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Baby Chicks Eating Pine Shavings

Baby chicks on their pine shavings

Anyone who has raised a child is familiar with that ‘round-the-clock’ vigilance of making sure the little one doesn’t put something bad in their mouth. The child doesn’t know what’s not supposed to be taste-tested…but you do! And so the battle between parent and offspring begins.

Fortunately, baby chicks are fairly resilient when it comes to pine shavings.

The majority of the time you see baby chicks pecking at their bedding, they aren’t actually doing it because they’re hungry, but rather because it’s their instinct to do so. Remember they don’t have hands so everything must be handled with their beak.

Yes, they will occasionally ingest a small piece of something and there is a very small chance that it can cause them harm. But this would be extraordinarily rare; point of fact, I’ve never heard of anyone loosing a chick from this.

So while you may be preprogrammed to worry, when it comes to pine shavings, you shouldn’t worry about seeing your little birds pecking at the bedding or gobbling down a little piece of something.

Are Pine Shavings Safe For Baby Chicks?

When it comes to caring for your new flock, pine shavings have proven themselves to be the premier bedding material. They do an excellent job of keeping the birds warm and dry while providing good footing for their growing legs.

We use the smaller shavings for the baby chicks when they’re first hatched, as this seems to be easier for them to navigate on. And then, when the birds get older and have the ability to really kick the bedding around, we use the bigger shavings as this helps keep food and water clear.

There are two very important things to note about pine shavings and chick safety.

  • Always use pine shavings, NOT CEDAR. While cedar has a smell that most people find appealing, cedar shavings can be toxic to fowl. So when you’re shopping for your baby chicks, make sure that your bedding is only pine and not mostly pine.
  • Pine shavings are meant to be used as a temporary bedding. As mentioned previously, we use pine shavings as the chicks are growing. We also use pine shavings for the nesting boxes. What we don’t do is have chickens that spend all of the their lives with only pine shavings under their feet.

Just like the old saying, ‘too much of a good thing’, if your flock is only ever exposed to pine shavings and not the real backyard dirt, then it is very possible that your flock will experience health issues.

However, baby chicks are only babies for short while. Full time exposure to pine shavings should not be an issue for the few weeks they’re in the brooder.

How Much Pine Shavings For Baby Chicks?

The purpose of any bedding material is to help the baby chicks stay warm and dry. Pine shavings do this well by lifting the chick up off the ground, which can be very cold from their perspective and by allowing any spilt water to drain away from the baby bird.

So with these two benefits in mind, it might seem rational to think that the more you have the better. But this is not true.

As chicks get older, they get more rambunctious. Water spilling from the waterer, will be an issue. And if the ground can’t absorb the amount of water being spilled, then your pine shavings will (as will any spilt food).

In this instance, you will have some very bad variables to deal with.

  • A source of moisture that will not leave.
  • Heat from the warm birds and the heat lamp.
  • Feces from the birds.

These variables are good for bacteria and not for your baby chicks.

If you notice a particular odor coming from the brooder (some define it as sort of sweet) then it would be advisable for you to dig down into the bedding and see if everything is 100% dry. Remember, if you can smell it from your height, then it has to be much MUCH stronger for your baby chicks who are right there at ground level.

So how much is the right amount?

We have found that the best amount of pine shavings for baby chicks between the ages of hatched to three weeks is between two to three inches of the fine/smaller shavings.

For chicks older than three weeks, we will use three to five inches of pine shavings – usually the larger chips.

Regardless of how much you decide to use, when it comes time to change the bedding, you will need to take it all out, letting the floor to completely dry before putting new bedding back into the brooder.