Top 5 Choices For Chicken Coop Bedding

There’s a reason people refer to getting settled in as “nesting.” Chickens are the masters of creating a comfy nook for themselves to either roost or lay their delicious eggs. Planning for chickens includes the vital decision of which type of bedding to use. 

Bedding serves many purposes besides comfort; it must also provide a means of odor control, a method of absorption, and a place for chickens to lay their eggs. A dirty, humid chicken coop is an excellent place for bacteria and parasites to thrive.

In the Brooder

Baby chicks are fragile little creatures, and they are just beginning to understand the world around them. Even though they are young, their natural instincts are powerful.  As soon as they have the strength, they start pecking and scratching at anything and everything. Choosing a soft litter that absorbs well is an essential part of brooder basics. Shavings are an excellent choice as long as they are not too small or dusty. It won’t hurt the chicks if they decide to start eating the shavings, and in most cases, they will determine it doesn’t taste that great anyway, but to be safe, a large-cut shaving would probably be the best option. 

Adult Chickens

Chickens are delightful animals, but let’s face it, they are messy little critters too. They poop anywhere and everywhere, even as they roost at night, and their droppings are quite wet. To top it all off, they love to make even more of a mess. To this day, I cannot figure out how they manage to get their water so filthy in 24 hours. That’s why I always recommend an automatic chicken waterer

There are many options for bedding, and what works for one person may not work for the next. There is truly no right or wrong answer here, but let’s examine the pros and cons of some of the most popular types of chicken litter. 

Straw

Using straw as bedding is like to getting back to basics. Before wood chippers and packaged shavings from the local supply store, farmers used straw. I always think, well if it was good enough for them, then it’s still good enough for me. It works just fine for bedding, but there are a few things to consider when using any kind of long, dried, grass for chicken litter.

Pros: 

  • Accessible – Straw is easy to find in most areas. Straw can be found by searching classifieds or asking local farmers if they can spare enough to sell to a chicken fancier. 
  • Fun – Chickens love to scratch and play in straw.
  • Warm – Since straw is hollow, it acts as an insulator and can help keep chickens warm in cold climates. 

Cons:

  • Lacks Absorption – Straw is not very absorbent, and it needs to be removed and replaced often. 
  • Difficult to Clean – It can be difficult to clean due to knotting, matting, and lack of clumping. 
  • Stinky – Odors are more prevalent because that it is not very absorbent. 
  • Pesticides – Pesticides and chickens are not a safe mix. Many farmers spray their straw with pesticides.

chicken coop straw bedding

Shavings 

Shavings are a favorite among chicken owners, and this type of bedding comes in different forms of wood. The most common kinds of shavings are Pine and Cedar although there is a lot of talk about the possibility of cedar being toxic to chickens. I love to use shavings due to odor control and ease of cleaning. It is much easier to clean shavings than it is to clean knotted, wet, straw.

Pros:

  • Excellent Absorption
  • Easily attainable – Shavings can be picked up at local feed stores
  • Easy to Clean – Shavings can be fluffed and forked up much easier than straw bedding. 
  • Great Odor Control – Because shavings are typically more absorbent than straw, it is also better at controlling odors. 

Cons:

  • Cost – Depending upon coop size, using shavings can become somewhat pricey. 
  • Crop impaction – Since chickens love to scratch and peck, they may decide to ingest the shavings which have been known to cause crop impaction.
  • Can be dusty – The smaller the shavings, the more likely they are to cause respiratory issues in a flock.

chicken coop shavings bedding

Sand

Sand for chicken bedding is a time-consuming kind of litter to use, but those who use it, seem to prefer this method above all others. Sand is widely used with the deep-litter method and merely is “turned” when it becomes overly soiled, thus the clean sand from the bottom is brought to the top. The sand clumps like cat litter and when it is turned, it is sent to the bottom and seemingly disappears.  Although, it could be said it’s like sweeping dust under a rug. It’s still there and since chickens love to root around the old droppings will most likely catch their eye, and they will peck at it. To prevent this from happening the litter would have to be quite deep and turned often. Some chicken owners chose to remove the clumps of feces as though they were cleaning a litter box; this is where the time commitment comes into play. I have never used this method; however, I would imagine that chickens would love to be able to take dust baths whenever they like. Plus, sand for a chicken coop probably doubles as free-choice grit.

Pros:

  • Clumping Litter – Soiled sand litter is easy to see and clean when needed. 
  • Dust baths – Chooks will love having 24/7 access to the spa.
  • Odor Control – Most people who use this method say that it has great odor control.

Cons:

  • Does Not Compost – Sand does not compost, thus it would be impossible to use as fertilizer.
  • Less Cushioning – Chickens jumping from their roosts will have a rough landing. 
  • Dusty – Sand can be dusty, especially when dry. This could lead to respiratory issues. 
  • Lack of Odor Control – People who don’t use this method say it smells. 

Recycled Paper

Paper is best left for the brooder box. It would take a lot of recycled paper to cover an entire coop, but it is an excellent option for young chicks because it’s incredibly soft and gentle on the babies. However, it absorbs quickly and needs to be changed often. With that being said, it is not the best for odor control.

Deep Litter Method

The deep litter method has gained a lot of traction among chicken owners over the past few years. Litter type will also depend on whether or not the deep litter method will be used. Sand, for example, cannot be used for this method of bedding. There are many benefits of this method if done correctly, including ease of use, natural warming insulation, and the creation of fertilizer.

The deep litter method goes something like this: a deep base of either straw or shavings is added to the coop initially. Then, once a week more litter is added along with some tasty morsels that will entice the chickens to scratch and aerate their own compost which, in turn, promotes decomposition. After a year, or once the litter is about a foot deep, it’s time to clean! All but a small layer, which is alive with good microbes, is left behind to start the process over again. 

Once the litter is removed, it can be used as fertilizer that can be directly added to a flower or vegetable garden. It is essential to select bedding that has not been sprayed with pesticides to ensure it does not enter the chicken’s system, your eggs, or your flower bed. This method is a harmonious, natural, and easy way to keep chickens. 

Composting

Chicken manure is one of the best forms of fertilizer; however, it cannot be used directly on a garden due to its high nitrogen content. However, with the right type of bedding, and a little patience, it can be a fantastic fertilizer. Most types of bedding are fine to use if it will eventually make its way to the garden; however, it is wise to ensure that all bedding is free of chemicals and other pesticides before using it. 

Chickens are amazing animals to raise due to the many different benefits they can provide to their human family. They give fresh eggs, meat, companionship, entertainment, and droppings.  Yes, with the right kind of bedding, we will love them for their poop too—as fertilizer, that is. 

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Comments

  1. Al says

    I’ve been really curious about using wood chips as bedding since they are generally free. Would you recommend that?

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      I have used wood chips, just not too finely cut. If I had an infinite source of wood chips I would use it as bedding as well.

    • david beck says

      Large wood chips from local TSC. Clean coop early ever morning. 4×4 box with several inches of pine chips make easy cleanup under roost bar. Happy five big pets!

  2. Darrell says

    What about not using any bedding but keeping the birds on a metal, half inch by half inch mild steal wire mesk. The poop that falls below can be ccollected and composted.

    • HappyChicken says

      No because chickens can be heavy and this wire can be hard on their feet. Also, it doesn’t allow for their nails to naturally wear down so they grow- making it hard to walk.

      Claire

      • Sam says

        Darrell, we did this many years ago, with our free range chickens with no trouble. Be sure to have plenty of roost bars, so they don’t have to rest on the wire. Roaming around during the day will take care of their claws.You do have to keep their nest boxes clean and cozy. No such thing as get ’em and forget ’em.

        • Raul says

          Hi ,new into this “chicken life “.we bought 15 chickens 6 weeks ago and. Everything was fine until 3 days ago when one of them seems to have some problem,wouldn’t move at all,seems to be a bit puffy and one eye swollen.reading some stuff on internet I tried to keep up her down and a lot of stinky watery drippings come out ,we have put her on a different coup but unfortunately she died.all others seems to be fine but we don’t really want to lose any other of them .any ideas ? Many thanks

          • Cathey Fassino-Smith says

            Had same issue after we got our ten hens
            Never could figure out what happen to her but all others are well
            Best of luck to you

  3. JR says

    the best bedding I have ever used is compressed bale of STRAW FROM TRACTOR SUPPLY .This bedding is reasonable, absorbs manure the very best, and works great for odor control.I have never heard of people using chemicals on oats .So assume that isnt a problem, I have lived on and farmed my whole life.

  4. Marie Mullen says

    My husband does tree removals and I do have access to wood chips from him grinding tree stumps..The most common trees he grinds are pine, eucalyptus, ash & desert type trees such as mesquite & Palo Verde. What wood chips should not be used besides cedar?

    • Kira says

      Hi Marie, my understanding is that the reason cedar shavings can be problematic is due to their high essential oil content. I know Eucalyptus is also high in essential oils that can be toxic to some animals. Unfortunately, I’m not familiar with the other wood types you listed… But I’m thinking that avoiding woods that are highly aromatic / high in essential oils would be a good rule of thumb? Hope this helps!

      • Kira says

        I forgot to mention that I’ve read in a few different sources that pine shavings are a preferred bedding option, so you should be safe using that one! Aspen is supposed to work well too, if that’s a local tree you & your husband have access to.

  5. Ted says

    Hi. First I love your website and blog. Thank you. I’ve been buying hemp bedding. Do you think a wood chip would be a better choice?

    • Crista says

      I just removed all of the hay I had put in my coop because it gave two of my younger chickens respiratory infections from mold spores. I was then told in the chicken group to never use hay. Uggg

  6. Brian Diaz says

    Has anyone ever used grass clippings? I collect my grass to throw into my compost but I have a very large lawn. (I dont use any chemicals on my property.) Any thoughts would be appreciated.

  7. Chantal says

    I have 5 silkies,2 Polish and a Warren.
    I have used the easy chick bedding (uk) which is like thicker bits of wood chip it can be pricey as it’s small bales.
    I tried putting straw in the Polish and Warren’s nesting box as I though it would be nicer to lay in…… They stopped laying , absolutely refused to lay. Removed it they all started next day.

    The silkies have one box with with easy chick the other with straw. 3weeks on the straw hasn’t even even got a dent in it.

    On the other hand one of my Polish quite happily will lay her eggs in an old plant pot filed with dirt she’s found in my garden .

  8. Patrick J Kennedy says

    i have one more method. i put my coop on a cement slab. I put dirt that is sifted through a wire mesh i made myself. Just like the field scientists use looking for fossils. I spread the dirt about an inch thick on the floor. Then a layer of wood shavings on top of that and once a week i add some more shavings. On the forth week i shovel it into the wheel barrel and sift it again through the home made sifter ( i put the compost in one pile the gravel on another ) then every 3 months after mother nature has washed the gravel i can use it again. this also fives my girls gravel to eat to help with digestion. Each time i do this ( while the girls are outside ) i can wash down the floor and thy start off fresh again. It also gives them a place to scratch on through rainy days for the worms and grubs i put in the soil each time.

  9. Faith says

    Good morning, what an awesome website, thank you.
    I use coarse sand in my coop. I have a 4X8 coop and only 5 girls. I clean it every morning and open the window to air out the coop daily, even in winter. I close the window at night. My girls are happy and healthy. Never worry about bumble feet as the sand is gentle on their feet. I have a long handled scoop like what’s used for kitty litter. Works awesome. My girls are very easy to care for. The sand that attaches to the poop when I clean it goes in my outdoor compost pile. It doesn’t hurt anything.

  10. Bre says

    Hi. I have 20 laying hens. I have tried everything for bedding. Just an experiment I save my used coffee grounds. It’s safe chickens won’t try to eat it. At least mine don’t. This help absorbs moisture odor control, oh my the clean up is a breeze. We started with a kitty pooper scooper. Works great. Leaves a poop free nesting boxes great for your garden soil. I use pine shavings on coop floor and clean that with an old snow shovel. Coffee grounds leave a coco scent in nesting boxes

  11. Susan says

    Does anyone have any ideas for where to get pesticide/herbicide free bedding? I’m interested in something I can use with the deep litter method, so probably straw or shavings. I looked at the local TSC, but the main supplier of straw bales there, Standlee, uses herbicides annually and sometimes pesticides on everything they sell except the organic alfalfa products. I’d rather avoid the expense of having my birds poop on something meant to be fed as forage. Are pine shavings generally free of chemicals?

  12. Abi says

    I have 4 new nearly 2 weeks old chicks and have tried several times to put down wood shavings but always they seem to eat it. I am worried about them getting ill or dying from eating it. They also eat paper towel, shredded paper, they are just too nosy I guess! Any ideas how to get them to stop or what I should use instead? At the moment they are just on thick foamex material but oh the poop mess!!

  13. Kayla says

    When I clean out our coop, I always put all the dirty straw and shavings on a specific patch of our garden….after I’ve done this, the chickens always rush straight to it and peck around in amongst it.
    I don’t normally worry too much, but I discovered a couple of maggots (!) when I cleaned out recently….is it dangerous to allow the chickens near their old shavings?

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