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. To make this easier on you, we’ve put together a simple, easy to read list of all the chicken bedding 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.
Things to never use for chicken bedding
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. 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 at best bad digestion problems, and at worst a painful death. Cat litter also produces enormous amounts of dust, that is dangerous for chickens respiratory systems.
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.
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.
You also don’t want to use flat newspaper in the chicken coop, or the chicken brooder for that matter. Flat newspaper is slippery, making it terrible for chickens feet and legs, especially while they’re young. 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.
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!
Our top choices for chicken bedding and litter
Pine shavings were our chicken bedding of 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 reason we switched from pine shavings to straw over the years was that shavings just didn’t last very long with our flock of close to 20 birds. We found we were completely replacing the bedding every week, which was swiftly increasing our feed store bill, and significantly adding to our weekly chore list. We love to use the deep litter method in the chicken coop, but shavings didn’t jive too well with this system and our large flock of birds.
Shavings are an excellent choice of chicken bedding for a small flock, or for someone who doesn’t mind cleaning the coop often.
Leaves are a wonderful source of chicken bedding, with some caveats.
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. Whole leaves aren’t very absorbent and will likely turn into a slimy mess on the floor of your coop as they get wet. If you mulch the leaves with a mower first, they turn to a lovely consistency that’s ultra absorbent. Making the effort to rake or mulch 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.
On the plus side, 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.
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 our favorite type 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. When we were using pine shavings we were spending triple that to keep the coop clean and cozy.
We also love straw 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.
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.
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:
Mulch is a tricky bedding source for your chickens. Mulch all on its own is not very absorbent, and can be rough on chickens feet. 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 tend to layer mulch and straw in the run, this helps to cover the muddy ground as well as protect the chickens feet.
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 with a small flock it may be a good choice. Hemp lasts a long time, is a sustainable source of bedding, and is a great choice for those with allergies to leaf mold, pine, or straw.
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!