I haven't seen rice hulls mentioned much so I've decided to draw people's attention to it as a great material for bedding. I have been using it for over a year for both chickens and ducks with great success. It is amazing how much better results I get with the ducks over pine shavings.
The main advantages of using rice hulls are:
1. Does not absorbs water
While clumps of rice hulls can retain water in large quantities, overall the material has no capacity to retain water which means most liquids quickly sink to the bottom. If you have a well drained floor (or using rice hulls over a think weed cloth over a metal mesh), the bedding will stay mostly dry. This is especially great with ducks and ducklings as they are messy with their water. In the duck brood I just move the bedding around the waterer under the heat lamp once ever few days and it keeps the brood dry and mostly odor free (wood shaving tend to stink up the place in under two days and must be replaced as they take a long time to dry).
2. Produces useful dust
Dust can be a problem for chickens and ducks but I never had any problem from rice hulls dust. On the other hand, the dusk is extremely useful when using the deep litter system. Any poop falling on the bedding gets immediately covered in a thin layer of dust and hulls, making it non-sticky and it dries much faster. I have 24 hens in a 6 x 12 coop, and I don't bother removing any bedding or poop anywhere for a whole year. The only smell inside is the feed. This is mostly because the poop (both on the bedding and under the roost) dries up extremely fast thanks to the rice hulls.
At the local feed stores in Northern California, rice hulls are about 30-40% cheaper than shavings.
4. Easy to work with
Easy to spread, mix, level, and remove.
5. Has no odor
Wood shavings, especially pine, have a very strong scent which together with urine can be very intense and offensive to both fowl and people. Rice hulls have no smell at all.
6. Lasts forever
Because it doesn't retain moisture, it doesn't grow mold or any other bacteria like wet shavings. I have stored opened bags for over a year and it stayed in the same condition.
I still don't know how well it decomposes once removed but I will find out soon enough when I clean the coop and compost the mix.
What is your experience like?
Edited by theRazorBlade - 11/2/10 at 9:12am