Depending on the season, humidity, sun exposure and your climate, bedding needs for your chicken coop and run can vary. Be sure you’re using the right bedding for your flock.
These are especially absorbent and a great winter choice for the coop and nest boxes. Fluffy, soft and insulating, wood shavings like poplar will also absorb moisture in the air, reducing humidity that can cause frostbite. During humid conditions, however, wood shavings need to be replaced often—bedding should always be as dry as possible. Cedar shavings should never be used in a chicken coop. The natural oils in cedar that gives it its unmistakable scent can cause respiratory problems in your chickens.
Straw bedding isn’t as absorbent as wood shavings, which is both a pro and a con. It will stay drier than wood shavings, but it won’t absorb moisture from chicken poop in the coop, making big messes during damp times of the year. Depending on location and climate conditions, some people prefer it year round. Straw bedding is the best option for the deep-litter bedding method that helps create heat through the winter.
Sand as bedding is a relatively new method inside the coop. What chicken keepers like about sand is that chicken poop can be removed easily with a kitty-litter scoop. During hot summers, sand in the nest box stays cool, giving hens a place to cool down. While sand can be a great and longer-lasting alternative to absorbent bedding options, sand is not appropriate for year-round use. In the winter, sand will not insulate a chicken coop. Instead, it will wick heat from your chickens, and they won’t be able to keep themselves warm.
In a chicken run that has adequate drainage and stays relatively dry you might not need additional bedding, but long-term exposure to very wet conditions, plus chicken poop is a recipe for disease. If your run is in a low spot or isn’t covered, it will need some enhancements to keep your chickens healthy. If your coop is mobile and moved regularly, whether ‘pasture’ is in season or dormant for the winter, the ground will suffice.
A slightly absorbent yet sturdy material, straw won’t break down immediately when it gets wet. Whether the run covered or open to the elements, straw is a great option for chicken run bedding. It will break down slowly, and build up the soil in your run to help fill in low areas. Keep adding fresh straw as it breaks down, or rake it out and compost it with your coop bedding. A note about straw: If your chickens eat organic feed to produce organic eggs, reconsider using straw unless you know its source is chemical-free. Any weeds or seeds chickens find within the straw to eat will contain whatever chemicals were sprayed on the hay in the field.
These are not appropriate for a chicken run. Even if the run is covered and moderately protected from rain, wood shavings will become too wet, encourage bacteria growth and get smelly.
Sand is a wonderful option for inside the run. Chickens can scratch through it and dust bathe in it, and it’s safe even if they eat some of it. Sand also provides the best drainage for keeping the run dry. Unfortunately, the summer sun can heat sand so much that it can burn chickens’ feet, so consider summer sun exposure and shade options before filling your run with sand.
Chickens love to scratch through leaves, breaking them down quickly. When the flock is done working on the leaf pile, leave them in the run or rake them out for covering garden beds or for composting. Leaves can also supplement deep litter.