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Can You Use Hay for Chicken Bedding | Is it food or bedding?

If you’re a first-time chicken owner, deciding what bedding to use for your chickens can be a daunting task. For even the experienced ones, switching chicken coop bedding is one of the toughest choices in flock care.

After all, the litter you offer to your chickens in their coop is not a luxury. It’s a necessity—for soft landing of eggs, sturdy foundation for chickens’ feet, and an easy way to access and clean up your chickens’ plop. There’s one rather ambiguous question surrounding this enigma of choosing bedding for chickens—Can you use hay for chicken bedding?

Hay is basically a crop that is grown to be used as animal fodder. It is often made up of a combination of different plans, grasses, legumes, and grains growing in a farm or meadow. Hay is rich in crude protein and calcium, among other nutrients, contributing to tissue growth and development. It is therefore better as animal feed over bedding material.

Let’s clear up the difference between hay and straw, shall we?

Hay VS Straw

Although people use the terms hay and straw almost interchangeably these days, there is no room for confusion for poultry farmers!

Hay is basically a crop that is grown to be used as animal fodder. It is often made up of a combination of different plans, grasses, legumes, and grains growing in a farm or meadow.

On the other hand, straw is a byproduct of grains like wheat, oats, barley, and rye, which is harvested after the plants are dead.

While hay is chiefly used as livestock feed, straw is famous for making livestock bedding.

Can You Use Hay for Chicken Bedding | Is it food or bedding? 1
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Can You Use Hay for Chicken Bedding | Is it food or bedding? 2

Can You Use Hay for Chicken Bedding?

When it comes to feeding your birds, hay may top the list, but for bedding, not so much!

Hay is rich in crude protein and calcium, among other nutrients, contributing in tissue growth and development.

Cutting to the chase—so, can you use hay for chicken bedding? Turns out, it’s not the popular option out there. While few swear by it, many choose to use it just for feed.

So, let’s check out what makes hay a rather unconventional choice for chicken bedding!

Disadvantages of using hay for chicken bedding

Hay is high in nitrogen

Due to factors like overfertilization and drought stress, hay is often high in nitrogen. Thus, it is unable to produce the right carbon/nitrogen mix that is required to promote the growth of good bacteria and composting. There’s already enough nitrogen in chicken manure. So, hay will only contribute to making the coop stinker.

Makes it tougher to clean manure

Chickens poop a lot, and they will poop everywhere. In fact, they poop quite a lot while sleeping. Impressive, right? You’ll be welcomed by a pile of manure under the roosts every morning. And as you know from experience, it’s not a breeze to clean it.

It’s not possible to clean the manure entirely without removing the entire bedding. So, can you use hay for chicken bedding? Can you remove and clean it every day? Think again!

Chickens can contract Aspergillosis

As hay is more absorbent compared to other contenders like wood shavings and straw, it’s also quick to develop mold spores. As a result, this can make your chickens sick with a condition called Aspergillosis. It is contracted when chickens inhale air with high spore count. Moist beds and pungent smell are few other problems that’ll tag along.

Hay has higher endotoxins level

Some studies have shown that hay is high in dust and endotoxin. Now, endotoxins are part of the outer membrane of Gram-negative bacteria. These are among the leading contributors to pulmonary diseases like asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and organic dust toxic syndrome. On top of that, it can also severely impact your bird’s immune system.

However, it’s not all cynical. Ask a few can you use hay for chicken bedding, and they’ll tell you yes. Looks like there are some silver linings, after all.

feeding oyster grit to chikens

Advantages of using hay for chicken bedding

Hay is a cheaper alternative

If budget is your main concern, using hay could be more useful to you. It’s definitely less expensive than options like straw, sand, and wood shavings. Especially during the wet year, it’s hard to find straw. Thus, the price will naturally surge. At times like this, if you have run out of options, hay can be your momentary savior.

Putting the leftover hay to a good use

There are stacks of hay hogging a lot of space in your barn? There’s a particular type of hay you bought, but your animals won’t eat? In that case, you can put that hay to good use and make a super comfy bed for your hens.

Hay is nutritious and keeps chickens occupied

Two things chickens love: eat and peck everything. And hay can be the quick fix for that. We’ve already discussed above how hay is rich in protein and calcium.

So, hay makes a tasty snack for your chickens to munch on. Also, they have this innate love to scratch the ground. Hay can be quite satisfying to scratch on for your chickens and will keep them occupied for hours.

Now that we’ve listed both pros and cons of using hay for chicken bedding, it may seem quite ambiguous right now.

So, can you use hay for chicken bedding? Still, no. hay is not the ideal choice for your chickens’ welfare. But as we have made it clear in the advantage list above, use if for a period if you absolutely have to.

A quick tip for using hay as chicken bedding

While researching for this article, we came across a handy little tip by someone who uses hay for chicken bedding.

If you’re using chopped stocks of hay and straw, you can add one more component to it: ground zeolite. It is a naturally occurring mineral that absorbs odor and smell. Therefore, it’ll increase the lifespan of your chicken bedding!

If you want to experiment, there are premixed bags available commercially, too.

Drawing from real-life experiences

No matter how much one looks up in the world wide web, there’s quite nothing as reassuring as advice based on real-life experiences. Here, we’ve compiled a list of real tips from real people that we came across while digging for information.

•  Hens love nibbling and laying around on hay, but it’s dangerous if the hay gets too dry or wet

•  Mites love to relax in little hay beds, and every single drop of water is an invitation for parasites

•  Hay bedding can be a good option for an injured chicken who needs bulky padding to rest

•  Hay keeps the chickens occupied in the winter with all that pecking and nibbling

Alternatives to Hay Bedding for Chickens

Now that we’ve answered can you use hay for chicken bedding, let’s quickly look at a few other possibilities. Let’s see how these options fare in comparison to hay!

Wood Shavings

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Wood shavings make great bedding. They’re absorbent, and it’s easy to sift through them to clean manure. Also, wood shavings don’t break down easily and have an inviting scent to them. While pine and cedar shavings are popular choices, not all kinds of woods are suitable. Shavings from oak and black walnut are known to be harmful.  

Straw

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Straw is extensively used for chicken bedding, thanks to its versatility. In addition to being compostable, it offers cushioning, residual warmth, and healthy germ balance. Let’s not forget its ‘peck-able’ quality that all chickens love. As for its drawbacks, it can burn a little hole in your pocket, it’s harder to clean than wood shavings, and sneaky mites love to hide inside straws’ hollow pipes.

Sand

Like hay, there are quite polarizing opinions about sand as chicken bedding. It dries super fast, doesn’t break down, and doubles as material for a dust bath. However, sand is also a suitable home for pathogens and rodents and doesn’t offer insulation during winter.

Hemp

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Hemp is by far one of the best kinds of beddings you can offer your chickens. The hemp bedding is actually made from the stalk of the cannabis plant. It is absorbent, organic, odorless, which means your coops will stay clean for longer. In addition to that, it also works as a natural pesticide. Can you use hay for chicken bedding? Go for hay instead if there’s no budget constraint.

Newspaper

Keen recyclers love to put old newspapers to many uses. Using them as chicken bedding is one of them. For most animals, it’s alright as they’re not tempted to eat it. But hens? It’s not exactly ideal. It’s okay as long as you only intend to use it temporarily.

If you plan on experimenting, only use B&W papers, as colored ones contain a high amount of lead, and glossy ones contain more ink.

Final Thoughts

Hay comes it with its own set of unique benefits like being all-natural and nutritious. However, it’s no great option for chicken bedding. As we’ve mentioned above, there can be few unlikely benefits, but the cons clearly outweigh the pros. You can choose from our list of alternatives and see what best suits your chickens.

Let’s not forget that safety, price, cleanliness, and smell are all equally important things that you need to consider before investing in chicken bedding.

Hutch and Cage.com does not provide veterinary advice. Our aim is to provide the reader with information to enable them to make a good decision when making a purchase or caring for their pet. All content is therefore for informational purposes only. If you're concerned about the health of your pet you should seek medical advice from a vet.