Best Bedding For Chick Brooders

Best Bedding For Chick Brooders

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:

  1. Shavings (small flake, large flake, saw dust). I personally use large flake shavings.
  2. Newsprint
  3. Paper towels
  4. Sand
  5. Straw
  6. Hay

 

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
  • Sawdust

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

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!

Chicken Nesting Boxes: Owner’s Guide

Chicken Nesting Boxes: Owner’s Guide

Chicken nesting boxes are central to owning hens – it’s where the magic of laying eggs happens!

 

Choosing the RIGHT nesting boxes is pretty important – I’m frequently contacted by owners who think their hens aren’t laying eggs.

 

But often, the issue is these hens just aren’t fans of their nesting areas – so they’re laying elsewhere.

 

And we all know that one of the best parts of being a chicken mama is being a chicken grandmama! The excitement can’t be contained when you find the fluffy butts sitting on eggs because they’ve gone broody.

 

But, as I said above, hens don’t just lay anywhere – just where they feel safe.

 

In this article, you’ll discover everything you need to know – whether you’ll buy your “egg depositories” or plan to use a chicken nesting boxes plans pdf to build your own.

 

If you plan to buy nesting boxes, these are the brands we recommend:

 

 

It’s most important that the nesting box is easy for your hens to get in and out of – the look or material is less important than your hens feel safe.

 

What can I use as a chicken nesting box?

Pretty much anything can be a nesting box – a basket, a box, 5 gallon buckets, you name it. The most important thing is that a nesting box is:

 

  • Quiet
  • Clean
  • Dark

 

You can find lots of DIY nesting box plans online – just choose a style that suits your flock and your coop.

 

How many nesting boxes are necessary?

Flocks of different sizes have different needs – you don’t need a million nesting boxes if you only have a few hens! While there really is no hard and fast rule about how many nesting boxes for chickens you should have, a basic rule of thumb is 1 nesting box per 4-5 chickens.

 

Why so few? Chickens are social animals, and hens like to share their laying space. In fact, if you enter your chicken coop at just the right time, you might find 2 or even 3 hens cluttering up ONE nesting box!

 

So, if you’re asking yourself, “how many nesting boxes do I need for 20 chickens?,” rest assured that 5 boxes is enough for 20 chickens.

 

They might only use two of those and making one nesting box for each hen is overkill!

 

How many nesting boxes do you need for 6 chickens?

Remember that for every 4-5 chickens, 1 box is best. So for 6 chickens, 2 boxes is enough.

 

What is the best material for a chicken nesting box?

Wood, metal, and plastic are popular choices for nesting boxes. DIY versions can be made from scrap wood left from a previous project, or plywood would be awesome! You can also make economical plastic chicken nesting boxes out of 5 gallon buckets, milk crates, and even cat litter boxes!

 

Some people like the Roll Out nest boxes you see on Amazon. These are usually made of metal, which is easy to clean and sanitize.

 

 

(Just remember that these contraptions take up space, and gravity plays a huge part for this kind of system – for it to work properly, the roll away nest box angle should be considered.)

 

Whichever material you choose, just remember that it’s important your hens’ living area is frequently cleaned – so choose material that’s easy to sanitize.

 

What’s the best bedding for chicken nest boxes? What do you put in a nesting box?

 

  1. Pine Shavings
  2. Straw
  3. Hay
  4. Cedar Shavings
  5. Grass clippings
  6. Recycled or shredded newspaper
  7. Shredded leaves
  8. Nesting pads

 

For bedding, we use pine shavings. They’re easy to clean, easy to find in farm stores, and economical.

 

Straw and hay are fine as well – you will likely need to change the bedding more often. Some people claim straw and hay can harbor chicken mites. This might be true (but really, any bedding can if you don’t change it often enough).

 

Grass clippings and shredded leaves aren’t recommended. They’re not very absorbent and will get dirty a lot faster. Grass in particular creates a gross, moist environment fast. Newspaper isn’t very absorbent either, and the ink will get on your hens and possibly the eggs.

 

Lastly, some people object to using cedar in their coops, claiming the scent of cedar might harm chickens. While the jury is still out on this, pine shavings make a fine substitute.

 

However, if you find you really have a lot of problems with mites, cedar shavings might be a safer bet – it’s far more likely your hens will be harmed by mites than by cedar.

 

Some people add herbs so their hens have a nice-smelling space and to help them relax and prompt laying.

 

If you want to use a nesting box pad, there’s lots of commercial options. Here’s some brands I recommend:

 

 

Remember: This bedding will basically be the mattress for your hens. Before throwing in anything you find, keep in mind that your hens will be sitting on it – and if they’re comfortable, they’re more likely to use the nesting box.

 

Make sure the bedding is soft enough for the eggs to land on, and that they won’t get cracked if your hens roll them around.

 

The nesting box material should should also be easy for you to clean and sanitize – and prevent chicken mites.

 

Here at the farm, we add ¼ cup of our WormBGone nesting herbs 3-4 times a week to each nesting box to keep internal parasites away and MitesBGone to ward off chicken mites. We also make sure that we change the bedding mix once it gets soiled or wet.

 

The amount of material you use should correspond to the nesting box size as well – you want the nesting box to look full without seeming stuffed (and too stuffy for your hens to easily get in and out).

 

Do nesting boxes need to be elevated?

They can be sitting on the floor or raised. Keep in mind, however, that your hens are prey animals, and they’re easily startled during egg laying time. Nesting boxes that are elevated will help your chickens feel safer and prompt egg laying better than those on the ground. It also keeps the roosters from bothering them during a private moment. It’s also easier to keep poopy shavings away if you elevate the chicken nesting boxes.

 

How high should nesting boxes be off the ground?

18 inches to 2 feet is best so that all your hens can reach them. Chickens can’t fly very well – heavy breeds like brahmas or specialized breeds like silkies don’t fly much at all. So, you’ll want the boxes easily accessible, and any higher than 2 feet might be difficult for some breeds to reach.

 

If you plan to install the boxes higher (or if your coop came with them elevated), it would be great if you also install a perch or ladder to help the flightless members of your flock.

 

When should you open nesting boxes for chickens?

Once hens reach their laying stage at approximately 17 weeks, you can cut the ribbon and pop the champagne! At this stage they will already be accustomed to sleeping in the roosts they won’t get into the habit of sleeping where they should be laying.

 

How do you get chickens to lay eggs in a nesting box?

If your hens aren’t naturally using their nesting boxes, you should first try to figure out why. Are they not safe? Is the area too noisy? Are they dirty? Do your hens free range (which means they might choose a different location to lay)? Again, hens lay where they find it safe and comfortable. Make the nesting box bedding fluffy and clean. You can also use nesting herbs to attract your hens, and if you get really stuck, you can put training eggs in the boxes. These are fake eggs you put in nesting boxes to let pullets know that that is where they should lay their eggs. While this seems silly, chickens really do take the hint!

 

If your hens insist on laying their eggs everywhere, you can block the “wrong” places. This makes them go on a hunt for another safe place.

 

Just remember that if your nesting boxes aren’t:

  • Quiet
  • Clean
  • Dark

You might have a hard time getting your hens to use it!

 

How big do nesting boxes need to be?

Your chicken nesting box size is also important when talking about comfort. 14” x 14” x 16” boxes would be cozy enough for Brahmas, Ameraucanas, Araucanas, and other breeds. Consider how large your chicken is – you want the nesting boxes to be big enough for your hens, but not so big that they feel unsafe or exposed (remember, dark nesting boxes are best!).

 

How do you stop chickens from pooping in their nesting boxes?

It can be hard to stop them pooping in their boxes – chickens (like all birds) don’t have a bladder, so when they gotta go, they just go. Additionally chickens poop and lay eggs from the same area (the vent), so when your hen is laying an egg, some poop might accidentally slip out.

 

That being said, your chickens are more likely to poop in their boxes when they’re NOT laying an egg – meaning, if they’re using their boxes as a bed.

 

No matter how many nesting boxes per chicken you have, remember that the boxes aren’t their sleeping quarters. That’s what roosts are for.

 

Chickens would only poop in the nesting boxes when they treat them as their home (sleeping in them) because they do a lot of pooping at night. So it is essential for them to be trained to sleep in the roosts first before opening the boxes.

 

If you have chickens using their nesting boxes as a sleeping place, evict them! Shoo them or gently remove your hens when you find them getting too comfortable snoozing in those boxes.

 

How do you keep a nesting box clean?

You need to clean it regularly! Make it part of your egg gathering routine to do some housekeeping. Remove soiled bedding, feathers, and poop that you find. If it’s really gross, you’ll have to completely remove all the bedding and wipe down the laying area. You can use water, all-natural wipes, or other cleaning solutions to do the job.

 

Shavings are the easiest to clean while straw is the hardest! It is also the perfect place for pests to hide so it would also help out big time when you think about what to put in chicken nesting boxes.

 

How do you clean your chicken nesting boxes? Leave a comment below!




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Chickens, Frostbite, & Care

Chickens, Frostbite, & Care

Chickens, frostbite, and cold. These three things don’t necessarily all mix well, do they?

Yes, chickens can get frostbite, and yes, they can spring back from it. Every year on our farm, we have to tackle frostbite on combs, wattles, and the occasional toe.

 

You’d think living in the South, we wouldn’t have chickens getting injured from the chilly temperatures. It’s typically in the 30s and 40s here in the winter!

 

It’s not very much fun, but it’s just one of those parts of chicken ownership. And honestly, we’ve not had any chickens effected long term by it.

 

This article is an excerpt from my book Chickens: Naturally Raising A Sustainable Flock You can buy it on Amazon or directly from me (and get the digital version free).

Worried your chickens are suffering from frostbite? Frostbite treatment is easy when you can spot it. Here's what you need to know.

Most of the chickens just go on about their business.

 

If your chickens free range and aren’t kept in a coop during cold temperatures, they’re even more susceptible to frostbite, so it’s important to observe them daily.

 

In this article, I’m going to show you what frostbite in chickens looks like, when to call the vet, and how to help chickens when they do become victims of frostbite.

 

The information below is for informational purposes only and isn’t meant to treat, diagnose, or cure. Use your best judgement and always seek a vet’s advice first.

 

Worried your chickens are suffering from frostbite? Frostbite treatment is easy when you can spot it. Here's what you need to know.

 

What exactly is frostbite & how do I know if my chickens are effected?

In case you’re not 100% sure what it is, here’s a working definition of frostbite (chickens, humans, etc) from Wikipedia:

 

Frostbite is when exposure to low temperatures causes freezing of the skin or other tissues. The underlying mechanism involves injury from ice crystals and blood clots in small blood vessels following thawing.”

 

It’s hard to give an exact temperature when frostbite is an issue for chickens. Just’s just going to depend. In our area, it’s very cold temperatures of below 20 degrees where we’ve had the most trouble.

 

herbs for backyard chickens

 

The thing about frostbite that’s a problem for chickens

With frostbite, there’s an extra quirk. It’s not just about cold temperatures.

 

Unlike conditions like hypothermia, frostbite occurs not just when temperatures are very low, but more often when there’s cold temperatures plus moisture.

 

Yep, good ol’ moisture. Those extra bits of water droplets freeze on the skin, causing more damage than cold temps alone.

 

Which means that when our chickens drink water (aka dunk their wattles in the water), and can’t get dry (or run away when we try to help them dry), their tiny bodies are more susceptible to frostbite.

 

herbs for backyard chickens

 

Signs of frostbite in chickens

The first thing to remember about frostbite and chickens is the condition doesn’t always present in a dramatic way. It might just be a spot here or there on the comb, rather than effecting the entire area. 

 

Worried your chickens are suffering from frostbite? Frostbite treatment is easy when you can spot it. Here's what you need to know.

 

And it can also be extreme, with blackened areas that have clearly gone necrotic.

 

Symptoms of frostbite include:

  • Dark or blackened areas on the comb, wattles, or feet
  • Swelling
  • Blisters
  • Limping
  • Lying down/not wanting to stand

 

It’s easy to confuse frostbite with fowl pox since they can look similar from blackened areas, but it’s important to also consider the season.

 

Chickens are unlikely to get frostbite in the summer, for example. Fowl pox, which also effects the combs and wattles, also looks more raised and scabby.

 

(You can see photos of fowlpox right here)

 

It’s also possible to confuse frostbite with bumblefoot, since both can cause the pads of the feet to swell.

 

While there’s varying degrees of frostbite, what I’ve observed in chickens is that their skin will turn either white or black (depending on severity), and in extreme cases turn black, harden, and start to curl.

 

Worried your chickens are suffering from frostbite? Frostbite treatment is easy when you can spot it. Here's what you need to know.

 

At the point of hardening and curling, it’s likely the skin on your chickens’ combs and/or wattles has died (confirm this with a vet, however).

 

Toes and feet are relatively rare victims of cold weather here, although in other areas of the USA, it’s a frequent occurrence. (If toes or feet are involved, you can follow the procedures below.)

 

Just remember that if this happens to your chickens, it’s not the end of their lives unless it goes untreated.

 

In nearly all of the cases of frostbite we’ve had on our farm, it’s been mild enough that the skin returns to normal and the chickens are perfectly fine, although it can take a while for the skin to return completely back to normal – it’s been damaged after all!

 

herbs for backyard chickens

 

Preventing frostbite

First, let’s talk about how to prevent frostbite because it’s relatively easy as long as you can catch your chickens.

 

Petroleum jelly is approved by the Food And Drug Administration as a skin protectant, and that’s because – you guessed it – it protects skin.

 

Basically, it acts as a barrier between your chickens’ body and the cold and/or wind. If your chickens drink, it will help keep water off their wattles, which also helps prevent frostbite.

 

We apply it when we get cold snaps, and daily until the temperatures rise.

 

In addition, keeping your chickens inside on particularly cold days or chilly, wet days will reduce the chances your chickens will suffer from frostbite. It’s generally a good idea anyway, since freezing rain can kill your chickens.

 

If your flock keeps getting frostbite because they dunk their wattles in water, then you can change to a different type of waterer, or raise their water dishes off the ground.

 

For feet, you can put straw on the ground in their coop and run, which is a great insulator.

 

Worried your chickens are suffering from frostbite? Frostbite treatment is easy when you can spot it. Here's what you need to know.

How help chickens with frostbite

This is what we do on our farm. Use your best judgement to determine what’s best for your flock.

 

To help chickens effected by frostbite, first bring the area of concern (combs, wattles, limbs, etc) lukewarm water.

 

It’s important not to warm them too quickly (which can cause nerve damage), so bring your chickens inside and allow them to get warm.

 

For combs and wattles, you can apply warm water with a cloth until you see circulation return and the area feels warm or “normal.” For feet, you can place them in lukewarm water until you see circulation return.

 

Apply an antibacterial ointment (natural or pharmaceutical) to help the skin become healthy and ward off infections.

 

Place them in a crate in a quiet area with a towel, food, and water and keep them inside until the very cold has passed or your chickens seem back to normal.

 

If the damage is severe, it’s best to consult a vet. Even a vet inexperienced with chickens can provide advice since the procedure won’t be that different than helping any other domestic animal.

 

If you think your chickens might have an infection or need to lose a limb from frostbite damage, you should consult with a veterinarian who can advise you whether the effected area should be removed (again, even a vet inexperienced with chickens can advise you best.)

 

In my book Chickens: Naturally Raising A Sustainable Flock, I show you how to care for your chickens so they stay healthy, regardless of the season, and there’s detailed information about chickens, frostbite, and the cold. You can get your copy here.

 

herbs for backyard chickens

 

Free Duck House Plans: We Built A Free Duck House In 1 Hour With Recycled Materials (And So Can You!)

Free Duck House Plans: We Built A Free Duck House In 1 Hour With Recycled Materials (And So Can You!)

If you have ducks, they’ll need a place to live, right? That’s where our free duck house plans come in!

 

We added 4 new ducks to our farm this year: 2 Khaki Campbells and 2 Pekins. We even hit the jackpot and managed to get both a hen and a dake of each breed! Sometimes things just work out.

 

Since they needed a safe place to live, grow, and lay eggs (fingers crossed for ducklings!), we drew up plans to build them a duck house for free. And, naturally, we used recycled materials.

 

Earlier in the year, we invested a tin shed that was meant to house horse grain – until a tornado came by with other plans.

 

To build our duck house and salvage some of the tin, we used it for our duck house.

 

Here’s how you can build a duck house too, too, using our free plans!

 

Build a duck house that’s safe

 

Perhaps more so than when building a chicken coop, the #1 thing you should keep in mind with your duck house is it needs to be safe from predators. Chickens can fly up to roost, but drakes and hens cannot, and so have one less defense than chickens should a predator enter their domain. 

 

They call easy targets “sitting ducks” for a reason, so our free plans take this into consideration.

 

So, it’s best to build your duck house inside a safe area. We use an old cotton trailer.

 

Build a duck house in 1 hour and for free!

 

With it’s thick wire walls (much thicker than chicken wire), predators don’t have a hope of ripping it open, and the sides are high enough that it would take a very committed predator to jump it. Plus, it’s big enough that our fluffy butts are free to roam around a good-sized space.

 

It’s also transportable, and can be moved every month or so to keep the parasite issue at bay.

 

We’ve even gone a step further and given our goat, Dahlia, the job of “protecting” the ducks. She won’t actually run off a predator, but her size makes sneaky raccoons and opossums think twice about getting a free meal.

 

To protect your duck flock, if you can’t find a cotton trailer or something similar, hardware cloth is a good option. It’s thicker and sturdier than chicken wire, and since ducks are pretty defenseless, you will want to make sure their area is secure.

 

Duck house roofs

Next, your duck house will need to have an area that provides shade and protection from rain, snow, ice, etc.

 

We reused an old shed we had; if you don’t have anything similar, even an old dog house would work.

 

It’s easy to make small roof trusses with 2×6 wood, and it will be sturdy enough to last. Any free roofing material will work; you just want to make sure it will last when wind, rain, and other bad weather comes.

 

The roof should be around 3 feet in height as a minimum, but remember that you will have to get in there to at least clean it out, or even to help a sick or hurt duck.

 

Ours is made of recycled tin, and is 4 feet high – tall enough to allow us to get through if we’re crouching.

 

It doesn’t look like much, but it’s been tested in 60 MPH winds during tornado season, and it’s stood it’s ground – so we know it works!

 

We installed a corrugated plastic roof in the back so the goat has a place to lay – she loves her sun naps, and the ground stays dry.

 

The plastic roof also has the added benefit of keeping predators (such as hawks) out while allowing for air circulation and light.

 

Build a duck house in 1 hour and for free!

Space considerations

You will also need around 4 square feet of floor space inside the house itself for each duck you plan to have inside.

 

You will also want  to have at least 10 square feet of outside space for each duck; this will let them feel free, and help prevent stress and pecking order issues (believe me, the drakes will bring enough pecking order drama).

 

Our duck house plans let us have an open end on each side, but if yours will have a door, it should be at least 14 inches in width and 14 inches in height. (Remember, you will need a separate entrance for you to get into it).

 

Since modern hens and drakes have been bred to be heavier and flightless, it’s best if your duck house is on the ground. If you really want it raised, be sure to add a ramp so your feathered friends can actually use their new home.

 

You will also want enough space to put a kiddie pool full of water – your duck flock will undoubtedly enjoy taking baths. Ours go wild whenever it rains, we spray them with water, or the sprinkler hits them. It’s the highlight of their day!

What kind of bedding should be in your duck house?

There’s lots and lots of opinions about this, but I’ve found a simple solution is to just use straw. It’s clean, dry, and easy to remove.

 

Ducks are pretty messy, and they definitely poop more than chickens.

 

Once your hen ducks start laying eggs, they will do so on the ground. Straw will help keep the eggs clean, and give your hens a comfortable place to do their business. Like chickens, they like a bit of privacy, although ours have never used nesting boxes.

 

How long did it take to put our plans into reality?

Our duck house only took us about an hour to put together, once we had our plans figured out (the design might take you another hour).

 

We all want chicken coops and duck houses that look beautiful, but what matters most is that it’s safe for your flock – so don’t worry too much about the design as long as it’s functional!

I’d like to hear from you!

Have you used free duck house plans on your farm? What are your best tips? Leave them in a comment below!

The Best Bedding For Backyard Chickens [Podcast]

The Best Bedding For Backyard Chickens [Podcast]

If you’ve ever asked yourself “what’s the best bedding for a chicken coop,” the first thing you should know is, for some reason, this is a very controversial topic in the chicken world.

 

I think it is very interesting how people get emotional about something as simple as the best bedding for a chicken coop, because I think, like anything in life, there’s a wide range of answers, and all that matters is what’s best for you and your flock.

 

There is also some argument out there that the best bedding for chickens is very simple (this is if you don’t consider most bedding for chicken coops to be simple), because if it turns into this huge job, nobody is going to want to clean their coop.

 

But if you are doing your best job cleaning your chicken coop every week, it shouldn’t turn into a big job, regardless of your chicken bedding choice.

 

Now, the other really interesting thing I’ve noticed is that a lot of people assign a moral value to a very innocuous choice.

 

(Of course, naysayers would say it is not innocuous, but really, something like whether it’s best to choose sand or straw for your coop is an innocuous choice in the grand scheme of things – let’s face it), and it’s really interesting that as a society we decided to assign a moral value to whether or not someone agrees with our individual choices.

 

So, going into this discussion of the best chicken coop bedding, we aren’t assigning moral values to whether you choose to use sand, shavings, straw, or whatever. You’re not a good person if you pick one, and a bad person if you pick another.

 

In this article, we are going to discuss the 5 best chicken coop bedding choices, but the best takeaway I can offer is no matter what bedding you choose, if you do not clean your chicken coop regularly, it’s useless.

 

Even with the best chicken bedding ever, if it’s not cleaned regularly, your coop is going to be nasty and smelly, and it will harbor disease, pests, and mold.

 

This article is just a basic rundown of your bedding choices. You can go home to your own chicken coop and decide what works for you.

 

What’s the best bedding for a chicken coop?


The chicken bedding choices we are going to discuss in this article are straw, hay, shavings (including small and large shavings, as well as sawdust), dirt, and sand.

Straw

Straw is a perfectly acceptable choice for bedding. (Full disclosure: We actually do use straw for no reason other than it is readily available, and it is clean and dry.) There are some groups out there that would lead you to believe you are a terrible, horrible chicken owner if you use straw. According to these thinkers, straw will harbor bugs, mold, and moisture.


Does straw retain moisture? Well, I personally disagree with that line of thinking. In addition to owning chickens, we are also large animal owners. So in any given year, we have plenty of livestock births on our property, and we do it in straw, and that’s because it’s clean, low dust, and absorbent. The top farms internationally use straw, and so do some veterinary clinics.

 

When you’ve cleaned horse and pig placenta out of a straw-lined stall, you get a very good sense of whether it is a good, absorbent, bedding choice. I can tell you from my experience, it works very well to keep disgusting messes at bay.


Will it harbor mites, bugs, and diseases? Possibly, but the truth of the matter is that any chicken bedding is going to harbor something.

 

If you are cleaning your coop regularly, mold, mites, and disease should not be an issue. You can use things like peppermint essential oil or other things in your coop to reduce the amount of mites if you’re concerned about straw.

 

Hay

 

Hay is another option on our list of the best bedding for chicken coops. Hay is dried grass, but unlike straw, it’s not totally dry. There is some moisture content to it, and it is more likely to mold.

 

Hay also has the potential to harbor bacteria, pests, and mites.


I have used hay in the past when it is more readily available (for example, if we have a bale that’s not adequate for horses, but still okay in the chicken coop for a week). If you are using hay, and you’re regularly cleaning your coop, you are less likely to run into issues like respiratory diseases and mites.

 

Shavings

Shavings, which include small flake, large flake, and sawdust, are very clean and they are absorbent. But because they don’t allow air to flow, if they get wet, you need to replace them with dry shavings, because it’s likely to get moldy and stinky.

 

Dust from shavings can cause respiratory diseases, especially if you are using it in a closed coop situation, and especially if you tossing it to reduce the smell or mold, and to clean up whatever poop may be in there.


In addition, chickens can eat the shavings, and it can cause a crop impaction.

 

 

Dirt

 

Dirt is another option for bedding,  but unlike the other choices on this list, I don’t think it’s the best bedding for a chicken coop. It can smell very quickly and very easily because there is nothing absorbing the urine and feces.

 

Because of this, dirt can harbor pathogens such as salmonella and campylobacter (i.e., the sort of pathogens that occur in a chicken’s gut), and that can increase the pathogen load in your chickens, and potentially in your eggs.

 

Sand

 

Sand seems to be very controversial in the chicken world. People who use sand say it’s the best because it doesn’t contain bad bacteria or smell, and it is very easy to clean. We do not personally use sand because I am concerned about the smell factor, and also because it seems a little bit like kitty litter to me, where you are constantly having to lift stuff up. It’s extremely humid where we live, and it rains a lot, and it’s not the best option for us.


On the other hand, people who are against sand report it causes crop infections, it can be dusty, and sand is known to harbor bacteria like E. coli.

 

Chickens already have a small amount of E. coli in their gut, and honestly, anything out there can harbor E. coli, such as shavings, sand, and straw.

 

Sand also has the potential to cause respiratory diseases (but so can sawdust, shavings, hay, and mold).  

 

It can also cause things like coccidiosis, and it can harbor mites.

 


Ventilation

 

If you are using straw, hay, or shavings, adequate ventilation is going to reduce that moisture. Make sure to have windows in your chicken coop open and to leave the doors open during the day if they are allowed to go outside.

Just remember that regardless of the bedding you choose (even if it’s the best in the world), if you do not clean your coop, it is going to be nasty and your chickens are going to have a poor living environment.

 

Links I mention:

Manna Pro

Chickens: Naturally Raising A Sustainable Flock

 

 

I’d like to hear from you!

What do you think is the best bedding? Leave a comment below!

 

More Chicken Coop Resources:


Chickens: Naturally Raising A Sustainable Flock is my best selling book about raising healthy hens! You’ll learn how to handle sticky first aid situations, raise baby chicks with the week-by-week checklist, how to give the best care even in the worst weather, and more!

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