my chickens?
Bedding is an important part of keeping your chickens happy and healthy. On the coop floor the bedding will provide a soft surface for your chickens to walk on and will absorb droppings and odor. You want your coop sanitary and sweet-smelling, don't you? In the nest, bedding will give freshly-laid eggs a soft landing so they don't crack. (A cracked egg is a spoiled egg.)
There are many bedding materials to choose from, but we think the best is pine wood shavings (not to be confused with pine chips). Pine shavings cost $6.00-$9.00 per 35 pound "compressed" bag. These can be purchased at a pet store or garden supply store. Other materials, like hay and straw, are either far less absorbent or more likely to become infested. Some materials, like peat moss, are just too dusty.
The bedding in your coop should be at least 2" thick--more is better. In your brooder, remember that even baby chicks are big poopers, so make sure you have plenty of bedding. Again, the best is pine shavings. Many areas will have aspen shavings available, and those work too. Resist the urge to use newspaper! It's not nearly as absorbent, and worse, the slippery surface can lead to a permanent deformity called "splayed leg" which can ultimate result in the other chickens picking on the affected bird to death. Many people also swear by paper towels, changed often, but that is fairly expensive and more time consuming than pine shavings. Plus, paper products are more likely to mold than shavings--you don't want mold in the brooder! That can lead to many illnesses.
DON'T use cedar shavings, no matter what friends or your local feed store tell you: the aromatic oils will irritate your chicks' lungs, and make them more susceptible to respiratory problems later in life.)