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The Beginner's Guide to Chicken Bedding

Updated: Dec 27, 2022

There are many kinds of chicken bedding, but not all are of equal quality. Premium chicken beddings have many advantages, but others of lower quality can be downright dangerous. To sort through any confusion, let’s look at some of the beddings that can be used for your coop and how they compare to each other.


The word straw refers to a bunch of different kinds of material. You can buy wheat straw, oats straw, barley straw, rye straw, and loads more. If you choose straw-like wheat or oats, you will find that they are quite absorbent and make coop cleaning much easier. Unfortunately, straw doesn’t last that long and gets moldy and smelly quite quickly. Straw is a very affordable option, but won’t last very long. Some animals may also try to eat straw so if you plan to use it, make sure your chickens aren’t eating it. Straw isn’t safe for consumption when soiled.

Straw ratings:

Absorbency - 6/10

Safety - 3/10

Warmth - 4/10

Overall rating - 4/10

Wood shavings

Wood shavings can be a great, absorbent material, but it does depend on the variety you choose. If you use wood shavings, make sure that it consists of mostly small, dried flakes of wood instead of dust. Dust is known to cause respiratory problems in chickens. It is best to buy a dust-free version if you can find it. Wood shavings are quite popular with chicken keepers due to their absorbency and reasonable pricing but, unfortunately, they don’t have the benefits that hemp bedding provides.

Wood shaving rating:

Absorbency - 8/10

Safety - 6/10

Warmth - 6/10

Overall rating - 7/10


Sawdust is one of the least desirable beddings for chickens. Chickens don’t do well in a dusty environment and tend to develop respiratory diseases. Worse, sawdust is also terrible at absorbing poop and other liquids due to how it compresses and it is very prone to developing maggots....I know the M-word will be a dealbreaker for most of you. Sawdust can be used on your chicken run, however, as long as the area is not enclosed like your coop is. Alternatively you can use it in your chicken dust bath where the dust serves a purpose.

Sawdust rating:

Absorbency - 2/10

Safety - 1/10

Warmth - 2/10

Overall rating - 2/10


Hemp is one of the best chicken beddings out there. It is made from the stalks of cannabis plants which are known as the hurd. Hemp is odorless, very absorbent, a natural pesticide, and organic. It will definitely help to keep your coop clean for longer and makes excellent nesting material. Hemp will also help to keep nasty creepy-crawlies out of your coop and nesting boxes which definitely makes it worth the extra bucks. It is definitely on the more pricey side, but the benefits such as its absorbency, ability to trap odors, safety rating, and being a natural pesticide definitely makes it my top choice. If you want what’s best for your chickens while cleaning as little as possible, then consider hemp bedding for your coop. Several of my chickens started listening to the Grateful Dead once I made the switch.

Hemp rating:

Absorbency - 10/10

Safety - 10/10

Warmth - 10/10

Overall rating - 10/10


Hay is great for eating, but it doesn’t make for the most durable animal bedding. It is also an expensive option. Some chicken keepers like to use hay due to the fact that it is edible, but it is also prone to mold and may make your chickens sick in the long run due to dust. If you’re keeping other animals with your chickens such as rabbits or guinea pigs, a small amount of hay in an isolated corner won’t do any harm. Just make sure your chickens won’t mess on it since chicken poop carry a lot of bacteria that can make your other animals sick.

Hay rating:

Absorbency - 4/10

Safety - 2/10

Warmth - 4/10

Overall rating - 3/10


Leaves are the most natural option when it comes to chicken bedding, but they aren’t particularly absorbent. Some chicken keepers do use leaves despite needing to clean their coops much more often. The reason for this is that leaves are easily available, especially during fall. They are also commonly added to other chicken bedding to reduce waste and promote decomposition, especially in deep litter systems. Leaves are great if you mix them with another kind of very absorbent bedding. This is a very cost-effective option if you have a leafy backyard.

Leaves rating:

Absorbency - 2/10

Safety - 5/10

Warmth - 2/10

Overall rating - 3/10


Newspaper is a very popular choice for people who raise baby chickens. It is also very popular with those who prefer to recycle instead of throwing away. Shredded newspaper makes great bedding for baby birds, but it’s not that great for your adult flock. Newspaper will get soaked quickly and tend to develop mold. It is also great for emergencies when you’ve run out of bedding, but unless you want to read all about cleaning your coop every single day, newspaper isn’t the best choice for the long run.

Newspaper bedding rating:

Absorbency - 3/10

Safety - 3/10

Warmth - 3/10

Overall rating - 3/10

There are plenty of other types of chicken bedding out there as well. Don’t worry too much about the decision as long as you have your flock's best interest at heart. You can also try several beddings before settling on one to see what your chickens prefer. There is no risk of changing between beddings as long as you don’t introduce a lot of dust.


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