BEDDING: COMPARING MATERIALS
For some of us sand and concrete are just too expensive, stressful, and a big commitment, But there are other alternatives, some coming at no cost. This time of year especially, good clean bedding is a must. In this two part series I will be covering bedding, different types, maintaining it, and Keeping it dry and healthy and fresh. Here are the materials I have used.
Cons: Can be hard to spread, course, dusty, can harbor pests.
Because it is course and often dusty, it is not an ideal bedding to use inside your coop, especially if it is poorly ventilated. Since most straw still contains grain, chickens love to scratch in it. Putting a bale of straw in you coop or run is a good way to help with boredom. Because it is so course, straw can also be great for controlling mud in and around your run. Some people report having more lice and mite problems while using straw because of its tube like structure can be a prefect breeding ground for these and other pests. It is also much to course for comfortable nesting boxes.
For interior use: ✯✯
Exterior use: ✯✯✯✯
Nest boxes: ✯
Cons: Can be dusty, moldy, and expensive.
High quality hay can add an excellent fresh smell too your coop and run, but like straw, I would not recommend using it unless your coop is well ventilated as even the best hay can be very dusty. It can be excellent for open runs though, but is not as good for mud control as straw. It is great for nest boxes, especially if you have screened bottoms, where shavings are not an option. Also it mats together well, making cleaning a breeze.
Chickens enjoy scratching in it, but be warned, hay contains lots of weed seeds so be careful if you plan to use it for compost later on.
Interior use: ✯✯✯
Exterior use: ✯✯✯
Nest boxes: ✯✯✯✯
Pros: No dust, smells wonderful, free, Pest resistant.
Cons: Not available in some places.
Pine straw are one of my personal favorite bedding materials. They smell wonderful, and are readily available in most places for no cost. It is great for inside your coop, especially if it is poorly ventilated as it is dust free.
Pine straw is great for runs as well, in fact some of us have pine trees already growing in our runs, supplying then with fresh bedding with out any work on our part. If you do not have any pine trees on your property, don’t despair. There are many people with pine trees in their yards who would be happy to have them raked up for free. Pine straw is ok for nest boxes, but not the most comfortable thing.
Nest boxes: ✯✯✯
Pros: Readily available, easy to spread, absorbent, great for brooders, pest resistant.
Cons: Can be dusty, hard to clean up later.
Pine shavings are easy to spread, and readily available, making them very stress free which is nice.
They aren’t so good for large runs though, especially as they readily sink in to the mud. They are good for nest boxes as long as you have a solid bottom. For brooders though, they are one of the best materials to use, since they are fine, and there is nothing for the chicks to get caught on (a problem with using hay are straw). Be careful not to use shavings that are too fine though, as the chicks may try to eat them. You can buy shavings at your local feed or hardware store, or possibly find free/cheap shavings at a near by saw mill.
Nest boxes: ★★★
Pros: Free and readily available, No dust.
Cons: blow around a lot, hard to clean up later.
Because they are free and almost everyone has them in their yard, leaves are a pretty obvious thing to use for bedding. Problem is, they like to blow around. Put them on one end of your coop, and they will soon be scratched to the lowest end. For runs though, a load of leaves can be very beneficial, as the chickens love scratching in them, gobbling up the worms and slugs that inevitably will find.
Throw a hand full of leaves in your brooder and you will have very happy chicks.
Also, leaves are nice and comfy, great for nest boxes.
Nest boxes: ★★★★
Pros: Cheap or free, no dust, absorbent, pest resistant.
Cons: Can be hard to find, hard to clean up later.
Wood chips or shredded trees, can make great bedding. They are dust free, and the chickens cannot scratch them around like they can with other light materials like hay, leaves, or grass clippings.
Wood chips contain the whole tree, leaves, twigs and all, and makes fantastic mulch if let rot down. It is also great for muddy pathways and runs. Finding wood chips can be hard. Your local electric company cuts and shreds loads of wood chips every day if you are interested in getting large quantity’s of them. Since wood chips are often filled with large sticks and twigs, they are not good for nest boxes.
Nest boxes: ★
Pros: Free, smells good, chickens favorite.
Cons: Tough grasses can get stuck in chickens throats.
Grass clippings can be great bedding for your coop. Especially since chickens love to scratch and eat them too. And they are free. Do not use clippings from tough grasses such as broom sedge or Fesque though, as it can get stuck in your birds throats. Also, NEVER use clippings from grass that has been treated with chemical fertilizers and pesticides, as it can be harmful or deadly to your birds.
Nest boxes: ★★
Special thanks to Mountain peeps for letting me use her pictures!
MAINTAINING YOUR BEDDING
Clean, healthy bedding is the key to having healthy birds, especially in the winter.
Poorly maintained bedding can lead to many health issues such as respiratory problems, mite/lice infestations, higher susceptibility to frost bite, and a host of other health problems and deceases. Here are some quick guidelines to maintaining your bedding.
- Ammonia build up
Your birds delicate lung tissue is damaged when ammonia fumes in the coop exceed five- parts-per-million. The human nose cannot smell ammonia until it reaches twenty five parts-per-million. Yes, that’s right your birds lungs are being damaged before you can even detect any odder! Avoid this by adding a light layer of bedding every day or so. If you don’t do deep bedding, them make shore you clean out and replace bedding on a regular basis. Throw down some scratch grains and let the chickens stir it up. It will help it break down faster and give your birds something to do.
- Dust and Ventilation
Dust is very harmful to your birds and their health. A dusty and poorly ventilated coop can cause hosts of health issues. Keep your coop well ventilated. Many of us are tempted to build fully enclosed chicken coops, fully insulated and enclosed.
This is not necessary if you live in a climate where the temperature does not drop below -10.
My coops are uninsulated, open and airy, and my birds have done just fine in temps that low.
Avoid overly dusty materials such as saw dust, and never use anything that is moldy or musty. Do not let manure collect any where (i.e tops of nest boxes, boards, roosts etc) as it can dry and produce dust. Remember, your birds are constantly moving around during the day, so dust and mold will never have chance to settle.
Never use bedding that is damp or wet, as it will likely mold. Chickens housed in coops containing moist, poorly circulated air are far more likely to have frost bite issues then those housed in dry coops. Again, ventilation is very necessary. Keep your waters out in the runs to avoid spillage onto the bedding. This is especially important if you keep water fowl. If possible, have proper drainage around your coop to prevent water from running underneath.
- Muddy runs
Avoid muddy runs and coops. I have seen many photos of chickens standing in two or three inch deep mud. Believe me, this is not pleasant or healthy for them. Chickens kept in these conditions often have scale problems, and are more susceptible to getting scaly leg mites. Put down a good layer of wood chips, straw, etc, preferably before your run becomes overly muddy. If possible, move your run and coop to a fresh spot every season or so.
- Freshen your bedding
There are many natural ways to keep your bedding fresh and smelling great. In the spring and summer sprinkle fresh flowers on the floor and nest boxes.
During the winter months collect and spread fresh grass clippings in your coop. Your birds will enjoy eating them and they will add a freshness to your coop.
Also sprinkling dried herbs such as citronella (a natural pest repellent) is also very beneficial, and will help with pests.
~special thanks to mountain peeps for letting me use her pictures.