Making a choice on chicken bedding (also known as litter) is one of the most hotly debated topics in chicken keeping.
Every chicken keeper has their top choice and stand firmly behind their decision. While it’s a little strange that people get so up-in-arms over what they choose for their chickens to poop all over, it’s still an important decision for the health of your flock.
It’s important to get all the facts before you settle on a certain type of chicken bedding. There are lots of popular bedding materials out there and it can be tricky to find just the right one for you.
To make this easier on you, we’ve put together a simple, easy to read list of all the chicken bedding options currently on the market, and the pros and cons of each. We’ve also laid out for you the worst options out there, and why.
I hope this helps you to make an easy choice for the bedding/litter in your chicken coop.
The Worst Options for Chicken Coop Bedding
Bad Option #1: Cat Litter
This is the ultimate bad choice for chicken coop bedding. Many times when we mention the word ‘litter’ in regards to the chickens we get puzzled looks from other people, followed by the question, ‘you mean cat litter?.’
We’re never suggesting to actually put cat litter in the chicken coop.
Litter is just an all inclusive word for any type of material that you put on the chicken coop floor.
You should never ever use cat litter in the chicken coop. Chickens can peck at it and eat it, causing bad digestion problems, and possibly a painful death. Cat litter also produces enormous amounts of dust, that can cause respiratory problems in your flock.
Bad Option #2: Cedar Shavings
Pine shavings and Aspen shavings are fine for the chicken coop, but we don’t suggest using cedar shavings in the coop. Cedar is a very aromatic wood. This aroma can be damaging to your chickens respiratory systems. While it might not bother your chickens, it’s not worth the risk, especially when other options like pine shavings are likely to be the same price.
Bad Option #3: Newspaper
Newspaper in and of itself is not very absorbent, even when shredded. I know it can be tempting to use newspaper because it’s a cheap or free source of litter, but it’s not worth adding to the chicken coop.
When wet, newspaper becomes slick and matted, making it hard to clean. Its non-absorbent nature will mean a stinkier, messier coop for you to deal with.
We often see newspaper being used in the brooder as bedding for baby chicks, and must strongly caution against this.
Flat newspaper is slippery, making it terrible for chickens feet and legs, especially while they’re young chicks. Chickens can developed splayed legs from struggling to stand up straight on a slippery surface like newspaper.
All told, newspaper is just not a great choice for the coop.
What many chicken owners do with newspaper is layer it underneath another type of bedding, such as shavings, straw, or hemp. Used this way, the newspaper can help to absorb messes without hurting your chickens.
Bad Option #4: Sand
Sand is easily the most controversial bedding choice for the chicken coop. Some chicken keepers insist that it’s clean, easy to maintain, and inexpensive. Others proclaim that it’s unsanitary, uncomfortable for the birds, and much more difficult than the alternatives.
I would say sand is neither a great choice nor a terrible choice for the chicken coop. I can see its merits but my gut says it’s not the most comfortable or cozy bedding choice for your chickens, especially if you live in an area with cold winters.
We’ve never used sand in the chicken coop, so have zero personal experience with it. We’ll let you make up your own mind, but for a little research, here’s two posts that can help you decide.
Pros to sand in the chicken coop:
Cons of sand in the chicken coop:
So, now that we know what not to use for bedding in the chicken coop, let’s go over some great choices for chicken coop bedding!
Bad Option #5: Hay
A lot of people confuse hay with straw, and for good reason, they’re very similar! Straw is a great choice for chicken coop bedding, which we’ll cover below, hay however, is a bad choice.
In the homesteading world, hay is usually used as food, not as bedding. Hay is preserved grasses, that can be fed to animals like cows, horses, rabbits, and sheep in the wintertime in place of the forage they would find outside in nicer weather.
Hay doesn’t make great bedding because it has a tendency to mold when wet, and also gets packed down and matted easily. It’s just not very absorbent, and what’s worse, it tends to be more expensive than straw or wood shavings, so you’re wasting money with this option too.
The Best Options for Chicken Bedding
There are a lot of great choices for chicken coop bedding, and the best option for your flock is going to depend on many factors, including your budget, how often you want to clean, the size of your coop, and how many chickens you have in your coop.
Good Option #1: Hemp Bedding
Hemp is becoming a popular choice for bedding in the chicken coop. This is by far the most expensive of your chicken coop options, but if you can afford it, we think it’s the best bedding option.
Hemp may especially be a good choice if you have a small flock or a small coop and don’t need to purchase too much.
Hemp lasts a long time and is a sustainable source of bedding. It is a great choice for those with allergies to leaf mold, pine, or straw. Hemp is clean and the chickens truly love it. We’re hoping that as it becomes more widely available, the price will come down too, making it a more reasonable option for chicken keepers.
Good Option #2: Wood Shavings
Pine shavings have been our go-to chicken bedding choice for many years. Pine shavings are truly an ideal type of bedding for the chicken coop.
They’re very absorbent, safe, cozy, and not too expensive. The chickens love having shavings in their nesting boxes, they can easily push it around and make the space comfortable. Even if you choose to use another source of bedding in the coop, we highly recommend the coziness of shavings in nest boxes.
As a bonus, pine shavings break down easily so they can quickly go into the compost pile and turn into glorious black gold for your garden.
Shavings are an excellent choice of chicken bedding for a small flock, or for someone who doesn’t mind cleaning the coop often.
You can also use aspen shavings in the coop, though they tend to be a little more expensive than pine shavings.
Learn more about why Deep Litter Bedding is our favorite bedding method for the chicken coop!
Good Option #3: Leaves and Grass Clippings
Leaves and grass are a wonderful source of chicken bedding, with some caveats.
The pros to using leaves:
Leaves are naturally extremely entertaining for your flock. Mixing mulched leaves with grass clippings from your yard and tossing them in the coop is a great way to keep your hens busy for days. The birds will spend all their time kicking through the piles in search of bugs and seeds.
Another plus, leaves are free! When it comes to substances for your animals to poop on, you can’t get better than free. While leaves in the chicken coop do take a little extra effort, the savings for your wallet might be worth it. If you’re resourceful and hard-working, you can glean free leaves in the fall from your own yard or those of your friends and family.
When mulched into tiny bits, leaves can be ultra absorbent and are a fully natural and organic source of bedding for your flock.
The cons to using leaves:
There are several downsides to using leaves that make them a bad choice for many people. Most importantly, leaves need to be collected and mulched before putting them in the coop.If you mulch the leaves with a mower first, they turn to a lovely consistency that’s ultra absorbent.
Whole leaves aren’t very absorbent and will likely turn into a slimy mess on the floor of your coop as they get wet. Wet leaves are also more likely to cause mold and mildew issues in your coop, which can negatively affect the health of your birds.
Using leaves in the chicken coop is not for the lazy. Making the effort to rake or mulch the leaves to use in the chicken coop can be time consuming and tiring. Another downside to using leaves in the chicken coop is that they’re only available one time of year. This means you’ll need to either store extra leaves for the other three seasons, or use an alternative in the coop when it’s not autumn.
Good Option #4: Straw
Straw is the go-to source of chicken bedding for most chicken keepers. It’s cheap, it’s absorbent, and it lasts a long time. Straw is also readily available in most areas because it’s a by-product of the farming industry.
Straw has become one of our favorite types of bedding in the chicken coop. We can get a large bale of straw for $5 at our local feed store, and it lasts roughly two weeks for our flock of 18 chickens.
We also love straw bedding because it provides a thick layer of litter on the floor of the coop, helping to insulate it in the winter. Also, the chickens adore playing in it!
When it’s time to clean the coop we pitch all the old bedding out and stick a whole bale of straw in the coop. We cut the cords around it and let the chickens distribute the straw in the coop. They have a blast kicking and scratching in the straw for days.
Good Option #5: Mulch or Wood Chips
Mulch is a tricky bedding source for your chickens. On its own, mulch is not very absorbent, so chicken manure tends to just sit on it instead of absorb it. Mulch or wood chips can also be rough on chickens feet, causing cuts that can get infected. We don’t use mulch in the chicken coop, but we do use it in the chicken run, in combination with straw.
We’ve found that mulch in the chicken run works well because it stands up to the constant moisture and activity in the run. Mulch lasts for months in the run, while other types of litter break down almost immediately. We put a layer of mulch down on the floor of the run and then layer straw on top of it. The straw absorbs the chicken waste, and the mulch creates some good drainage for rain.
So, there you have it, every option for chicken bedding, laid out in an easy to digest manner. The most important thing to remember is to choose something that’s easy on your wallet, and healthy for your flock. That’s really all that matters. Remember that whatever you choose is going to literally get covered in feces and thrown in the compost, so don’t waste any sleep on this decision.
What’s your favorite type of chicken coop bedding? Let us know in the comments, we love to chat chickens!