Bedding is an essential component to chicken husbandry and there are several viable options and reasons for choice.
For baby chicks, flooring is a critical issue as, if the flooring is slick, they can develop an issue called “splay leg”, which causes their legs to grow askew from the center of their body and crippled them for life. An adult bird can live with mild forms of this, less successfully if it has occurred in both legs, but it is an uncomfortable condition and preventable so their is no need to subject them to this chance. As a result, newspaper is not recommended. Shavings can be used, however, the chicks can ingest the shavings which can cause impaction of their crop, which can be fatal. Some breeders that I know use old t-shirts, which can be easily laundered, others I know use paper towels.
For adult birds, during the day being on pasture or in their run is the norm, which are obviously either grass or dirt, although for those of you who have chickens realize, grass quickly goes by the wayside after the chickens are done with it.
Bedding in the coop usually consists of shavings, although some people use straw. Sand is also a good alternative. If using shavings, avoid pine shavings, as the aroma is not conducive to upper respiratory health. The bedding will need to be cleaned and shifted regularly, especially under the perches, for sanitary reasons. Hutches are usually a part of a coop, as a hen tends to lay in the morning, and their are specific hutch mats, the name of which I am forgetting (sorry!), but they are a thick, square, buoyant, grassy material that cushions the egg from the floor of the hutch.
My flock of three, two hens and a pullet that one of my surrogate mother hens raised, are currently on a concrete basement floor with a bed of shavings (despite me saying that chicks should not be raised on shavings … do as I say, not as I do!). They get out during the day in our little rented city back yard, which is an odd mixture of side walk and ivy vines.
Sadly, since my adults are Bantams (miniature chickens) and the chick is still a baby, none of them can navigate the ivy so they largely either stroll the side walk or stay put wherever I put them in the vines. Not such a great time to be had, and I am struggling to come up with a solution, if anyone has any ideas, please contact me.
Hopefully these thoughts will help simplify your poultry housing issues and keep you and your flock happy.
Dorene, TARA Training and Behavior, LLC, www.doreneolson.com 314.956.1310