A discussion about why I love using coffee grounds as chicken coop litter and how I’ve started obtaining and processing my own coffee grounds for free.
Sometime in February 2020 I wrote a post about why deep-litter composting doesn’t work for me. On Thanksgiving 2019 I installed a poop board lined with sweet PDZ, which I scooped daily, and the remaining coop and nesting boxes were lined with pine shavings. This was a substantial improvement in smell, moisture, mess, everything. By early February the pine shavings had broken down into dust and fine particles which lingered in the air. It was time to replace them.
When I went to Tractor Supply for more pine shavings, I found bags of Grounds coffee grounds litter. They were certainly pricier, at $10 a bag, but I decided to buy some. I needed 3 bags for my coop. Fast forward to today, five months later, and the coffee grounds have withstood the test of time with only one hiccup: eventually a lot of it gets lost from scooping stray poop and being kicked out of the coop, even with a small board at the doorways to prevent spillage. Sadly, the company selling the grounds stopped distributing them nationwide, and they are only available locally from Indianapolis. It also appears that their price has gone up.
The story of the Grounds litter is disappointing, but I want to continue using coffee grounds by collecting used grounds and drying them. I recently posted in Backyard Chickens about my love for coffee grounds and the post gained some interest. I wanted to address all of the questions I received on here, as well as talk about collecting and drying the grounds with the intent to update as I continue to learn.
Disclosure: Coop bedding and coop management are entirely personal choices, and can vary greatly based on experience, geographical location/climate, resources available, etc. To me, coffee is the best choice, but that doesn’t mean it has to be the best choice for you.
Easy answer. My coop smells like breakfast! Coffee smells amazing in the coop, but the smell does fade over time. Either that, or I got used to it. Used grounds are given a second chance at life, and then a third chance when (or if) you dispose of them because they can be composted. The grounds are perfect for scooping like cat litter, and so I am able to remove most of the droppings from the coop on a daily basis. Coffee is lightweight and dust-free, so for this tiny homesteader, it is more manageable than sand, which also can’t be composted. If you collect your own used grounds, the bedding is also free! Who doesn’t love free?
This is the big question, the most common question, and the most debated question. In my experience chickens do not eat the used coffee grounds inside of their coop so toxicity has not been a concern of mine. I once dropped a full container of crumble in their bedding, and it was incredible watching the precision they have in picking the crumble from among the grounds.
As to whether it is safe to eat, that is a hot topic. Caffeine is a member of the methylxanthine family, and methylxanthines are potentially toxic to pets in certain quantities, but research is limited on chickens. I found various opinions online from bloggers, a couple stating that caffeine could be toxic to chickens (Raising Happy Chickens & Chicken and Chicks Information ). Hobby Farms states that coffee grounds shouldn’t be feed to chickens, but that coffee chaff makes acceptable bedding. Remember, chickens are not mammals, and mammals are the pets that most data is based upon in terms of toxicity.
I found only one official research article which included coffee as feed for chickens. The Inclusion of Coffee in Commercial Layer Diets, published in 2011, included 125 laying hens which were split into groups: a control, one fed 1.2% of their diet with caffeinated coffee (roughly 9 mg of caffeine per bird, considered a “moderate” amount), and the other fed a diet with 1.2% decaffeinated coffee. The study lasted between 21 and 35 weeks. The authors were assessing the affects coffee might have on the feed intake, egg production, and egg quality of commercial laying hens. What they found was there was no significant difference in feed intake, egg production, egg weight, egg mass, or feed conversion rate; however, egg shells were slightly thinner. They conclude by saying, “No scientific articles on feeding coffee to poultry were found, and therefore, further studies using coffee dregs, because it is a cheap byproduct and with economic potential, are recommended.” The unspoken conclusion here would be coffee does not appear toxic to chickens when consumed continuously in moderate amounts for a period of five to six months.
In reality, some bedding that we commonly use are also possibly toxic (I’m looking at you, pine shavings and straw), and yet farmers, backyard chicken keepers, and homesteaders continue to use them. I have been using coffee grounds in my coop for five months now to no ill-effects and will continue to use them. My chickens do not express any interest in eating the grounds, or if they have they have not had any objective health issues. Every chicken is different so my experiences may not align with yours. I think the economic potential of coffee dregs lies in it’s use as bedding, not feed.
In short, no. Dried grounds should not stain at all. I have plastic squares made to look like concrete underneath the people-door which collects grounds that fall when I open the door, and when it rains there has never been any staining, either. None of my little chicken feet, feathers, or eggs have been stained. Neither have my shoes or clothing from walking in the coop.
Pine shavings, but I don’t have any significant justification for this choice.
I don’t keep my water in the coop because spillage regardless of bedding type has always been a mess. However, if coffee grounds did wind up in the water they would seep into the water slightly, as they’ve already been used. It’s unlikely to seep any significant amounts of caffeine into it, but even so, it is would be a good idea to refresh their water.
This is not advisable, because as I recently learned coffee is considered a “green” compost material due to its high nitrogen content. Chicken manure is also high in nitrogen so you’d probably have a moldy stinky mess if you didn’t scoop the poop from the coffee.
I called Starbucks and asked them to save their used coffee. It is actually quite common for them to save coffee for people!
Since March I have also been saving my own morning grinds, about 1/4 a cup a day, by knocking them onto a plate. I simply stir them at night, and by the next day they are dry and I toss them into a container. I usually throw a week’s worth into the coop at a time to help replenish what is lost.
I can’t say with certainty. I started with was a course grind, and it works well, and I imagine a fine grind could be dustier. In fact, the Starbucks coffee I collect will have the espresso pucks tossed in. Espresso is a fine grind, so I toss most of the pucks straight into my garden, but there’s plenty of course grind in there from their drip coffee.
Drying is very important, because coffee grounds can mold. In the beginning I didn’t stir my drying coffee often enough and would find moldy clumps. That went straight to the compost!! I dry my personal coffee grounds on a plate in the kitchen. The Starbucks’ coffee I spread on a black plastic trash bag to dry in a thin layer and stir them once or twice a day until dry. I wouldn’t want to do this in the oven because of unnecessary energy and heat production, nor would I want to use my dehydrator because the coffee is too small and lightweight.
Please if you have any other questions or areas that you’d like me to expand upon, comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I hope you found this information useful.
Do you think this bedding will be suitable in a brooder or is it more for adult chickens?
I allowed a broody to hatch chicks in grounds, and they were all raised successfully to adulthood. I haven’t brooded chicks alone using grounds, but I would feel comfortable using grounds in a brooder, provided that I observed the chicks for a moment to see if they are finding their feed and water. As with any litter, there’s a chance they will nibble at it, and provided they learn where the correct food is, they should quickly lose interest in the grounds. You may have some trouble keeping coffee grounds out of the water if the water isn’t on a platform or a nipple waterer. There are pros and cons with any material, but I consider grounds to have the most pros and the least cons. I saw that Powered by Coffee released their Grounds litter product in Tractor Supply and bought out the entire store for myself! Ultimately there is little real research on the concept of using grounds, so there could be hidden unknown risks. I would say try it, but use caution knowing you’re among the few who have!
I LOVE the coffee grounds in the coop. I buy out my local Tractor Supply every year. I wish they would keep it in stock year round. I have not had any issues. I have 2 coops, one with sand and the other coffee. The coffee is lighter weight and helps with odor and all around easier to deal with. I had concerns at first with the chickens eating it, but is has been a non issue.
I buy out TSC, too! I built a new coop though, and five bags wasn’t enough to fill the coop. Unfortunately I don’t travel near any coffee shops anymore, so buying is my only option. We do still save our own coffee grounds, but they are only enough to replenish the poop boards.
How often do you change it out?
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Coffee grounds are the best chicken bedding I’ve ever used. I clean the cages daily, just like you would cat litter, and there is never ever a bad smell. It is soft on their feet, easy to clean, and if kept clean will last 6 months or more. There is absolutely nothing like it out there.
Yes I totally agree! Now your coop will truly smell like breakfast in the morning ❤️
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I would like to use coffee grounds in my nesting boxes. I currently use horse pine shavings/bedding mixed with a dried herbal chicken nesting box mix. The chickens seem to be happy with it and lay more eggs with the herbs mixed in! I would like to switch to coffee grounds for a couple reasons, the main one being it would be free! The second reason is I have one or two chickens who sleep roosting on the front edge of the nesting box and poop in it all night. The main reason that bothers me is when I scoop the poop out of there it takes lots of the pine bedding with it. I was thinking the coffee grounds would be better to scoop the poop out of without loosing all the bedding. This is mostly a winter problem. There are a couple hens who like to sleep on top of the coop in the warmer months, but we’ve been below 40 for a few months now, so they all sleep inside.
What are your thoughts on coffee grounds in the nesting box?
I don’t see why you couldn’t use coffee grounds, as long as there was a layer thick enough that the egg wouldn’t crack when it landed. I’ve never tried it, but I’d you do, I’d love to hear how it turns out!
Can I use coffee grounds that are unused?
I would not use unused grounds because they contain a lot of caffeine. While chickens don’t usually seem to be interested in eating them, I wouldn’t want to risk it. Plus that seems like an expensive choice to use fresh coffee grounds.