When I first got my chickens, I was determined to do the very best for them. So I did the wrong thing and read EVERYTHING I could find on the internet. Don’t get me wrong. I love, love, love the internet. When you want a definitive answer about something though, and you’re new to whatever you’re researching, it can be very confusing because you find so many differing opinions and bits of advice.
We talked about bedding, or as some call it “litter”, for the coop a lot. First I told my husband I wanted shavings…I read some more online and I said I wanted sand…then I read some more and I wanted a combination, then I wanted straw, then I wanted straw and shavings and then my husband wanted me to quit changing my mind. We’d been using pine shavings that we’d purchased at the farm supply store as brooder bedding and we had a fair amount left. I didn’t want to be wasteful, so out of that reason came the decision to try shavings in the coop.
In the past, I’ve had shown horses and we always used shavings in the stalls. It was a little dusty when we dumped in the wheelbarrow of shavings, but after a couple of hours, the dust settled and it didn’t make for a terribly dusty experience. Farm animals are a dusty bunch, so I expected dust with whatever I used. Our horses had loved rolling in fresh shavings and I loved burying my nose in their mane and inhaling a deep breath of fresh shavings smell combined with the sweet smell of horse. The shavings were absorbent and the barn always seemed to smell like hay and fresh-cut lumber. Not a bad combo at all.
We priced straw and found that we’d pay $7 a bale for it in our area and very few people seemed to be selling it. We purchased a bale during my “straw phase” and when we broke it open, we found that the interior was full of black mold. I didn’t want to have to break open every bale of straw before I bought it to inspect for mold and I knew mold was bad for chickens. Suffice it to say we never spread that moldy straw in our coop and instead used it to cover some new grass seed that was nowhere near our flock.
I looked at sand too. I hate walking on sand. I’m sure chickens don’t, but because sand has the tendency to “give” when you’re trying to walk, it makes it difficult to walk around in the area where the chickens are kept. The advice was to use “washed construction sand”. Home improvement stores look at you like you’ve lost your mind when you ask for it. The sales person shrugged and said there was play sand in the garden area. I knew play sand was a bad choice because it was fine and dusty and if chickens happen to ingest too much of it, it can cause a crop full of sand which can get impacted and the bird could potentially die. I had read that it was great for dust bathing (I’d made them a dust bath already) and that it was easy maintenance to scoop out chicken poop that had been desiccated by the sand. I don’t even like to clean the cat box. The thought of scooping chicken poop out of sand in the large coop area didn’t appeal to me at all. It also didn’t appeal to me at all that I’d have to buy this stuff by the truckload and have it delivered and then haul it into the coop, push it around to smooth it out and then during my complete cleaning, I’d have to shovel the darn stuff out and sand is HEAVY and I’m OLD. It also didn’t seem sanitary to me…but then again…how sanitary is any chicken bedding? I was also worried about the heat and cold and the use of sand. I want something that warms up quickly in the winter. Sand doesn’t logically seem to be something that would do that. We also live in a very humid area and like a child’s sandbox, I envisioned sand holding moisture on humid, damp days and chickens walking around with damp sand clinging to their feet. It also doesn’t seem like something that would be comfortable…although I’m not a chicken and I’m not sure what their feelings are because they’re very tight beaked about things like giving their opinions.
Oh the DECISIONS.
I finally went with what I had and used shavings. We can get them for about 4.50 for a compressed package. So we covered the coop’s wooden floor with shavings using two bags to create a deep soft bed of about 3-4 inches while it’s fluffy. I always leave some of it in piles near the back and center of the coop, because the chickens spend a ridiculous amount of time scratching around in it and looking for treasures and always scratch the piles flat. It keeps them busy for a while. I didn’t want shavings out in the run, so as I spread the shavings, I made sure that there was a more shallow area of shavings right in front of the door. The chickens have to step up to go through the run door, so the shavings naturally don’t fall out the door. I also put a flagstone just inside the door on top of the shavings. The chickens always step on that stone when they are coming and going through the run door. When it’s dirty, it can be hosed off and replaced. I’ve not had any problems with shavings out in the run.
I also found, that the chickens will turn the shavings daily for me and they don’t mind at all! I throw in some treats like dried meal worms and they scratch and scratch and turn the bedding over very nicely when they’re searching for their treats. Fresh shavings are brought to the top and soiled shavings gravitate to the bottom. The coop continues to smell like fresh shavings too! I do have some tracking of shavings into my work area in the front of the coop by my shoes, but it’s a snap to sweep them up with my corn broom and just toss them back in the chicken area.
We discovered that with ten chickens, two bags of shavings in the coop will last between two to three weeks depending on the weather and how often the chickens can’t go out due to rain. The first time I had to change out the bedding, I was determined to do it myself because they were MY chickens and I promised my husband that I would care for them. I used a shovel and easily shoveled all of the shavings into a large trash can so that we could add it to the compost that we were creating for the garden and plants in our yard. When I’d filled the can, I groaned a little. I expected to have to get Tom or Greg to carry it around the compost pile. I tried to move it…IT WAS LIGHT!! I could do it myself! Can you imagine if I’d had to shovel sand and then try to move it to…wait…where would I have even PUT the soiled sand? Anyway, I would have been in traction for a WEEK.
We’ve been using shavings since the beginning and honestly, I just love them. They smell clean, they’re easy to change out, they have very little dust once they’re spread and my happy chickens love to dig a shallow hole in them and then fluff the shavings around them with their beak like they’re creating a little nest. I have to believe that they like them when they create that little nest and settle down with their head under their wing to take a nap. If they didn’t, they’d be out sleeping in the dust and dirt in the run. Shavings seem to make their home cozy, they seem to be as healthy an option as anything else (as long as it’s not cedar shavings…do NOT use those as they can cause respiratory issues with your birds due to the toxic nature of cedar oils) and I can manage them myself without calling a quarry or trying to track down large amounts of clean, bright straw. I will be using a combination of straw and shavings in my nesting boxes and we plan to use straw bales around the perimeter of the coop during the winter for the insulation it can provide.
I think bedding choice is YOUR choice. Read everything you can find, but don’t feel like you’re not doing the right thing because what you choose to do doesn’t align with what someone else has done. Educate yourself and choose what makes sense for the health and happiness of your flock…and possibly your spine.