Ducks

What’s the best bedding for your duck coop or run?

What's the best bedding for your duck coop or run? thumbnail
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Are you trying to figure out the best type of bedding for your duck coop or duck run? In this article, we’ll discuss the pros and cons of each material option and provide our recommendation for keeping your ducks clean, healthy, and happy.


We’ve had pet and backyard ducks since 2013. Before getting ducks, we spent about six months reading and learning everything we could about ducks so we could be good duck parents.

Our two favorite duck parent preparation books:

These books were invaluable and helped us avoid making tons of mistakes. However, the considerable amount of information we learned from reading books and articles has been dwarfed by what we’ve learned from actually raising ducklings and ducks ourselves.

So, two things we’d like to tell you new or intending duck parents out there:

  1. Learn the essentials of keeping your ducks healthy and alive before you get ducks, but…
  2. You’ll never learn everything you need to know about raising ducks BEFORE you get ducks. Experience is the ultimate teacher.

The search for the perfect duck bedding

Back when we became new duck parents, there was hardly any information available about how to build duck coops. So after a few trials and tribulations, we designed and built our first “Quackerbox.”

Duck pond and duck coops at Tyrant Farms.
A view from above of our duck’s primary living area. You can see Quackerbox 1 & 2 in the back right corner. (#2 is for our drake, Sir Winston Duckbill.) Our backyard has a 6′ fence around it, so it functions as a large duck run. We also have detailed instructions for building a DIY self-cleaning backyard pond if your ducks are demanding one.

Duck coop done. But what bedding should go in a duck coop?

There was lots of conflicting information and everyone (e.g. the other three backyard duck people on the internet at the time) seemed to have a different opinion.

Over the past many years, we pulled a Benjamin Franklin, experimenting with every option before finally settling on a clear favorite based on:

  • Health – Which option is: a) most gentle on duck flippers (to avoid injuries and infections such as bumblefoot (ulcerative pododermatitis), and b) not likely to cause respiratory issues/infections (like aspergillosis) or allergies for ducks or their human slaves?
  • Economics – Which option makes sense financially, also factoring in prevention/NOT having to treat duck foot injuries?
  • Availability – Which option is easiest to get?
  • Environment – Which option has the most environmental benefits?

Here’s what we’ve tried and learned along the way:

Duck coop material trials & recommendations

1. Chopped leaves

Each fall, we can rake and bag piles of leaves. They’re free, abundant, make great compost, and are about as locally sourced as you can get. All good attributes.

The problems?

  • Leaves get moldy easily when wet, and that can be a perfect environment for Aspergillus fumigatus to proliferate (the fungi that causes aspergillosis). Having lost a beloved duck to this disease once, we’re very wary to create conditions where this could happen again.
  • We don’t have the room to store huge bags of leaves in our garage to use throughout the year.

2. Straw/hay

Straw and hay are not actually the same thing. Straw is typically wheat stalks left over after the wheat grain is harvested. Hay is usually a grass or legume species (like alfalfa) grown expressly for feeding animals. Hay is harvested before it goes to seed for maximum nutrition.

Regardless, neither one makes good poultry bedding in our opinion. Why?

Two reasons:

  • Like leaves, wet straw and hay provides an ideal environment for Aspergillus fumigatus. And if it’s in a duck coop, it’s going to get wet.
  • Unless you grow it yourself or source it from a certified organic farm, there’s no way to know whether or not the straw or hay you’re using has pesticide residue on it. Birds (including ducks) are especially susceptible to pesticide exposure and we don’t want our ducks spending their nights in pesticide-covered bedding.

3. Cedar shavings

What’s a product that will keep mold, insects, and Aspergillus fumigatus away? Cedar, juniper, and pine have some pretty potent anti microbial properties.

Cedar shavings to the rescue, right? Nope.

Several years back, we put cedar shavings in our duck coop. By “we” I mean “Aaron,” because I’m the early riser that lets the ducks out in the morning and tops up their coop with fresh bedding each night.

I’m not allergic to anything, but within a couple days of using cedar shavings, the lymph nodes on the side of my neck swole up to the size of golfballs. Turns out, lots of people are allergic to cedar.

The small quantities of cedar dust I breathed in while topping up the duck bedding was all it took to make my immune system go haywire. As such, we didn’t like the idea of our ducks spending their nights breathing in cedar dust.

The final nail in the cedar coffin: once when visiting our avian vet, we had cedar shavings in the duck carriers. Upon arrival, she (the vet) looked inside, saw the cedar shavings, and recommended we not use them due to potential respiratory issues they could cause.

Thus, no more cedar shavings for us.

4. Aspen shavings

One day while picking up cat food, we saw bags of aspen shavings at the pet store. They were labeled as hypoallergenic (meaning they’re great for people or pets with allergies) and they were also advertised as having virtually no dust. All good.

Aspen shavings work great. The problem for us:

  • the only store that carries them near us is about 5 miles away from our house (that’s a long distance for us), and
  • they’re very expensive relative to other alternatives. ($11 for a 56 liter bag.)

5. Pine needles

Pine needles are cheap and abundant. Heck, you may even be able to rake them out of your own yard. They also have antimicrobial properties.

The problem: walk barefoot on fresh pine needles and see how your feet feel. Those sharp needle points are also likely to poke tiny holes in your duck’s flippers as well, which makes them prone to foot infections like bumblefoot.

6. Large flake pine shavings

We have a Tractor Supply store about one mile from our house. That store sells giant bags of screened (no/low dust), large flake pine shavings.

Pine shavings are also antimicrobial. Like sawdust, pine shavings are usually a byproduct of the lumber industry.

After using pine shavings in our ducks’ two coops for the past three years, we can confidently report the following:

  • Funguses and molds do not readily grow in wet, mucky pine shavings.
  • Pine shavings do not cause allergies or respiratory problems in our ducks or in their slaves (us).
  • Pine shavings are very gently on duck flippers (and human feet).
  • We use a modified deep litter method (more on that below) and by the time we remove the old bedding to put in our compost pile or to mulch around our fruit & nut trees, the shavings have started decomposing, but are not moldy.
  • A 226 liter bag of large flake pine shavings from Tractor Supply costs us about $6 and lasts about a month. That’s pretty economical — especially since it ends up becoming fertilizer for our garden which saves us money and grows food. (It’s also environmentally beneficial as it builds healthy carbon-rich soil in our perennial plant beds).

Key takeaway: Of all the types of coop/bedding and run materials we’ve tried for our ducks, we think large flake pine shavings are the best.

Our Welsh Harlequin ducks tucked in to their coop for the night with a fresh top up of pine shavings.

Final tip: Use a “deep litter method” in your duck coop

In case you’ve never heard of it before, a deep litter method in your duck coop simply means you continually top up their bedding on a regular basis rather than disposing of it. We add a small amount of fresh litter on top of poo spots each night before we put our flock into their coop.

If your ducks are continually confined to spots where their bare feet are on their waste, they can get nitrogen/ammonia burns on their feet, infections, and worse.

Instead of removing and disposing of the litter/bedding in your duck coop or duck run, put it to a higher and better use! For us, that means completely removing the old bedding every ~3 months with a pitchfork and wheelbarrow, and using it to grow more food.

Composting duck bedding

Making good compost requires a balance of carbon-rich (“brown”) and nitrogen-rich (“green”) material. Cornell University recommends about 30:1 carbon-nitrogen ration based on weight.

A base material like pine shavings is very carbon-rich (“browns”). By the time your ducks have had their way with the shavings and covered them with ducky poo, the shavings will have a nice addition of nitrogen-rich material (“greens”).

Compost away! Once your compost is finished, you’ve got a rich soil amendment ready to grow food.

Using duck bedding as mulch

You can also put the recently removed bedding from your duck coop around your perennial plant beds. Your elderberries, chestnuts, persimmons, and other perennial plants will LOVE it!

No duck bedding goes to waste at Tyrant Farms! Our yard is a giant organic garden and “used” duck bedding either goes into our compost or directly on our perennial plant beds.

Warning: it should go without saying, but do NOT put fresh duck bedding or duck poo around annual food crops or plants that you intend to eat within the next six months. Pathogens in raw waste can make you very sick.


We hope this article will help you keep your flock happy, healthy, and clean! If you use a material in your duck coop or run that you think works better than large flake pine shavings, please let us know in the comments!

KIGI,

best duck bedding for your duck coop

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29 Comments

  • Reply
    Coral
    July 10, 2021 at 6:44 pm

    Hi! Want to thank you for all the information you’ve provided, I return to your posts over and over! Wondering if you’ve heard of or used yourself, cob bedding? It is marketed for horses but may be an alternative. My ducks are just 8 weeks old and they’ve been on TS pine shavings so far.

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      July 12, 2021 at 1:19 pm

      Hi Coral! Thanks for the kind words – that makes our day. 🙂

      We’ve heard of cob bedding but never used it. Pros are that it’s going to be soft on duck feet and biodegrade rapidly. However, two concerns we have are: 1) it getting mixed into duck food and water then getting ingested in large enough quantities to cause digestive problems, 2) not knowing what pesticide residues are left on the corn cob material. Conventional corn receives quite a bit of synthetic pesticide applications and exposure to those pesticides could pose a heightened risk to ducks who will be spending a lot of time in it.

  • Reply
    Jess
    July 10, 2021 at 8:49 am

    My duck coop has a wooden bottom to protect my babies from things that might try to dig in. Im worried deep litter isnt going to work if it doesnt have contact with the ground. What are your thoughts/experience with that?

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      July 12, 2021 at 1:12 pm

      Hi Jess! Using a deep litter method on top of a wood floor will definitely rot the floor. How long that might take is going to depend on the type of wood, thickness, whether it’s treated or not, etc. But it’s just a matter of time. If you’re wed to a wood floor, you’re probably going to want to remove all your bedding from the home every couple weeks or so, let the flooring dry, and try to get as much life out of it as you can. However, if you’re NOT wed to a solid floor, we’d recommend using 1/2″ wire mesh for your flooring and putting the bedding on top of that. That’s what we do in our coop + modified deep litter method. “Modified” because pine shavings take a lot longer to decompose than materials like straw and hay, so we remove and finish composting them before they’re fully broken down. For us, that means a complete cleanout every 3-4 months or so. Hope this helps and best of luck!

      • Reply
        Catherine
        August 21, 2021 at 6:42 am

        I love your site in every way. Beautiful photography! Carefully and thoroughly explained articles. Sweet suggestions, exciting recipes. Thanks!

        Re: duck bedding, I’ve also tried all kinds of flooring (many of your examples plus marmoleum too) for my waterfowl.
        To add to your cons: Cedar is toxic and potentially fatal to birds. As an example, i had one goose die when the coop was sprayed with cedarcide (and it was aired out for 4 hours – not enough) The other goose that was there now has serious feather abnormalities.

        Also, importantly I wanted to add to your cons about leaf debris – it is a prime spot for ticks.

        Re: pine shavings, i used pine shavings from TS and then started worrying about the source of the shavings. How could I be sure the pine is not from treated wood? Are the mills involved in not only cutting fresh wood but treating it too? Could it be from China (where all the bagged mealworms at TS are from) and much of the wood has been heavily sprayed upon entry to the US. I am neurotic about mulch even more than shavings. Mulch is dyed (probably not a friendly ingredient) which could easily disguise treated wood, old mixes of treated scrap full of chemicals like formaldehyde, creosote, and even manufactured wood.

        I’m betting that you can ease my mind about this!
        Sorry to be such a Debbie downer!

        • Aaron von Frank
          August 21, 2021 at 12:43 pm

          Hi Catherine! We’re equally neurotic when it comes to our ducks, so no need to apologize. 🙂 When we source triple ground wood chips/mulch for our back yard where our ducks live, we make sure we get them from a local company that uses local wood that’s untreated and un-dyed. They also compost the mulch for a few weeks which softens the wood and burns off any potential pathogens in it due to the high heat. Always fun to see a giant steaming pile of fresh mulch in our driveway!

          As for Tractor Supply’s pine shavings, the country of origin is the US, as you can see on their product specs here: https://www.tractorsupply.com/tsc/product/tractor-supply-co-flake-premium-pine-shavings-covers-8-cu-ft. While that doesn’t 100% guarantee that now fungicides, herbicides, etc were applied to the wood, it certainly makes it less likely. Those treatments are used on imports to prevent non-native invasive plant diseases/pathogens and insects from coming here. Related: that’s one of the reasons we grow our own organic chestnuts (pretty much every commercial chestnut you see in the US is imported and treated with fungicides).

          Hope this helps and thanks for sharing your experience about your own poultry. Pretty scary stuff re your geese being killed and injured from cedarcide! Maybe you could let the product manufacturer know so they could put a warning label on their product(s).

  • Reply
    Sheilagh Riordan
    June 7, 2021 at 12:33 pm

    We bought Stall Master large pine shavings at our farm supply store in Jupiter, Florida, and the ducks wouldn’t go near it. They have only been housed only on our “grass” (which is actually untreated weeds) . Best we can figure out, the large pine shavings are too sharp and uncomfortable for their tender flippers. I’d be afraid of getting splinters if I walked on it barefoot. Our barn supply also has a medium flake and the fine flake. We’ll try the medium. Maybe Stall Master’s large is bigger than other companies’. Thank you for this wonderful website.

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      June 8, 2021 at 1:47 pm

      That’s good to know, thanks Sheilagh! We get our large flake pine shavings from Tractor Supply. It sounds like each brand may be different. Tractor Supply’s pine shavings are very thin, light, and soft. A person could easily walk on them barefoot comfortably. If you try Medium or Fine flake from Stall Master’s, please let us know how it compares. Hope you and your muscovies are doing well!

  • Reply
    John Carman
    May 22, 2021 at 12:12 pm

    Try Industrial Hemp, it’s more pricey than Pine but is good for the deep litter method. You only have to fully remove 2x a year and is a lot more absorbent than pine shavings

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      May 23, 2021 at 10:00 am

      Thanks for the tip! We’ll give industrial hemp a try if we see it at our local Tractor Supply which is only a couple miles down the road from our home, thus quite convenient. Looks like the best price per pound on hemp is currently $0.91 vs $0.27 for the large flake pine shavings we use. Obviously, price is only one factor, but it’s quite an important one. Since pine shavings have worked well in our setup for almost a decade, hemp will need to have substantial benefits by comparison and/or come down significantly in price, which is likely to happen in the years ahead as it becomes a more commonly grown commercial crop. It’s just becoming legalized in our state (South Carolina), which is pretty crazy considering the benefits and applications of the crop and the fact you’d need to smoke a field of it in order to use it as a drug given the low levels of THC.

  • Reply
    Andrea Preissl
    March 29, 2021 at 4:53 pm

    Have you tried pelletized horse bedding? I currently use it in our coop. it works great. You get it wet a little, just to start it breaking apart and then throw it in the coop. As they pellets get wet they absorb the moisture and crumble apart and turn to saw dust. In the summer i can literally scoop out the large piles of poo and then give the bedding a mix. In the winter I add in hay from our farm and do a deep litter method. It has worked wonderfully, and like you we use it around the garden and compost pile.

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      March 30, 2021 at 6:52 am

      Haven’t tried that, but thanks for the tip! If it’s working for you, don’t fix it. 🙂

  • Reply
    Melissa
    March 8, 2021 at 3:48 am

    Can I use fine pine shavings or is large flake pine shavings an absolute must? I accidentally bought the fine pine shavings from Tractor Supply. Would that be okay to use?

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      March 8, 2021 at 9:04 am

      Ha! We’ve accidentally done that a time or two as well. We went ahead and used them – granted we have very air, well-ventilated coops since we live in South Carolina. They’re definitely a lot dustier than large flake pine shavings but they’re fine in a pinch.

  • Reply
    Hannah
    February 19, 2021 at 3:57 pm

    I’m looking into/planning on getting ducks soon. I was going to I was going to use their pond water my vegetable and flower garden. Should I feed the vegetables with a soaker hose/drip system?

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      February 19, 2021 at 9:49 pm

      Hi Hannah! Appreciate you aiming to use your duck pond water for your garden plants. However, there are some risks you need to consider that will help you determine the best course of action. Primary concern: there are strains of pathogenic bacteria and other microbes in your ducks’ waste that you do not want to have on plants that you’re going to eat uncooked or they could make you quite sick or worse. For instance, you certainly wouldn’t want to water lettuce with duck pond water. Also, the solids in the duck pond water will likely clog up a standard drip irrigation system pretty quickly.

      The duck water would work great on perennial fruit and nut trees where there’s no risk of food contamination. It would also work great in your flower garden (assuming you’re not growing edible flowers). Hope this helps and best of luck!

  • Reply
    friendlytoanimals
    August 6, 2020 at 4:18 pm

    Getting some pine shavings today 🙂
    Wondering if you have every used coconut coir and if so, what your thoughts on it are.

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      January 5, 2021 at 3:54 pm

      So sorry that I’m just seeing your comment! We use coconut coir in our DIY seed starting mixes, but have never used it for duck bedding. Having handled it quite a bit, I’d say it’s too dusty for use as bedding in a duck coop. I think it would also be fairly expensive by comparison vs pine shavings. If you tried it, please let us know what you thought?

  • Reply
    Sue Angel
    July 11, 2020 at 10:01 am

    We use the pine shavings but if we don’t change them daily they get full of gnats. Is there a way to keep the gnats/insects out?

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      July 12, 2020 at 1:16 pm

      Interesting! Not sure what species of gnat that would be. You could try to top up with fresh bedding as soon as you let your flock out in the morning to keep the substances the gnats are interested in hidden under a layer of unsoiled pine shavings. Other than that, not sure what you could do.

  • Reply
    Shannon Knapp
    July 3, 2020 at 12:13 pm

    ETA: Just saw your response to Vickie, sorry I missed it before. Thanks for such great info!

    Hi quick clarification. It says put your recently removed bedding around your perennials, elderberry, chestnuts…. and then says do not put the bedding around anything you’ll eat in the next 6 months.
    So, I should age the bedding first? Because I will definitely be harvesting my elderberries before 6 months.

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      July 6, 2020 at 8:14 am

      Your elderberries will be fine to harvest even if you put fresh duck bedding under the plants the same day you harvest – that’s because they’re about 10′ + off the ground so they won’t be in contact with the bedding nor will rain splash cause contamination. Plus, most people don’t eat their elderberries raw, they cook them, which also kills pathogenic microorganisms.

      The 6 month warning was more about low-growing annual plants and/or plants with harvestable parts close to the ground: peppers, lettuce, bush beans, kale, etc. Even then, certain low-growing edibles could be washed and cooked to eliminate risk (example: summer squash).

      Does this clarification make sense?

      • Reply
        Shannon Knapp
        July 13, 2020 at 10:45 am

        Yes thank you!!

  • Reply
    Matt Duggan
    July 1, 2020 at 1:13 am

    I owned a random flock of ducks 20 years ago…. getting back on the saddle with some Silver apple yards in 24-48 hrs.
    I can very simply say that you are doing a huge service to new owners of ducks due to a huge lack of understanding specific needs and information that’s critical to health and well being.
    And really not well understood or very well documented.
    Basic niacin deficiency is basically ignored or just plain not understood by any feed store you walk into, small or large.
    Leading to posible immediate failure.
    When “duckling care” is Googled or searched your site should be #1 rank.
    Not sure how you get to that point, but it needs to be.
    There isn’t any site that addresses as many issues in depth with actual information not supposition. Well done.

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      July 1, 2020 at 12:01 pm

      Really appreciate your kind words, Matt. Thank you. It just so happens that we are starting to rank high in Google for duck-related articles! We’ll do our best to keep cranking out helpful, informative, and evidence-based information for other duck parents out there.

      We’ve considered getting Silver Appleyards as well. Are they a breed you have experience with? If so, how would you rank their overall temperament/sociability?

  • Reply
    Vickie Ray Degand
    May 9, 2020 at 6:38 pm

    We have been following your wonderful website & putting into practice your great recommendations. We have our first ducklings & we are using the pine shavings. I have been tossing the duck well fertilized piles in my garden as mulch. Then I read on your site that there is a long waiting period until they are safe to use. So I raked them all up. Did I make my ground toxic? Thank you.

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      May 11, 2020 at 6:04 pm

      Hi Vickie! Thanks for posting this question here (in addition to emailing us) so that other people with the same question can see it.

      You might be over-stressing a bit on the duck bedding issue. Unless you’re planning to eat something that directly touched the used duck bedding, you’ll be perfectly fine.

      Example 1: You put use duck bedding down around your lettuce plants then eat the lettuce leaves a couple weeks later – this would likely cause an elevated health risk, although you could use a similar antimicrobial rinse like is used on farms to kill food-borne pathogens. Regardless, probably not worth the risk.

      Example 2: You put duck bedding around your mulberry tree and there’s ZERO chance that the mulberry fruit many feet above the ground is touching the duck bedding or could get splashed by rainwater hitting the duck bedding – this isn’t a problem. In fact, I just put used duck bedding underneath the blackberry canes from which I’ll be harvesting fruit in about 6-8 weeks (the fruit is at least 4′ off the ground so not much contamination risk, especially given the time frame and the ability for the sun and elements to kill pathogens on the surface).

      Basically, if: a) the parts of the plant you’re eating can’t be contaminated by potential pathogenic microbes in your duck bedding, and b) you’re not planning to eat the plants you’re growing directly in the duck bedding-mulched garden beds within the next few months, then you don’t need to worry about it.

  • Reply
    Rob Hudson de Tarnowsky
    April 12, 2020 at 6:43 pm

    Very helpful Aaron! We started with TSC large pine shavings, but worried that they might try to swallow some. It looks like we were overly cautious. Your approach will work really well for us.

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      April 12, 2020 at 9:07 pm

      Glad this info was helpful, Rob! From our experience, ducks seem to quickly get a handle on what tastes good and/or what’s edible. A duckling might nibble a piece of pine shaving once, then spit it out and not ever give it a go again. Same thing when we let our flock out to forage our full gardens at night. There are countless plants they could potentially eat (some of them poisonous or inedible), but they’ve long since learned what prizes to keep their eyes (and bills) on.

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