What type of bedding or litter should I use for my chickens?

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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.)

Recommended bedding:

  • Pine shavings
  • Aspen shavings
  • Hardwood shavings
Whatever you choose to use, the bedding in your coop should be at least 2" thick--more is better. There are many bedding materials to choose from, but we do think the best litter is pine, aspen or hardwood shavings (not to be confused with wood chips or mulch). Shavings cost around $6.00-$9.00 per 35 pound "compressed" bag. These can be purchased at a pet store or farm and feed store.

Wood shavings

Recommended with reservations:

  • Straw
  • Mortar sand

NOT recommended:

  • Cedar shavings
  • Paper products
  • Other sands
  • Wood chips
  • Cat litter
  • Hay
Materials like hay and straw are far less absorbent, prone to mold, and require more frequent bedding changes. Hay is particularly bad, because unlike straw, hay still has seed heads, so it can attract pests and become infested. Some materials, like peat moss, cat litter, or paper, are just too dusty. Wood chips are not absorbent enough to work inside the coop, but in some circumstances UNTREATED wood chips or mulch can help keep a muddy run in better condition. DON'T use cedar shavings, no matter what friends or your local feed store tell you: the aromatic oils will irritate your birds' lungs, and make them more susceptible to respiratory problems later in life.

Sand is also recommended by many, but it has some drawbacks. First, it can be costly upfront. It is also heavy--very heavy--so it can be sort of a pain in the neck to lug into your coop. Sand isn't a very good medium for bacterial growth, so that's good news. And droppings can simply be sifted out of sand, meaning it lasts longer than shavings, since shavings break down. However, the fact that shavings degrade along with the droppings means you can use all of it, shavings, droppings and all, in your compost pile. With sand as bedding, though, you can only compost the droppings, and you have to spend time scooping out the chicken coop like it's a gigantic cat litter box. You also have to use the right sand. Mortar sand is recommended (it is less dusty). Other types of sand may have "fines," or very fine dust, that can be irritating to your chickens' lungs.

In your brooder, remember that even baby chicks are big poopers, so make sure you have plenty of bedding, and change it often. 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 in the brooder, 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.