If you’re hanging around with chicken owners then you may have heard from some that cedar is a terrible thing to have near chickens but at the same time, you may have found other chicken owners that keep their chickens in cedar coops and they swear that this is trouble free. So, who is right?
Is cedar OK for chicken coops? Cedar is an excellent material to build a chicken coop out of but it’s not necessarily a great idea for bedding inside the chicken coop. In fact, it is possible to poison your chickens through the use of cedar bedding. So, join us as we explore why you might want to build the coop out of cedar but why you also want to keep cedar out of the finished coop.
Why Use Cedar To Build A Chicken Coop?
It’s important to realize that there are definitely cheaper materials that you could use to build a chicken coop from and that means if you’re operating on a very tight budget, you may not want to opt for cedar for your coop. However, as you might expect, the price of any given material often holds some reflection of its quality too.
Chicken coops that are built from cedar are built to last. You end up with a highly durable end product with some real advantages over those built out of other woods. For example, cedar is especially strong and isn’t prone to warping or sagging.
No Chemical Treatment Needed
One immediate advantage is that cedar is one of the very few woods that you can buy commercially in North America that is suitable to being used for a chicken coop without any kind of chemical treatment on the outside.
As you may have heard, chickens have particularly sensitive lungs and by opting out of chemical treatments on the structure of your coop – you may also be saving your chickens from some breathing difficulties farther on down the line.
There are also some other clear advantages of using cedar when constructing your chicken coop:
- It’s very lightweight. The lighter a wood is, the easier it is to work with and you’ll find that it’s less stressful to build a coop out of cedar than from something heavier.
- It holds its shape. Anything made of wood that sits outside needs to be able to deal with the passing of the seasons. Heat beating down in summer to the frosts of winter – the temperature and humidity are going to cause the boards to swell and shrink and this causes both bowing and cracking in many types of wood. Cedar, on the other hand, doesn’t tend to do this, it has an unusual cellular makeup and that tends to allow the wood to dry faster and resist rot too.
- It has a high level of thermal efficiency. You may not appreciate this property directly, but your chickens almost certainly will. The nice thing about using cedar for your chicken coop is that it won’t pass on heat from inside the roost or outside of it. That means in summer, it tends to be a cooler more pleasant place inside but, in the winter, you get a warmer coop without heating it.
- It is full of oils. That might not sound important but the oils in cedar work as natural preserving agents that prevent decay in the wood. You can expect a chicken coop made from cedar to last for more than a decade without needing any real repairs and in some cases, it may last much, much longer still.
- It contains thujaplicins. Don’t worry, you won’t need to be able to pronounce that, we can’t either. However, what that means is that the wood is full of a natural set of chemicals that give cedar its distinct smell and these chemicals also act as a natural repellent for bugs, pests, and other infestations. They are also thought to help protect the wood against mold.
- It’s easy to buy. There are other alternatives to cedar that have similar properties, but they tend to be more expensive and rarer – you don’t want to spend more money on building a coop than you have to.
- It’s easy to paint. Cedar is a superb wood, particularly for an outdoor-rated one, for absorbing paint or stains. If you do opt for this – remember to buy very low VOC rated stains, as they are better for use around chickens than most other products.
- You don’t have to paint it. Over time, the cedar will take on that lovely grey look that people tend to associate with the wood, and it will happily last 10-15 or even more years without any paint.
- You can seal it. You’ll need to seal it every 6-8 years, mind you because seals don’t last forever but if you want to keep the original color in the wood, you can easily seal and then reseal cedar. Just don’t forget to wash the coop down before you reseal it.
The Single Most Important Factor In Using Cedar To Build A Chicken Coop
If you intend to use cedar to build a chicken coop you should use Western Red Cedar from the United States or the Japanese-imported equivalent. Under no circumstances should you use Eastern White Cedar. Western Red Cedar is completely safe for use around chickens, Eastern White Cedar very much is not.
Why Cedar Is Not Suitable As Bedding In A Chicken Coop
Eastern White Cedar is commonly used, not to build coops with, but as an animal and bird bedding product. Unfortunately, it’s not a very good product for chickens. It may be fine for other creatures, but it can lead to the death of chickens and here’s what you need to know:
Cedar Contains Plicatic Acid
All cedar contains plicatic acid which is a useful thing for the tree. It has a natural fungicidal property and ensures that trees don’t rot unduly in the wild. Unfortunately, when cedar is reduced to scraps for bedding, the process it undergoes creates lots of tiny dust particle of cedar wood.
These particles contain plicatic acid and it doesn’t matter how well you ventilate a chicken coop – the cedar bedding will contain this dust.
This is bad news because when inhaled plicatic acid is not good for any creature. There are many diseases and health issues caused by exposure to this product including:
- Coughing – a tell-tale sign that lungs are being irritated
- Phlegm – another quality indication that the body is trying to get rid of an irritant
- Chest tightness, wheezing, difficulty in breathing – a clear acceleration of the previous issues
- Asthma and rhinitis – inflammation of both the lungs and the mucus membranes
- Bronchial hyperactivity – this is a sign that the affected creature is struggling to breathe
- Decreased lung functioning – the lungs themselves become damaged and unable to work properly
An influential study in the 1970s found that cedar shavings often led to the premature death of small animals when compared to the use of other bedding materials.
Deeper investigation shows that plicatic acid causes permanent damage to the skin cells of the trachea and lungs. The cells quite literally disintegrate and then slough away.
In short, cedar dust with its plicatic acid companion is quite possibly lethal to chickens and even if not lethal, it’s not good for them. A chicken coop made out of cedar doesn’t generate the dust and thus, doesn’t allow chickens to get plicatic acid poisoning.
Interestingly, pine wood contains a slightly different acid, abietic acid, which also has a similar effect on lungs and creatures. So, pine wood is also a bad choice for bedding in your chicken coop.
Is cedar OK for chicken coops? Yes, if you want to build a chicken coop out of cedar there are a lot of good reasons to do so. It’s a very durable material that is ideal for outdoor use and it is more cost-effective than many other similar lasting woods.
However, you just need to make sure that you don’t buy bedding made out of cedar. This will lead to long-term health problems in your flock, the damage it does may not be immediately apparent but over time, it will sicken and may even kill your birds.