Not ANOTHER Shavings vs. Straw Discussion? Impacted Crop Risk

Discussion in 'Coop & Run - Design, Construction, & Maintenance' started by HoopyFrood, Feb 11, 2017.

  1. HoopyFrood

    HoopyFrood Out Of The Brooder

    Mar 21, 2016
    Maine, USA
    I'm a homesteader and I am going to be growing my own feed as well as my own grain. This means (if it goes as planned) I will have a free source of straw for for chicken bedding. At this point I don't believe I have a free source of shavings/sawdust, so I'm designing my coop around the assumption of using straw for bedding. We hope to get chicks this spring! I will not be using a deep litter method. These will be part-time free range chickens in a large paddock system consisting of chicken gardens.

    So my question is why do so many discussions on BYC seem to say that straw can cause an impacted crop? I would guess once in a great while there is a crazy bird that will eat straw bedding, but surely that is the exception and not the rule?

    Could part of the reason for the plethora of these topics be because so many people seem to confuse hay (feed) with straw (bedding)? Could people actually be using hay as a bedding? That seems crazy to me... would you line your cat litter box with dry cat food? Or course not. If you used hay as bedding I'm sure the chickens might eat it at it (especially if they're lacking in green foods)... but to use hay as bedding is confusing the situation already.

    So is there a really common occurrence of impacted crops with using STRAW as bedding? Or is it some people are actually using hay as bedding (for whatever reasons) then blaming impacted crops incorrectly on straw? My guess is it's the latter...

    But if it's the former, what could cause a chicken to eat straw bedding? We're in Maine, USA so our coop will be oversized since on the bad weather days the chickens might be stuck inside for 2 or 3 days a few times a year. But I'm trying to plan to give them ample space, a diverse selection of stored feed, and all the supplements they need. I wouldn't have thought a happy, healthy bird in that kind of environment would find straw bedding appetizing at all, let alone appetizing enough to get an impacted crop from eating it.

    Thoughts? Thank you for reading!
  2. rebrascora

    rebrascora Overrun With Chickens

    Feb 14, 2014
    Consett Co.Durham. UK

    I recently did crop surgery on an impacted pekin (bantam cochin) pullet and removed a tennis ball-soft ball size blockage of soggy straw from her crop. I use straw for bedding not hay. I suspect a small percentage of the mass was perhaps dried grass/hay from when they free ranged but they have been confined to their pen for the past 2 months due to Avian Flu restrictions with only access to straw and the mass was that golden yellow straw colour. She is recovering incredibly well from the surgery(2 weeks ago today) and I have been trying to reintegrate her back into the pen, after a period in a cage on newspaper adjacent to them. No problems with the other chickens accepting her but frustratingly each time I put her in the pen she grabs a piece of straw and proceeds to swallow it within seconds of having access.
    I have approx. 70 chickens and have not had this problem before with eating straw but unfortunately this girl seems to have a death wish! I'm not in a position to remove every bit of straw from the pen at this time and I think the straw eating may be a result of boredom from being confined with the Bird Flu restrictions after previously being able to free range.... a bit like us comfort eating when stressed perhaps, so I have a chicken house guest for another 3 weeks until the restrictions are lifted and I can see if free ranging again will stop the urge.

    Anyway, that is my experience so far on this subject.



    PS. I don't think it is quite as clear cut to animals that straw is meant to be bedding and hay to eat. After all, barley, wheat and oats are all grasses too and my horses are certainly quite happy to eat straw as well as hay/haylage, so your analogy to cat food and cat litter is not entirely appropriate.
  3. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner Chicken Obsessed

    Feb 2, 2009
    Northwest Arkansas
    I use hay in my nest boxes. I cut tall grass and dry it, sometimes with the seed heads on. To me that is hay. It’s never been a problem and it is free for a little labor.

    You are dealing with living animals. No matter what you do, something can possibly happen. Living animals and their behaviors do not come with guarantees.

    It’s been a while but I’ve seen posts on here where a chicken choked to death on something pretty small. I can’t remember what it was but it was small, kernel of corn size. On more than one occasion I’ve found a plum pit in chickens’ gizzards when I butchered them. They sure did not choke on those plum pits.

    Several years back I fed Japanese beetles to the flock. One Speckled Sussex cockerel just stood there and stuffed himself as long as they lasted, the rest of the flock members ate some and left. But that cockerel killed himself by overeating. That Sussex cockerel was always stuffing himself, and at 12 weeks just fell over dead.

    No matter what bedding you use someone can come up with a reason it’s no good. If I had straw I’d use it. Can I give you any guarantees you won’t have a problem, not at all. But I’d use it.
    1 person likes this.
  4. HoopyFrood

    HoopyFrood Out Of The Brooder

    Mar 21, 2016
    Maine, USA
    Very sorry to hear of your troubles, Barbara! I hope things work out well soon! As Ridgerunner pointed out, there are no guarantees. But at a 70-to-1 ratio I hope your experience indicates some chickens are just going to be a little odd, not that straw is inherently dangerous.

    Thanks for the clarification about hay/straw. I don't have (nor do I envision having) any experience with horses. My only experiences are with chickens and goats; and the last time I worked with chickens they had wood shavings, not straw. The goats would never touch their straw bedding (that I could see) but they were never short of hay to eat during the days. They actually struck me as rather picky eaters but maybe that's because they were Toggenburg breeding stock and somewhat pampered :)
  5. HoopyFrood

    HoopyFrood Out Of The Brooder

    Mar 21, 2016
    Maine, USA
    Well perhaps my thinking is not quite right. I'm not overly-worried about nomenclature, but I am wanting to at least communicate clearly.

    If what you put in your nest boxes has seed heads on it, it's not what I'd call straw, but perhaps I'm wrong? If it's just long field grass, I wouldn't call it hay either. Hay to me is alfalfa and the like. The straw I use will have no heads because either it will be the residues of whatever grain crops I grow (e.g. wheat) or it will be grass grown and harvested before it has gone to seed, then subsequently dried.

    Regardless, your caution of the animals doing whatever they are going to do is well taken. We have a Japanese beetle problem, too. So I'll keep my eyes peeled for peeps whose eyes are bigger than their stomachs [​IMG]
  6. ScottandSam

    ScottandSam I'm still here. Premium Member

    Dec 24, 2016
    Shell Knob, Missouri
    I live in 11 acres most grass. It used to be a cow field. I use 4ft bales of hay. It is not straw. I use it as bedding in my coop and laying boxes. I every now and then use a little shaving from the store but mainly hay. Over the last year we mainly pull out with a pitch fork the top layer where most of the poops is at and add a little more hay. Most days there out free ranging but when there stuck in the coop I don't ever see them eat it. They mainly just scratch around it and look for some feed that spilled or scratch we throw in about once every other week.I just use hay cause I spilt the cutting with the local farmers that bailed it. So it was free.
    Is this a no no?

  7. aart

    aart Chicken Juggler! Premium Member

    Nov 27, 2012
    SW Michigan
    My Coop
    I've seen my birds eat some hay(I toss out a flake once in while),
    and eat some straw(when it was tossed in the run from out of a nest and coated with a broken egg).
    None have ever eaten enough to clog a crop.

    Plenty of people use hay as bedding for floors and nests with no problems.
    Can depend on what plants are in the 'hay' bale.
    I've had a bale that was all nice and tender, and one that was rife with harder and long viney stuff.

    @HoopyFrood .....use what you've got, see how it works for you.
    May depend on how you manage manure in the coop.
    Only hands on experience will tell you what you need to know,
    as everyone's experiences and management techniques are as different as their opinions.
    You're going to see a lot of stuff on BYC that defies general logic as well as your own logic,
    how you deal with that is also up to you.
    Welcome to BYC!
  8. HoopyFrood

    HoopyFrood Out Of The Brooder

    Mar 21, 2016
    Maine, USA
    If they aren't eating it to the point of causing problems, then that sounds perfectly reasonable! If I could get free hay I'd probably do the same!
  9. HoopyFrood

    HoopyFrood Out Of The Brooder

    Mar 21, 2016
    Maine, USA
    Thank you, Aart!! That sounds very reasonable [​IMG] I can't wait for spring!

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