What Is The Best Bedding For Your Sheep?

lambs at a feeder eating grain

Eventually, you’ll come to the point in the year where you need to find some bedding for your sheep. If you have looked around any, you have also noticed that you’ve got some choices of which bedding to use.

What are the differences between the bedding types and which is the best bedding for you and your sheep?

The best bedding for your sheep is straw.

The best bedding material for your flock is straw. If you happen to live in an area where straw is crazy expensive, consider using sawdust (but it has a few drawbacks) or old/poor quality hay instead (see top picture).

Before we go more into straw for sheep, realize that the best bedding for you is one that:

  • will perform for you
  • works in your situation
  • is available at an economical cost

Hay As Bedding goes over the reasons why you might consider using old hay as bedding, we do, especially when we run short on straw!

scotch mule in a race/working chute
Scotch mule ewe in a working chute, called a race, image from The Sheep Game (YouTube)

If straw is an option in your area, look into it. We use straw for our sheep as much as possible.

It’s easy to handle, works great and nicely brightens up the pen when you get it spread out.

If straw is outrageously priced in your area, find an alternative that will work better for you and your flock.

For anyone completely new to sheep or the area, ask around at the local farm store to get an idea of what most shepherds in your area are using for bedding. Be sure to check the local ads online, as well.

sheep grazing
Some of our sheep grazing. Obviously, we don’t need bedding now, but we will for the winter!

Sheep bedding is traditionally straw

The most commonly used bedding for sheep is straw. Straw is easy to find and works in nearly any situation where you would need bedding for your sheep.

Straw may be sold in small square bales, that are easily moved by hand, or bigger round or square bales that will require some equipment.

Straw is the dead stalk of a small grain

Check out my article The Difference Between Hay And Straw or check out the video below.

For anyone wanting the super quick explanation: straw is the stalk of a small grain, like wheat or barley, that is left over after the grain has been harvested.

Many kinds of straw are available

Any small grain grown and harvested for grain will have straw as an additional harvest able crop. Here are the common small grains that are used for straw:

  • Wheat
  • Barley
  • Oat
  • Rye

Some livestock raisers have a preference as to which type of straw they prefer. We normally get wheat straw because it is the most common type of straw sold in our area.

We have used oat straw before, our sheep tend to eat a bit of it. It’s not something we worry about.

You should also be aware that any straw you get is likely to have at least a few kernels of the grain left in it.

I’m not worried that the sheep will find the grain.

My concern is that when you clean out the pen and spread the manure, you’ll be planting whatever seeds are in the straw.

For example: if you don’t want to seed rye, get a different kind of straw.

This is more about what you want and don’t want around your farm, the sheep will eat whatever grain sprouts.

Small grains come up like grass and sheep to eat love it.

Not all straw is brightly colored

We like darker colored straw for bedding when compared to the lighter colored straw.

If you are unfamiliar, you will see straw that is bright and shiny, almost golden in color.

This is straw that was never rained on. It is the best looking straw and sells for the highest price.

The darker colored straw is straw that got rained on before it was baled. In this case, the grain was harvested, the straw got rained on in the field, it then dried out and was baled up a few days later.

Getting rained on “ruins” the pretty color of the straw but actually makes it absorb better! (I don’t have any proof of this other than our experience using it.)

Don’t let the slightly darker colored straw throw you, it is a better bedding for your sheep!

There are less popular bedding material choices

Depending upon where you live, there are usually bedding material options other than straw. Here are some of those options:

  • Old or poor quality hay
  • Shredded paper
  • Corn stalks
  • Sawdust or wood shavings

Here’s a link to an article showing the results of an absorbency test for alternative bedding materials, if you are interested.

You can use old or poor quality hay

Another not so often mentioned alternative for bedding your sheep is to use poor quality hay. It will not not be the nice pen brightening color of the straw, but it will work.

We have used old or poor quality hay many times, especially in years when straw is bringing a high price at the auction. We prefer straw, but when hay for bedding is cheap, we’ll use it.

Shredded paper “melts” when wet

I have seen some folks suggest using shredded paper as a bedding. You can, but I wouldn’t. Here’s why: it seems to melt when it gets wet!

This is what happens: you put out the shredded paper and it looks great. It heaps up nicely and the sheep look like they are standing on a pen of clouds.

So far, so good, right? True, except the shredded paper hasn’t had to do any work yet.

As soon as the paper gets wet, it starts to melt down. Now that fluffy bedding is gone and it looks like you never put anything in there to begin with!

I should mention that we live in a humid part of the country. If you live in a dry area, paper may work for you, since the lack of humidity in the air will help keep the paper dry. For us, it’s not a great option.

If you can get the shredded paper for free, give it a shot. I would! If you have to buy it, that’s a different story.

Corn stalks are a popular bedding in some areas

If you live in an area of the country that grows a noticeable amount of corn, you may have access to baled up corn stalks to be used as bedding.

If you think these will work for you, give it a shot. Not all areas will have corn stalks for bedding, but, at least around here, it’s not unusual to see it selling at the auction.

Generally, bedding with corn stalks is more of a cattle, especially dairy cattle, area thing.

Don’t get too hung up on this one, it will be easily available to you or not. If not, keep looking, you’ve got alternatives.

A pen of sheep at a local auction. All of the pens are bedded with sawdust, since it is so easy to clean out the barn after each sale day.

Sawdust can be eaten by the sheep

Depending upon where you live, sawdust or wood shavings may be an economical bedding option for you and your sheep. I love how easy sawdust is to spread around and how much it can absorb!

Plus, when you get to cleaning out the pen, any areas bedded with sawdust will scoop out nicely, fork or loader. (Straw can pack together and make more of a carpet that all hold together and is harder to fork out.)

We know quite a few farmers who use sawdust for cattle, but none that use it for sheep (and we do not use sawdust for sheep either).

I’m not saying it won’t work, I’m saying that aside from the county fair and livestock auctions, I don’t know of anyone using it.

A few concerns that I would have regarding sawdust and sheep:

Will the lambs eat it? Small lambs that are nursing will explore their area and taste test anything that grabs their attention.

This is how they learn. This would also be how they eat sawdust!

The second concern that I have is for anyone selling wool from your sheep. For most shepherds, this is not a concern, wool price is shamelessly low right now.

If you are or plan to be a wool seller, don’t go with sawdust or wood shavings. Use straw.

I know I just said wool prices are low, and they are for commercial wool, but specialty wool is a whole different world.

Look up “raw wool for sale” or “raw wool fleeces for sale” and prepare yourself for some beautiful fleeces that are bringing high prices.

For shepherds who are selling fleeces, straw is the way to go. For anyone else, use the most economical bedding material you can find in your area.

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