Poultry: best bedding
Correct bedding and a powder treatment have a key role in keeping your chickens healthy and free of disease. Terry Beebe reports
Keeping your birds healthy and disease-free is one of the main tasks for every chicken keeper. And a good place to start is by looking at the bedding and conditions inside the chicken coop.
Bedding is the covering that we use on the floor – it could be shavings, chopped straw or one of the new products available on the market today.
Although cleaning out the coop/shed is a basic task we all have to do on a regular basis, there are ways to go a step further and create a perfect environment that will help to protect the welfare of your birds.
When starting to clean the house, the main consideration is that the floor needs to be scraped as clean as possible. All the droppings and dried waste food will need to be removed. This can sometimes be difficult, as the bedding gets wet and the waste hardens onto the floor and sets almost as hard as concrete. The best tool to use is a good, metal scraper; these are ideal for this purpose. Once the hard stuff has been loosened, use a good, hard, stiff brush to remove the residue. This will leave the floor clean and ready for the treatment to begin.
With the floor clean and swept, apply a good quality dry powder treatment. The one we used is called BioDry. This does exactly what it says – it disinfects and dries up any damp areas. There are key areas that will require extra attention, such as under the roosting perches. These areas soon become heavily soiled and smelly. Another area to focus on is where the feeders and drinkers are positioned; these soon become sour and damp if left unattended.
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Using a product such as BioDry will not only keep the area clean, it will deal with another major problem – ammonia. This comes from the chickens’ droppings and is the cause of many breathing and respiratory problems. The most likely place for this to develop is around the heavily-soiled areas in the coop.
Use the BioDry powder liberally all over the housing floor, spreading it well by hand, giving a good, well-covered dusting. Once the floor has a decent covering, it is time to add the bedding materials.
Don’t use straw or sawdust
The choice is yours, but here’s a word of warning: whatever you choose, do not use sawdust or straw, as these are not suitable for chickens, especially in a confined area such as the housing.
Sawdust is usually very dusty and can cause the birds breathing difficulties. It is also very likely to get into the birds’ eyes, causing irritation and infection.
Although straw is used by some people, it must be checked on a daily basis and must be turned over completely. If straw is left untouched, the top appearance will look clean and fresh, while
underneath it will sweat and create mould. It does not take long for this to give off spores that soon affect the birds’ respiratory systems. This can have very serious consequences for their health. Straw can also makes an excellent haven for lice and mite.
If you have no option, and must use straw, always use a dry powder underneath and turn the bedding over ever few days, adding powder each time you do so.
There are several companies that supply a variety of bedding products ideal for chickens. Most were originally produced for horses, but are more than ideal for our purpose as poultry bedding.
Bed-Down Shavings (dust free)
The most suitable bedding material for your chickens has to be dust-extracted shavings. These can be purchased from most feed stores. It is more economical to buy the larger pre-packed bales.
Buying shavings in very small packages from a pet shop may be suitable for pet rodents, but won’t be enough for your chickens. It will also prove to be very expensive and, when you are cleaning out the coop on a regular basis, even one of the larger bales won’t go too far. So buying bigger is more economical.
Shavings are easy to use; they don’t go into solid lumps and can easily be freshened up by using a rake. Some brands include additives that create nice smells, such as lavender and lemon.
Although these do not have any major advantages healthwise, they do include an anti-viral agent.
Chopped wheat straw
Although I do not recommend using straw, this comes very finely chopped, removing the underlying problem of damp developing under the bedding. Similar to shavings, it is easy to rake and keep clean and fresh. It also contains an anti-viral agent and has a very pleasant lemon fragrance.
This type of bedding is made from chopped oil seed rape stalks. All dust is removed and, again, an anti-viral agent is added. As with the chopped wheat straw, it has a lemon fragrance. It is ideal in the coop as it does not clog into solid lumps.
Chopped hemp is a natural, dust-free, quick to compost, sustainable, eco-friendly product. It has odour eating properties, is highly absorbent and has an added boost with Eucalyptus pellets added to the mix, offering a natural way of freshening up your hen house. Eucalyptus is well-known as a mild decongestant, which can also kill air-borne germs in winter. It is anti-bacterial, and research points to its anti-mite properties as well.
Hemp Bedding absorbs up to 12 times more liquid than straw and four times more than shavings. The product is available in 7kg and 15kg bales.
POINTS TO CONSIDER
¦ Do not use straw or sawdust
¦ Always clean on a regular basis using a dustextracted product
¦ Use a dry powder under the bedding to prevent damp and disease
¦ Turn over the bedding every few days to keep fresh
¦ Ensure the coop has good ventilation
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Use a good, proven disinfectant before adding a good, dust-free, dry bedding material. If this practice is carried out on a regular basis, with a quick rake over once or twice a week, the houses and the birds will be kept in really good condition.