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5 Best Bedding Options for Your Chicken Coop

5 Best Bedding Options for Your Chicken Coop

Keeping chickens healthy starts with lining their chicken coop and run properly. But with so many bedding options, which works best?

After extensive research, pine wood shavings stand out as the overall best bedding for backyard chickens. Of course, other quality bedding alternatives exist too. 

But which bedding option is the best one for your chicken? Don't worry. We’ll cover everything you need to know about selecting the best chicken coop bedding.

Key Takeaways:

  • Chopped straw makes an inexpensive, insulating bedding chickens enjoy scratching and dust bathing in. But it has low absorbency and may contain mold.

  • Pine shavings are soft, absorbent, and deter odors, but can be dusty and unsustainable if not locally sourced.

  • Sand offers easy cleaning and dust bathing spots, yet requires good drainage to avoid moisture buildup.

  • Chopped leaves give chickens scratching enrichment, though absorbency is low and leaves can mat down.

  • Hemp bedding has excellent absorbency and composts well, but is more expensive and not widely available.

A brown chicken pecking at the ground near a wooden coop with hay on the ground

    5 Top Beddings for Chicken Coops

    Let’s discuss the pros and cons of 5 of the best bedding options for chicken coops:

    1. Chopped Straw

    Straw makes a cheap, loosely packed bedding that chickens enjoy scratching and dust bathing in. It also insulates well against cold.

    Pros of Chopped Straw Bedding:

    • Inexpensive and widely available
    • Provides fluffy scratching material
    • Good insulation against cold
    • Composts well

    Cons of Using Chopped Straw:

    • Not very absorbent
    • Difficult to compost when mixed with manure
    • Can contain mold, fungi, or pesticide residue

    How to Source and Use Straw:

    • Buy square or round straw bales from farm supply stores or local farmers
    • Chop into 2-3 inch pieces using a chaff cutter or lawn mower
    • Spot clean droppings and top up monthly
    • Remove completely 2-3 times a year

    2. Pine Wood Shavings

    Pine shavings make a soft, absorbent bedding. They're inexpensive, readily available, and compost well. But avoid shavings from cedar, black walnut, or redwood.

    Benefits of Pine Shavings for Chicken Coops:

    • Highly absorbent and insulating
    • Available at livestock and farm supply stores
    • Inexpensive, especially when bought in bulk
    • Naturally deter foul odors
    • Provide good footing for chickens

    Drawbacks of Pine Shavings:

    • Produce fine dust that's bad for respiratory health
    • Not sustainable if sourced from rainforests
    • May contain chemical residue from treated lumber

    Finding and Using Pine Shavings:

    • Source untreated pine shavings in bulk from local stables, farms, or woodshops
    • Spot clean droppings and stir shavings often
    • Add fresh pine monthly as a top dressing
    • Remove and replace completely every 4-6 months

    3. Sand

    Coarse builder's sand makes an excellent litter for coops with outdoor access. It drains well, cleans easily, and provides a dry dust bathing spot. Avoid play sand, which is dusty.

    Why Sand is Good for Chicken Coops:

    • Quick drying and easy to clean
    • Provides chickens a dry place for dust baths
    • Non-toxic and chemical-free
    • Affordable when bought in bulk
    • Provides secure footing for chickens

    Potential Downsides of Sand Bedding:

    • Can easily be kicked out of run and tracked into the coop
    • Requires excellent drainage to avoid moisture buildup
    • Fine particles may cause respiratory issues if dusty

    Choosing and Maintaining Sand Bedding:

    • Use coarse builder’s sand, not play sand or beach sand
    • Spot clean droppings and rake the surface often
    • Add fresh sand monthly to control odors and moisture
    • Change completely every 6-12 months depending on drainage

    4. Chopped Leaves

    Chopped leaves make an affordable and compostable bedding. They provide great scratching material and enrich pecking time. Avoid using whole leaves, which mat down.

    Advantages of Using Chopped Leaves:

    • Dry leaves readily available for free in the fall
    • Provide fluffy scratching material when chopped
    • Naturally insulating and compostable
    • Soft cushion for chickens' feet

    Disadvantages of Leaf Litter:

    • Low absorbency until leaves break down a bit
    • Can mat down into dense clumps when wet
    • Limited seasonal availability in some regions

    Collecting and Maintaining Leaf Litter:

    • Collect leaves in fall, chop into 1-2 inch pieces
    • Mix with straw or shavings to improve absorbency
    • Turn and aerate often to prevent compaction
    • Add fresh leaves as needed for scratching enrichment

    5. Hemp Bedding

    Hemp bedding is highly absorbent, compostable, and made from the fibers inside hemp stalks. It's gaining popularity for its odor-controlling abilities and sustainability.

    Pros of Hemp Bedding:

    • Excellent absorbency and odor control
    • All-natural and chemical-free
    • Composts well with minimal odor
    • Produces very little dust
    • Sustainable crop with low environmental impact

    Cons of Hemp Bedding:

    • Relatively expensive compared to other bedding
    • Limited availability depending on location

    Sourcing and Caring for Hemp Bedding:

    • Find from specialty bedding producers or online
    • Spot clean droppings and stir often
    • Add fresh hemp monthly to maintain absorbency
    • Fully replace every 4-6 months
    Chickens of different colors standing in straw inside a blue fenced area

      Key Features to Look for in Coop Bedding

      So what makes an ideal chicken bedding? Here are the most important factors to consider:


      Absorbency is vital for controlling moisture and odors in the coop. Pay attention to how well bedding soaks up liquid.

      Here is how the various bedding materials compare in terms of absorbency:

      Bedding Material Absorbency Rating
      Hemp bedding Excellent
      Pine shavings Very good
      Chopped straw Fair
      Sand Poor
      Whole leaves Poor

      Odor Control

      Along with absorbency, the bedding must help control smells. Some materials like hemp naturally deter odors.

      Others like cedar shavings contain natural oils that help mask foul odors. Avoid scented bedding, as this may irritate your chickens.

      Insulating Abilities

      Good insulation helps regulate temperatures inside the coop. This is especially important in cold climates.

      Fluffy, porous materials like pine shavings and straw trap air well for insulation. Stay away from smooth or dense beddings.


      Bedding for a big chicken house gets expensive over time. Opt for budget-friendly bulk options like wood shavings, straw, or sand.

      Bedding Material Estimated Cost
      Straw $3-10 per bale
      Pine shavings $10 per cubic ft
      Sand $1-2 per cubic ft
      Chopped leaves Free if self-collected
      Hemp bedding $10 per cubic ft

      Low Dust

      Dusty bedding can irritate your chickens' eyes, nose and throat. It may even cause respiratory issues over time.

      Avoid beddings that generate excessive dust like sawdust and finely ground straw. Also, stay away from molds and mildew.


      Consider how readily available and sustainable the bedding is in your area before choosing. For instance, pine shavings may be plentiful if you live near lumber mills.

      Long-term, it helps to have multiple bedding sources in case one falls through.

      Of course, bedding is just one element of setting up the ideal home for your chickens. When choosing or building your coop, pay close attention to factors like space per bird, ventilation, roosts, and nesting boxes. The best chicken coop optimized for your flock's needs will make it easier to keep their bedding clean and dry.

      Chickens in a coop with one pecking at the ground and another standing on the doorway

      Final Words

      Proper coop bedding is vital for keeping backyard chicken coop clean, comfortable, and healthy for your flock. With so many options available, focus on absorbency, odor control, insulation, cost, dust levels, and sustainability when selecting bedding.

      Try out a few different beddings on a small scale first before committing to buying a year's supply. Over time, you'll discover what works best for your chickens and maintenance style.

      By providing the right litter for your coop, you'll give your flock a safe and enriched home where they can happily scratch, peck, dust bathe, and nest. Your chickens will thank you!


      How often do I need to replace the bedding in the coop?

      The frequency of changing the bedding in the chicken coop depends on the type of bedding used, the size of your coop, and the number of chickens. As a general rule, bedding should be changed anytime it becomes soaked with waste or starts to smell.

      Can kitty litter be used as a type of chicken coop bedding, and what are its benefits and drawbacks?

      While kitty litter can be used in a chicken coop, it's not a common choice. Kitty litter comes in clumping and non-clumping forms. The clumping form should not be used in the coop because the chickens might eat it, which could cause an intestinal blockage. Non-clumping kitty litter can be used to control odors, but it is not as effective at absorbing waste as other options.

      What is the deep litter method?

      The deep litter method is a method of chicken waste management where litter in the chicken coop is allowed to build up over time. It is turned regularly to promote composting of the waste and fresh bedding is added on top. This method not only minimizes the work of cleaning out the coop but also helps to insulate it in winter.

      What features should I consider when choosing bedding for my chicken coop?

      Features to consider when choosing your bedding type include its ability to absorb waste, dust level, ease of cleaning, cost, and whether it can be used with the deep litter method. Also, bear in mind the climate conditions in your area, the size of your coop, and whether your chickens spend more time in the coop or the run.

      Are there any chicken health concerns with bedding type options?

      Definitely. For example, sand can cause an impacted crop if chickens ingest too much, cedar shavings can cause respiratory issues due to their strong smell, and straw can harbor mites. It's essential to research all bedding options and any associated risks before making a choice.

      Does the choice of bedding affect the chicken run in any way?

      Yes, it does. Bedding does not only affect the coop but also the run. Sand is an especially good option for runs because it drains well and helps to control odor. Other options like wood shavings or straw and hay may not be suitable for runs as they can cause a muddy mess or become slippery when wet. So use sand.

      Next article How to Keep Snakes Out of Your Chicken Coop: 9 Easy Tips

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      About The Author

      Andy Wu - Resident Expert

      Andy Wu - Resident Expert

      Andy Wu is the resident backyard products expert and hails from Atlanta, Georgia. His passion for crafting outdoor retreats began in 2003.

      As a fellow homeowner, he founded Backyard Oasis to provide top-quality furnishings and equipment, collaborating with leading manufacturers.

      His main focus is on sheds and generators!

      In his spare time he like to hike the tallest mountains in the world and travel with his family.

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