For anyone who keeps backyard chickens or anyone looking into backyard chickens, it is important to consider what you will use for your chicken coop bedding. There are many different chicken bedding materials out there, and there are some important things to consider when determining the best chicken bedding material for your chicken coop.
Depending on your preferences and location, you may want to consider:
- Availability of bedding material for your chicken coops
- Environmental impact of chicken coop bedding
- Clumping of bedding material type
- Absorbency of chicken bedding
- Weight of bedding material for chicken coop
- Odor of chicken coop bedding
- The health of your chickens
- And many more questions
Chickens and baby chicks are not too picky about their own bedding material. They prefer something they can move around with their feet and get nestled into. Most chicken keepers try and find a bedding material for chicken coops that is good for the chickens as well as one that helps them, as their caretakers.
Qualities To Look For In Bedding Material
You will want a material that is cost-effective, clean and keeps your chickens and baby chicks healthy and pest-free. You will also want something that gives you the least amount of chicken waste as well as a material that clumps well when wet and soiled, so that it cleans easily.
Let's explore the 7 best chicken coop bedding materials in terms of what is best for the chickens, their nest boxes and which will be best for you as chicken owners in terms of cost and efficiency.
We will share pros and cons for each bedding material type and give you our own personal score out of ten. Let's go!
The BEST Chicken Coop Bedding Material
Here is our list of pros and cons and our score out of ten for each resource. It is so important as chicken keepers to provide our flock with everything they need to stay healthy and safe, including good chicken waterers to give them fresh, clean drinks, a safe coop, dust bathing locations and the optimal bedding material.
1. Straw Bedding
Straw bedding is a popular choice of chicken bedding material; however, it is not our preferred material, and here's why.
Straw bedding and chopped straw looks great, but it is coarse, not very absorptive and costs more than other chicken bedding choices. Also, we don't have straw on our property for any other reason. If we had straw on hand, we would likely use it as chicken bedding for the cost savings alone; but hens tend to prefer material that is easier to move around and we prefer a better clumping material for cleaning purposes.
One big issue with using straw as bedding material in chicken coops, is that it may have mites and other pests in the bails. You will be introducing these to your coop if you use straw which may lead to treatment of your flock down the road.
It may also have other seeds in it and if you compost it, you may be nurturing a plant you don't want on the property.
Straw - Farmers Cupboard Rating: 5/10
2. Wood Shavings
Wood savings for chicken bedding is an interesting choice. Generally, most properties are not going to have wood savings on hand but you may have wood shavings for your small indoor pets or livestock.
When you purchase shaved wood for your coop or other small animals, it is usually in the form of pine shavings, which give off a nice, natural scent that is not too strong.
Wood shavings is what we use for our own coops.
Here is a photo of our own nesting boxes from a birds eye view (no pun intended!). These are two of our ladies getting ready to lay in a nesting box, although I think my little gray one is getting broody.
These pine shavings can be purchased cost-effectively. They come in compressed bags meaning you get a lot for what you pay for, and they can even be purchased online and delivered right to your door. No need to go to the store, lug a heavy bag around and get your vehicle messy (and save on gas prices too).
Depending on how many nest boxes you have, the bags can last a long time and are also good material to line the bottom of your coop with. This is what we do with ours. We especially like having the wood shavings around our watering areas as it absorbs the water really well and keeps the mess down.
Shaved wood also clumps well as chicken bedding if there is an egg break or if the chicken decides to poop in the bedding. This is why wee keep deep bedding in the boxes and it makes it easy to take the soiled shavings out. The chickens also like shavings as they can wiggle around in them to make a nice nesting spot for their eggs.
Pine wood shavings have become our material of choice and we also use the same shavings on the floor. For 3 or 4 nesting boxes, one bag of shavings can last a couple months depending on your coop size.
You can get wood shaving bags from your local feed stores or supply store, or directly from Amazon and have it delivered right to your door, which is a really nice option.
Just make sure when you purchase, that you are getting shavings, not wood chips. Wood chips are chunky bits of wood that will not absorb anything.
Some more notes on wood shavings:
Shaved wood and pine shavings have great properties for chicken nesting.
- they create little dust compared to other nesting materials,
- they absorb moisture very well which is a huge benefit
- they are controlled and have no mites or nasty bugs
- they are the perfect size for the hens to move around in
Using pine shavings for chicken coop bedding is almost like using kitty litter because if a hen does leave a mess behind you can just scoop it out as it clumps together.
Wood Shavings - Farmers Cupboard Rating: 10/10
3. Paper (recycled, shredded)
Shredded or stripped recycled paper can work for chicken boxes as well as a bedding option. The major downside to using paper is that it can get messy when wet.
The upside of using paper, is that it is readily available and you can recycle your own.
If you don't have a paper shedder for your important documents you should get one anyway. If you want to use your paper for nesting material, purchase a paper shedder that does NOT do the cross cutting. You want the long, stringy paper strands. The cross cut paper gets everywhere and doesn't look that great in the coop.
Another pro is that shredded paper is clean and pest-free. If you don't mind changing out your nesting material more often, then this is a good cost effective option. It is hard to beat free, recycled nesting material and you can compost it when you're done if it has no print. Keep it even cleaner in the coop for longer by using a thick layer of it.
Paper - Farmers Cupboard Rating: 6/10
4. Grass clippings
We have used grass clippings in our boxes before. The idea was that it is all natural like hay, and we produce it from our own yard. But what we found is that it is not like hay at all. Died grass clippings are very fine compared to hay, and it is not absorptive at all. We found that it was not a good performer.
You also want to be careful when it comes to grass clippings and chickens. Grass is great for chickens to scratch around in, however, when chickens eat too much fresh grass, it can become impacted in their crop and stuck, which can be deadly.
If you see a chicken that looks like it is yawning; opening its beak and almost pushing every few seconds, they could have something stuck in their crop, in which case you may have to help them get it out by holding them upside down and gently massaging that crop until they essentially vomit it out. Grass eating is a common culprit of this, and is another reason we don't like to use grass in our coops.
If an egg breaks in the grass clippings (which sometimes happens), it doesn't absorb well and makes a big mess. And it is super annoying collecting eggs next to a broken egg. They are sticky and gross. But, like hay, there is the same issue with pests and dust. Plus, you may be introducing pests into the coop.
We also like to throw used nesting material onto the floor when changing it out and grass clippings are terrible for that as well, so there really is no second use.
Grass clippings - Farmers Cupboard Rating: 1/10
We once lived near a small family-run saw mill and they had mountains of saw dust available. They had a nice rough-cut chicken coops where the floor was always covered in fresh sawdust, and the boxes were full of the same. It is still one of the nicest coops we have seen.
The smell was amazing and it had excellent absorption. They used a lot of sawdust because they had a lot of sawdust. It was even used as the coop insulation and was a decent bedding option.
Most of us don't have a mountain of sawdust in the backyard but some of us will have a small wood working shop or one nearby. If sawdust is free and plentiful to you, we would consider it a good nesting material, especially for a small coop. We used to get it for free by the garbage can full.
If we had to pay for it, then we prefer other choices. Yes, it absorbs moisture well and the hens seem to like it so it will keep your chickens happy. It also does well in compost as long as it is natural (not treated).
Just make sure you have a respirator on when cleaning it as the particles are fine and float around in the air when dry and being shoveled and you don't want to get any respiratory issues or respiratory damage.
Scroll down further to see which mask we use for cleaning our chicken coop.
Sawdust - Farmers Cupboard Rating: 7/10
6. Shredded cardboard
Shredded cardboard is similar to shredded paper as a bedding option. If you have it available then great. You will need to change out the cardboard frequently and in our opinion it looks better than using your shredded bank statements.
It is a bit more coarse than recycled paper, and if you have a broken egg you will probably find yourself wanting to throw out the whole nest of material and replace it with fresh bedding.
It is a good way to re-use your household cardboard and after it has been thrown onto the floor for a while when it is finished its use as bedding material, it can go right into your compost if it is just plain kraft cardboard.
With cardboard, there is not much for dust and it is decently comfortable for chickens (depending on your shredder). It is more difficult to find shredded cardboard and our shredder doesn't handle it well so we don't use it.
Cardboard - Farmers Cupboard Rating: 4/10
7. Dried leaves
When we find new hidden nests that the chickens have made around the yard, we often find them under bushes in a pile of dried leaves and dirt. The hens obviously have no issues with this in the outdoors for their bedding option. For us though, leaves can be time consuming as bedding material.
Organic material such as dried leaves don't absorb water so when you get a mess in the nest (broken eggs, chicken poop) it is just that: a mess! It's too high maintenance for us. Plus it can introduce new pests to your flock.
Yes, we have plenty of leaves available, but it's not worth it.
Dried leaves - Farmers Cupboard Rating: 1/10
How To Remove Chicken Coop Material
Now that we had the chance to talk about which is the best chicken bedding material for both the chickens as well as the chicken owners (you!), we feel it is important to chat a bit about removing their bedding material to clean and refresh it.
We always keep a flat shovel or snow shovel right outside of our coop and we keep our respirator mask handy. Dry chicken poop can be dusty and we don't want to breathe any of that in.
Shovel out as much material as you can, and it is best to use a flat nosed, tough steel design, and even better if it is ergonomic (or you can add on this ergonomic handle to any shovel/rake you already own to save your back).
For us, if it is not winter, we add a pressurized nozzle to the end of our hose and blast away as much leftover, stuck-on chicken poop as we can from the floor after we have thoroughly shoveled it.
We often shovel our used material into the chicken run since the wood shavings are natural and the flock likes to dig around in the material. Other times, we will dump it into our compost bin located right beside the coop.
Once it is all washed away, we use the flat ended shovel again to go over the floor and really scrape it good.
To get as much deep bedding material out of our boxes as we can, we use a handheld garden trowel as it is small and pointed at the end to get into the corners, and then blast the remaining out with water (we have drilled a small hole in the bottom of each nesting box as it overhangs from out coop and allows water to wash to the ground).
Keeping your chicken coop clean by changing the bedding material is important for keeping away mites and chicken lice.
Do You Need A Respirator For Cleaning A Coop?
We always use a respirator when shoveling out dry chicken coop material and chicken feces, as there are many airborne particles that you really don't want to be breathing in, such as any possible mold spores on the coop bedding, dry/tiny wood particles, and the chicken feces itself which could hold a plethora of harmful respiratory material.
We use this specific half face respirator from Parcil. It is rated as an N95 equivalent and is rated for agricultural processing as well as pesticide application. This is a great long term, multi-purpose mask that we use all around the property as it is rated to work with dust, chemicals, organic materials and more.
The best part is that is adjustable so Jeremy and I share this respirator, and he has a much larger head than I do. We highly recommend it, and they also have full face respirators if you are looking for eye protection as well.
How Often Should Chicken Coop Bedding Be Changed?
The bedding material in a chicken nesting box can be changed every week to every 2 weeks depending on how much nesting material is in their box. The more material used, the less often you will have to clean it.
The reason for this, is that when chickens are in the box laying eggs, they typically do not defecate. However, sometimes, and this can depend on the chicken's age and pecking order, as well as how many chickens you have. You may find chicken poop in the nesting box if your hens are perching on the edge at night.
Sometimes, new chickens or young chickens may be at the mercy of the pecking order when it comes to finding a perching place for the night, and they may find refuge sitting on the edge of the box. If their tail is turned in, they will be pooping through the night, and if this becomes habit you will get chicken waste in your nesting and will have to clean it more often.
Try to break this habit by stringing something up so it is uncomfortable to perch there on the edge at night. We have a little curtain on ours to deter this from happening and it works well. They still fly through it to lay their eggs in the nesting boxes.
You can see what our curtain looks like in the 4th photo down in this article.
How Often Should The Entire Chicken Coop Be Cleaned?
A full chicken coop cleaning should happen at least 4 times a year, and we try to do this more during the hot summer months as it is easy to get in there with a hose or pressure washer to lift up all that stuck on chicken poop.
Keeping a clean coop will result in happy chickens with less to worry about such as mites and chicken lice.
Keeping a chicken coop clean also deters flies from hanging around and reduces your risk of fly strike on your chickens.
Can Chicken Bedding Material Be Composted?
Natural chicken bedding material and chicken run materials can be composted if they are natural, such as pine shavings. We do not recommend adding straw to your compost as you may get unwanted seeds in there.
We also do not recommend newspaper or anything with printing on it in the compost, but this is of course a personal choice.
We use pine shavings in our chicken coop and often turn it into our natural compost outside. Here is a photo of it mixed in and decomposing a bit after turning it:
Chicken Coop Bedding Summary
Wood shavings are the best chicken coop material for bedding. This is our top choice for chicken coop bedding because:
- they are cost effective
- they come in compressed bags
- they can be delivered right to your door so they are easily available
- they clump easily when soiled
- they are easy to change
- the chickens like them
- they smell nice
- they are natural
- it is easy to clean
Here are some other questions people are asking about chicken bedding materials:
What is the best chicken coop bedding for a coop?
At the Farmer's Cupboard we have tried almost everything. We believe that the best chicken bedding for a coop is wood shavings, and they are our preferred choice. They are inexpensive, clean, pest-free, comfortable and are low maintenance.
What should I put on the floor of my chicken coop?
Material for the flooring of your coop depends on your situation. If your chickens are in the coop for long periods of time, you are going to use more material, and cost may be a factor for you to consider. For us, the chickens are in the coop only at night time.
In our opinion, you should probably put the same material you are using in your nesting boxes on the floor of your chicken coop as well. We personally prefer wood shavings for both our nesting boxes and chicken coop floor as we often change our nesting material and throw the old material onto the coop floor. Again, shavings clump easily and are quite inexpensive.
What is the best material to put in a chicken nesting box?
The best material for hen nesting boxes is wood shavings. It is hygienic, clean, absorbs water well, is low maintenance, compostable and the chickens find it comfortable. It also helps keep eggs clean.
Are wood chips OK for chickens?
Wood chips are not a preferred nesting material. They are too coarse and big and therefore, don't absorb water or clump well. Also, wood chips are not comfortable or ideal for the hens who naturally dig around to make comfortable areas for themselves. Consider switching to shaved wood for chickens rather than wood chips
Is straw bad for chickens?
No, straw is not bad for chickens. It is not the best nesting material for chickens either but if its available to you because you already have it for other reasons, you can use it for your hen nests.
Do I need to wear a mask when cleaning a chicken coop?
Yes, chickens by their nature create a lot of dust. Chicken poop, once dry, breaks apart into dust and the chicken bedding and floor material can have dust as well.
There are usually rodents in and around chicken coops and their droppings are considered toxic to humans. If you were working in a well-run commercial chicken facility you would be required to wear a respirator for this activity. At a minimum, throw on an N95 equivalent mask or better yet a full respirator.
Owning chickens will eventually lead you to treating your coop for various pests. Natural remedies for this can work but eventually you will have a pest hurting your flock that you cant fix with diatomaceous earth. For the chemical treatments you will need a respirator anyway.
Can you get sick from cleaning a chicken coop?
Yes you can get sick from cleaning a chicken coop. It is rare but chickens attract rodents. Rodent droppings are known to contain viruses that can harm humans. Scroll up to see which mask we wear when cleaning out our coop.
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