The controversy around bedding for chickens and baby chicks always makes me giggle.
Mostly because, to me, there are clear winners in the quest to keep your baby chicks’ pens clean.
In this video, I break down pros and cons of some of the most common types of bedding and provide my own recommendations for them.
The six types of bedding discussed are as follows:
- Shavings (small flake, large flake, saw dust). I personally use large flake shavings.
- Paper towels
While it may appear to be a random listing of bedding, to me, there is a clear order, where my strongest recommendations are at the top, and as we go down the list, we get into types that are less ideal as bedding for baby chicks.
Shavings (Small Flake, Large Flake, Sawdust)
We use shavings because they’re cheap and they are easy to find. They’re also easy to clean, and they keep everything clean.
You have some options:
- Big flake (they literally just have big flakes in them.)
- Small flake shavings
I prefer big flake shavings because it’s really hard for the chicks to actually swallow them. Because they’re curious by nature, you’ll see chicks try and eat the shavings.
They’re not going to be successful in 99.9% of cases because obviously it’s just too big.
However, with smaller flake shavings and particularly sawdust, there’s a chance that they could swallow the wood shavings.
It’s dangerous because they’re eating something that’s not food, and it’s taking up space in their digestive system where actual food could be.
Small flakes and shavings also can cause choking, or it can cause obstructions in their digestive system.
The type of wood in the shavings is also something to consider. Pine shavings are best, because cedar shavings give off fumes that can harm the chicks. So stick with pine and you can’t go wrong.
Newsprint, Paper Towels, & Cloth Towels
Something else that’s pretty popular to use is newspaper and/or towels. These are both okay, and I’ll use them in a pinch. However, the newspaper is not very absorbent.
For example, if they spill their water, you’re going to have a mess. And the last thing that you want is for baby chicks to get wet – because once they get wet, they get cold. And then once they get cold, they stop eating.
Newsprint also has ink on it, which might harm your chicks. We don’t know exactly what’s in these newsprint inks!
I’ve used towels before and they’re okay. But they’re not very absorbent for smells. If your chicks poop on towels (and they will), it can smell a lot more than shavings because there’s nothing to mask the smell.
Sand is another bedding that’s become more popular in the past few years. Sand is not my favorite for a few different reasons.
The particles are pretty small, so the chicks are going to try and eat it. Additionally, you don’t really know what’s on it. Chemicals? Loads of bacteria? You get the point.
It also doesn’t absorb very well. Your chickens will be pooping on the sand, which means it’ll smell in the rain.
A lot of people like sand because it’s easy to clean. While it is a little bit like kitty litter, it doesn’t absorb the smell very well, and it gets mushy and gross.
Personally, I don’t use it and to the people who follow me, I don’t really recommend it for baby chicks.
Hay and Straw
I’ve used hay and straw in the past. Hay is not quite as good as straw. Straw tends to be more absorbent, and it is easier to get. It’s little more sterile than hay.
Hay could have bugs in it. It could have seeds from who knows what weeds, which can poison your chicks.
They’re pretty good substitutes for shavings when you can’t get shavings. They’re not super absorbent, and they don’t really mask the smell.
With straw and especially hay, I’ve found you have to clean it two or three times a day to keep the scent down. As your chicks get older, and they start eating more, and their poop starts to get stinkier, a brooder with hay or straw can turn into a gross mess very quickly. So that’s another reason why I just prefer shavings.
I hope this helps you decide which bedding for chickens is best for you!
Maat van Uitert is a backyard chicken and sustainable living expert. She is also the author of Chickens: Naturally Raising A Sustainable Flock, which was a best seller in it’s Amazon category. Maat has been featured on NBC, CBS, AOL Finance, Community Chickens, the Huffington Post, Chickens magazine, Backyard Poultry, and Countryside Magazine. She lives on her farm in Southeast Missouri with her husband, two children, and about a million chickens and ducks. You can follow Maat on Facebook here and Instagram here.