The best bedding choice for your chicken coop is industrial hemp. Let’s look at some of the various types of bedding used, and why industrial hemp is my personal favorite.
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Types of bedding for chicken coops
There are many types of bedding that people use in their chicken coop, and I think what people prefer to use depends greatly on the size of their coop and how much time they want to dedicate to it. Now don’t get me wrong, everyone who owns chickens MUST care for them daily. But some bedding needs major daily maintenance and others need a 10-minute daily upkeep. Let’s look at the types of bedding and the pros and cons of each.
Wood chips – Wood chips are absorbent and good for wicking up moisture and low in dust levels. Wood chips can harbor moisture and grow harmful bacteria.
Pine shavings – Like wood chips, pine shavings are absorbent and low on dust level. They are also good for composting after use, but also like wood chips, can retain high moisture within the coop, promoting bacteria growth. Pine shavings are light weight and provide good insulation. Pine can also emit a chemical that is toxic to chickens.
Cedar shavings – NEVER use these as they emit a highly toxic chemical.
Sawdust – High dust levels which may cause respiratory issues in chickens. Sawdust is lightweight and good for insulation. Composts well and absorbs moisture.
Hay/straw – Lightweight and low dust. Good for absorbing moisture but can grow mold and bacteria. Good for composting after use.
Construction sand – Very heavy and good moisture absorption. High dust level. Sand is not compostable but can last a very long time in the coop. Can harbor bacteria/mold growth. Keeps chickens’ feet smooth and nails trimmed. Does not insulate and can freeze if wet/hot with sun exposure.
Play sand – NEVER use this as it contains silica which can cause cancer and respiratory issues.
Industrial hemp – Great absorption and moisture control, low mold, bacteria growth and dust. Composts well and can use as a deep litter method. Lightweight and good insulation. More expensive than wood shavings.
Gravel – No moisture absorption, low dust. Impossible to clean and cannot compost.
Leaves – Low absorption and high mold and bacteria growth. Composts well.
What is a deep litter method?
The concept of deep litter method in chicken coops is using a carbon-based material in your coop that will combine with the nitrogen in chicken droppings and break down to form a nutrient rich humus that is great for providing natural warmth in the coop and excellent compost for gardens.
Most people think the deep litter method is the same as composting for a garden, but there are differences. The garden compost requires rain to keep the material moist, oxygen from the air around it and must be turned frequently. In the coop, the moisture comes from the chicken droppings. The air in the coop combines with the moisture to break down the material. The chickens turn the compost by their ever-constant scratching. People using an effective deep litter method only need to clean out their coop once a year.
How to set up a deep litter method
When setting up a deep litter system, it is very important that the coop have adequate ventilation to keep moisture and ammonia buildup at bay. If your chickens are outside most of the time, you may need to turn the coop bedding yourself on a regular basis. The initial bedding requires at least 6 inches of good compostable material such as wood shavings/mulch, hemp, or paper. As the bedding breaks down, you will add more material to keep the 6-inch depth.
At this point you can use straw and hay if desired. When cleaning out the coop, retain at least 1/4 of the bedding to provide a good bacterial start to the new bedding. A good rule of thumb is that if you can smell the coop, it’s time to review your setup. Do you have more chickens than the coop should hold? More chickens mean more droppings and less bedding. Either add more bedding or think about using a different method.
Using sand for bedding
Sand is good for chicken bedding you live in a warm and dry climate. Sand is inexpensive and easy to maintain. Simply use a pooper scooper to remove droppings. However, sand is not insulating material and will freeze if it gets wet, and sand can also become very hot if exposed to heat or sun. Sand provides chickens with plenty of grit needed for digestive health.
What is industrial hemp?
Industrial hemp is a variety of the cannabis plant that has many uses. Hemp plants grow extremely fast and are natural insect repellants, which means no insecticides are needed when planted.
Bedding and healthy chickens
Coop bedding should be absorbent and soft on the chicken’s feet. Improper coop maintenance can be detrimental to birds. Ammonia build-up can cause severe eye and lung irritation in chickens, and high dust levels inside the coop can lead to severe respiratory infections. When choosing bedding for your coop consider what works best for your environment.
Why I choose industrial hemp bedding
I have a small 4x4ft coop with four bantam chickens. Although I could use pretty much any of the listed bedding options, I choose to use industrial hemp bedding in my chicken coop. I have been using this for nearly 3 years and absolutely love it! My birds are happy and healthy, and I am happy because I only need to change out the bedding two times a year. To be honest, I could change it out once a year and it would be fine.
Although industrial hemp costs more than wood materials, it is actually more economical because you use less over a period of time. Industrial hemp is also a natural insect repellent and has very low dust which assists in keeping nasty bugs and mites out of the coop. Using industrial hemp bedding in my chicken coop is environmentally friendly and one of the most absorbent materials available. I have developed my own deep litter method using hemp bedding and it works perfectly. Here’s my routine:
Caring for a chicken coop with hemp bedding
I place a good 5-6 inches of hemp bedding in the coop, including the nesting boxes. My birds are outside pretty much all day, even in the winter, so major droppings only occur overnight. Every morning, I use a kitty scoop to clean up fresh droppings and place them in a container. The hemp is small enough to fall through the kitty scoop, leaving me with the dried-up droppings. I find the hemp to be extremely absorbent and have not had any issues with moisture, which is great considering I live in central Pennsylvania, where we experience a lot of rainfall.
I turn the bedding over once a week and add a fresh layer when the bedding compacts, and although industrial hemp is expensive ($50-$60 for a 33 pound bag), I actually use very little in comparison to wood shavings or similar. This, to me, is a more economical approach to coop maintenance. To my 4×4 coop, I use approximately 1/2 of the bag of hemp and my coop always smells fresh and clean. Using hemp in the nesting boxes always leaves me with clean eggs and free of breakage.
Every spring, I remove 3/4 of the bedding and replace it with new. I mix in the 1/4 old that was left to keep any good bacteria growth ongoing. In the late fall, I remove about half of the bedding and replace with fresh. I like to keep more of the old bedding in the fall for extra decomposition and warmth over the winter months. This is my industrial hemp bedding chicken coop cleanout. It has been in the coop for 8 months!
Industrial hemp composting
Industrial hemp is a carbon-rich material like wood chip material. Hemp bedding decomposes faster than wood shavings and is a great addition to your compost bin. The fine composition of hemp makes the turnover rate of your compost production occur more rapidly. Hemp provides your compost with nitrogen rich material when combined with chicken droppings and green materials. With the increasing price of fertilizer, I am composting more than ever. My chicken coop bedding is providing me with a self-sustainable way to add beneficial nutrients to my garden for years of planting enjoyment.
Where to purchase industrial hemp bedding for your coop
I usually purchase a 33-pound bag from Amazon once a year, and here are places online where you can purchase it:
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