Some chicken keepers swear by shredded paper. Others rely on the good ol’ sack of mulch.
After all, the whole point of using mulch in landscaping is that it soaks up moisture. In a coop, this characteristic comes in handy for odor control.
But the real question here is: Is mulch a safe choice for chickens?
In short, yes. Some mulch types can be suitable bedding materials for coops that aren’t exposed to heavy moisture.
As much as I would’ve loved to stop right here, things aren’t that simple. There are a lot of mulch types, and not all of them are coop-friendly.
In fact, some can be outright harmful.
Which types can you use for your lovely hens? How can you make the most out of the mulch? Which materials are entirely out of the question? That’s what I set out to find!
Most Mulch Is Safe for Chickens
As I’ve mentioned, mulch is a very broad term that covers several materials. Some types are okay for chickens. Others, not so much.
Most types of mulch that people use for their coops are safe for chickens, but there are a few maintenance and quality notes to keep in mind.
I gathered the popular options and their main drawbacks, so let’s dive in and see which is best for your coop!
1. Pine Needles
Pine needles are okay to use as mulch if you want to, but many don’t find it the best option.
Sure, they smell nice, but they aren’t super soft. Plus, they will likely get all over the place.
That said, some keepers (and their chickens) like it just fine.
2. Wood Chips and Bark-Based Mulch
Wood chips are often a suitable choice, especially if your girls like pecking around and looking for bugs.
One of the best aspects here is that the chips are incredibly durable and don’t break down as quickly. Hardwood chips could even last the whole winter!
They also happen to be affordable, highly absorbent, and easy to clean. I’d say they’re an overall great pick!
Of course, that doesn’t mean you get to use ornamental bark chippings. They’ll bring all sorts of fungi-related trouble.
3. Grass Clippings
A while ago, I covered how some folks use grass clippings as mulch for their gardens. So, it’s not all that unreasonable to consider grass as bedding for a chicken coop.
This approach can work out but only if you can keep the clippings dry. They easily get moldy, and oh, how bad the bedding smells when that happens!
There’s also another catch. Your hens might feed on the clippings, and you’ll need to top up the bedding every now and then.
All in all, I’d say this can be a nice way to repurpose some of your clippings so that they don’t go to waste, but it just isn’t usually the best solution.
I can’t talk about bedding options without talking about straw mulch. It’s hands down one of the most popular materials there is.
Why? Well, it’s super soft, absorbent, great for insulation, and not as dusty as other mulch options.
So, it’s not really surprising that many people consider straw ideal for chicken bedding, but there are still some issues to look out for.
For example, you need to keep it dry, and you also need to watch out for parasites that can try to hide in straw. Additionally, it’s important to note that it’s lightweight, which means it’s harder to control and could get blown away.
5. Cypress Mulch
Cypress mulch can look similar to cedar varieties but don’t confuse the two. One is safe, while the other isn’t!
If you’re looking for a safe mulch material, cypress will do the trick. It also checks the right boxes, aesthetic-wise.
Unfortunately, it’s not the most environmentally friendly option out there. Excess harvesting of cypress trees doesn’t help the coastal wetlands and wildlife in any way, shape, or form.
Don’t just take my word for it, either. The agricultural center at Louisiana State University (LSU) urges people to avoid using bald and pond cypress mulches.
6. Shredded Leaves
Much like grass, leaves can also be turned into mulch.
You might be able to make your own shredded leaf mulch, but you should be careful.
This is another mulch type that needs to be kept dry so that you won’t run into molding problems. That’s a risk with a whole lot of bedding types, though.
So, all in all, it isn’t the best mulch type out there, but that doesn’t mean it’s not safe.
7. Hemp Mulch
While it’s absorbent, it doesn’t hold on to the ammonia for long. This means that, as long as you provide enough air circulation, the mulch shouldn’t stink. Yes, even if you’re using it as a deep litter.
Odds are, your girls will find it warm and comfy as well.
If only it were a bit easier to come by, it would have been one of my top picks. So far, it’s more of a niche mulch choice.
Mulch Types to Avoid in Your Coop
Low-quality, dusty mulch varieties, in general, aren’t good for your lungs or the poor chickens who have to put up with it all day long.
However, cedar is particularly risky.
Sure, it’s good for repelling insects. But on the flip side, it can cause respiratory problems and skin irritation.
Don’t use cedar bedding for your chicks so long as you can help it.
It’s okay to use mulch for your chickens, provided that you steer clear of toxic wood shavings like cedar.
Just remember that some mulch materials are safe but not exactly ideal. Take the not-so-sustainable cypress, for instance.
So, you need to balance a few factors (availability, sustainability, odor control, and required maintenance) before settling on a mulch type.
A final word of advice? There’s only so much that your bedding choice can do if the coop hygiene is suffering. Regular clean-ups and adequate ventilation are crucial no matter which way you go!
Ben has a bachelor’s degree in construction engineering. When not constructing or remodeling X-Ray Rooms, Cardiovascular Labs, and Pharmacies, you can find him at home with wife and two daughters. Outside of family, He loves grilling and barbequing on his Big Green Egg and Blackstone Griddle, as well as working on projects around the house.
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