Quick Guide to Common Brooder and Coop Bedding Materials

A guide to common coop and brooder bedding materials
By AccidentalFarm · Mar 7, 2013 · Updated May 18, 2013 · ·
  1. AccidentalFarm
    Quick Guide to Brooder and Coop Bedding Materials


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    BYC_ Brooder and Coop Bedding Options-Illustrated 676k .pdf file

    There are so many bedding material options for brooders and coops out there that choosing one can quickly become an overwhelming task for new flock owners. Ask 10 'seasoned' flock owners what the best choice is, and you're likely to get 10 different answers! But it really doesn't have to be a difficult decision at all. Here are a few of the more commonly used and easily obtained bedding materials, with some basic information about each one:

    Pine Shavings-
    Pine shavings are inexpensive and readily available at most big box and pet stores, such as Walmart, Petco, and PetSmart. Farm and ranch stores, such as Tractor Supply also carry it, as do most general feed stores.

    Pine shavings that are untreated can safely be used in brooders and coops and will not harm chickens. Chicks may try to eat the shavings, but this is uncommon and generally stops once they learn what their food is. With day old chicks, a layering of paper towels over the shavings is recommended for the first few days in the brooder.

    Cleaning the brooder is relatively simple, but with cages or wire-sided brooders, you'll have pine shavings to clean up OUTSIDE the brooder as well. It's a good idea to wrap cages with a strip of cardboard a few inches tall to help contain the shavings.

    Used pine shaving bedding can be added to a compost pile, or tilled directly into soil.

    CAUTION: Do not use Cedar shavings in brooders or coops. The strong aromatic oils in Cedar can cause respiratory problems in chickens and other small animals.


    Many people use sand in brooders and coops for it's low cost, superior drainage, and ease of cleaning. Play sand is available at big box & home improvement stores, such as Walmart, Home Depot, and Lowes. It can also be purchased by the 'load' in many areas from local sources. It's a good option especially for coops with bare earth floors, but can be used in completely enclosed coops also.

    For smaller coops that get daily cleanings, sand provides a 'scoopable' bedding, much like kitty litter. It can, however, become compacted when it stays wet and is therefore not recommended in environments with high humidity or for those that are routinely exposed to moisture.

    Chicks may attempt to eat sand, but this can be avoided with a layer of paper towels over the sand for the first few days in the brooder. Sand with no covering can become quite hot, so be sure to locate your heat source far enough away from it to keep the sand from being too hot for chicks to walk on.

    Used bedding sand can't be composted, but it can be added to soil to help improve drainage.

    Straw and Hay-

    Often used on farms and ranches that also house large animals, straw and hay are frequently recommended as brooder and coop bedding materials. Both provide good drainage, but less than optimal absorption. It is easy to clean and often used in deep layering. Both straw and hay are low cost bedding options, with straw being significantly cheaper than hay.

    Used straw and hay bedding can be raked out of the coop and thrown directly into a compost pile.

    CAUTION: Straw and Hay can mold quickly when exposed to moisture. Mold can cause serious respiratory problems in animals and humans. If you suspect your bedding has mold, remove and destroy it, disinfect and dry the area thoroughly and replace with fresh bedding.

    Puppy Training Pads, Newspaper & Paper Towels-

    For day old chicks, the simplest brooder bedding for the first week or two is newspapers or puppy training pads covered with paper towels. Cleaning is quick and easy by simply removing soiled paper towels and replacing with clean paper towels. If done regularly, the underlying newspaper or training pad should last several days before needing to be replaced. Similarly, a folded bath towel can be used under paper towels.

    CAUTION: Newspaper should not be used alone. It's surface is too slippery for chicks to easily walk or stand on and can cause chicks to develop splayed legs.

    Soiled newspaper and paper towels can be added to compost piles.

    Bedding "Helpers":

    Diatomaceous Earth (DE)

    Food Grade DE can be mixed in to any type of bedding to help dessicate or 'dry up' droppings. Less moisture means less odor, fewer flies, and easier cleaning. Food Grade DE is safe for chickens of all ages, other animals, and humans. It is a powder, so take care that you or your animals do not inhale it during application.

    Food Grade DE is sold in farm & ranch supply stores, feed stores, and online. Pool supply companies also sell a form of DE, but it is not food grade and should not be used in animal bedding.

    When mixed with sand, DE improves the 'scoop-ability' and lessens the problem of compaction in humid areas and makes a great dust bath for chickens.

    Many people use and recommend products such as Stall Dry, Sweet PDZ, and Dry Stall as bedding additives to help control odors. They work as ammonia neutralizers and are typically made up (either singly or in a combination) of natural ingredients like DE, clay, volcanic aggregate, or calcium bentonite. While food grade DE is safe for human and animal consumption, if you use a branded product, check the label and ingredients before allowing your animals to ingest it.

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Recent User Reviews

  1. Ruthimae621
    "Very Helpful!"
    5/5, 5 out of 5, reviewed Apr 21, 2019
    Thank you! Good info for a first time Chicken mama. Our 4 girls are just about ready to go outside full time. They are about 7 weeks old now & outgrowing the brooder tank we have them in. We were wondering if we could compost pine shavings. Glad to learn this is OK!
  2. janiedoe
    "Great Information"
    5/5, 5 out of 5, reviewed Apr 19, 2019
    Thank you. Great, informative article for this rainy time of year.
    WannaBeHillBilly likes this.
  3. N F C
    "Good Comparison of Materials"
    4/5, 4 out of 5, reviewed Mar 23, 2019
    The chart was especially helpful.
    WannaBeHillBilly likes this.


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  1. feathermaid
    I wish there was mention of pressed stall pellets. That is BY FAR the best brooder bedding I have found. I like it because it's super absorbent... it takes a huge amount of water to break down the pellets into sawdust, so they basically last forever. And they're heavy, so bedding doesn't get flung all over. I didn't have any on hand recently so used pine shavings and what a mess! Shavings landed in food, water and dust bath in just a matter of hours. After 2 ridiculous days of that, I bought more pellets and had a clean brooder until my chicks went to the coop.
    (I also cover the bedding with puppy pads for the first couple days for new chicks).
    1. renenchan
      would you use stall pellets in the coop in general? where can you find it? ranch store I assume?
      thank you!
  2. Stephine
    Nice article!
    For chicks in the brooder I put down 1&1/2 inches of pine shavings and a solid double layer of paper towels. When they get too dirty I just put fresh paper towels over the dirty ones. After 4-5 days, when the chicks know well whst their feed is, I remover the whole paper towel layer( rolling it up) and let them be on shavings. When those get dirty I add fresh shavings on top. I keep doing that until they move out to the coop. It makes the whole thing soo easy!
  3. EggSighted4Life
    That's a cut and fun flow chart! :thumbsup

    Thought I would put rice hulls on your radar since I don't see them mentioned. That's what one of my LFS uses exclusively in their brooders. And they work really well in the small prefab houses with droppings pans that are too shallow that shavings bind and don't allow the pan to remove easily.

    Also I have seen many who use pellets instead of shavings and swear by them.

    I use PDZ sometimes, my animals don't care to ingest it. DE isn't welcome at my house. ;)
      csridgway115 likes this.
    1. VintageLilFarm
      I've heard lots of opinion about DE, and reasons for and against. I love hearing all sides of things, so just curious why you don't like it.
    2. EggSighted4Life
      Aside from being strip mined, it is over rated and people use it for things they have zero evidence of it working on despite actual scientific studies showing it has NO effect, like worming. They choose to go by hear say instead and spread their misinformation. While it WILL work against SOME insects, it's very ineffective against infestations. If it makes microcuts to kill parasites, it's making those same microcuts to my chickens nostrils, eyes, vent, esophegus or whatever and my birds carry half their dirt bath away with them which escapes into the air every time they shake out for myself, dogs, and other chickens to become unsuspecting victims of. Too many other MORE effective and safer means of doing ALL things chicken related IMO. Anyways, for a discussion, feel free to tag me to a thread, where others can express their opinions and experience, openly discuss and provide links to our claims! I'm ALL about the SCIENCE. Thanks for asking! :)
      VintageLilFarm likes this.
  4. JudysMuscovy
    I now use puppy pads, I had previously used rolls of corrugated cardboard that I bought online at Amazon. I do like using the card board but it's not cheap and with changing daily it goes fast. I like the puppy pads and buy them at the dollar store.
    I change to wood chips after a couple weeks or when I get tired of changing the pads and it takes about an hour for it to look a mess again. The wood chips we chip ourselves and the only cost is time. It makes it smell better also.
  5. GldnValleyHens
    Great article. I use hay because its free. ( scraps and waste from my horses) But I don't like it. It gets nasty and wet quickly, and all the poop cakes on top. I like shredded shavings best
      renenchan and EggSighted4Life like this.
  6. FaerieChicken
    I really like the Poster showing the different types. Only one I didn't see on there are the pine pellets, like the kind you would burn in the woodstove. They breakdown quite nicely and the chickens don't seem to be attracted to them as a food source. I feel however that they can be best used in nest boxes and outdoors (when using the deep liter method, it is nice to have a harder substrate to walk on), as they can get very compacted in the coop floor or under roosts.
  7. FlyWheel
    On the subject of sand, has anyone (I'm sure they have) considered kitty litter? I'm not talking about the fancy stuff with clumping agents and fragrances which may or may not be harmfull, but the raw clay that is used for KL. It is much more absorbent than sand and to the best of my knowledge has no silica or it's inherent hazards.
  8. Chickenlovers6
    Very helpful!!
  9. AmericanBresse
    Great work, Thank you.mark
  10. BinaryChicken
  11. DixieChicken78
    Great info-graphic! I've used pine shavings from TSC from the jump with great success.
      AmazingRachel likes this.
  12. Homestead girl
    I use pine shavings, my chickens love to scratch around in it and take a pine bath in it. so far it is easy to clean up. I might try a little sand in one area just to see how it does.
    Thanks for the article
  13. lizgarf
    I mostly use grassy weeds as bedding in my coop/run. The chickens peck out the seeds and then it makes great mulch in my garden. I was worked up about what bedding material to use when I first got chickens, but since I started using weeds, I've barely touched the bale of hay I bought. In my experience, using weeds has been all benefit, no cost. But, I have a pretty big yard with plenty of weeds to choose from.
  14. AccidentalFarm
    Wow, these are some really great comments! I think it's great to hear of actual user testimony as to what works or doesn't and why. I wasn't aware of silica in sand being a hazard, nor have I had any issue with my chickens and hay. However, it's good info to keep in mind. Thanks!
    Also, Nifty was kind enough to help out with the image size issues. The image is now uploaded at a larger size AND is available to download in PDF format via the link below the image. Thanks Nifty!!
      EggSighted4Life likes this.
  15. Alden Chickens
    Be careful using hay. Chickens will eat it and it can plug up their crops. (learned the hard way) Straw is usually cheaper and compost faster than hay.
  16. chicknfun
    Article was terrific!!!!!!
    The only thing I would worry about though, is the use of sand that is primarily silica (white sand)....I was told by my chicken mentor be sure of the silica content if using sand because that causes a disease in chickens if they ingest too much? I would think they would eat it like grit, so I too have gone with the safe, not sorry. In my area it is white sand that is sold for sand boxes
    Love the graphic!!! You really did a good job!!
    BTW, I just clicked on the graphic and it showed big enough to read
  17. ftroop
    Really helpful. Wish I had read this when I started out a few months ago...
  18. AccidentalFarm
    Thank you everyone, for the kind comments! I'm so glad the article has been useful to so many of you. :)
    Quailsong- I'm sorry the image isn't more clear. I did upload it at the largest size allowable. I was also disappointed at the viewing size. My intention in creating the infographic was for folks to be able to see it full size and even print it if desired. I'm not sure of BYC's rules on this, but if allowed, I can host the image on my blog and provide a link for easier viewing.
    The Yakima Kid- Thanks for the links supporting your comment. Cedar hasn't been 'proven' unsafe, but it isn't generally recommended for young chicks. Since it is well known the aromatic oils in cedar are too strong for many small animals, I chose not to recommend using it. I'm going with "safe" rather than "sorry" on this one. I'm sure it has worked well for many folks. I personally have not used it in my brooders due to there being so many other options available.
    eggoland- I've never washed and re-used sand, but I don't see why it wouldn't work as long as it dries completely.
  19. Chicks Galore3
    This is so helpful! Very well written!
  20. Ruth A Allison
    I've heard this before, but its nice to here it from BYC. I started with pine shaving - went to hay - straw- and back to pine, My girls like it, its easy to clean up. Never heard about sand? but its nice to know. some times one of my girls will lay on the ground (sand-gravel) now I know its ok. Thanks
  21. eggoland
    Thanks for the info! I have been using straw for our coop for about a year. Living in Colorado I had mold issues this spring & was thinking of using something else. Can you wash the sand & reuse in in the coop once it has dried out?
  22. kkidsmom
    Love the article and how creatively you presented the material.
      EggSighted4Life likes this.
  23. Tadkins472
    Andy, I would love to be able to use a wire but in states like Ohio that get harsh winters its not really an option for us.
  24. AndystUK
    I keep and Breed Cochins. This year I made the chicks a broody box. This was built off the ground with fine wire mesh for the chicks to walk over. There droppings fell through to sliding out trays. This keeps the whole thing clean and free from spoils. The feeder sits over the left sliding tray and captures the overspills and enables me to recycle the feed The water drinker sits above the middle sliding tray at the front, to the rear of the same tray is the over head heater. so any water spillage is evaporated away. So far all nice and cosy. I have after 4 weeks, collected the waste and started to store for the garden.
    This wire mesh floor eliminates the need for litter to be used.
    1. Stephine
      I don’t like wire for any animal. It is ahrd on the feet and cold from underneath and not good as a permanent home for chickens since they are hardwired to scratch.
  25. Kourtnie
    Great article! Thanks for the info!
  26. Tadkins472
    This is great defintaley helped me confirm why i am using sand in the coop!
  27. The Yakima Kid
    Texas A & M extension and the Poultry Science faculty at Oregon State University hadn't seen any evidence that cedar was bad for chickens; both described it as a rumor.
  28. The Yakima Kid
    Utah State University extension recommends cedar shavings in the brooder:
    • Be aware of basic brooding needs in the first three to four weeks of a chick’s life. These include clean water, quality chick starter feed, clean litter (pine or cedar shavings are recommended) and a circular confined area to keep the chicks from wandering from the heat source.
  29. The Yakima Kid
    Actually, there is no study that has found that chickens have any problem with cedar shavings. For decades they were used in floor operations with no problems.
  30. Kourtnie
    Great article...thanks!
  31. GKestrel
    This is a great compilation of information. Exactly what I needed as I wondered about whether I should continue to use the pine shavings I started the chicks brooding as they get older for bedding. Thank you!
  32. Quailsong
    Your image is way too small, zooming in makes the words blurry. If you could upload a larger one, it would be easier to view. Thanks!
  33. BYC Project Manager
    Congratulations! Your article is now featured on the homepage carousel! Thanks for submitting it to our BYC Article Writing Contest.
  34. chickenpooplady
  35. Chickenfan4life
    Well done, very nicely written! *like!*
  36. Mr MKK FARMS
    Great job! :-D

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