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What bedding material should I use for my chicken brooder?

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What Bedding Can I Use In My Chicken Brooder? 

You have your chick brooder designed and are ready to put your baby chicks in it, but don’t know what type of bedding material to use. While it would seem like any soft, absorbent material is fine for bedding, this is not always the case, as some materials are toxic and others are subpar. Here we will look at what type of bedding material to use to keep your egg laying chicks warm and safe so they make it to adulthood. 

Ideal Bedding For Your Chicken Brooder

The ideal bedding materials for your chick brooder are aspen shavings and hemp.

Aspen Shavings

Aspen shavings are recommended above all else, as they are relatively inexpensive, provide ample insulation, and give chicks an even footing so they don’t end up injuring themselves. Aspen shavings are also highly absorbent so they can handle droppings, don’t contain any toxic essential oils that even pine wood contains, and can be changed out easily for new material. While not as absorbent as pine wood shavings, this shouldn’t be an issue, if you change out your bedding material regularly. Aspen shavings are also more expensive than pine wood shavings, but the extra cost is worth it if you want the best for your chicks. If you have a choice, use aspen shavings for bedding in your brooder.

Hemp bedding

Hemp is quickly becoming one of the most desirable bedding materials, as its availability is surging and it has soft, insulating qualities that are perfect for chicks. Chicks also enjoy foraging through hemp bedding.

What Other Bedding Materials Can I Use?

Some farmers use pine shavings, straw, or sand as bedding material. In most cases, these materials are fine, but they do come with drawbacks.

Pine Shavings

Pine shavings are the most popular type of bedding material, as they are extremely absorbent, provide ample insulation, offer the chicks even footing, can be changed out easily for new material, and are inexpensive. However, pine shavings have a dark side, as they generate dust that contains the toxic chemical, abietic acid, which can harm a chick’s respiratory system. Even kiln-dried pine shavings, which most people recommend, contain this toxic fine dust. For this reason, we recommend using aspen shavings over pine shavings.

Straw Bedding

If using straw as your bedding material, realize that it may quickly grow mold, it isn’t as absorbent as ideal bedding materials, and it can quickly become filled with pests. If you have the choice between using straw or hay, choose straw, as it is more absorbent.

Mortar Sand Bedding

Mortar sand is often used as bedding material because it can be sourced easily, is extremely inexpensive, and doesn’t allow for mold or bacterial growth. Removing droppings from mortar sand is simple, but can become a bit overbearing as the chicks grow and generate more waste. Avoid using other types of sand that are too fine, as they are dusty and can affect the chick’s respiratory system. Another issue is that sand is often too cold, if far from a heat source, or too hot if located under a heat lamp, making it less than ideal for temperature maintenance.

Avoid Treated Wood, Wood Chips, Or Sawdust

Never use treated wood shavings, as they contain noxious chemicals that can harm a chick’s health. Wood chips, as opposed to wood shavings, are not recommended because they create an uneven floor that can lead to injuries, and they are not absorbent enough to handle droppings.

Sawdust, while being extremely absorbent, isn’t recommended because it contains large quantities of dust that can irritate a chick’s respiratory system. Chicks will also try to eat the sawdust which could lead to choking or digestive system obstructions.

Never Use Cedar Or Teak Shavings

Do not use cedar or teak shavings, as these trees are toxic to baby chicks. While cedar may smell nice, those same aromatic oils irritate the chick’s respiratory system, causing both acute and chronic problems.

Don’t Use Paper Products

Do not use paper products like newspaper. While newspaper is free for the most part, it lacks absorbent qualities, contains toxic ink, and may cause young chicks to slip on its smooth surface. While slipping may not seem like a big deal, it can lead to a condition known as splayed leg, affecting the chick’s ability to walk permanently. The only exception is using paper toweling during the first couple of days after chicks are introduced into the brooder. Paper towels allow for firm footing and are easy to clean up initially, but as the chicks grow, paper toweling is not sufficient to handle the droppings.

Never Use Cat Litter

Cat litter is far too dusty to use as bedding material and can cause problems to a chick’s respiratory health.

How Deep Should My Bedding Material Be?

Aim for at least 2 inches of bedding material at the very minimum. This is enough to keep chicks insulated from the floor and maintain an ideal temperature. If you want to lay thicker bedding material, that is fine and advised. However, if you are looking to minimize costs, stick to the recommended two inches of bedding.

What Happens If My Bedding Material Doesn’t Insulate My Chicks Enough?

A well-designed brooder should maintain an ideal temperature that works in tangent with the insulation qualities of the bedding. If you are using one of the recommended bedding materials, make sure it’s dry, and change it out regularly, your chicks should have enough insulation to stay warm. If you are using a bedding material like sand that doesn’t provide insulation qualities, change to aspen shavings or hemp.

How Often Should I Clean Out Bedding Material?

Bedding material should be completely cleaned out at least once a week to ensure that the chicks have dry, absorbent material that can keep them warm. Any type of wood-based bedding material naturally contains high amounts of bacteria. If you leave bedding material in the brooder for too long, it can become wet, creating the perfect conditions for these bacteria to grow exponentially and harm or even kill the chicks.

Pro Tip – Mix Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth With Bedding Material Mix a small amount of food-grade diatomaceous earth (DE) into bedding material because it can help dry droppings, reduce moisture throughout the bedding, and kill bugs. DE is completely safe for humans, chickens, and animals without an exoskeleton.

What Bedding Can I Use In My Chicken Brooder?

If possible, use aspen shavings or hemp for your bedding material, as they offer an even flooring, adequate insulation, absorbent qualities, don’t contain any toxic chemicals, and can easily be changed out quickly. Give your chicks the bedding material that makes them happy and watch them flourish.


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