Before bringing your new baby chicks home, there are a few things you need to prepare. The first: their temporary home. Murdoch’s highly recommends preparing their temporary, indoor living arrangements before you pick up your new additions out of concern for their safety and health.
In this article, we’ll help you figure out how to choose bedding for chicks and other baby birds. Keep reading to learn why their bedding is so important; if you have questions, Murdoch’s team members in our stores will happily steer you in the right direction, and they have your birds’ optimal health in mind.
All Baby Birds Need Bedding
No matter what kind of baby bird, and no matter what kind of container you choose for your baby birds’ home, you need to put 1 – 2 inches of bedding onto the floor. It needs to be: absorbent, able to be changed, able to reduce odors from excretion, and hopefully inexpensive.
How long do they need bedding? Until they move outside. As a general rule, most birds are fine outdoors when they have fully feathered out at 10 – 12 weeks old and daytime temps are approximately 50 degrees F. Depending on how cold your nights get, you may still need to turn on a heat lamp. You need to keep the adult birds’ outdoor coop clean, but you don’t need bedding outdoors on the floor of the coop.
(Side note: Bedding for adult birds is only needed inside their nesting boxes. For this, Murdoch’s recommends straw or chopped straw as it is widely available and inexpensive.)
Great Bedding Options: Pine shavings, straw, chopped straw, or hay.
They are proven safe and effective at absorbing liquids of all kinds, and they are as easy as it gets to change out. Here are some specific product options to consider.
Off Limits for Baby Chickens: Paper products, cedar shavings, or sawdust. Really. Don’t use them, for good reason.
Paper products of all kinds like newspaper, cardboard, shredded junk mail, and any other attempt to use or re-use a paper product (even though we appreciate the attempt at recycling, truly we do) can prove fatal for your little ones. Paper products are slick and make an instable surface for your growing chicks, leading to a disability called “spraddle chick” or “spraddle leg.” Their poor little legs start spreading and growing apart such that they can’t walk; thus, they can’t drink or eat. These little birds are growing so fast that spraddle development happens quickly. If you didn’t know, and you have chicks on paper products, please switch out the bedding right away; spraddle is physically noticeable immediately as your chick’s leg or legs will appear lame. She will lay down and refuse to get up.
On to why cedar shavings are a bad idea. It’s reasonable to think cedar would make an even better bedding that pine because of its odor reduction, but the powerful fumes and oils of cedar shavings can seriously impair your baby chicks. Cedar is reportedly toxic to chicks, causing respiratory problems with fatal consequences.
Sawdust is never recommended, either. As a well-researched chicken keeper, you probably already know that your chicks’ bowels are something to watch, especially in the first couple of days. This is because of compaction, aka constipation or pasting. To fix it, you make sure they’re drinking water, add electrolytes, and clear their rear by wiping with a warm water cloth. If your chick mistakes the sawdust for food and ingests it, you just fed your little one a recipe for internal compaction. They just can’t digest sawdust, and the result is fatal. Even if you end up with brilliant chicks that know the difference between their food and sawdust, it is… well… incredibly dusty and not safe for their little lungs. It’s a risk that’s not worth taking – ever.
Goslings, Ducklings, Poults (baby Turkeys) & Other Game Birds
Great Options: Chopped straw or hay.
These two are proven safe and effective at absorbing liquids of all kinds, and they are as easy as it gets to change out.
A note about Waterfowl: You’ll notice that waterfowl get into their waterers and tend to splash about, requiring you to change out their bedding more frequently. If you’re going to raise waterfowl, you need to swap out the bedding frequently, sometimes twice a day, so it doesn’t get slick and cause spraddle leg (even when you do use chopped straw or hay). You also need to be sure they can dry off to stay warm. Some folks say you should provide water intermittently throughout the day during supervised times to avoid the spills, but this is a personal choice.
Sometimes new waterfowl keepers ask if they can just add a shallow swimming area to the babies’ living container to reduce spillage from the waterer; Murdoch’s answer is no, just wait until they are feathered out around 8 – 10 weeks. Ya gotta just deal with changing the bedding. Admittedly, we’re getting off-topic a bit, but it’s an important thing to address, so we’ll keep going. Baby waterfowl aren’t born with the appropriate oils to shed water. When you see baby waterfowl swimming with their mamas, it’s because she has spread her own oils on them. In the absence of mother duck, keeping their home dry is not only safe for avoiding spraddle leg, but it keeps them warm, too.
Off Limits for Goslings, Ducklings, Poults & Other Game Birds: Pine shavings, paper products, cedar shavings, or sawdust.
Note that, contrary to chickens, other birds aren’t as savvy with pine shavings and tend to try to eat them, so pine shavings aren’t for all birds. Paper products, cedar shavings, and sawdust are all poor choices for the same reasons listed under the chicken section of this article.
If you still have questions about appropriate bedding, or anything else about raising chickens, ducks, geese, and other baby birds Murdoch’s store teams are more than happy to advise you. We care about your animals and want them to be happy, healthy, and safe.