Can You Use Hay for Chicken Bedding?

Of course, you want the best for your chickens, and choosing the right bedding is essential for their comfort and health.

You have plenty of options for chicken bedding, but is hay one of them?

Never use hay for chicken bedding. Hay still contains some moisture, grows mold, and becomes a breeding ground for mold and bacteria. This often results in infections or sores from contact with moldy hay. This can lead to serious health problems, requiring intensive veterinary treatment to correct.

Still not convinced? 

Let’s look into more details on why hay is bad and other variety of bedding materials that make safer bedding for chickens. 

can you use hay for chicken bedding

Why is Hay Bad Bedding for Chickens?

Hay isn’t a good choice of bedding material for chickens.

Despite being cut, dried, and baled, it can still absorb and retain moisture.

When you use hay as bedding, you create a breeding ground for dangerous bacteria and mold.

Rain, chicken droppings, and any moisture present in their coop will absorb into the hay.

From there, mold spores or bacteria will attach to the hay and multiply until you have a severe problem on your hands.

Your chickens could suffer from painful sores, aspergillosis, other respiratory diseases, or other health issues.

These are serious health problems and could take months of veterinary treatment to correct.

For the sake of your chickens and their respiratory systems, skip the hay and go for an alternative and much safer bedding material.

Alternative Bedding Materials Better For Chickens

There’s a lot of debate in the backyard farming world about what bedding materials are best for your backyard chicken coop.

Part of this debate stems from the words’ bedding material’ themselves.

Backyard farms with chickens don’t necessarily need bedding material so much as they need litter material.

Big farms raising chickens for consumption need bedding sources because those chickens live and sleep in their bedding.

The same doesn’t necessarily apply to backyard chickens.

For smaller farms, where your chickens are out and don’t spend most of their time in their coop, you will need a solid litter material instead.

Some important questions for choosing chicken litter are:

  • Does the material have low water retention?
  • How easily does it hold on to mold or bacteria?
  • Is it non-toxic?
  • How easy is it to use and keep clean?
  • Does it attract a lot of insects?

When considering any chicken bedding or litter material, these questions should form your opinion about the additional bedding qualities to watch out for.


Sand makes excellent litter for your chickens and is great bedding for moisture control. 

Medium to coarse grain sand works best because it has the lowest water retention rate.

This will help prevent mold and bacteria from taking hold in the sand, potentially infecting your chickens and causing respiratory damage. 

Another benefit of using sand is its cleanliness. Sand doesn’t cake together as thickly as other bedding materials will when exposed to moisture and fecal matter.

It will contain the mess, but it won’t cause a potential obstacle course for your chickens to wade through like other materials.

Sand is non-toxic and will help keep the ammonia smell down in your chicken coop.

This is beneficial to you and your chickens, and not just for the obvious reasons!

The lessened ammonia odor and levels in sand bedding will lessen the number of insects attracted to their coop. 

Hence, you end up with fewer flies in sand bedding compared to many other alternative litter materials. 

Sand is a great bedding/litter material for your chickens.

It’s also a useful part of the deep litter method where you keep adding to litter to avoid smells and bacteria (and also get some great compost twice per year). 

It’s non-toxic, clean, easy to use, and doesn’t hold on to moisture as thickly as other materials.

Pine Shavings

Many people choose to use pine shavings as one of the best types of bedding for their chickens, but there are some big pros and cons to consider with this material.

If you want a material that is easy to use, clean, and has a strong natural aroma that offsets the ammonia from chicken droppings, then pine shavings might just be the way to go!

This backyard chicken coop bedding is readily available, affordable, and will help prevent a big insect infestation and respiratory issues.

Just like with any material, pine shavings have some downsides.

These are often common with most wood shavings. 

You need to make sure you get the large chips rather than smaller pieces or sawdust.

Chicks might eat the smaller pieces or sawdust, leading to serious health problems and even death.

Inhalation of bedding and dust is one of the key dangers. 

Pine shavings will also hold on to a decent amount of moisture.

They won’t retain as much water as hay or straw, but they do hold on to more than sand.

This can cause bacterial growth and mold growth if they’re not changed out frequently enough, so you’ll have to be on top of it if you decide to go this route.

Key points to keep in mind about pine shavings are:

  • It’s readily available and easy to use
  • Pine shavings have a strong natural aroma, which helps cover up the smell of chicken droppings and prevents large insect infestations
  • Chicks might eat smaller pieces or sawdust and lead to serious health problems, including respiratory illness (thus, the dangers of bedding dust)
  • They do have a higher water retention rate than sand, so mold and bacteria can become a problem when using this material

Note: Cedar shavings are similar but NOT safe to use with chickens.

Not all wood shavings are safe, but pine usually is (cedar bedding is dangerous for almost all animals). 

Read more about why cedar shaving is bad for chickens.

Hemp Bedding

Hemp bedding has become more and more popular in recent years.

It’s a great example of chicken coop bedding materials but comes with its own unique set of pros and cons.

Hemp bedding may be more costly than your other options, and it’s also not as readily available as sand or pine shavings.

But if you’re looking for safe, organic beddings, this is a great option. 

This animal bedding will retain a decent amount of moisture, which could cause bacteria and mold growth if you don’t clean it frequently.

Always change old stuff out with fresh bedding. 

However, it will help keep the odor under control and act as an insect repellent.

It’s also a naturally cushiony material, making it the perfect home for eggs. Hemp bedding is non-toxic and great for composting after use.

Some considerations about hemp bedding to keep in mind are:

  • It’s non-toxic
  • Absorbs moisture
  • Naturally cushions
  • Great for composting
  • Might be more costly/harder to find than other materials

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Growing up amidst the sprawling farms of the South, Wesley developed a profound connection with farm animals from a young age. His childhood experiences instilled in him a deep respect for sustainable and humane farming practices. Today, through, Wesley shares his rich knowledge, aiming to inspire and educate others about the joys and intricacies of rural life.

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