Chickens always need bedding in their coops. For warmth, for hygiene, nesting and more, bedding plays an important part in keeping them.
However, there is one type of bedding it seems to be constantly villainized when it comes to chickens, and that is cedar shavings.
Often touted as having harmful respiratory or neurological effects, many online sources caution against it. But could it be that cedar shavings are good for chickens?
Yes, cedar shavings are actually safe for chickens. So long as the shavings have been dried they do not represent any special threat to a chicken’s health. Cedar shavings actually have antimicrobial properties that make them beneficial when used as bedding.
On a surface, it certainly seems like a contrarian opinion. But in reality, the people screaming about cedar shavings as bedding for chickens have probably just been repeating the same bad advice that has been propagating for years.
We will crack open this interesting but perplexing topic in the rest of this article, so keep reading.
There are Plenty of Reports about Cedar Shavings Being Harmful
If you take even a short stroll around the internet looking for an answer to this question, you’ll find no shortage of reports and articles claiming that cedar shavings are harmful.
Many go so far as to say that cedar is one of the most toxic woods to chickens, citing respiratory problems, neurological damage, and even cancer as potential risks associated with using cedar shavings.
Another report cites a study from the University of Maine, claims that cedar shavings can contain up to 18 different harmful aromatic compounds.
So with all of these reports swirling around, it’s no wonder that so many people are concerned about using cedar shavings as bedding for their chickens.
No one wants to expose their chickens to something that could potentially be harmful!
But Few Validated Studies Applicable to Chickens
The issue with these reports concerning cedar, aside from a lack of proper laboratory controls and settings, is the fact that their “applicable” data is taken woefully out of context.
The study from the University of Maine, for instance, does contain interesting findings. It is true that cedar shavings can contain up to 18 different harmful aromatic compounds.
However, it’s important to note that the study was undertaken on rats, not chickens. So while the study’s findings may be applicable to rats, there is no evidence to suggest that they would carry over to chickens.
Another basis for the claims is a study conducted about the supposed cancer risks and lung damage associated with inhaling cedar dust- on lumberjacks chopping down live cedar trees with power tools!
Of course inhaling any dust, especially organic stuff, is going to be hard on your lungs.
In short, it seems that all the scare-mongering about cedar has resulted from rumor propagating itself across the internet, and from good date being tortured into shape to prop up the claims.
Why is Cedar Supposed to be Harmful to Chickens?
Let us take the claim at face value. Why is cedar supposed to be dangerous to chickens?
The most common argument against using cedar shavings is that the oils in the wood can be harmful to a chicken’s respiratory tract as they vaporize and contaminate the air.
These oils, even aromatic ones, are known as VOCs, short for Volatile Organic Compounds.
Cedar oil is one such VOC, in fact, used as an insecticide and has been shown to have some toxicity in certain circumstances.
However, it should be noted that this only applies to live cedar trees and fresh cut wood. More on that in a moment.
All Woods Release VOCs into the Air
Here’s the thing: all woods, every one of them, contains VOCs that will be released into the air to some degree when they are used as bedding.
Pine, for example, is one of the most commonly used woods in chicken coops, and it also happens to be one of the most notorious for releasing VOCs.
So if cedar is truly so dangerous because of its VOCs, then pine should be just as bad, if not worse.
But here’s the kicker: studies have shown that cedar shavings actually release fewer VOCs into the air than pine shavings!
So if you’re worried about your chickens being exposed to harmful VOCs, you shouldn’t be using pine either, and especially not recommending it as a safe alternative to cedar.
VOC Emissions Subside as Wood Dries Out
While it is certainly true that VOCs, from any wood, can be harmful to chickens (and humans), the effects are most pronounced when the chicken is exposed to high concentrations of VOCs over an extended period of time.
The good news is that VOCs in wood subside massively as the wood dries out. As wood dries, the VOCs are released into the air and quickly dissipate, leaving behind only the solid wood fibers.
This is why it’s important to use only dry, aged wood for bedding, whether it is cedar, pine, or any other type of wood.
If you aren’t using fresh shavings or saw dust, your chickens have little to fear from cedar or any other wood.
Furthermore, commercially sold shavings intended for use as bedding are all kiln or air dried well prior to packaging and transport.
This means that by the time you get them, they are about as dry as they’re going to get and the VOCs have long since subsided.
They will still emit some VOCs- that’s why cedar smells like it does! – but it will not be in levels harmful to chickens in all but the most extreme situations.
Chickens Don’t Stay on their Bedding 24/7
Another thing to consider, and another misstep some of the anti-cedar coalition members commit when quoting studies about other animals.
Chickens aren’t on or even around their cedar bedding all the time, most of the time. The rats and other mice exposed to fresh cedar shavings and chips were living in and tunneling through it.
Chickens spend the vast majority of their day outdoors, foraging around in the dirt and grass, not cooped up on their cedar shavings.
This means that they’re only exposed to any theoretically harmful vapors for a few hours each night when they sleep in the coop.
Even if there were VOCs present in dangerous levels (and again, there’s no genuine evidence that there are when using dried shavings), the amount of time chickens would be exposed to them is so limited as to make any potential harm negligible.
In conclusion, dry cedar shavings are not harmful to chickens and should not be avoided for bedding purposes.
Always Make Sure to Properly Ventilate Your Coop
Something that should be pointed out regarding bedding selection is that no bedding, cedar or otherwise, is totally safe if you fail to ventilate your coop properly.
Birds are very susceptible to respiratory problems, and one of the leading causes is poor air quality in the coop. But why does the air quality turn poor if not strictly from the VOCs in the wood?
Well, all bedding materials will decompose and release ammonia gas as they get sullied with chicken droppings and wet from water bowls and spillage.
Ammonia is incredibly harmful to chicken’s lungs, and even in low concentrations will cause serious respiratory problems.
The only way to combat the effects of poor air quality directly is through proper ventilation. Make sure your coop has plenty of windows and vents to allow fresh air to circulate, and that you are regularly changing out dirty bedding for fresh, clean bedding material.
If you’re using any type of bedding, it’s absolutely crucial that you have proper ventilation in place so that any potentially harmful vapors can dissipate quickly and not build up to dangerous levels.
Cedar is Actually Good Bedding for Chickens
Now that we’ve established that there is no evidence to support the claim that cedar shavings are harmful to chickens, let’s take a look at some of the reasons they are actually good bedding.
Cedar is More Absorbent than Pine
One of the most important qualities of good bedding is absorbency, and cedar shavings are more absorbent than pine shavings.
This means that they will do a better job of soaking up moisture and keeping the coop dry and comfortable.
A dry, comfortable coop is a happy and healthy coop, and cedar shavings can help you achieve this.
Cedar is More Aromatic than Pine
This may not be a selling point for everyone, but many chicken keepers actually prefer the smell of cedar to pine. This is because cedar has a more pleasant, natural smell than pine when dried.
If you’re looking for bedding that will make your coop smell nice and fresh, cedar is the way to go.
Cedar is More Pest Resistant than Pine
Another important quality in bedding is pest resistance. Cedar is naturally resistant to pests like mites, fleas, and ticks, making it an ideal bedding material for chickens.
This is because the aromatic oils in cedar repel these pests.
Tom has built and remodeled homes, generated his own electricity, grown his own food and more, all in quest of remaining as independent of society as possible. Now he shares his experiences and hard-earned lessons with readers around the country.
Find out more about the team here.