Bedding for Baby Chicks

What to use as bedding for your baby chicks is an important consideration. Pine wood shavings are an obvious choice, but there are other things to consider before you fill your brooder with pine shavings.

I usually wait until my chicks are 3-4 weeks old before I use straight pine shavings in my brooder. I use big plastic storage bins or tubs for brooding my chicks. (A 45-gallon bin usually works nicely for between 6 and 25 chicks until they are about 4 to 6 weeks old.) The bottom or floor of the bin or brooder is smooth plastic though and is too slippery for the chicks to get good footing.

The number one priority, when choosing bedding, is providing enough support for proper leg and foot development in your chicks. Chicks grow fast, and if they don’t have firm ground to walk on without slipping, they can develop permanent leg and foot issues. Loose pine shavings sprinkled over a slippery, flat surface can, therefore, be a very wrong choice.

I start by placing a 1-2 inch layer of pine shavings in the bottom of the brooder. Then I lay some old bath towels or dish rags over the shavings, making sure to press the shavings down firmly and to tuck the towel around the edges, so the shavings are completely covered up. You can also use paper toweling, or I sometimes cut a piece of green, artificial-grass style ‘indoor-outdoor’ carpeting. The towel or carpet lets the chicks get a solid grip with their toes and nails, and the pine shavings underneath still provide absorption and help with masking odor. Sometimes young chicks can get confused and eat pine shavings which can lead to digestive issues, so that’s why I make sure that the shavings are covered up completely. Inevitably, some shavings will come loose, and the chicks will investigate them, but usually by the time they are one week old they know better than to eat the shavings.

To clean up during the first couple weeks, I usually just add paper towels on top of the original towel or carpet. This gives the chicks a nice new clear area. After 2-3 weeks, you should empty the whole bin and refill with new shavings and new toweling. After 4 weeks, I find that they scratch up the toweling faster than I can put it down, and I usually start using straight pine shavings as bedding.

Newspaper is also not a good choice. It is quite slippery to very young chicks, and it is not nearly as absorbent as toweling. It tends to get packed down and moldy as well.

Buy good quality pine shavings, that are not adulterated with other woods and debris. Don’t use cedar shavings; even though they smell very nice to us, the cedar oil is very drying and can irritate and injure the chicks’ skin as well as their lungs as they breathe in that scent. Don’t use sawdust or wood chips. And avoid dusty bedding like peat moss – chicks make enough dust all their own!

Want to learn more about caring for baby chicks? Check out our free Chick Guide!