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.