Learn to treat your flock to a diet rich in a variety of herbs, greens, and flowers with Fresh Eggs Daily (St. Lynn’s Press, 2013). Lisa Steele offers dozens of simple and intelligent tips for “going natural” that help you avoid common ailments that plague many backyard flocks. This excerpt comes from the first chapter, and offers readers plenty of safe, green choices when it comes to finding chicken coop bedding.
You can purchase this book from the Capper’s Farmer store: Fresh Eggs Daily.
More Fresh Eggs Daily:
Properly Caring for Chickens in Winter
What to Feed Chickens in Winter, and Freezing Chicken Eggs
DIY Chicken Scratch Wreath
Homemade Suet Block Recipe
Things to Know Before Building a Backyard Chicken Coop
Easy Green Tips for Refreshing and Cleaning a Chicken Coop
Chicken Coop Bedding
The floor of your coop should be covered with a thick layer of bedding to offer a soft landing from the roosts. There are three types of bedding I recommend: pine shavings, straw or shredded paper. There are also three types of bedding I can’t recommend because they could actually harm your chickens. Let’s start with what not to use.
Chicken Coop Bedding Materials to Avoid
Cedar chips or shavings. These should never be used, as the cedar oils can be toxic and cedar itself is very aromatic and can cause breathing problems in chickens.
Hay. This should never be used because it is too “green,” meaning it’s not dry like straw and can quickly mold and harbor mildew or other bacteria.
Sand. While some people use sand on coop floors because it’s easy to scoop out the manure, I don’t recommend it. Not only is it not a good insulator in the cold months, it can harbor E. coli. Recent studies have shown that sand can contain and maintain a far greater E. coli infestation than even water can. Chickens may also be tempted to eat the sand, which would be detrimental for two reasons: They might be eating sand-covered poop inadvertently; and overeating sand can lead to impacted crops, as the sodden sand won’t pass through their digestive system.
Safe, Green Choices
Pine shavings bedding. If you choose pine shavings, they should be the larger “chip” size, not sawdust size, which create too much dust. Pine needles can also be used; they have the added benefit of low-level antibacterial properties. Many people prefer them because, if you have access to pine trees on your property, the needles can be a free bedding choice. Just be sure to use only dry pine needles. Wet needles can get moldy, so better to collect nice, dry ones.
Straw bedding. One benefit of straw is that it is a superior insulator. Being hollow, it traps warm air both inside its shafts and in between them. Chickens also like to scratch through the straw to eat the chaff. In many areas of the country, straw is considerably cheaper than hay and makes for an economical bedding choice.
Shredded paper bedding. If you work in an office and have access to a paper shredder trash can, shredded paper can be an economical, easy litter option. Most inks are soy-based nowadays so not harmful. Just be sure to change out your litter often, since wet paper can turn to paper mâché and you’ll have chickens walking around trailing scraps of paper from their feet.
Fresh Herbs for the Chicken Coop
Whether you use straw, pine shavings or shredded paper on the floor of your coop, fresh herbs regularly strewn on the floor will make your coop smell fresh and also provide the hens with great health benefits. They will scratch around in the litter and rub against the herbs, allowing the essential oils to work their magic. The hens will also eat many of the herbs, which will provide them with added nutritional benefits. I try to choose the most aromatic and strongly scented herbs to use in my coop.
Mint. This is the herb I use most in our chicken coop. Not only does mint grow like a weed all spring, summer and fall, it smells good and has rodent-repelling qualities. Liberally spreading fresh mint on the floor of your coop or planting a few mint plants outside around the coop can help keep rodents away.
Lavender. This is another great herb to sprinkle in your coop. Lavender is extremely calming and soothing, and hopefully helps instill in the chickens that the coop is a safe place in which to sleep, lay their eggs, take refuge when they aren’t feeling well, or to seek out as protection from the elements or predators.
Oregano. Oregano is a very important herb that should be regularly added to your coop litter. Thought to combat coccidia, E. coli, Salmonella and infectious bronchitis, oregano is currently being studied by commercial poultry farms as an alternative to conventional medications.
Yarrow. Yarrow helps maintain respiratory health. Of course the best way to avoid respiratory issues is to keep your coop litter fresh and dry and change out wet litter quickly, provide plenty of vents and windows in your coop, and allow your hens access to the outdoors year round. But introducing some herbs that specifically target respiratory systems and sinuses is always beneficial.
Bundles of yarrow tied together and hung in your coop can help prevent respiratory issues. As an extra boost, add some rosemary and thyme, both of which also help with breathing. Especially in the wintertime, tying bouquets of these three herbs together at the stem end and hanging them upside down in your coop — so your hens can eat them at their leisure — can be beneficial in keeping mucous membranes, lungs and breathing apparatus in good working order.
A number of other herbs are beneficial to regularly introduce to your coop, including bay leaves (a natural insecticide), lemon balm (a member of the mint family and therefore a rodent deterrent), lemongrass (a fly repellent), and pineapple sage (extremely aromatic, and a good choice for the floor of the coop).
Reprinted with permission from Fresh Eggs Daily: Raising Happy, Healthy Chicks…Naturally by Lisa Steele and published by St. Lynn’s Press, 2013. Buy this book from our store: Fresh Eggs Daily.