List Best And Worst Chicken Bedding Options – Be Careful with Cat Litter!

Choosing the appropriate bedding for your chicken coop is a significant decision that can vastly influence the health, well-being, and productivity of your feathered inhabitants. With a multitude of options on offer, each having their unique pros and cons, navigating the selection can be challenging. Popular choices such as pine shavings and hemp bedding, or innovative strategies like the deep litter approach, can lead to a flourishing coop if used appropriately. Nonetheless, it’s equally crucial to be aware of less suitable options. Misconceptions surrounding cat litter, for example, can lead to serious health implications and even mortality within your flock. In the guide that follows, we will delve into the best and worst chicken bedding options, spotlighting why certain choices, like cat litter, must be strictly avoided. The welfare of your chickens is fundamentally tied to these decisions!

What Required For The Chicken Coop/Bedding?

Finding the right chicken coop, especially if you’re looking for large, pre-made options, can quickly become an expensive endeavor. Yet, don’t be disheartened if budget constraints are on your mind. There are ways to circumvent the high costs, such as seeking out a previously loved coop within your locality. Just ask around or scour community websites, and you might stumble upon an affordable gem.

For those blessed with a knack for DIY and creative repurposing, why not consider the transformation of an old shed into a chicken haven? Websites like Craigslist often feature used sheds at bargain prices, often in excellent condition. With some basic carpentry skills, you can design nesting boxes and a roost that meets your chickens’ needs.

Now, speaking of needs, your coop must be more than just four walls and a roof. It should be equipped with nesting boxes (those quiet, private chambers where hens like to lay their precious eggs), suitable roosting space off the floor for all your hens, proper ventilation to ensure fresh air circulation, and doors and windows fortified to keep those pesky predators at bay.

And don’t overlook the idea of a droppings board positioned right under their roost. Trust me, this simple addition can make your coop’s cleaning routine a breeze! If you’re curious about what I mean, this video should provide a clear illustration.

When it comes to nesting boxes, a general rule of thumb followed by most chicken connoisseurs is to have 1 box for every 3 hens. In our personal setup, we accommodate our 15 hens with 5 nesting boxes, filled with straw, while we utilize a blend of pine shavings and straw for the rest of the coop.

It’s vital to remember that hens utilize their coop not merely for slumber and egg-laying but also as a refuge against harsh weather and a sanctuary from potential predators. According to guidelines from McMurray Hatchery, a well-designed coop should ideally allocate around 4 square feet (0.4 square meters) of space per bird.

To paint a picture, if you’re housing 10 chickens, your coop should minimally span 4’×8′ (1.2×2.4 meters). This recommendation primarily applies to chickens that can roam freely or have access to a larger run.

However, should you contemplate confining your chickens strictly to the coop—a practice I earnestly advise against—the coop needs to be significantly more spacious, offering at least 10 square feet (0.9 square meters) per individual bird.

A Few Essential Considerations:

  • Avoid Overcrowding: An overcrowded coop is a breeding ground for stress and skirmishes. If space constraints restrict you from providing a comfortable environment, it might be wise to reconsider your decision to keep chickens.
  • Think Long-term: Planning to expand your flock in the future? Opt for a more substantial coop and run from the outset, giving you room for those future additions to your feathery family.
  • Safety First: Last but certainly not least, security should be your paramount concern. Predators lurk everywhere, whether it’s the hawks in the sky or raccoons prowling at night. In our case, we’ve fortified our coop with heavy wire mesh over the windows and installed an automatic predator-proof door to ensure our cherished hens stay safe and sound.

Read more: How To Reduce Cat Litter Dust For Healthier Life!

List Of 5 Best Bedding Options For Chicken

The quest for the perfect chicken bedding options may seem like a simple task, but there’s an art to finding the right balance of comfort, cleanliness, and practicality. Nestled in the heart of the coop, the bedding plays a crucial role in your chickens’ well-being. Considering various factors, I have curated a list of the 5 BEST chicken bedding options that you can incorporate into your chicken coop. In my personal experience, a blend of options #1 and #4 has proven effective, and their usage is dictated by the season. My heart secretly harbors a desire to uncover a source for #5 someday, an elusive option that continues to pique my interest.

#1 Chopped Straw

Straw, distinct from hay, is the stalk portion of grasses such as wheat, barley, and oats, remaining after the top portion has been harvested for animal feed. It’s a budget-friendly alternative to hay, containing fewer seeds, making it a sterling choice for bedding and composting (fewer seeds translating into fewer weeds in your garden!).

Forms of Straw:

  • Vacuum Sealed Packages of Chopped Straw: Ready to use.
  • Bales from a Local Farm: Available in small/square or large/round shapes and will require chopping. Opt for wheat straw if available, followed by rye, oat, and buckwheat.

Pros of Chopped Straw:

  • Readily available
  • Economical ($5 for a square bale; $10 for vacuum-sealed)
  • Excellent insulation and cushioning
  • Suitable for laying boxes
  • Highly absorbent – up to 7 times its weight!
  • Locally sourced
  • Wonderful for composting
  • Not prone to dustiness
  • Applicable for deep litter method

Cons of Chopped Straw:

  • May mat if unchopped
  • Less effective odor control, requiring regular replacement
  • Potential herbicides & pesticides; seek organic options for garden composting

Where to Find: Local farm & garden stores, Facebook Marketplace, Craig’s List (ask about herbicides or pesticides before purchasing).

Read more: How To Remove Cat Urine Smell From Crawl Space?

#2 Pine Shavings

Pine shavings are a well-loved option, with a refreshing scent, available at most farm & garden stores. Avoid cedar and walnut as they are toxic to chickens.

Pros of Pine Shavings:

  • Inexpensive ($8 for a vacuum-sealed bag)
  • Easily accessible
  • Good insulation and cushioning
  • Suitable for laying boxes
  • Highly absorbent
  • Effective odor control
  • Usable for deep litter method

Cons of Pine Shavings:

  • Risk of crop impaction
  • Possible dustiness
  • Challenging to compost; may affect soil pH (a controversial topic)

Where to Find: Local farm & garden stores, Facebook Marketplace, Craig’s List (ensure no cedar in the mix).

Read more: How To Measure Your Cat Food by a Cup?

#3 Sand

Sand is a hot debate in chicken circles, eliciting strong opinions. Coarse construction-grade or river sand is suitable, but avoid fine sands like play or beach sand.

Maintenance: Utilize a kitty litter scooper for daily droppings cleaning. Annually or biannually, wash, sun-dry, and reuse the sand.

Pros of Sand:

  • Minimal mold risk
  • Long-lasting
  • Provides natural grit source & dust bath
  • Rapid drying of chicken droppings
  • Cool in summer if shaded
  • Easy to clean, but frequent cleaning is essential

Cons of Sand:

  • Non-compostable
  • Possible dustiness if incorrect sand type
  • Expensive
  • Heavy; requires solid flooring
  • Poor insulation & cushioning; not suitable for cold winters
  • Limited absorbency; may lead to ammonia build-up if not cleaned promptly
  • Unsuitable for laying boxes
  • High maintenance
  • Incompatible with deep litter method

Where to Find: Local hardware garden centers or landscaping companies (it might need drying before use).

Read more: Do Groomer Remove Fleas? Can You Shave a Cat To Get Rid of Fleas?

#4 Chopped Leaves

Ah, the rustic charm of chopped leaves! This natural treasure ranks among my favorite chicken bedding options. Every fall, as the trees gift us their golden foliage, the ground becomes a playground for the chickens who simply LOVE scratching in them. It’s a delightful sight that’s not just an amusing spectacle but serves as a remarkable boredom buster in the otherwise dreary winter.

However, perfection is seldom absolute. Leaves have their quirks. They can mat together, losing that loose fluffiness, and their absorbency is a shy comparison to other bedding types. Therefore, I prefer a fusion of chopped leaves with chopped straw rather than using them exclusively.

The magic lies in preparation. The leaves must be FULLY dry; else, they become an unsightly breeding ground for mold. Our trusty mower becomes an artisan’s tool, chopping the leaves finely. Once thoroughly dry, I lovingly collect them in leaf bags, storing them in our garage like a squirrel with its nuts. Year after year, I return to these same bags, a ritual I’ve come to adore.

Pros of Using Leaves:

  • FREE and feels like a gift from nature
  • Offers good insulation & cushioning
  • Ideal for laying boxes
  • An exciting boredom buster
  • Provides a natural, earthy environment
  • Chickens joyfully stir up the bedding, keeping it fresh
  • Perfect for composting
  • Resistant to dustiness
  • Suitable for the deep litter method

Cons of Using Leaves:

  • Seasonal availability
  • Potential to harbor insects
  • Requires chopping for enhanced absorbency
  • Must be bone-dry to avoid mold growth

Where to Find Leaves:

  • Your yard! A treasure trove awaits.
  • Kind neighbors might share their bounty.

Read more: How To Store Cat Litter Used or Unused?

#5 Hemp

In the pantheon of bedding options, hemp holds an esteemed place. Though elusive and sometimes hard to find, it offers a sublime combination of absorbency, longevity, and sustainability. A haven for those who suffer from environmental allergies, it’s a robust choice for the conscious chicken keeper.

Pros of Using Hemp:

  • Durable and long-lasting
  • Provides good insulation & cushioning
  • Naturally resists pests and insects
  • Excellent for laying boxes
  • Highly absorbent, soaking up odors
  • Can be locally sourced – if you can unearth it!
  • Ideal for composting
  • Resistant to dustiness
  • Applicable for the deep litter method

Cons of Using Hemp:

  • Can be a costly investment
    Difficult to find, making it a treasured commodity

Where to Find Hemp:

  • Facebook Marketplace or Craig’s List might reveal local farmers – a rare find, but a pursuit worth embarking on!
  • Consider contacting state-licensed hemp farmers, a pathway to the gold at the end of the rainbow.

  1. Caring Tips For After Being Neutered Cat! Litter, Food and More…
  2. Can You Use Dirt For Cat Litter? How About Soil, Mud,…
  3. Do Cats Need Access To Litter Box At Night? 
  4. How To Dispose Of Cat Litter Without Plastic Bags? 
  5. Declaw Aftercare Instruction For Cats Prevent Infection!

The Worst Options for Chicken Coop Bedding

Choosing the right bedding for a chicken coop is a task laden with considerations. There are some options that, while they might appear fitting at first glance, turn out to be terribly wrong. Here’s a look into the choices that could lead you and your chickens astray.

Cat Litter

Ah, the infamous cat litter. More than once, mentioning the word ‘litter’ concerning chickens has led to puzzled glances from acquaintances. The following question usually surfaces, ‘You mean cat litter?’

Let’s be clear: ‘litter’ is a general term for any material strewn across the coop floor, not a call for the use of actual cat litter. The notion is almost absurd, as cat litter and chickens are a terrible match.

Chickens, curious by nature, can peck at the cat litter, eat it, and subsequently suffer from horrendous digestive complications. This could lead to a painful and untimely death. Add to this the vast amounts of dust cat litter produces, and you’ve got a recipe for respiratory distress in your flock.

Cedar Shavings

While pine and aspen shavings gracefully line the coop, cedar shavings are a decidedly wrong turn. Cedar’s potent, aromatic quality, though pleasant to some human noses, can wreak havoc on a chicken’s delicate respiratory system.

Why gamble on cedar’s charm when alternatives like pine shavings are likely just as affordable and undeniably safer?

Read more: 9 Brilliant DIY Cat Diaper Designs Can Make At Home 


Newspaper, despite being a readily available resource, is an ill-fitting choice for coop bedding. Even shredded, its absorbency is laughable. The temptation of using newspaper because it’s free or cheap must be weighed against the practical downsides.

When wet, newspapers turn slick, matting together, becoming a nightmarish terrain for cleanliness. The non-absorbent nature leads to a foul-smelling, untidy coop.

Moreover, flat newspapers are hazardous in the brooder, offering a slippery surface that can lead to splayed legs in young chicks. However, using newspapers underneath another bedding type like shavings, straw, or hemp could still make sense. Positioned this way, newspapers might assist in mess absorption without directly harming the chickens.


Hay and straw are siblings of confusion, appearing nearly identical but serving disparate roles. While straw plays a starring role in chicken coop bedding, hay is a villain in disguise.

Used primarily as food in the homesteading world, hay doesn’t transition well to bedding. It has an unnerving tendency to mold when wet, and easily becomes packed down and matted. Being less absorbent and generally more expensive than straw or wood shavings, hay is a wasted investment in the bedding department.

Grass Clippings

Though akin to straw, grass clippings require a careful dance to be suitable for coop use. They must be completely dried, or else they’ll mat together and compost, creating mold and increasing frostbite risks in winter. Moreover, inadvertent inclusion of toxic plants from your lawn could spell danger if the chickens consume them.


At first glance, sawdust seems a cozy choice, fluffy and highly absorbent. But beware! Its powdery, dusty nature can assail your flock’s respiratory health.

FAQs List Best And Worst Chicken Bedding Options – Be Careful with Cat Litter!

What is the Best Litter for Chickens?

Identifying the perfect litter for your chickens hinges upon a variety of considerations such as ease of accessibility, budget, and the unique requirements of your chicken coop. There are a handful of frequently endorsed choices including:

  • Pine Shavings: Renowned for their absorbent nature and delightful fragrance, pine shavings can effectively mask the less pleasant scents that emanate from the coop.
  • Straw: A popular choice due to its cost-effectiveness and wide availability, straw offers substantial cushioning and insulation, contributing to the comfort of your feathery friends.
  • Hemp Bedding: Despite being more elusive and costly, hemp bedding is praised for its superlative absorbency, odor management, and intrinsic defense against pests.

Can You Use Sand for Chickens?

Yes, using sand as a litter for chickens, particularly in laying or dust-bathing zones, is a viable option. It’s convenient to clean and promotes efficient drainage. However, for those located in colder climates, it may not offer sufficient insulation. Furthermore, it’s crucial to select the appropriate type of sand. Coarse sand is usually favored over its finer counterpart as the latter can become compact and impede the natural scratching behavior of chickens.

Read more:  Why Does My Cat Pee on Clothes and How To Stop? 100% Effective

Can Hamster Bedding be Adapted for Chickens?

While you may employ hamster bedding, such as paper or wood-based products, for chickens in a pinch, it may not prove to be an ideal choice. Given that hamster bedding is specifically crafted for smaller animals, it might lack the necessary absorbency or resilience needed to cater to a chicken coop effectively. It would be more prudent to rely on bedding options explicitly fashioned for chickens.

What Materials are Suitable for the Deep Litter Method?

The deep litter method employs a technique of allowing bedding material and chicken droppings to accumulate in the coop over a period, thereby facilitating on-the-spot composting. Appropriate materials for this method encompass:

  • Pine Shavings: These can assist in the composting process as they disintegrate.
  • Straw: This material strikes an excellent equilibrium between moisture retention and drainage.
  • Leaves: Once properly chopped and dried, leaves can be blended with other materials.
  • Remember that periodically adding fresh litter and stirring the existing bedding to ensure appropriate composting is crucial.

Why is Litter Essential for Chickens?

Litter fulfills several indispensable roles in a chicken coop:

  • Absorbency: It is instrumental in absorbing droppings and moisture, thereby maintaining the cleanliness of the coop and diminishing unpleasant smells.
  • Insulation: Litter acts as a blanket, providing insulation that helps to retain the warmth of the coop during colder months.
  • Enrichment: Chickens derive great enjoyment from scratching and pecking at litter, offering both mental and physical engagement.
  • Cushioning: It provides a soft surface that cushions the chickens’ feet and offers a cozy spot for laying eggs.
  • Composting: When using the deep litter method, litter is integral to the composting process, generating a fertile environment for beneficial microbes.

Leave a Comment