Ask the Expert: Bedding

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Best Bedding for Chickens

I want to know how to keep broiler chickens from bedding to growth. What type of bedding doesn’t bring sneezing, coughing, and diarrhea?

Clement Ngulube

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Hi Clement,

Bedding doesn’t normally cause the symptoms you’ve described. But please enjoy the link below that describes good bedding options:

The symptoms you’ve described are symptoms of illness. While the bedding itself may not cause these problems, dirty bedding can lead to sick chickens. It’s important to keep your chickens in clean litter at all times. If your litter is clean, then you may want to check with a veterinarian to see what is causing problems for your chickens.

Hope this helps!

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Poultry Bedding 

How much bedding do my five chickens need in the summertime inside of their house? 

— Kimberly Ervin 

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Hi Kimberly, 

That’s a tough question to answer, especially since I don’t know where you live. Here’s why: 

In the winter, you need more bedding for insulation and heat. Even if you’re not utilizing the deep bedding method for creating heat, an extra-thick layer on the floor can block drafts and increase the overall ambient temperature. Whenever temperatures drop to single digits, I throw a 12-inch layer of fresh straw into the coop. It helps a LOT. Changing bedding whenever it’s soiled (or managing it via the deep bedding method) also mitigates humidity to prevent frostbite. 

That’s not a problem in the summer. But now you have temperatures perfect for bacterial growth. The most dangerous bacteria, including salmonella and e. Coli, are usually mesophilic, meaning they thrive between 68-113F. And bacteria need moisture to grow. 

Now, I live in the desert, so if we’re not having a summer storm, chicken droppings are dry within an hour of falling. If you live in the South or somewhere receiving regular rainstorms, you might not get rid of the underlying humidity that can allow bacteria to flourish in the nest. I can get by with changing out bedding every two weeks (if the hens don’t kick it out themselves,) sprinkling the box with a mite-deterrent powder like diatomaceous earth before replacing straw. But I’m at the extreme end of dryness. That may be different for you. 

Another factor includes where your chickens spend the daytime. Mine gather in whatever shady place they can: roosting bars within the coop or beneath a shade structure I built at the other end of the run. I need more bedding here, to catch droppings so I can easily remove them. If your chickens free-range, you probably won’t need bedding outside the nesting boxes and roost area. 

I’m sorry I couldn’t give you a more solid answer. Good luck! 

— Marissa 

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Energized by Wet Straw

I have noticed that when water moistens the straw in the run, the chickens get energized and have a hay day. This leads to the question, do chickens prefer damp straw over dry straw in their run? 

Maureen & Ed Farrell

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Hi Maureen and Ed,

That’s a fun observation! It’s always interesting to see what stirs the chickens up! It’s hard to know why they prefer the wet straw, but at the risk of raining on their parade (or not raining), a little caution here may be helpful.

In general, damp conditions are not good for chickens. Wet straw promotes mold growth. If the ground underneath gets wet, the organisms that cause coccidiosis tend to thrive. Bacteria in the litter produce excess ammonia, too, if it’s wet. Footpad health can also be poorer if the litter is wet — possibly because of the increased ammonia.

So, while a little moisture is probably okay occasionally, keeping the coop dry will be better in the long run.

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Are Cedar Chips Harmful?

Are cedar chips safe to use as litter in chicken house? Are they harmful to adult chickens? Thank you.

Charles Gaines

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Hi Charles,

Your question is a good one that often comes down to personal preference with one caveat — cedar chips. Many people like them because they smell wonderful. But that wonderful smell can irritate your chicken’s lungs and cause health problems down the road.

We prefer to use pine shavings. They are probably the most popular bedding option. They are in supply year-round and we get them where we buy our chicken food, so they’re convenient. They are fairly inexpensive, and most important, they are absorbent and don’t break down quickly.

Another option is straw. We personally find it harder to get year-round and it can get kind of sticky. We have also used grass clippings in the summer and leaves in the fall, but only as a treat. If you use these, you want to make sure your lawn hasn’t been treated with chemicals. We have also heard of people who use shredded newspapers and office papers, but they are messy and tend to break down quickly. Plus, we don’t like to expose our flock all that ink and are wary of any metal clips or staples that might be in the paper.

We hope this is helpful!

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Please note that although our team has dozens of years of experience, we are not licensed veterinarians. For serious life and death matters, we advise you to consult with your local veterinarian.

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