What Kind of Bedding/Litter Should I Use in a Chicken Coop?

Written by elizabeth mcnelis
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What Kind of Bedding/Litter Should I Use in a Chicken Coop?
Chickens scratch in the litter, turning it to keep it dry. (Jupiterimages/BananaStock/Getty Images)

Chickens cannot be housebroken or trained to use a litter box. The birds automatically do their business wherever and whenever, completely unaware that they've eliminated, especially while roosting at night. Spreading the right kind of litter on the floor of the coop and in the nesting boxes helps keep coop odours to a minimum and promote healthy chickens.

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Chicken litter or bedding provides nest building material and a place to capture manure in the hen house. Wet chicken manure is sticky, smelly and inviting to pests and pathogens. A thick layer of litter on the floor of the hen house under the roosts keeps manure from sticking to the hen house floor. Also, as the chickens scratch and move through the litter, they aerate the pile, allowing it to dry and creating a healthier environment.

Wood Shavings

Pine and cypress shavings and sawdust are commonly used by the backyard chicken farmer. The shavings are readily available at pet and feed stores and are easily turned by the chickens' scratching, which keeps them dry and odour free. Cedar shavings are a tempting alternative because they offer exceptional pest repelling properties, however, cedar sometimes causes respiratory problems in chickens.

Hay and Straw

Hay and straw make suitable, safe chicken litter. Straw sometimes has bits of seeds and grains left behind from the harvest that the chickens enjoy as a snack. Hay and straw are to be stored in a dry area since both are highly susceptible to mould.

Unusual Alternatives

Commercial chicken ranchers often look for local, inexpensive litter alternatives to save money on chicken and egg production. In areas of heavy timber production, the sawdust from the mills is used as chicken bedding whereas in areas of heavy corn production, corn cobs are mulched and used as chicken litter. Peanut shells, rice hulls, cocoa bean shells and other similar agricultural by-products that are plentiful locally are used to line the floors of hen houses.

No Litter

A chicken coop with a raised hen house and a wire floor does not need any litter at all, just a little nesting material for the nesting boxes. The manure falls through the wire to the ground below, and is scratched and composted into the ground by the chickens. An occasional cleaning with a stiff brush along the wire keeps the coop clean.

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