I am always searching for the best bedding material for all the poultry that I raise. Growing up in Idaho I got accustomed to using wheat or barley straw for the adults and could always get pine sawdust from one of the local sawmills. Moving to Iowa I had to alter my choices some. First if you could find straw it was oat which is acceptable but sawmills here are oak, maple or the bad one (for birds) black walnut and the sawmills are few and far between. I started experimenting and have used oat straw which now in the 21st century Iowa no oats are grown anymore so unless I plant a small patch that is not an option. Wheat and barley are nonexistent here and I have grown rye which makes a lot of straw but is difficult to coordinate the planting with my time and usage of my fields. Over the years I have tried wheat, barley, oat, rye, millet, (both pearl and proso), buckwheat, cornstalk bales, soybean plant bales, grass hay and alfalfa hay. For adult birds each has its own place and purpose some are very good, others okay and some were a disaster. Buckwheat was a disaster, soybean plants worked so so, alfalfa hay was a favorite for the waterfowl especially the geese( they ate it) but as bedding it was not great. Lately I have used a lot of grass hay as it is available and I can produce my own. I typically use bales that are not of the best quality for the sheep and our cow. I do not like to use grass based beddings for young birds as when they get wet they are an ideal growing medium for all kinds of molds and protozoans that cause poultry diseases. I prefer to plant based bedding for adults because of their ease of distribution among pens and ease of cleaning with a pitchfork and then wheelbarrow to the stock pile to compost and later use in the garden.
I typically start all day olds out in large 110 gallon plastic tubs, line the bottom with newspaper and place a light layer of coarse sawdust on top. I change the material several times a week. When the birds get several weeks old I transfer them to a section of building which has concrete floor. Pine shavings (sawdust) is what I had always used or when a friend does wood working he brings over oak or maple. All work fine but I am constantly looking for the best and most economical. It takes at least 2 bags of shavings to cover the building floor at a cost of about $5.50 a bag. During the prime brooding season it has to be cleaned at least once a week. Last summer I had a few bags of sphagnum peat moss left after the sweet potato starting season and with not being home much I desperately needed some bedding for the brooder house one day and thought well lets give it a shot. Wow a 3.8 cubic foot bag was $11.95 and it did the whole building so about the same cost. Big advantage was after one week it was still dry and did not need cleaning. Birds enjoyed it, ammonia levels were near zero as with sawdust once it is wet and packed makes a mess. The peat moss worked great and the acid level of the peat moss controls lots of issues. Even though the peat moss was more expensive, it lasted longer and added some health benefits for the birds. We are going to do a side by side comparison this summer with one being only peat moss, one only pine shaving and one a 50-50 mix. I will report back later on the results.