Generally speaking, mulch is safe for chickens. Some backyard chicken owners use it for bedding or the floor in their run, and use it around their garden without an issue. Mulch comes in various forms though, so you need to be sure you know what’s in it.
What Is Mulch?
“Mulch” is an interesting substance. It feels like if you ask different people what mulch is or lookup this question online, you get various different answers.
The best answer, as far as I’m concerned, is that mulch is any loose substance that’s laid over the top of soil as a covering.
Which causes a small problem when checking if mulch is safe for chickens, as it depends on exactly what is in the mulch.
Generally speaking, I always say it’s fine for chickens as the most popular types of mulch are fine. But you should still double-check what you’re using for mulch as some produce fumes that may be harmful.
Common Types of Mulch/Coop Bedding
According to TheSpruce, here are the most common types of mulch (and how suitable they are for your chickens’ bedding) :
Bark and Wood Chips
Bark and wood chips are fine for chickens. In fact, hardwood chips are one of the best substances for the flooring of their run.
Hardwood chips are durable, easy for the chickens to forage for bugs, fairly easy to clean, and becomes a much better mulch for your plants when soiled.
I’ve heard a number of times over the years from people who use pine needles in their coop as a bedding material.
It’s fine for chickens to walk on pine needles. Although some owners think it’s not ideal as there are softer alternatives and pines may hurt their feet.
My gut feeling is that those are the types of backyard chicken owners who pamper their flock! Chickens walk on all sorts of stuff during the day, I don’t think pine needles will cause a problem.
Shredded leaves are also a common mulch substance that is used in coops. It’s very important that you use dry leaves though, as wet leaves can breed mold quickly.
If you have trees in your yard, this is one of the least expensive ways to keep a fresh rotation of bedding mulch coming in for your hens.
Much like shredded leaves, you can use grass clippings in your coop as a way to recycle some garden waste. I know some owners who do this, although it’s not the most ideal substance.
The grass needs to be dry, else it’ll smell of damp and attract mold. It also tends to break down quickly and cause your chickens will make a mess of it.
Straw is commonly used as mulch, and also happens to be one of the most common bedding materials for chickens.
It’s inexpensive, highly absorbent, has insulating properties, and chickens love it. The only real downsides are that you need to keep it dry, and it can harbor parasites.
Straw is one of the best bedding materials for the deep litter method too. I recommend taking a closer look if you have easy access to some.
Is Cedar Mulch Safe for Chickens?
Cedar bedding is one of the more controversial bedding materials. Some owners use it and say it’s fine, yet there is a decent amount of anecdotal and scientific evidence to say otherwise!
This article published on anapsid.org explains that compounds found in cedar, which include hydrocarbons, cedrene, cadrol, and naphthalene are all known to irritate skin and cause respiratory issues.
In fact, naphthalene is one of the active ingredients in mothballs. Which, as I’m sure you’re aware, are used as a pesticide to kill moths.
In addition to irritation, the study goes on to say that cedar bedding can cause discharge from a chicken’s eyes and nose, sneezing, coughing, irregular breathing, and affect laying.
Is Cypress Mulch Safe for Chickens?
This is another form of mulch I’ve heard numerous chicken owners using, and they all tell me it’s a perfectly fine material for chickens.
Cypress mulch is an organic material made from Bald Cypress trees. It’s easily and cheaply available in some parts of the country and often ends up in the coop as bedding.
It looks a lot like cedar mulch but is not toxic. So, be careful not to get these two confused, as one is fine to use and one isn’t!
Can I Put Mulch in My Chicken Run?
The problem with most mulches is that they are designed to retain moisture, which is great when used on top of soil and plants.
For a chicken run, however, you want a substance that is easy to clean, doesn’t hold onto moisture, and chickens won’t make a huge muddy mess of.
This is why hardwood chips are one of the best floorings for a chicken run. Don’t get this confused with bark or softwood chips.
Bark tends to be more porous and becomes soiled a lot quicker. Softwood chips aren’t durable enough and can also turn into a muddy, soggy pile when it’s pooped on too much.
So, the answer is; yes. Some mulches are fine, in particular hardwood chips.
With all the different types of mulches and various uses around the garden, it can get a little confusing as to which types of mulch are fine for chickens.
I hope this article has helped clear up any questions you had. In short, avoid cedar mulches, pine is borderline, most mulches retain too much moisture, and hardwood is the best.
If in doubt, as long as you know the materials in the mulch you’re using is safe, why not try it out and let your chickens decide!
Image credits – Photos by Étienne Godiard and Markus Winkler on Unsplash