Can You Use Cedar Shavings for Chickens?

Coop bedding provides a clean and comfortable place for laying eggs and developing chicks. The coop bedding is also an excellent way to control dust, odor, and dampness. There is an extensive list of materials you can use for bedding within your coop. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, and it is difficult to know what to choose. Often I got asked if it is safe to use cedar shavings for chickens.

cedar shavings chickens

This article seeks to answer whether or not you can use cedar shavings as bedding for your chickens. It highlights the disadvantages of this option to your flock and offers alternatives you can choose from.

Is Cedar Shavings Safe for Chickens?

Cedar shavings are obtained from the cedar tree. Cedar has oils that act as insect repellent, rodent repellent, and snake repellant. Many new farmers make it a point to choose cedar shavings as the bedding material for coops. However, cedar scent is not recommended for bedding material.

The natural oils contained within the cedar shavings are toxic to chickens and lead them to develop respiratory issues with time.  The Plicatic acid within the cedar shavings has been found to cause lung damage to mammals, rodents, and birds. The strong scent emanating from the chemicals in the shavings can also cause damage to the livers of your chickens with prolonged exposure.

Researchers have found that chicks raised in cedar shavings are sickly with a weakened immune system and, most of the time, die before attaining maturity.

Reasons You Should Avoid Cedar Shavings

There are many reasons to avoid cedar shavings when making bedding for your chicken house. The most notable is the intense nature of the scent from the wood shavings. This strong scent contributes to respiratory and cardiovascular complications in chickens and is even worse in developing chicks.

Cedar shavings have also been known to be carcinogenic to rats and mice, causing tumors in their respiratory tract. The same effects are estimated to occur in chickens. There are also some studies on rats where exposure to cedar shavings has resulted in abnormal enzyme activity and the degradation of healthy liver tissue. Growing up in an environment of cedar shavings made it difficult for the livers of the rats to fight toxins and regenerate from damage.

With most studies referencing rats and mammals, there is always skepticism as to the legitimacy of the results. There are no long-term studies of chickens and other poultry because chickens are only raised for a few months before being slaughtered for their meat.

Is Cedar Shavings Toxic to Chickens?

If you ask most chicken raisers that have been in the business for a while, they will tell you that the toxicity of cedar shavings to chickens is a well-known fact. Several studies conducted in private by several hatcheries exposed the toxic nature of cedar shaving to developing chicks and mature chickens.

Because of their weaker respiratory systems, this toxicity is more rampant in chickens and rodents than humans.

The toxic nature of cedar shavings is seen when the chicks develop symptoms like coughing, wheezing, and phlegm with prolonged exposure. They also have difficulty breathing and develop other respiratory complications like rhinitis, asthma, bronchial hyperreactivity, chest tightness, and impaired lung function.

The chickens raised on a bedding of cedar shavings are also characterized by pale combs and discolored wattles, low appetite, poor weight gain, and frailty in general.

Cedar Shavings Alternatives for Chicken Bedding

You can opt for several alternatives to ensure your chickens have a safe environment to mature and reproduce. These are:

– Sand

Sand is an excellent option for bedding as it offers clamping litter making it an easy alternative to clean and maintain. It also reduces odor in the coop, keeping it clean and fresh. Its only drawback is its inability to compost, meaning you cannot reuse it as fertilizer.

– Hemp

Hemp is a popular bedding but comes at a high price, especially for a large coop. This is the best option for small pens or seclusions for chicks. It is a long-lasting alternative with a reasonable absorption rate and excellent odor control. It is a good alternative if you are allergic to pine or leaf mold.

– Straw

Straw is the default option many large-scale chicken farmers recommend to new farmers. It is a cheap absorbent alternative that has a commendable shelf life. It is easy to acquire and easy to set up within the coop. Straw offers the chickens a nice thick layer keeping them from getting in contact with the ground. It is also a good source of insulation in the winter.

– Wood Shavings

Wood shavings are a bedding that many farmers are familiar with and take advantage of often. It is suitable for both small and large-scale coops. Big shavings are encouraged since they produce less dust, ensuring that the chickens do not suffer any respiratory side effects. Wood shavings are sound absorbers and will help keep the coop dry.

They are also easy to clean and replace and cheap to acquire in bulk. Their absorption also extends to odors, keeping the enclosure fresh and odor-free while reducing ammonia from the droppings. They are also suitable for chicks as they can help them develop better foraging habits as they look for insects and bugs within the shavings.

You can also opt for leaf and grass clippings or mulch. Whatever bedding you opt for, always remember to keep your coop well-ventilated. This will help keep your chicken safe from the hydrocarbons released from the bedding material you use.


It is best to avoid using cedar shavings for your coop bedding, as this puts the lives of your chickens at risk. Unlike other animals, chickens have a susceptible respiratory system making them quite prone to respiratory system issues. There are no long-term studies on the effect of cedar shaving on chickens, but chicken farmers can take those on rodents and human beings as a warning.

It is best to air on the side of caution when it comes to cedar shavings and keep them as far away from your coop as possible. You can opt for any other suggested bedding for your pen and have your chickens live in a safe environment. Most of all, always remember to keep the coop dry, clean, and healthy to avoid the breeding of bacteria that would otherwise harm your chickens.

avatar James
Hey, I'm James, a hardworking homesteader for more than 30 years. I enjoy the feeling of accomplishment that comes from tending my flock. I've raised chickens and ducks for eggs and meat for many years. I also have experience with other poultry too. Learn more

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