Common Chicken Bedding Materials


Raising chickens can be a great endeavor and beneficial for many reasons. Raising livestock comes with its rewards, however, to raise animals efficiently you must make sure their health and happiness are in top condition.

What bedding is best for chickens depends on your needs and the needs of your chickens. The maintenance and health of your chicken is crucial to your operation. You can choose from several common chicken bedding materials such as straw, sawdust, woodchips, sand, shredded leaves, recycled paper and more.

The different types of bedding for chickens all have their pros and cons. Some are easier to clean than others. Some bedding that others recommend can be unhealthy and require more maintenance to keep the chicken housing clean and the chicken happy.

The health and happiness of your chicken should be your top priority. A happy healthy chicken lays many eggs and keeps the yard in good spirits.

We have put together a few recommendations for bedding and would like you to take all the facts and information into consideration when choosing what bedding is best for your chickens.

First, here are a few chicken words and terms to help you better understand the process of choosing bedding:

Litter – The bedding that is soiled is known as litter. These are the mediums you will choose from when choosing a bedding/litter for your chickens.
Coop – The coop is the inside housing where your chickens live, sleep, and lay eggs.
Chicken Run – The run is the fenced-in outdoor area around your coop where the chickens run around.
Nest boxes – Nesting boxes are built inside the coop for the chickens to lay their eggs individually, giving them their own comfortable space.
common-chicken-bedding-materials

Why Does Bedding Matter?

The bedding you choose will determine the amount of work it takes to clean your coop and nesting boxes. Some bedding can go longer than others without being replaced and some must be replaced every few days.

The health of your chickens will determine how well they lay eggs and how good the eggs will be. To make sure that your chickens are in top health you must stay on top of bedding/litter.

Manure management must be a practice that you make into a routine that works for your birds and for you.

You want to choose a litter that makes manure management easy and choose one that does not get moldy or unhealthy for the chickens.

Chicken bedding comes in all types of mediums, wood products, sand, shredded leaves, even hemp makes a good quality bedding for chickens.

The Bedding Process

The process for raising chickens has many parts, one of which is bedding. Bedding is used in the run, the coop, and in the nesting boxes. You may want to use different types of bedding for different locations.

Inside the coop, you must change out bedding regularly depending on the type of medium you use. You will want to get into a routine of keeping up with manure management and bedding replacement.

Some bedding must be replaced or turned over every week to keep it from molding and becoming unsafe for the chickens.

Other bedding can go months, and some can be used for deep litter, only having to be changed once or twice a year.

cedar-wood-shavings

What is the Deep Litter Method?

The deep litter method is the process where once your chickens have soiled the first layer of litter/bedding, you may add more layers. This is done inside the coop itself and can take quite a bit of maintenance.

Different types of bedding work better for the deep litter method, while others can make it an unhealthy approach.

As long as you clean the feces from each layer by scooping it out, much like a cat’s litter box, you may add layers on top without replacing it altogether. This helps cut costs of bedding but can also be hard to upkeep if problems like mold occur.

This method can also cause more odors inside the coop and over time can get much worse.

If done properly with the best litter, it can be a great process for raising chickens and keeping up with the coop.

egg-on-straw-nesting

Types of Bedding Materials for Chickens

Now that you know what bedding is and that there are many types of beddings out there, let’s go over a few of the options.

  1. Sawdust
  2. Wood shavings
  3. Sand
  4. Straw
  5. Shredded paper
  6. Shredded leaves
  7. Hay or cut grass
  8. Hemp

Sawdust

The first on the list is sawdust. This is a cheap and easy alternative for chicken bedding. Sawdust absorbs fluids and odors, making it an easy bedding for chickens. It helps dry chicken feces fast and is easy to scoop out.

This could be a great chicken bedding if you have access to lots of sawdust. The one drawback to sawdust, is oftentimes it is too fine and can get into the air, causing raspatory problems for chickens.  

Wood Shavings

There are multiple types of wood shavings, cedar shavings, pine shavings, all of which have their uses. Pine shavings work great as a litter that absorbs fluids without breaking down into finer pieces, lasting longer and making it easy to clean.

Cedar shavings work much the same, the difference being that cedar has a nice smell to it. On the other hand, the strong smell of cedar could also cause raspatory issues for chickens, although this is just speculated.

Wood shavings can be a cheap and easily obtainable medium for chicken bedding, it’s available at most hardware stores, big box stores, and supply stores.

Sand

Using sand has many benefits. It can be used for the deep litter method and it makes it easy to scoop out the dried feces. It soaks up fluids well and holds the odor in when adding more sand on top.

The drawback of sand is that it can be expensive. Most chicken operations have a budget and sometimes sand is just too expensive, especially for larger operations.

It can be turned over easily and makes the management and process much quicker. It is also a great bedding for the run area. Many people use sand for their chicken run because it helps in areas that have a lot of weather. It compacts and doesn’t break down like other bedding.

Tip: Use builders’ sand, it has bigger pieces and helps absorb the feces better. Playground sand can be too thin and cause massive clumping.

Straw

Straw is your cheapest option. It’s easy to obtain and spreads nicely. A lot of people use straw for its low cost; however, it is also the most prone to becoming moldy and unhealthy.

This doesn’t mean it can’t be used, but it does mean that it must be changed more regularly, usually at least once a week or every two weeks. You will want to keep an eye on it. We recommend checking straw bedding once a week to make sure that it does not contain mold.

Shredded Paper

Another great choice is shredded paper or recycled paper. This is a cheap option that works well, but it comes with a warning. Many inks used in newspaper and office printed materials are toxic to chickens. If you are going to use shredded paper it is best to use paper that has little or no ink.

Glossy paper is also best avoided as it can cause slippery surfaces. The last thing you want to do is slip and fall into your chicken’s dirty bedding!

Shredded Leaves

Many chicken operations have had great success with shredded leaves. They are another cheap and oftentimes free medium to use for bedding. It’s easy to turn over and lasts weeks to months.

It absorbs fluids well, however scooping out the feces can be a little clumpier and clingier. Much like straw, you must keep an eye on shredded leaves to make sure that no mold is forming. Checking once a week will keep you from having sick chickens on your hands.

Hay

Hay or cut and dried grass can also be used as a cheap solution for chicken bedding. Much like shredded leaves, shredded hay and grass absorb fluids and odors, making it a great litter.

However, just like with straw and leaves, you must check it often for mold and replace it more often than the other mediums. Using cheaper mediums for bedding can mean more maintenance and oftentimes isn’t worth the trouble to save a couple of bucks.

Hemp

This is by far our favorite bedding. Hemp has grown in popularity of the years in many industries. The use of hemp for bedding has many benefits. The first being that it can be used in deep litter methods, and if used correctly can go all year long.

As long as your manure management is well maintained, scooping out the feces and turning the hemp often, there is little further maintenance, and less of the product is needed.

Hemp is much more absorbent than the other types of bedding. This means you can change it less often and it makes a softer more comfortable bedding for your hens.

The downside of hemp is that it is not legal in some states (since it is a cannabis product) and that it is more expensive than the other beddings. Since it absorbs more and allows it to be cleaned and replaced less, the cost can even out.

Make sure to check hemp laws in your state before considering it as a bedding medium.

hen-standing-on-straw

Best Bedding for the Coop

For the coop, we suggest using wood chips or hemp. Both make the deep litter method work very well. Saving a ton of money on litter and maintenance. Pine chips work best here since they are the cheaper of the two types of wood chips.

Since this is where a lot of the feces is dropped, the wood chips absorb the feces and odor, allowing you to scoop the feces out easily.

While this is not the cheapest option, it’s the best for the health of the chickens and the coop.

Best Bedding for the Run

For the run, we suggest using sand. It makes a good medium for outdoors, that holds up well to the weather. While it is the more expensive of the mediums, it will save you time in management.

It also makes scooping up feces a breeze and absorbs odor. Sometimes chickens will take dust baths, rolling around in the dirt, sand makes it much cleaner and healthier for the chickens.

Best Bedding for the Nesting Boxes

For nesting boxes, we suggest using wood shavings or hemp. Both have the best benefits of all the mediums. They absorb well and they make a soft-landing zone for the eggs. Overall, they are just more comfortable for the hens.

You may also use cedar shavings here since chickens only spend time in the nesting boxes when they are laying eggs and may not be as exposed to the possible raspatory dangers of cedar.

Hemp is the most comfortable of all the bedding. It also absorbs fluids the best keeping your bedding clean and easy to manage.

Pest Control for Bedding

There are natural ways to keep pests and bugs out of your chicken bedding. You may use certain herbs in your bedding that help repel pests that can cause your chickens to become unhealthy.

Herbs that can be used as pest control:

  • Rosemary
  • Lavender
  • Mint
  • Basil

These are just a few that work great. You can grind them up or crush them to be added to your bedding. They help keep away mosquitos, ticks, mites, rodents and more.

Lavender is great to use in your nesting boxes because it causes a relaxing and calming environment for the hens.

You should make the environment where your hens lay eggs as inviting as possible while keeping out pests and improving their health.

white-hen-straw-bedding

Best Bedding for chicken in the Winter

Chickens are hardy birds, however, if you do not have your coop warm enough in winter it will reduce the number of eggs that they lay. The best way to combat the cold is to use plenty of bedding.

While straw is not the best bedding, because it stays wet and molds, it is the best for insulating. You may want to insulate parts of your coop in the winter with straw, while still considering other mediums for your litter.

Use straw as a filler for the areas where they do not urinate as much. Winterizing your coop with straw is the best option for bedding in the winter.

Composting

Learning the correct procedures for composting your chicken’s feces and used bedding can be crucial to your chicken operation. This is especially true in urban areas, where people may complain about the smell.

Make sure that you scoop away their feces regularly. You may add it to a composting pile to be used in the garden and for other purposes. Chicken feces is high in nitrogen and makes a great compost material.

Chicken manure contains pathogens that can be harmful. For this reason, you will want to wash your hands before and after. It is also a best practice to use gloves when handling chicken manure or compost.

There is a 120-day curing period for composting that contains chicken manure. This gives it time to for the pathogens to die, so that it can be used safely in home gardens.

feather-resting-on-pine-needles-chicken-bed

Some Last Minute Tips

  • Happy chickens lay more eggs. If you have the money to use the higher quality bedding, we suggest you do. The hens will thank you.
  • Straw is great for winterizing and is cheap but is not the best medium because it stays wet and absorbs less.
  • If you are looking for the option with the least amount of maintenance, we suggest using the deep litter method.
  • Have fun with it. While it takes a little bit of work setting up your chicken coop and run, it can be a fun experience!

Related Questions

Are all beddings safe in the summer? All the beddings listed in this article are safe to use throughout the year. Some beddings hold up better than others in the hottest months. Sand is probably the best bedding for areas that get very hot in the summer.

Which bedding is the most comfortable? Hemp is the most comfortable bedding, it’s soft and absorbent, allowing the hens to be comfortable as well as having a soft landing-zone for the eggs. Next to hemp wood shavings is the most comfortable bedding that we recommend.

Chad Kilpatrick

Chad Kilpatrick is a writer that is passionate about farming and livestock. He has experience in raising goats as well as cows, pigs, and chickens.

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