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Rearing native chickens are one of the most exciting activities in homesteading. Aside from having an endless supply of organic eggs and meat, you’ll have all-year access to chicken manure, which is an excellent source of organic material for your composting regime.
In this article, we explore the five best chickens bedding for composting. These are organic substrates that can be used as bedding material. Not only is it good for your chickens’ health but for your vegetable garden as well!
First, it is important that you understand what a deep litter is.
What Deep litter method
The deep litter method is a traditional way of allowing chicken litter to decompose inside the coop until it piles up. It could reach up to 8 to 12 inches thick as new compostable materials are refilled on top. This is very ideal, especially for egg-laying hens. This method is straightforward to manage, economical, and eco-friendly.
In the deep litter method, the carbon-rich materials will absorb the foul-smelling nitrogen from the droppings. As chickens peck and scratch, it will help aerate the beddings. This, in turn, will encourage the growth of microbes that will facilitate the decomposition process. The result is odor-free coop and organic matter-rich compost.
Therefore, the materials used in this process should be easy to clean and dry, so it is less prone to disease organisms.
5 Characteristics Of Exceptional Compostable Chickens Bedding
Does not easily compact down
Chicken whisperer Dr. Maurice Pitesky suggests maintaining 6-8 inches of the substrate on the coop litter as chickens love to scratch over it. The material should be dense; otherwise, you will have to replace them more frequently (it’s not like cat litter you have to clean every day).
With good and dense materials, you would only have to replace it once a quarter to twice a year, depending on the number of chickens sharing the coop. Dr. Pitesky recommends an average of 2 birds per square foot in the coop to avoid overcrowding.
Moisture absorbent and odor-free
The moisture level is essential. Damp beddings encourage the growth of bacteria such as Salmonella and Coccidiosis and may slow down the composting process. Too dry could make the coop dusty, which is unhealthy for both the owners and the chickens.
The beddings should, therefore, be absorbent and could dry fast. Inferior absorbing materials such as straw or hay are prone to molds, bacteria, and fungi, causing bumblefoot and respiratory illnesses on chicken such as Aspergillosis.
Get some handful of litter to test for an ideal moisture level. It should form a round shape but still can easily break apart. If you are successful at keeping the litter at the right moisture level, you will have an odor-free coop litter.
Chicken loves dust bathing. But too much can cause respiratory disease to chickens and owners. As you do various activities with the coop, including handling and inspection, cleaning cages, etc., you expose yourself to poultry dust.
The dangers of poultry dust to the human respiratory system have been established in various literature. That is why it is also essential that the coop litter is not too dry and dusty.
Non-acidic and non-toxic
Since used beddings will be utilized as compost, choose compostable materials that are non-acidic. Pine shavings or pine needles, including sawdust, are acidic. If composted, they have to be mixed with a large proportion of alkaline substrate to neutralize.
The materials should also be non-toxic. Although most of them are compostable and organic, it is better to know in advance if they are treated with chemicals or are inherently toxic when decomposed.
Cedar and pine-shavings, for example, are also found to exude volatile compounds that can cause allergic reactions and respiratory illnesses to humans and animals alike and are therefore not ideal for substrates.
Good thermal rating
Good quality beddings should keep your chickens comfortable and warm. Chickens are susceptible to extreme warmness and coldness; thus, you have to provide them with warm and dry material during winter and aerated during hot seasons.
5 Ideal Bedding Options
Rice hulls are probably among the most available types of beddings in Asia and some parts of America. They are generally free of dust, are good conductors of heat, and quickly dry up. Thus you would not have to worry about dampened beddings.
It is also zero in emission compared to substrates such as grass clippings that releases high ammonium content. Ammonia build-up can cause eye and respiratory irritation to chickens. It also lowers their resistance, can affect egg-laying hens and the growth of young chickens.
Interestingly, a study showed that chickens on a rice hull substrate behave most actively than on any other substrate as they can entirely do scratching or pecking on it.
In the absence of rice hulls, chicken growers in non-rice producing countries such as Canada and Europe use cereal grains instead. Experts suggest that it should be processed into one-inch lengths to work effectively.
Wood is a hygroscopic material that could absorb or adsorb water, thus stabilizing moisture and humidity like a thermostat. This property will be most useful during hot and humid days or cold winter months. It also has inherent anti-microbial properties that could prevent the growth of specific pathogens in the coop.
Wood chips are also denser in structure and property; thus, it does not compact easily – unlike the conventional wood shavings. And because it has a natural scent, it can tone down that notorious smell of chicken droppings.
Also, wood chips break down wonderfully in the compost. But as bedding materials, they are remarkably intact and dust-free.
If you opt for wood chips, just make sure it did not come from chemically treated or glued woods as they can bring toxic materials in the chicken coop or to the resulting compost.
Hemp is made from the inner stalk of a cannabis plant, known as the hurd. Similar to wood substrates, it is dust-free and has anti-microbial properties. But compared to wood and rice hull, hemp absorbs the best, which means lesser chances for bacterial and fungal growth in the substrate.
Since hemp is already in its dried state, it does not release ammonia than a fresh substrate. It also provides natural insulation that regulates the temperature in the chicken beddings during the hot and cold season.
It is also a good compost material since it is non-acidic, and it decomposes rapidly. And compared to wood substrates, it has a lower ecological footprint.
Chopped cardboard is also good material. Aside from its porous nature, it does not easily get compacted. It also decomposes rapidly, which makes it an ideal compost, and it is dust-free. It is also a low-cost thermal insulator that can protect the poultry from extreme hot and cold.
With the right proportion vis-a-vis the number of chickens in the coop, cardboard beddings could be replaced only once in 4-6 months.
As a fertilizer, it supplements the excellent amount of organic material to the soil, which improves drainage, water retention, and aeration in the ground. Also, it can be used directly on the earth after use. And if you worry about it being acidic for plants, that is only true for fresh and unwashed coffee ground. The used and washed coffee ground is neutral and will not affect the acid levels of the soil.
Special Additives: DooKashi
Dookashi is an odor eliminator and compost accelerator which will work with all types of bedding materials that include nesting pads, chicken layer pellets, straw beddings, etc.
It comprises 100% natural ingredients that include rice bran, organic probiotic, blackstrap molasses, and purified water, which is safe even when ingested by the chickens. Not only it neutralizes odor, but it balances the pH of any organic materials as well.
DooKashi is also dry, dust-free, with an oats-like texture. It also prevents ammonium build-up even if you use grass clippings as bedding material – protecting the eyes and the lungs of your fowl.
This eco-friendly and non-toxic material, when sprinkled on your bedding material, works like magic!
How to compost the old chicken beddings?
Now that you’re done with your old litter, you may toss it into your compost bin. Here are some of the manure safety tips to bear in mind:
- Be sure to keep the carbon to nitrogen balance to 3:1 – that is 3-part brown from your old coop bedding for every 1 part of chicken manure. Too much carbon (i.e., your brown plant material) will slow down the decomposition, while too much nitrogen (i.e., your chicken manure) will end up with stinky compost.
- Add enough water to the compost pile. The optimum moisture content for a compost pile is between 50 and 60%. The best way to test is by squeezing some substrate with your hand. Water oozes from your hand if it’s too wet. The ideal level is that you would almost get only a drop of water when you press the substrate.
- Monitor the temperature of the compost pile daily. Using a compost temperature gauge, the mixture should maintain the temperature of 60°C-72°C degrees (140°F-160°F) at least three days in a row.
- And since composting is an anaerobic process, the substrate must be turned regularly to supply ample oxygen for the microorganisms. After 30 days, the resulting organic material should not have any foul smell or odor.
Another tip from Chicken Whisperer Andy Schneider – use manure-based compost only on non-touch or above the ground crops such as broccoli or corn. “Touch” crops or root crops such as carrots have direct contact with soil, and composted manure could still contain trace amounts of e. Coli bacteria or salmonella. Having direct contact with it could spread the bacteria on your crops.
Best Chickens Bedding For Composting
After discussing the options for the best bedding materials, I vouch for chopped cardboard paired with Dookashi.
Aside from being readily available everywhere, chopped cardboard passed the 5 criteria presented above:
- Does not compact easily
- Is not acidic or toxic
- Is moisture absorbent
- Keeps chickens warm during winter
- Cools during summer (plus it is dust-free)
And with innovation such as DooKashi, you will be able to maximize its performance as composting material.
Using chopped cardboard will not only help you reduce wastes at home, but it will also maximize the cardboard boxes in your local recycling facility.
There are still some other compostable materials out there that can be used as bedding materials. You may interview different chicken growers in your location to learn more about different preferences. It would also help conduct a small test of which among the available bedding materials in your locality will work best for your backyard chickens.
Overall, choose something that will keep your coop clean, safe, healthy, and dry for more extended periods to save time, money, and effort in poultry raising.