It’s proving slow to arrive, but spring is surely just around the corner. Here at Mo’s Mini Farm in north-central Alabama, we’ve already noticed buds on a few early bloomers. Wonderful thoughts considering it has either rained or been extremely overcast nearly every day for the whole month of February.
Chicken Coop & Brooder Bedding
On our last trip to the farm/feed store, we stocked up on large flake pine shavings in anticipation of cleaning winter out of all the coops. We have found that the large flake pine shavings are the most economical and functional for our needs. We have too many coops and pens to “scoop” often enough for other types of bedding to work well. Straw tends to get too wet here and not dry out fast enough to avoid a moldy mess. Likewise, it seems with our humidity that sand is also not a good option. We tried it several years ago, and it just stayed too wet inside the coop. It does work well for a sandy area in the run where the sun can shine on it, but not inside the coops. Because we have read various opinions and discussed this with other chicken owners in various areas of the country, we feel there are several important factors in choosing the best bedding for your coops:
- consider your climate/environment – humid, dry, extreme temperatures, excess rain – when selecting the bedding material that will work best in your area
- availability – choose something that you can both acquire and afford regularly
- evaluate time requirements – straw or sand may work well if you are able and willing to “scoop” and replace several times a week, but pine may be better if you are more interested in monthly cleanings or even the deep litter method
- health of your chickens – always evaluate how your chickens are doing with your bedding choice. Respiratory issues? Impacted crops? Bumble foot?
While we used cedar shavings in our dogs’ houses in the past, we have never used cedar with our chickens since most sources strongly recommend against using it due to the oils that can irritate the skin and respiratory system. Some people say that it smells better, but that aromatic cedar odor can damage a chicken’s more sensitive respiratory system, especially younger birds.
More recently, we tried aspen shavings in our dogs’ houses because they were having some mild skin irritation, and we had it on hand for using with our rabbits. It worked so much better that we only use it now, and we didn’t hesitate to use it in the brooder when we ran out of pine shavings. Similarly, we now only use aspen in our brooders for at least the first month. It’s much more expensive than pine, but it is the best brooder bedding we have found since it is much drier, has less dust, and absorbs much better than the pine shavings – maybe because the aspen is kiln dried which is nearly impossible to find around here in pine shavings. We feel it’s worth the extra money because we have much cleaner brooders and thus healthier chicks. You can find aspen at most pet stores since it is used with small pets like rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, etc., but we usually buy our aspen at Tractor Supply (better price there).
Waterfowl Pen and House Bedding
Since we are in a generally mild climate, our ducks and geese have little housing. We have a few sheds and houses for them to get in, but they typically prefer staying out in the weather – even when we get a little snow. They free range daily, but during winter, when the overnight pen gets more muddy and cold, we spread wheat straw around the principle sleeping areas to provide a little extra warmth. We have always used the same wheat straw in their shed/houses and nesting houses until this year when we couldn’t readily find it at a reasonable price. This year we opted to use mixed “cow” hay in the houses where it doesn’t get very wet. Hay tends to clump & mold much easier and faster than straw which is why wheat straw has always been our choice. We still used wheat straw in the open pen areas, and the hay worked fairly well in the houses, until the recent deluge of rainy weather…nothing has fared well in this current state of mud.
For the record, we do not use any bedding material in our duckling or gosling brooders. We use the mesh non-slip liners that can be sprayed off and reused since those babies are so messy! But that’s a post for another day…
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