Coffee Chaff Chickens

A hen checks out her fluffy new digs: coffee chaff bedding
Image shamelessly stolen from Lyanda Haupt’s Tangled Nest blog

Mrs. Homegrown here:

Deep litter in the chicken coop is good for chicken health, general aesthetics and good neighbor relations. Chickens need to scratch, so giving them lots of stuff to scratch is kind. It also absorbs odor and protects stray eggs from breakage. Even better, their constant scratching combines their waste with the bedding material, creating useful compost over time.

We use straw in our coop and run (the outside parts) and wood shavings (animal bedding) inside the hen house. We use horse bedding inside the house instead of straw because we clean the inside of the house regularly–their overnight poo is quite concentrated– and it’s very easy to scoop up the poo when it’s mixed with fluffy wood shavings. It also smells better longer. Straw in the house is just sort of substandard.

However…the big however….them’s dead trees we’re shoveling into our hen house, and as we all know, trees don’t grow on trees.

But what’s a good alternative to shavings?

Yesterday, Lyanda Haupt, author of Crow Planet: Essential Wisdom from the Urban Wilderness, a beautifully written book about crows and the path of an urban naturalist, posted about an intriguing chicken bedding possibility: coffee chaff, a byproduct of coffee roasting. You should go read about it.

Maybe we all can’t access the chaff bounty of our local coffee roaster, but we should think more about upcycling and creative alternatives to business as usual. Depending on our region and location, we all probably have access to different sources of dried plant material fit for chickens. We just have to think outside the box.

One word of caution: whatever you experiment with shouldn’t be dusty. Hens are susceptible to respiratory infections, so sawdust and the like are not a good idea. When you purchase animal bedding look for the higher quality “dust free” variety.

Leave a comment


  1. Really, though – your wood shavings are probably a by-product of planing lumber or are “manufactured” from salvaged/recycled wood waste. (Check with the manufacturer.) I don’t know of anyone turning virgin timber into shavings.

  2. I use shreded office paper, because it is free. These don’t compost quickly, but I put them at the base of fruit trees as fertilizer/ mulch.

    My local newspaper sells recycled paper as animal bedding. I’m not sure if they seperate out the glossy sections, but the regular newsprint is printed with biodegradable ink.

  3. I’d just worry about the possible pesticides used on the coffee and also ingestion as caffiene is very toxic to birds. Bear in mind I have no clue what sort of washing the chaff ends up with and also whether it contains caffeine or not.
    Jennifer Cody

  4. everytime we use straw, sooner or later one of the birds ends up with an impacted crop full of straw bound up in a ball. recently I moved to try trowing down my straw accross the lawn, mixing it with the local leaves and such and running the lawn mower over it to semi mulch it up. I am hoping that makes a better mix for the birds should they eat some of it.

  5. I’ve been using shredded paper for mine, but they don’t seem to like it much. My shredder isn’t very good though, so the paper strips are fairly wide and long. I’m thinking about investing in a crosscut shredder just for my spoiled chickens.

  6. I made it to this site because friends here in Santa Fe sent us the kink because we roast our own coffee and have leftover chaff and we have chickens. But this blog is very cool and I am glad we found it. We like all of the things on your list: vegetables, chickens, hooch, bicycles, and cultural alchemy. Thanks!

  7. Thanks for the idea! We just got our chickens yesterday and I went over to the local roaster today. They are thrilled to give us the chaff – going to pick up a big bag this week. Let me know if you want some!

  8. Another possibility is peanut husks/chaff. My grandfather used to get his from the local major candy manufacturer. We would put it on the floor for the cattle. Soaked up the wastes nicely. Would be worth trying on poultry.

  9. I used coffee chaff for the bedding in my coop and love it. Local folk in Seattle can get it free from UpCycle Northwest but I’d be willing to bet that the roaster around the block would be happy to get rid of it as well. We haven’t had any problems with the chaff; it smells lovely and the girls love scratching around in it. My only complaint is that it’s so light; it floats around and you have to clean it out of the water dish.

    • In the hen house? Well, that’s a pricy option, for one. Then, I’d worry they’d eat the stuff. Worlds Best is corn, Swheat scoop, wheat. Feline Pine looks like chicken feed. Clay would be a mess–and they’d probably eat that too. All in all, I’d rather use straw or leaves or any cheap organic matter.

  10. I’m in the city, so I can’t have chickens (sad to say – at least until my son builds us our own house), but I do roast my own coffee. Very easy to do (presently I just use a popcorn roaster, but I used to do it stove top). Would take awhile to save up enough chaff, I think – but that depends on how much coffee one drinks, I guess.

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