Nesting Box Bedding

For the last twenty years, I’ve used the same material in my chickens’ nesting boxes – pine shavings. They’re inexpensive, soft, absorbent and easily cleaned. The chickens can move them about to create the sort of depression that they like to settle down on. I once tried paper from my office shredding machine, but it stuck to the damp eggs. I don’t like straw because a) I don’t want to have to buy a bale and store it, and b) chicken manure gets stuck to it, and then the eggs get dirty. The same with hay.

However, just because I’ve done something for two decades, doesn’t mean that I’m not open to doing things differently when my animals tell me that a change is necessary.

Phoebe’s den is underneath the nesting boxes in the Little Barn. It’s where she sleeps at night and naps during the day. It’s her haven away from the antics of the chickens and their big feet. Her rabbit pellets are there, and her hay, which she fashions into a soft cushion, and nibbles on as well (yes, she eats in bed!) There are granite blocks that allow her access, but keep the chickens  out. This set-up has worked perfectly for three years.



During this winter of the deep snow and the deep freeze, I provided Phoebe with extra hay. The hens noticed. Come February, when laying resumed, I found Phoebe in a corner of the coop, and Nancy Drew busily rearranging the rabbit’s den and turning it into her nesting box. I extracted the chicken and rearranged the blocks, thinking that I could keep a large, fat hen out of Phoebe’s place. Not so. Nancy squeezed back in.

I thought this through. What did the hen want? I guessed that it was the hay. I put some in one of the nesting boxes. Nancy, delighted not to have to deal with Phoebe, or wiggle her way into that den, hopped up and proceeded to lay where I wanted her to. Phoebe, with relief, had her place back.

Do you see Phoebe ensconced underneath? All is right with her world again.

eggs in hay



So I tried an experiment in the Big Barn. There are five nesting boxes. I put hay in one. This is what I found the next day. Obviously, hens prefer hay.

shavings hay


I still believe in using pine shavings, and if I didn’t have a rabbit’s den of hay to protect, I wouldn’t use hay for the chickens. But, if you have difficulty getting your hens to lay in your nesting boxes, (perhaps you have one that lays on the floor, or hides her eggs in the run) try hay. Let me know how your girls like the change.


  1. I use hay also… Same reason. Out of 5 nests they always went to the one with the hay! Oh well… Hay It is!

  2. I also have a bunny that lives with my girls, and my husband installed a little hay loft in my big walk-in run (I like to think it’s because he loves indulging me, but he probably was just sick of Otis’ hay littering his workshop) It only took a couple of weeks for the 3 girls to turn their noses up at the nest boxes entirely and begin laying in a nice little hay nest in the loft. It has the bonus of being up high and outside, so they can survey their territory and really let us know when they’re laying a good one. Haven’t thought of putting the hay in the boxes….

  3. So funny you mentioned this. My chickens, which have been laying eggs on shavings in their boxes all winter, just decided this week to move to the nice bales of hay that are stored in the barn near their pen. Maybe I will also try putting hay in their boxes so I don’t have to play “find the eggs” each day.

  4. What are your thoughts on using Koop Clean instead of hay for nest boxes & bedding?

    • I’ve been using Koop Clean in the Little Barn nesting boxes. Works great. The shavings are stored in the Big Barn, so using them was simply laziness on my part. Hens loved it. That is, until Nancy decided that she needed hay.

  5. Funny, my hens wont use hay!!! That’s what I have in the nestboxes right now and they refuse to use them. They seem to like straw better and are content to lay in a box filled with bits of straw, castaways from filling the bunny hutch.

  6. well . . . somethings never change. 40 years ago when i had hens on a dairy farm i ended up finding them a good home with a couple of newly weds who hadn’t started full-time farming yet. the reason was, no matter that the chicken-girls had their own place, they preferred the barn and now i see why! they wanted the hay!

  7. I use a combination of all 3 – they like the hay, but as you say – the pine shavings are easier to clean – I think I’ll stop using shredded paper though as yes, it sticks to the hens eggs…

  8. Hi Terry – this is only somewhat relevant, but I’m asking nonetheless…I recently read about someone who lines her run with straw or dried leaves because it not only gives the chickens something to scratch through but also absorbs the waste. She cleans it out only periodically. My thinking is that leaving the poop in the run (even if it’s absorbed) will increase the chances of the hens ingesting a parasite, but if I’m wrong I’d love to know. I clean the run almost daily in the warm weather, but if there’s a method that enables me to do it less often, I’m all for it! What’s your opinion?

    • A good question – that system is called deep litter. I don’t think that it is good for most backyard situations, and I wrote why, here.

  9. my girls have moved out of the nesting boxes (with shavings) and have decided the spot behind the bale of straw is perfect. Seems all the chickens are thinking the same way right now. I am going to clean out the boxes and replace with a mixture of both, I lost some eggs, (they froze) before I found the new spot. They keep me busy, I have ben lazy with cleaning the nest boxes so maybe this is the reason .

  10. The nest made of hay sure looks a lot better, reminds me of an Easter basket! :^)

  11. Three years?! Has it really been three years since Phoebe came to live with you? Good heavens how time flies! *shakes head*

  12. Phoebe looks so happy. She is a very lucky bunny!

    My hens don’t like shavings in their nesting boxes, but they love them on the floor of the coop. They are extremely picky about their nesting boxes so I had to get creative. I converted an old, big plant pot into a nesting box (turned it upside down and cut a hole in the side), filled it with hay and placed it up onto a shelf in the coop. They love it. There is always a fight over it, so I now have to scour the shed to see if I have anymore. I’ve read that you only need one nesting box for every four chickens. I have 16 laying hens and HAD 8 nesting boxes. I had to add three more because of the squabbles and I could still use a couple more! Chickens – got to love them!

  13. Hi Terry, glad you are back hope you had a great time.
    Tried hay and straw, problem with mites hiding in straw tubes and because we get so much rain the hay always seemed damp, so wood shavings with a liberal dusting of DE works great and no problem of laying anywhere else.

    Also we have weird goings on. A very handsome cock pheasant has taken a liking to my girls. He stays in the garden nearly all day following them around on his side of fence, two days ago he landed in their part of the garden and they told him in no uncertain terms to clear off but he does not give up. He roosts in a large tree above their coop and serenades them morning and night !! We don’t know what to make of it, could he attack the girls he seems harmless ? :)

    • I’ve no experience with pheasants amorous of my hens. Sounds harmless at this point, though wild birds do spread disease so I wouldn’t encourage him in staying.

  14. our hens use the straw, 6 hens and 5 boxes, they however only use 2 of the nesting boxes LOL. There might be an egg in another nesting box but only for the reason that the favorite ones were occupied :)

    I never used pine shavings, I might take a test, see if they like it. We always have it as we split and saw our own firewood. Funny how all of the sudden the ladies can tell you it is time for a change *giggles*

    • Hi Sonja….We saw our own firewood but I do not use that, we buy a bale of DUST EXTRACTED pine shavings as the dust can be an irritant to their breathing and eyes. It smells nice, absorbs moisture, goes a long way and is reasonably priced :)

    • I use pine shavings. Cedar can be too aromatic, and beware of black walnut which can be toxic. The bagged shavings are fluffy, not at all like sawdust, so use your judgement.

      • Jan, the dust extracted shavings must be a UK thing. I haven’t seen that over here, and it’s not necessary, as our bagged shavings tend to be like shavings, and as I said to Sonja, not sawdust. Could be we have different varieties of pine trees or processing machinery.

        • Terry, mine are shavings not sawdust but they still tumble it to extract any dust and make sure fully dry, but must be UK thing. Was concerned if Sonja used sawdust from her wood as would be dusty and possible still damp ( rather a contradiction, but you know what I mean.)

  15. I’m not a chicken keeper, but just wondering, if when using straw or hay that manure sticks to the shells, how do you assure that your eggs are clean when you’re ready to use them? Am I right that you are not supposed to wash eggs?

  16. We use Bermuda hay dusted with DE. Girls love it and we never had a problem. Great post!

  17. I use flax bedding in the coop and nest boxes. Can’t say enough about how much the hens and I like it.

      • It’s been a popular bedding choice in Europe and the UK for many years too. Strange that it hasn’t caught on in the U.S. yet. Flax in grown in the American midwest, isn’t it? What do they do with all the stems after the flax seeds are harvested, I wonder?

  18. Phoebe is too cute in her den. I have always used hay in the nest boxes with great results.

  19. I don’t like using hay as it is dusty and needs changing too frequently, plus it can become a haven for mice and snakes. I have never used shavings as I don’t want the expense. So I use grass clippings that I have dried in the sun that I put into a large pillowcase made out of old sheets. Over the top of that I put an old towel that I fold over three times to catch dust and grit and the occasional broken egg. Over that I put a cheap $1 grass mat.
    If a chook poops in the nest it is easy to pull the mat our and rinse it off (or just pick it up). If an egg breaks ( I had breakage problems for a while) it goes through the mat and I then wash the towel and rinse the mat. And when I clean my pen I just pull everything out and its all ready for a hose down. I only need to wash my towels and renew the grass clippings.
    My hens all lay on this quite happily. I free range them every day and they always go back to their nest boxes by choice.
    I have another box that has old quilted pillow protector and a cover in it (that I didn’t like because they went all lumpy) I have a few hens that prefer that box and lay there daily.
    I also want to try using void fill (the environmental stuff) instead of grass under my towel and mat. Sort of like a bean bag. The idea is to deter rodents, insects, mites, lice, mould and dust, but be easy to clean and desirable for the hens.
    Has anyone tried anything like this?

    • So interesting! It’s rarely hot and dry enough here to have grass clippings that would work (ours would go moldy.) And, (luckily!) no snakes to worry about. Very clever nesting material for your situation.

      • Although I’m using pine shavings when I run out of dry grass clippings, I too favor dry grass clippings from my yard. I sprinkle a light dusting of wood ash from my fire place on them and they have not had mites show up for three years. They have to be dried in the sun really well before bagging and I don’t often manage it, but the hens love it when I do.

  20. I use a combination of pine shavings (because they are easy, and all the above-mentioned reasons) and straw in the nest boxes. I have no way to transport an entire bale of anything home in my small car, so instead I head out to the straw bale storage area behind my friendly local feed store with a bunch of large plastic garbage bags, and pick up the hay spilled around it. They don’t charge me anything, and a few bags lasts me for many months. I keep them out next to the coop in the summer, and under my carport in the winter.

    • Perfect solution. When I was a young girl, I had a guinea pig. The feed store allowed me up into their hay loft to collect loose hay for my piggy. I loved that excuse to be in a barn and smell the hay. One of my fondest memories. Thanks for reminding me of it.

  21. So, Phoebe takes naps in the day and eats in bed. I don’t know, Terry. Your animals have a tough life.