Many of my friends and family keep chickens so I’ve seen lots of chicken coops and runs throughout Southern California. Every set up I’ve seen with a floor of wood chips is better than those I’ve seen without, with very few exceptions.

Consider keeping your chickens on a deep layer of wood chips or a similar bed of plant materials. Here is how and why.

(What are wood chips?)

These are wood chips: chopped up trees.


The first reason is to soak up the manure. Chickens pee and poop at the same time, they do so throughout the day, and they do so throughout the night while they’re sleeping. It adds up fast.

If it’s not cleaned up fast, it stinks to high heaven. That’s no fun for us when we visit the birds, but think about them. They breathe that toxic air 24/7. The harsh ammonia gas injures their respiratory pathway tissues, reduces their growth, makes them susceptible to diseases, makes them less productive at laying eggs, damages their eyes, and all sorts of other nasty things. (See this paper and this paper for more on the effects of ammonia on chickens.)

So primarily it is for the health of the chickens that I keep a thick layer of wood chips on the floor of my coop and run. My rule is that I should be able to stand right inside and close my eyes and not even know there are chickens around because I can’t smell anything unpleasant. The wood chips, if kept thick enough, accomplish that.

I apply the chips at about a foot in depth at first and then later add some as they decompose in order to keep the layer at least six inches deep.

Pile of wood chips next to my chicken pen and yard for additions when necessary


This aspect of the floor of wood chips is mysterious to me, yet it is undeniable that when chickens live on such a floor it begins to create food for them.

I’ve noticed that after a certain amount of time on the wood chips, I need to feed the birds less. For example, today my chickens have been living on a deep bed of wood chips in a new yard area that I created about a year ago (May 2023). At first, I needed to feed them a normal amount of “complete ration” of layer crumble, just as if they lived in a sterile chicken house. Around four months later, I noticed that they weren’t eating as much of the layer crumble as before. Around eight months later, I stopped buying bags of feed at all. Here, a year later, I give them zero such feed.

For months, I have been giving them only the usual kitchen and garden scraps, plus some sunflower seeds and wheat berries, and they look as healthy and act as happy as ever, and they are laying as many quality eggs as ever.

My daughter sprinkles wheat berries across the chicken yard.

But how? I see them pecking and finding things to eat within the wood chips. I can’t always see what it is they’re finding, but the evidence says it satisfies them.

I came upon some studies from the 1940s and 1950s on chickens raised over similar “deep, old litter” that found similar results. One from 1949 by Kennard and Chamberlin done in Ohio found that chickens raised on a deep, old (at least six months old) litter bed could be fed less and still grow as well or better compared to chickens raised on a new bed and given a complete ration. (See Table 8 on page 14 in “The Use of Compost (Built-up) Litter in Chicken Houses.”)

A fork of the wood-chip bedding in the chicken yard. What do the chickens see that we don’t?


The bed of wood chips decomposes with the help of the chickens’ manure and scratching until it can eventually be considered compost. This might take a few months, maybe a year, depending on the wood chips you begin with and the number of chickens and size of the area.

This resulting compost can be harvested and used in your vegetable garden, around fruit trees, as potting mix. I do all three with my chicken compost.

Compost from my chicken coop and run, derived from mostly wood chips as the original ingredient.

This chicken compost has a couple advantages over pure chicken manure. First, it’s a more versatile product. You can’t grow vegetable seeds in pure chicken manure, but you sure can in chicken compost.

My vegetable seedlings grown in compost from the chicken run on March 1, 2024.

Second, harvesting the compost takes less labor. Without wood chips, the manure must be cleaned out almost daily in order to prevent an unhealthy environment for the birds. With wood chips, you might have a chore once a week at most. From time to time you add more wood chips and you fork an area that is capped, and then you might harvest compost a few times each year.

Roof removed from coop. This is where the chickens roost at night. Occasionally, I twist a fork in the wood chips there if I see capping.

Chicken health, reduction of feed costs, and gaining compost are the three main reasons that I have kept my chickens on a deep bed of wood chips for the past eight years, and many others have found the same benefits, and you might too. Unless you have one of these exceptional situations.


Mobile pen: I have kept chickens in a mobile pen and moved them daily so their floor is ever-new pasture. In Southern California, this is most practical during the winter and spring.

New ground every day means the chickens have new food to eat and don’t leave too much poop in any one spot.

Massive run/yard: I have friends with a large flock but also with a very large pasture area for the flock to forage in. If the number of birds is small enough compared to the run area, then the chickens will not denude it and all will be well.

Friends in Oregon with a very large pasture area for their flock.

But the run area must be massive (bigger than most people think is big enough) or else it soon turns into bare ground because the chickens eat almost every plant, and then the ground becomes toxic with their manure.

In all other cases that I have seen, a deep floor of wood chips is the way to go.


I was first clued in to using a deep bed of wood chips for my chickens by Joel Salatin in his classic book, Pastured Poultry Profits. (See page 260 if you have a copy. And if you raise chickens, you must have a copy.)

Harvey Ussery also has a good chapter (7) on his experience using “deep litter” in his excellent book, The Small-Scale Poultry Flock.

Where to get wood chips?

Thanks for your support so I can keep these Yard Posts coming and ad-free.

All of my Yard Posts are listed HERE.

Pin It on Pinterest

Join Waitlist I will inform you if I can harvest more of these avocados. Please leave your email address below.

No fields found, please go to settings & save/reset fields