Chickens aren’t too particular when it comes to their bedding. In reality, it’s probably you who is more particular than the chickens because you are the one that has to clean up after them. However, there are some health concerns that need to be addressed, because the chickens don’t always know what is best for them.
The bedding on the floor of the coop serves a few purposes; provide comfort to the chickens, make it somewhat easier for you to clean up the poop (unless you want to scrape the poop off a removable floorboard), and moisture control. Since I didn’t build my coop with a removable floorboard, I tried three different bedding materials. What’s written below is simply my opinion based on the experiences I’ve had.
Wood shavings aren’t a bad idea, but they do get messy. The poop isn’t all that easy to clean up unless you take a bunch of the wood chips with it. The chickens will also scratch the shavings and cover up the poop, which can make it difficult to clean the coop sufficiently. With all the cleanup, my composter filled up pretty quick forcing me to dump the shavings into the trash, which was highly undesired. The other drawback is, it has to be replenished more often than some of the other choices, and while it doesn’t cost much, it is a hassle. After a few months, I figured there’s a better bedding material.
The next thing I tried was shredded wood, similar to what you would find in a hamster cage. This stuff is a little bigger than saw dust, but much smaller than the wood shavings above. This was a lot easier to clean up and soaked up a lot of the moisture from the poop. I used a kitty litter scooper to clean up the poop and dumped the waste into a waste bucket for composting. There wasn’t too much waste with the shredded wood because most of it will fall through the sifter (as designed).
The next thing I tried was playground sand from Home Depot. This actually worked very well for a number of reasons. It adds about 250 lbs of weight to the chicken coop which gives me more comfort knowing a 50+ mph winds produced by thunderstorms or our cold blustery winter storms won’t knock the coop over. This may not be an issue where you live, but it sure is out on the Colorado plains. It’s also very easy to clean up the poop with a kitty litter pooper-scooper. Only a very small amount of sand sticks to the poop while a vast majority of it falls through the scooper and back onto the floor.
Perhaps most importantly, moisture evaporates much quicker. Too much moisture can increase humidity levels which can kill a chicken, especially in the cold winter months. Sand has great thermal capacity and acts as a good insulator on the really cold nights. Lastly, the chickens also like to roll around in the sand when taking a dust bath.
I’ve stuck with the sand for now as I really don’t see too much an issue with it. Because the sand makes cleaning the coop so easy, I pretty much take care of the dirty work every few days. I don’t foresee the need to swap out the sand any time soon, if ever. The one caveat is, I still use shredded wood in the nesting boxes, mostly because it seems more appropriate for egg laying.