Written by: Amanda B.
Many of us who have begun this wonderful life by involving poultry into it have started off with the small starter coop, which after a year and chicken math begins will be transformed into a larger coop or become the introduction pen for new chicks for the following years to come. When we begin this journey, we are always making lists!
Those lists may entail
● Water and feed bowls or canisters
● Heating supplies for chicks and seasons to come
● Toys and treats
Well, I am here today to talk about bedding! What bedding is going to be best for your flock, as well as for you in cleaning and smell. There are a lot of types of bedding so we are going to cover the health benefits, cleaning aspect and smell for your flock. After all, we don't want to use a bedding that is going to stink to high heaven and notify the hawks and racoons to your birds’ beautiful home. We will be discussing shavings, straw, sand, coffee grounds, and good old nature (grass clippings and fallen leaves).
When shopping for our supplies we usually hit the big box places, why not? They have it all! So, while shopping we hit the aisle of bedding.
Shavings are what they use in the bins when you have chicks. Personally, I contact our local news writers and ask for any old additions they could donate to my flock for new chicks, we usually leave with a box full. It is always nice to lay this down then roll the pine shavings up to throw away. Now though, after 6 years I will never touch shavings again and this is why. Shavings are easy to clean out of a tote or whatever you choose to keep your baby chicks in, but be cautious when purchasing them. Good shavings at some locations are kept outside or housed outside in sheds or under lean-tos; make sure it is housed inside. If you live where humidity can be an issue, please keep in mind mites. We don’t usually think about these bugs when purchasing bedding, but it is definitely a main source of them. Some pine shavings are processed through a kiln drying process and this will kill any mites and eggs that may be harboring on the shavings, but it makes them very toxic to your flock and other animals on the homestead if ingested. Chickens and turkeys and game fowl can and do easily break down the wood pieces while eating, which is also why it breaks down so quickly. It is honestly my biggest complaint while using shavings. I have a flock size of 40+ chickens and 40+ ducks with a few turkey and guinea fowl. I will throw 3 bags of pine shavings down and within a week I will have powder almost. While shopping at our local pet store, a kind woman overheard me complaining and that is when I found out about the kiln drying process. It can cause respiratory issues and shut down organs on your birds. It is impossible to not have your flock ingest what is used on the floor in their home. Some farmers call pine shavings the secret killer to flocks! Pine shavings also can not be used in compost due to the kiln process. If it is fresh mulch from a tree, this can be used in the coop, as well as in the garden compost (but watch for mites). Needless to say, we do not touch pine shavings on our homestead.
Cedar shavings smell amazing!! Don’t you agree? It makes everything feel fresh and clean, but if you have a homestead let’s think twice about this one too. Cedar wood chips have been known to damage the liver and respiratory tracts in small animals and guess what else? POULTRY! The closer to the ground the more exposed to the natural oils in cedar wood that cause the respiratory issues. When searching for food or bugs the chickens will peck through the bedding which will cause the issue with the liver. Their liver is unable to process these oils and it can kill a chicken easily within months of using, sometimes weeks. SO, NO CEDAR!! If you want something that smells amazing, then this next one will be for you.
I was going to discuss straw or sand, but I am going to discuss COFFEE GROUNDS! So many of us love the smell of coffee grounds and there are companies that make Decaf processed and grinded coffee grounds for bedding. I personally have never used this. I have heard amazing things in some chicken groups and this is the first year I even heard of it. So, I took the liberty of scooting down to a local shop and checked it out! Coffee grounds that are not decaffeinated though are toxic to your chickens, dogs, cats, and livestock. Caffeine is known as a chemical known as Methylxanthine and because its levels are so high it is toxic to our feather and fur babies. The companies that make it into bedding use 100% recycled coffee grounds that contain no caffeine so that it is safe in case ingested. The only negative thing I have heard about this product is that if the inside of your coop is damp a lot or has leaks where it is constantly getting wet, it has the potential to mold. So, avoid wet and humid places. Coffee ground bedding helps repel flies and keeps your coop smelling fabulous. It is easy to shovel or to use a litter scoop to clean the areas concentrated with poop. If you do use this or try it, share it with people! How cool is it that we have something that smells so amazing available for our little feather butts!
Straw! This is the most commonly used, it is actually what I currently have in the coop. Since we have so many ducks, I am questioning this choice. They poop A LOT! So, I am out rotating my straw every other day and I use Wondercide Lemongrass Spray to reduce the smell and flies. Straw is cheap, roughly $4 a bale, one bale covers a decent amount of area, and it is GREAT FOR YOUR GARDEN! That’s right! Chicken poop and duck poop work much better in compost than livestock manure, holding higher levels or nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus. Instead of throwing it away, you can add the straw into your garden. It's basically a new form of gold. The only negative side to straw is that it can be sprayed with pesticides when grown in large fields. Whether it be through cross wind contamination or just what the farmer ordered, it's in the soil and on the straw. So always be aware of this. If you can purchase organic straw you are blessed. I have heard of brands, but take a sneak peak online and see what you come across. OR if you have an indoor greenhouse, feel free to grow some for your flock's bedding.
Oh Sandy, Oh Sandy sand… you are so sandy! This is a wonderful bedding to use if you are someone who doesn't like to completely remove all of the bedding inside the coop. With a litter scoop on the end of a broom stick it is easy to sift through and clean. It also works well to drain soil from the wet areas in your coop. it can also help level your coop from dust baths. It does tend to create a great environment for mites and fleas though! The best suggestion for this is to add First Saturday Lime to your sand and coop regularly. They will appreciate it as well as you because it will keep the smell down. This can be added with all bedding but please do use it with the sand. I promise you will thank me later when it's 90 degrees and while on your patio you don’t smell chicken or duck poop.
The last one to discuss is good old nature’s grass clippings and old leaves. We all know if the grass clippings are wet and you put too many in one clump it can mold, same with old leaves. Just be careful and just spread it thin to dry then repeat every other day. Flip to keep it from molding in the coop. It is one of nature’s options, it can create a home for bugs, so spread lime down first. I love this bedding especially if you choose or are unable to allow your flock to free range. Grass is wonderful for their digestive tract and can add more nutrients to eggs as well as leaves. Plant-based foods and remains work great for our flocks because they are full of probiotics and digestive enzymes. Feeds are nice enough to add it in, like my personal favorite NatureServe Layer Pellets. With grass clippings and leaves, the chickens can eat as much as they want and it will never hurt them, only benefit them. Just remember to flip it after it rains to keep it dry. After a while it will turn into dirt, which means if you are not in the mood to add it to the coop, just add it to the compost pile.
So! Think, think, think… what will your next bedding be? I recommend trying a few different ways to complete your idea of what you feel is best. If you have not tried it, please do not knock it, we all have our reasons why we do what we do for our flocks. Let me know and keep me posted on what you all decided! And MIX N MATCH! I bet coffee ground bedding would work great with sand, and smell so amazing.
Talk Soon, Amanda B.