What’s the Best Bedding for Chickens?

Your choice of chicken coop bedding can make or break your egg production rate … literally.

Promoted by Sweet PDZ
What’s the Best Bedding for Chickens?

By Ana M. Hotaling, Michigan

What is the best bedding for chickens? Should you choose pine shavings or straw? And what else can keep chicken nesting boxes fresh?

One of the greatest joys of poultry ownership is collecting your chickens’ eggs. Nothing beats reaching into a nestbox and pulling out a handful of those freshly laid treasures. Likewise, nothing quite beats the sensation of coming away with a hand full of egg goo and shell fragments. As strong as eggs may be — especially if your girls enjoy a calcium supplement to their diet — eggshells are still fairly fragile things, inclined to fracture if stepped or sat upon by a hefty hen or if pecked by an inquisitive pullet. While there’s not much you can do to prevent damage done by your henhouse denizens, you can minimize the risk of shell trauma by choosing the best bedding for chickens and ensuring your nestbox is lined with a material that cushions the egg, not cracks it. Read on to learn about four of the most commonly used egg-catching materials.

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Pine Shavings

Pine shavings for chickens have become increasingly popular. They are easily found both at local feed stores and national farm supply chains, they are relatively inexpensive — a compressed bag that expands to approximately 8.0 cubic feet of shavings runs about $6 per bag — and they give an eye-pleasing, tidy appearance to any coop and nestbox interior. As with straw, pine shavings can be fluffed up and shaped into a nest by your layers: just give them a couple of scoops and watch them go to town. Often, however, the girls go overboard in their interior decorating and you arrive at a bare nestbox the next morning; all the shavings have been kicked out by overenthusiastic hens. To prevent the bedding from ending up on the ground and the eggs from being laid on the floor, add a one-inch slat to the entrance of each nestbox. This barrier will keep the shavings in while being small enough to allow the birds access.

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Pine shavings are also highly absorbent; in commercial settings, they are used to soak up spills. In chicken speak, this translates into soaked and even soggy litter, especially if your coop has leaks or if your hens choose to poop in the nestbox. Since eggshells are permeable, exposure to soaked and soiled shavings can be very detrimental to freshly laid eggs. If you choose to use pine shavings for chickens, a small hand rake is indispensable, as it can be used to remove soiled shavings clumps without removing all of the shavings … and, if removal of all the shavings is required, the hand rake makes quick work of this.

Other factors that must be considered when choosing to use pine shavings in your nest boxes are resin and dust. The sap of pine trees contains resin, an aromatic substance that may linger on the wood even once it has been processed into flakes. A spruce-like, citrusy scent is a clear indication that there is a high percentage of resin present in your pine shavings. The presence of aromatics in your shavings may seem to help keep odor down, but it can also permeate eggshells and irritate your flocks’ respiratory systems. Dust can also cause respiratory issues, and pine shavings are known for their high level of dust. To cut back on this, always purchase flaked shavings versus fine, which break down more rapidly into dust, therefore providing less of a protective cushion for eggs.

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Straw

An inexpensive liner, straw can be bought in bulk for approximately $5 per bale. As straw bales are tightly compressed, you can literally line your nestbox for months on one bale of straw: simply grab a few handfuls and toss them into the nestbox. Your hens will then have the pleasure of shifting the individual stalks around until they have shaped a nest that suits their needs. Straw’s ability to trap air amid its stalks means that it creates a cushioned protective layer between the hard wood or metal of the nestbox and the softer arriving egg. Drawbacks, however, do exist. Sufficient space is needed in order to store the unused bale portion in a way that prevents the straw from being infested by mice, insects and other vermin. Straw retains moisture, absorbing it from such sources as chicken droppings and rain-soaked feathers, and creates a damp environment ideal for fungus, mold, and parasites, none of which are conducive to your flock’s health. Frequently replacing the used straw with fresh will help keep mildew at bay; just make sure to fully air out the nestbox before adding new straw to ensure no lingering moisture remains that will shorten the lifespan of the clean liner material (sprinkling a non-toxic absorbent material such as Sweet PDZ can help keep your nestbox and coop fresh).

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Nesting Pads

Nesting pads are rectangular- or square-shaped packs of wood fibers, usually aspen, sized to fit snugly onto the bottom of a nestbox. These strands of wood fiber are woven together and attached to a paper liner, allowing the pad to be easily lifted out of the nestbox and shaken for a quick cleaning. The hens can scratch and shape the fibers into a comfy and protective nest which stays put; the weave prevents the fibers from getting kicked out of the nestbox en masse. The spaces between the woven strands permit moisture to travel through to the paper liner, keeping the egg-laying surface dry, and as the nesting pad is one unit, the eggs stay on top instead of becoming buried, as can happen with shavings and straw.

The downside, however, is that nesting pads are not widely available. They are rarely carried by feed stores, and very few farm-supply chains keep them in stock. Most nesting-pad devotees purchase them from online poultry suppliers such as EggCartons.com and CutlerSupply.com. And nesting pads are not inexpensive, with the price of 20 nesting pads averaging approximately $60. On the positive side, they do last much longer than handfuls of straw or shavings.

Plastic Nesting Pads
Plastic Nesting Pad

Plastic Nesting Pads

Slowly growing in popularity with microflock owners, plastic nesting pads have long been used by specialty bird breeders who swear by their easy-to-clean qualities. Sized to fit a standard nestbox, plastic nesting pads consist of a slotted base that allows air to circulate and moisture to drop through, plus hundreds of tiny fingers that catch and cushion eggs. There are no shavings to kick out, no natural fibers to mold, no soiled compost to cart away … just a plastic pad that can be quickly disinfected, dried and used again. Like the natural-fiber nesting pads, however, plastic nesting pads are very difficult to find in a brick-and-mortar store; they most commonly are ordered from an online distributor such as CutlerSupply.com. Each plastic nesting pad also averages approximately $2 to $3 in price, which may sound costly but is actually a sound investment given the longevity of the product. Despite this, there is one chief disadvantage that you may wish to consider quite seriously: the comfort of your hens, who will not be able to shape the preformed plastic into a cozy, snug nest and might choose to avoid the cool plastic lining their nestbox and lay their eggs elsewhere.

What do you consider to be the best bedding for chickens? Let us know!

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