One of the inescapable facts of keeping chickens is that they produce waste. One of the best reasons for raising your own chickens is that you can turn that waste into something useful instead of a harmful pollutant. In order to do that however, you will need a way to manage it. Chickens do most of their pooping at night on the roost, so the really important question is what’s the best chicken bedding for your coop?
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What Is The Best Chicken Bedding To Use In Your Coop?
Choosing which type of chicken bedding to use can be a rather controversial topic. Everyone has their favorite and is eager to share. There are wood shavings, shredded paper, leaves, straw, wood chips, and even sand to choose from!
Wood shavings break down well and are absorbent. The downsides of using pine or cedar shavings is that they are dusty and can be quite expensive to purchase. I personally do not use wood shavings for my chickens.
Using shredded paper in the coop can be a nice way to divert some of your waste and turn it into great compost down the line. The biggest issue with shredded paper is making sure the inks are not toxic for the birds. Soy based inks should be fine, but definitely skip any receipts that contain BPA. I’ve used shredded paper and liked it just fine, but I never had enough to use it for ALL of our bedding. It’s a great free source to stretch out other chicken bedding though.
Leaves are another great free chicken bedding. You just have to collect them! Make sure to grab them while they’re dry. I never could get enough leaves to last very long, but they sure did help save some money in the fall and early winter!
Straw is a great bedding that is fairly cheap and breaks down pretty quickly. It works for deep litter, or it breaks down quickly if you don’t have much space for huge compost bins. I’ve found my chickens really enjoy scratching around in straw as well. Make sure you’re using straw as bedding and not hay. Hay can make a nice filler for nest boxes, but it’s high moisture content will cause problems if you use it in the whole coop.
I personally consider wood chips to be the best chicken bedding available. You can get it for free from your utility company or through chipdrop.com. It has a very high carbon content and takes a while to break down. It’s very absorbent and makes a fantastic deep litter. If you worry about your bird’s comfort with wood chips, use wood chips as the main base in your coop, and put a light layer of shredded paper or straw over the top. You really only need to worry about a top layer if they’re cooped up for long periods of time indoors however. If you are using the deep litter method, wood chips are THE way to go.
I personally have never used sand in my coop, but I know some fellow chicken lovers who rave about how well it works for them. Sand would be a great option for a smaller coop especially if you don’t have space to manage a large compost bin. You just need to scoop out the waste frequently (think kitty litter!) and add it to your regular household compost bin. The base layer can last for a year or more if you maintain it regularly.
Jessica Lane of 104 Homestead goes into some great detail regarding sand in her book, Chicken Hot Topics: Controversial Husbandry Practices. One thing I love about her book is that Jessica uses studies as her sources. Every farmer has their one and only way to raise chickens, but not everybody can back it up with research. For example, it turns out that sand has lower bacteria levels than other bedding options. Woohoo for studies! (Even if you’re not a research person Chicken Hot Topics is still really awesome because it sums it up for you in an easy to read and fun way especially with the husbandry hints and fun farmer facts included throughout.)
How To Maintain Your Chicken Bedding
There are also different methods of maintaining your coop depending on which chicken bedding you are using too. Some bedding works well if it is completely removed when soiled and replaced. If you aren’t doing deep litter, make sure you get out to your coop at least weekly and remove any wet or soiled bedding and add in more bedding material to any low spots. Sand seems to do best with a few minutes of daily maintenance. Personally, I prefer to use the deep litter method. No matter which method you choose, it’s a good idea to do a deep clean of your chicken coop about once a year.
How To Use Deep Litter In Your Chicken Coop
To use the deep litter method you’ll need to pick a chicken bedding that has a high carbon content. Avoid hay, sand, or grass. As the litter becomes soiled, add more bedding on top of the damp or soiled parts. You can use a pitchfork to mix the layers and help them break down more, but they will break down on their own even if you don’t! The taller your deep litter gets the better, even up to a foot high. The litter on the bottom will be broken down and ready to use in the garden, it’s just a matter of digging it out periodically. I like to do mine once or twice a year or so.
The biggest downside of using the deep litter method is that you will need a coop large enough to let it break down on the floor of the coop. The reason I enjoy the deep litter method is because it is very low maintenance. Getting out to do a weekly or daily clean up of the coop can be difficult sometimes. Life can get crazy! With deep litter, even if you aren’t there, the chickens are sifting and turning the litter FOR you. All you have to do is remove it once it’s ready to be used in the garden, and maybe speed along the process once in a while.
How To Figure Out What’s Best For YOU
Getting chickens seems like a simple enough proposition. Give them a place to live, some food and water and bam! Fresh eggs. While raising chickens can be rather straightforward, there is a bit more to keeping them at their healthiest and happiest. just like pretty much everything in life, the details can get a bit muddy when everyone proclaims their favorite method as the one and only way to raise chickens. (Yes, I realize I’m guilty of this to some extent).
However, the best way to figure out what works for YOUR chickens on YOUR property in YOUR life is to read from multiple people and take what makes sense to you and try it out. Thankfully, you don’t need to go with complete trail and error. There are plenty of people willing to share what has worked and not worked for them. Keep reading and trying things out.
Using wood chips for chicken bedding and maintaining them with the deep litter method is the best option I’ve found. I hope they work for you too! But perhaps sand sounds likes a better option for your circumstances. In that case, I hope you check out what Jessica Lane has to say about it in Chicken Hot Topics. Whichever method you settle on, the best chicken bedding is the one that helps you enjoy keeping chickens the most!
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