What type of bedding you choose to use for your baby chicks is an important decision. Pine wood shavings are the obvious choice, but there are a few other things you should also consider before you just fill your brooder boxes with pine shavings each week.
In most instances, you should wait until your new chicks are 3-4 weeks old before placing ALL pine shavings in the brooder. Most chicken farmers use big plastic storage bins for brooding chicks in their early life. They seem to work really well for brooding There is one major caveat, however. The bottom of the plastic bin is usually just a smooth plastic and it is too slippery for the chicks to get decent footing without some assistance. This is why most people choose to put pine shavings in the brooder box. It helps with footing AND messy cleanup.
Your first priority should be to your animals. When choosing a proper bedding type, you should be concerned about whether that specific bedding is providing enough support for leg and foot development in your chicks early lives. Chicks grow really fast, and if they don’t have good, firm footing, they can (and will) develop permanent leg and foot issues. Just placing loose pine shavings over a slippery and slick plastic base, can be a bad choice.
Our reccomendation is to start by placing just 1-2 inches of pine shavings in the bottom of the brooder box. Then, try laying some old bath towels or dish rags over the shavings so that the shavings are covered up. We have also heard of some people using a rubberized shelf liner, or a rubberized gripping mat under a samll layer of shavings as well. You can even use paper towels in a pinch. The purpose of the towel or mat is to help the chicks get a good, solid grip on the walking surface with their toes and nails.
Additionally, the pine shavings underneath your walking surface will still provide moisture absorption and help with masking odor from urine and feces.
Sometimes young chicks will get confused and try to eat the pine shavings which can lead to some digestive issues. Always make sure that the shavings are covered up, no matter what "walking surface" you choose. Within a week or so, some of the shavings will come loose from under the towel or mat, and the chicks will investigate them. Fortunately, by the time chicks are about one week old they know better than to eat the shavings.
To clean up during the first couple weeks, just add fresh paper towels on top of the original towel. This gives the chicks a nice new clear area. If you use a rubberized mat, just completely wash and rinse off once a week to avoid disease. After 2-3 weeks of raising your new chicks, you should empty the whole bin, thoroughly clean it, and then refill with fresh shavings and new toweling or mats. After approximately 4 weeks, the chickens will begin scratching up the toweling to the point of not needing it at all. At that point, you should start using straight pine shavings as bedding for your chickens.
One thing that should never be used is newspaper. Newspaper can be slippery to very young chicks (especially those glossy inserts), and it is not as absorbent as towels and/or shavings. Newspaper also tends to get packed down easily and may turn moldy fairly quickly.
Also, make sure you buy good quality pine shavings (see our article here). Make sure to use 100% pine that is not blended with any other wood. Please don’t ever use cedar shavings. Yes, they smell very nice to us humans, but the natural cedar oil is irritating to the baby chick's skin. It may also cause breathing issues as their lungs can not handle the strong scent. Also, please don’t use sawdust or wood chips of any kind. It just doesn't work as well as shavings will.
Great pure virgin wood shavings, pellets, and sawdust. Pine River Bedding.
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