There are a number of choices when it comes to bedding for chickens and other poultry. The most obvious requirement is that it should be safe for your birds to use but there are other desirable qualities such as the bedding in use should not compact down but be absorbant.
Ammonia from droppings can be a problem if it becomes too concentrated in the coop at night as it can cause damage to the respiritory system.
Here are the bedding materials we have tried, some have worked well and others not so well in the chicken house.
White wood shavings (dust extracted, not sawdust) is one of the most popular bedding materials for chickens, ducks and other poultry as they are relatively cheap and very absorbent and easy to use. Shavings keep smells down and reduce ammonia in the air from droppings that can cause respiratory damage and eye problems.
Shavings also provide insulation from the cold ground during harsh winter weather.
Be very careful when rearing young chicks or ducklings on wood shavings, wood shavings can kill ducklings because they will eat them when they are young. If shavings are introduced after 4-6 weeks, they are less likely to eat them than when they are newly hatched
Shavings must not be derived from hardwoods as there are certain fungi and moulds in these can cause problems. Sawdust should be avoided as the dust can cause respiratory problems. Wood shavings can usually be bought in a compressed ‘block' from pet shops but do ensure they are dust extracted. Dusty wood shavings and inadequate ventilation in the hen house do cause problems.
On-line, Littlemax Wood Shavings can be bought easily and are often cheaper. The shavings are also slightly finer and lighter than the other products designed for horses. Littlemax is virtually dust free and made from softwood timber sourced from renewable forestry in the U.K (mainly pine, which offers a natural antiseptic advantage, as well as a hygienic smell).
Straw can be used as a bedding material although it compacts easily and isn't very absorbent so needs changing regularly. It is best to use straw in nestboxes. I would only consider using straw if I had a plentiful / cheap supply of it. Chopped straw is the most convenient to use. A major advantage is that it composts quickly.
Hay must not be used for bedding as it soon gets damp and can cause fungal spores to grow that can cause aspergillosis. This disease is contracted by inhalation when there is a high spore count in the air which can happen in a relatively short period of time given the right conditions. Nest boxes for hens are usually an exception and hay can be used if available but you must ensure they are kept clean.
Chopped cardboard is my personal favourite and a good choice for bedding material. It is more absorbent than shredded paper and doesn't get as compacted as paper or straw. It composts quickly and can then be dug into the ground as compost. It is dust free which is a big advantage over other bedding types. Ecobed is made from recycled cardboard (offcuts of card waste) which isn't coloured so there are no chemicals going into your compost.
Shredded paper can be used as bedding material but again, isn't a very good choice since it compacts easily and isn't very absorbent. Depending on how it has been shredded and how thick it has been layered depends on how absorbent it is. It can work in nest boxes if it's changed regularly before it compacts.
Auboise is fast becoming one of the most popular beddings for poultry and other small animals. It is made from natural hemp, is dust-free and provides a good insulating layer for the floor over the winter months. It is far more absorbent than straw and even wood shavings but the best part about it is that it has natural fly repellent qualities. Aubiose rots down quickly so can be added to your compost heap and with the chicken manure soon creates compost that can be spread onto the garden.
Easichick bedding was designed specifically for birds (poultry, pigeons, canaries and budgies). It is a wood-based product that is made from recycled wood and is biodegradable. Easichick is dust free, absorbent and free-draining but the best part is it doesn't blow around as some products (like wood shavings) so usually stays where you put it.
Being a natural wood product, it may be composted easily and then spread on the garden. Easichick is also approved for use in organic farming.
BioDri isn't exactly bedding but is a very useful addition to your bedding. It can absorb moisture (many times its own weight) so prevents damp litter. This not only helps to remove odours and harmful ammonia, but also helps prevent the spread of diseases, Coccidiosis being a prime example. Damp litter in warm weather provides the ideal conditions for harmful bacteria to multiply. BioDri contains BioVX, which is a DEFRA approved disinfectant. This is environmentally friendly and also harmless to your birds.