Straw vs Hay Bedding For Chickens

The straw vs hay bedding debate is an interesting one. These two share a lot of similarities that can easily confuse people who do not know the difference between them.

It is important that you identify the right type of forage to use as bedding because this will help you save a substantial amount of money.

Additionally, the best chicken bedding material will help keep your blue chicken warm and free from draft during winter. It will not only keep the chicken coop dry but the birds will also get a comfortable place to lay their eggs on.

What is a chicken bedding

Chicken bedding material is anything that is used or paced on the chicken coop floor to act as an insulation against the cold floor. This can either be straw, hay, pine shavings and sand.

Straw is derived from dead stalks of harvested cereals like wheat. On the other hand, hay is harvested from live cut grass that has been dried and baled.

The most commonly used bedding material for poultry is straw because it is well dried and cheap since it is derived from plant remains. Comparatively, hay is labor intensive because it is cultivated as a plant on its own.

However, there are a few who use other types of beddings for chickens like sand, pine shavings and saw dust.

Hay as bedding for poultry

How many eggs do chicken lay?

There are several factors as to why hay is used as bedding material:

  1. If the cost of straw is unusually high.
  2. Poor planning (when we ran out of straw).
  3. When animals are put on pasture and there is left over hay.
  4. When poorly baled hay is left after sale.
  5. If hay gets rained on before it gets baled.

Mainly, poor quality hay is used for bedding. In wet years, straw is hard to find hence, hay is used as a poultry bedding material. At such a time of wet seasons, old straw fetches high prices compared to hay.

This is because high demand means high prices leaving the poultry farmer to opt for option B that is hay. Hay and straw are spread out in the coop in the same way.

Straw as bedding

Do chicken lay eggs on beddings?

The good thing with straw compared to hay is that it is cheaper and readily available. Most hay is bought by farmers who feed it to their livestock while straw is not bought primarily as animal feed due to its low nutritional value.

Therefore, it is mainly opted as bedding material. Straw sometimes contains kernels especially if it is derived from rice stems that chicken love to eat.

Since straw is cheaper dried, and therefore less likely to mold or attract moisture, we buy it for the backyard poultry coop, nesting boxes and for the poultry to hop off the roost.

Because the hollow tubes retain warm air, straw is an excellent way to keep your coop warmer during the cold seasons.

Stacks of straw or hay bales can be put along the inside walls and also putting a deep layer on the floor is a cheaper way to insulate your poultry coop. Filling your chicken nest boxes with straw can help prevent frozen eggs in winter.

Some say that straw can attract chicken mites but I disagree with their opinion since mites thrive and feast on blood and dead skin tissue but not straw or hay.

These chicken parasites might live inside straw tubes though not for long. However, if you happen to notice mites, diatomaceous earth powder can be sprinkled on the floor and in the nesting boxes as a way to get rid of these parasites. Fresh dried herbs can also be used to help repel mites away from the poultry coops.

Moist hay can easily catch fire! Don’t be surprised to hear this. Yes, when this type of hay decomposes, the heat released during the process can result to a fire outbreak.

This is the reason hay comes as a second option due to its high moisture content especially if it was harvested and baled during the rainy season.

Straw is a fairly good bedding material for chicken coops because it is low in dust, insulates well, and poultry enjoy scratching in it. However, it has some of its merits and demerits.

Advantages of straw as poultry bedding material

Straw is light in weight

Straw bedding is very light compared to other beddings like sand and saw dust. Hence it is easier to maneuver in and out of your coop.

This also makes it easy to transport from one point bearing in mind it can also be baled into stacks for easier storage.

Straw is widely available

This bedding is readily available as it is derived from dead stalks and stems of cereal plants like wheat, rice and oats.

Straw bedding insulates well

This bedding has some insulating qualities and will lead to a warmer coop in cold and winter seasons. However, it is important to note that your coop can be warmer than normal during summer and hot days.

Straw compost makes good manure

This kind of manure can be very good in the farm because it is mixed with poultry droppings that are rich in nitrogen which is good for your crops.

Some farmers sieve this kind of manure when dried and mix it with some concentrates and feed it to cattle because it is said to be rich in protein.

Straw bedding composts quickly

When old straw bedding is put in compost heaps, many say that it decomposes quickly resulting in a quicker garden fuel.

It is excellent for deep litter method

Deep litter is a method that is slowly gaining popularity. This is derived when the old litter starts to get stinker with time.

Essentially, you add more fresh straw bedding on top, making the bedding deeper and deeper. The bedding is later removed after a period of 6 months to a year.

A bacteria present in the bedding helps break it down thereby releasing some heat that makes your coop warmer in winter.

Chicken scratch in straw bedding

Farmers often scatter some grains in the straw and the chicken proudly scratch in it as they search for grains and peanuts. As for me this is not hygienic because chicken will eat poop and beddings and get poop stuck on their feet.

As an organic bedding, it can became a breeding ground for pathogens that may in turn infest your poultry. I would advice that you feed your poultry in clean chicken feeders.

Straw is low in dust

It is recommended that you use a bedding that is low or has no dust at all. Dust can be a very good recipe for respiratory issues. Poultry are very sensitive to respiratory infections and can lead to death or low production.

Non chopped straw is typically low in dust but has a higher risk of crop impaction and has a tendency of caking, which can lead to pathogen growth.

Straw is cheap

Straw has low nutritional value and it is high in fibred content. Accordingly, it is not preferred by many livestock farmers as an animal feed unlike hay which is highly nutritious.

This aspect makes straw cheaper because it is often bought but only few farmers who prefer to use it as a bedding for their animals.

Straw bedding is an excellent absorbent

Absorption is important because you do not want moisture pooling in your bedding and you also do not want your bedding getting wet. However, although straw holds moisture well, it is totally horrible at releasing moisture. Note that the higher the moisture content the higher the pathogen growth.

Disadvantages of using straw as a poultry bedding

Straw does not make good litter

Poultry do not bed they roost. So in this case what they need is litter and not beddings. Hence in this context straw is regarded as a feed for livestock but not a poultry bedding.

We do not require material for chicken to lay on but one that serves as litter for their droppings. Straw is poor in terms of releasing moisture hence you will require to change it or top it up. Good litter should have the following qualities.

  1. Good moisture release and absorption.
  2. Does not easily decompose.
  3. Keeps odors down or gets rid of them completely.
  4. Dries out droppings.

When it comes to the choice of beddings, different people have different methods, preferences and reasons to justify their decision.

Accordingly, when making a decision between hay and straw for your poultry, I would recommend you use the bedding that is available and suits you best.

Straw bedding retains moisture and has high pathogen levels

Straw has high chances of molding due to its inability to release moisture easily than any other bedding material used.

Most people who use the deep litter rearing method have reported presence of molds and dampness in their poultry coops.

Such a condition creates a rich environment for pathogen breeding. These molds can cause some poultry respiratory illnesses and even death leading to poor production and some serious losses.

However, most people using straw beddings use zeolite powder to control moisture in their coops. (Zeolite is a mineral that absorbs moisture).

Straw bedding is always dirty

Due to its inability to release moisture easily, this type of bedding does not look tidy and neat. Here are some of the reasons why

Poultry get poop on their feet

As poultry walk and scratch in the coop, their droppings gets attached on the feet and they scatter it all over the coop and even inside their nesting boxes making the coop look untidy.

Poultry dust bathe in their beddings

For this case chicken are notorious of them all however there are those kind especially ducks that don’t love dust as they are water loving  birds.

The main reason I have used chicken as the best example is because they love scratching the ground picking up small insects to eat.

Chicken love to dust bathe and bask on the dusty surfaces. This makes them scatter beddings all over the coop especially if the straw beddings are fine chopped.

Poultry eat poop and beddings

AS they scratch to pick up small insects and grains that farmers scatter for them, they eat poop and beddings.

You can avoid feeding your poultry directly on the ground as it may expose the birds to illnesses. Always use the right feeding troughs to feed your poultry on.

Straw may contain some pesticides

Most people who practice farming often use pesticides and other farm chemicals to control pests and diseases.  Straw from such farms is laden with toxic chemicals that can be very harmful to your poultry.

You need to ask from the store you want to buy from if there were any pesticides used to make sure than you purchase straw of quality standard for your poultry.

Poor quality straw comes in large quantities

Some local stores who sell poor quality straw often pack it in large quantities to entice buyers. It is very important that you be keen enough and check well how the straw you are about to purchase is packed. Check if it is well dried since you may require to store the extra amount if y6our coop is small or if you bought extra bales.

Straw can cause impacted crops

Eating too much straw can cause crop impaction in poultry. If your poultry eat those long pieces of un-chopped straw, they can get chocked in their digestive tracts leading to impaction.

Impaction is a serious problem if noted on time but if not it can kill leading to massive losses. This is the reason why I recommend chopped straw as I have used it myself and I know how it works for me.

Pests, insects and rodents shelter in straw bedding

Dangerous pests like snakes love to shelter in organic beddings since they are warm. From here they can attack poultry easy ant stealing eggs and chicks.

Rodents like rats love these organic beddings too they get a good environment to nest and raise their young and from here they can sneak in the feed store and in the poultry feeding troughs and do the shoddy job.

The pesky fly is another harmful insect that thrives in moldy and dumpy straw bedding. This kind of fly is dangerous as it can transmit diseases. Chicken lice and mites also hide in the beddings where they lay their eggs.

Concrete floor can be used to keep away rodents as they cannot tunnel through it. Snakes don’t make tunnels of their own but instead use those already made by rodents.

Avoid moldy environment by changing beddings to help keep away the pesky fly. Using small amounts of diatomaceous earth will help control these parasites.

Straw bedding may be hard to clean out

Straw beddings seem light but once they get poop they get caked and became clumpy and hence tedious to remove from the coop.

Bottom Line

When it comes to the choice of chicken beddings, different people have different methods, preferences and reasons to justify their decisions.

Accordingly, when making a decision between hay and straw for your poultry, I would recommend you use the bedding that is available and suits you best.

All chicken beddings can serve you well when used correctly. They are just meant to serve one purpose, too keep chickens warm and provide a comfortable place to lay eggs.

What do you used as a bedding material in your coop. Talk to us on the comment section.


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