Top 7 Best & Worst Chicken Bedding Materials

You may not have given much thought about your chickens’ bedding.

However, bedding can significantly impact your chickens’ health and comfort. It can also help reduce the smell of poop and ammonia.

Those just starting their journey as backyard chicken keepers will come to learn that as delightful as their chickens are, they can also be quite messy for such little birds.

Making sure that your chicken coop and nesting boxes are dry and odor free is crucial.

The correct bedding will help you do this.

Pine shavings, sand, hemp – which one should you use?

If you are interested in learning more about chicken bedding and finding out which one is right for your flock then keep on reading…

Chicken Bedding

What To Know About Chicken Bedding

Chicken bedding and chicken litter are sometimes used interchangeably, but there is a difference. The bedding is the new and clean material spread in and around your coop and nesting box. Chicken litter is the manure produced by your chickens mixed along with their bedding.

Bedding is used to keep your chickens happy and, most importantly, healthy.

Spreading bedding along your chicken’s coop and nesting boxes helps to keep your chickens healthy as it reduces the moisture and odor in the coop. It also provides a soft landing for chickens jumping down from roosts.

Common bedding materials include straw, pine shavings, sand, recycled paper, and even grass clippings.

Whatever you use, it should be clean and easy to remove.

You will need to put down 1-2 inches of bedding.

This makes it so that there is still ample cushioning but not so much bedding that cleaning regularly is a grueling task. If you are going to carry out the deep litter method then 4-6 inches will be needed.

As a general rule you should spread a new layer of fresh, clean bedding every month.

If you are uncertain when to replace the bedding then just go by your nose. If the coop has a strong smell then it is time for your chickens’ bedding to be changed.

Types Of Chicken Bedding

Picking the right bedding for your hens mostly comes down to preference.

However, there are certain types of bedding which are better for certain climates and coops. Below are the seven best types of chicken bedding for you to choose from.

Bedding Type Cost ($-$$$) Rank
Hemp $$$ 1
Pine Shavings $$ 2
Sand $$$ 3
Recycled Paper $ 4
Grass Clippings $ 5
Straw $$ 6
Hay $$$ 7

7. Hay

Hay

Hay is a very common choice.

It is very cheap and also absorbent.

Hay is often confused with straw but the two are quite different. Hay is a crop whereas straw is actually a byproduct of grain crop.

This bedding allows for quick drainage of any chicken waste but it does not release moisture properly. This means it can be a breeding ground for microbes and bacteria if it is not changed weekly.

If you have to buy your hay at retail then straw or wood shavings are often cheaper and better alternatives. It is also not a particularly great option for chicken bedding for those who do not have the time to change their chickens’ bedding often.

Generally hay is only used when you can get it for free, or very cheap.

Pros:

  • Good insulation
  • Cheap
  • Natural
  • Quick waste drainage
  • Available everywhere

Cons:

  • Poor absorption
  • Needs changing often
  • High risk of mold
  • Can smell

6. Straw

Straw

Straw is one of the more traditional forms of bedding.

It is well liked for its natural smell, feel, cost, accessibility, and ability to be composted.

Straw is also an excellent insulator so it can be used in coops during cold winters. It can be produced from a number of grains such as wheat, rye, and barley, making it suitable for those with allergies.

Just keep in mind that it should be changed weekly to avoid health hazards. It can also mat down which makes it hard to remove and also creates lots of ammonia (which does not smell pleasant).

Straw is cheap too at about $0.57 per pound.

Overall straw is one of the cheapest and simplest types of chicken bedding. You will just need to replace it often to avoid any health concerns.

Pros:

  • Available everywhere
  • Compostable
  • Great for insulation
  • Cheap
  • Helps to mentally stimulate chickens

Cons:

  • Not absorbent
  • Molds easily
  • Must be changed often
  • Low odor prevention

5. Grass Clippings

Grass Clippings

If you are looking for a free option then it does not get much better than grass clippings.

Grass clippings can double as a treat and are a great way to compost too.

They will keep your hens entertained and busy as they search through the grass to remove the bugs and seeds that come naturally with these clippings.

If you decide to use grass clippings then you can do the deep litter method which will provide you with some rich compost when it comes time to change out the bedding. Because it is not incredibly absorbent you will need to change the bedding every two weeks.

As long as your grass clippings are dried out first, they are a great addition to your coop and are often alongside other forms of bedding that are more absorbent.

Pros:

  • Free
  • Compostable
  • Doubles as a treat
  • Keeps hens busy
  • Natural

Cons:

  • Only available seasonally
  • Tends to rot/smell easily
  • Not good for insulation

4. Recycled Paper

Recycled paper is a good option and is commonly used because of its extremely low cost and readily availability.

The only cost to you would be whatever you paid for your newspaper.

Recycled paper is known for holding onto heat well which makes it a great choice for those keeping chickens in colder climates.

It is also extremely absorbent.

Because of this you will need to change the bedding every week to prevent any bad smells.

Additionally, recycled paper can contain hazardous and harmful ink and plastics that can lead to health issues. You should check your paper first before adding it to your coop.

Overall recycled paper is soft, warm, and absorbent and an incredibly cheap and sustainable chicken bedding. You will just need to make sure that the bedding is changed regularly, and hazardous materials do not make it into the bedding.

Pros:

  • Great insulator
  • Cheap
  • Sustainable
  • Available everywhere

Cons:

  • Must be changed frequently
  • Can contain hazardous material (ink, plastics)
  • Does not reduce bad smells
  • Can get slippery

3. Sand

Sand Inside Chicken Coop

Sand is another common choice.

However you cannot just use any type of sand. You must use mortar sand, because sand from the beach or for play can lead to serious health issues for your chickens.

While organic material such as wood and hay are a breeding ground for bacteria and pathogens and rot quickly, sand does not have this issue.

This also means no bad smells in the coop.

Keep in mind the weight of sand compared to other forms of bedding and make sure that your coop floor can withstand the weight.

You should avoid using sand in very hot or cold climates as sand can quickly freeze to the ground or get too hot in direct sunlight. Sand is also one of the higher maintenance bedding alternatives. It needs to be scooped through daily for chicken waste and dirt. This does however mean that it lasts much longer and is a cheaper option in the long run.

Read this article on using sand as coop bedding for more.

Pros:

  • Easy to clean
  • Reduces bacteria and pathogens
  • Helps to reduce odor
  • Lasts for a long time

Cons:

  • Cannot compost
  • Does not insulate
  • Can be dusty
  • Very heavy

2. Pine Shavings

Pine Shavings

Wood and pine shavings are one of the most popular materials because of their absorption capability and pleasant smell.

Pine shavings are relatively cheap and can be found fairly easily.

On average you will find pine shavings for chicken bedding will cost you around $0.31 per pound.

They dry out quickly and hold up relatively well which means you will only need to change out the bedding around 2-4 times a year. Unlike wood shavings like cedar, pine shavings are not as sensitive to your chickens’ respiratory system.

Perhaps the biggest drawback of pine shavings is that they do not insulate as well. This is particularly important to keep in mind if you live in a colder climate.

Just make sure to avoid pine shavings that are extremely fine.

Pros:

  • Available everywhere
  • Fast drying
  • Compostable
  • Cheap
  • Absorbent

Cons:

  • Can lead to respiratory issues
  • Damp wood shavings should be replaced
  • Expensive for bigger coops

1. Hemp

Hemp chicken bedding is gaining popularity in the backyard chicken community for its ability to decrease the ammonia odor from chicken waste. It is also extremely absorbent and provides warmth for your chickens during the colder seasons.

Hemp bedding is made by mulching the cannabis stalk into thick straw.

Although it is quite thick and straw-like, this bedding is quite soft, which makes it suitable for your nesting boxes.

This all-natural and sustainable option is also popular because it can be used for the deep litter method which means you only have to purchase it every so often. As an added bonus it is a natural insecticide and helps stop microbial and bacterial growth in your coop.

It is also a great alternative for owners with allergies to more common forms of bedding such as straw and pine.

The only drawbacks of hemp are that it can be difficult to find and it is expensive.

On average hemp bedding will cost you around $1.36 per pound.

Pros:

  • Highly absorbent
  • Long lasting
  • Natural insecticide
  • Good insulation
  • Hides ammonia odor well

Cons:

  • Can be tricky to find
  • Expensive
  • Some forms can be dusty
  • Quality varies with the seasons

Best Bedding For Chicken Coops During Winter

Chicken bedding is important for the health and wellbeing of your flock all year round.

However it is especially important during the cold, harsh winter months.

During these months the bedding should not only help with insulation, but also be capable of keeping your coop free from harmful bacteria and microbes.

If there is an unpleasant smell in your coop then your bedding is not doing a good job of preventing these hazardous microorganisms from growing.

Recycled paper, straw, and hay are all good insulators but they need to be frequently replaced.

Pine shavings are also a great option during the winter.

The best choice is hemp bedding but it is expensive.

It does just about everything right in terms of winter bedding as it is highly absorbent, soft, can withstand long periods without being changed, and does well controlling bad smells.

Choosing the right bedding for your chickens to withstand harsh, cold seasons can be nerve wracking, but you can’t go wrong with any of the options mentioned above.

Which Chicken Bedding Should You Use? (Summary)

By now you will know what to use for chicken bedding and that there is not one best bedding for every backyard flock.

Each type of bedding has their own pros and cons and will need to be matched against your flock’s specific needs.

Ultimately, the most important thing to take away is to choose something that is both affordable for you and healthy for your chickens.

Whatever bedding you decide to choose, remember that keeping it clean and hazard free will give you happy, healthy chickens and a clean, fresh smelling coop.

Which did you pick? Let us know in the comments section below…

Chris Lesley Bio Picture
Chris Lesley has been Raising Chickens for over 20 years and is a fourth generation chicken keeper. She can remember being a young child when her grandad first taught her how to hold and care for chickens. She also holds a certificate in Animal Behavior and Welfare and is interested in backyard chicken health and care.

7 Comments

  1. Very helpful information. Is it possible to use a combination of 2 bedding materials such as straw and pine shavings? I have the time to clean out the bedding/coupe at least once a month and was considering shavings for the floor of the coop and straw for the nests. I will also have ducks cohabitating in the coop. Thanks!

  2. Prefer pine shavings. Most economical and I use a tiny dust pan and brush, which is easy on me, and does not create lots of wasted shavings. Always smells fresh. Much easier then horses!

  3. I have shavings in the coop and sand in the run (I can’t free range – live in a coastal area with lots of predators!). I also use barn lime to cut smell and bacteria. What is the best way to maintain the run? Can I stir up the floor of the run OR do I need to strip it out periodically? This is my first year of raising chickens.

  4. I actually use a combination litter material and it consists of 3 to 4 inches of peat moss, shavings (pine) newspaper along with grass hay or whatever seems available.Oh tes I also throw in a bag of course sand, so far no problems and only clean about 4 times a year.

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