First, the very simple instructions:
- Leaves must be completely dry before using.
- Leaves break down quickly and a lot more then wood shavings, hay or straw. So you'll need what looks to be "too much" to start with.
- Rake up any dry leaves you don't use and bag them up to add to the coop later. Otherwise you'll be waiting for a dry day and turning leaf piles to dry them out enough to use them. *pain in the butt*
- Leaves make a great start if you're using the deep litter method.
- If you decide to shred your leaves first, just run them over with the lawn mower then dump the bag full into the coop.
- Every few days I scatter a handful of scratch, BOSS or other treats in the leaves to encourage the chickens to scratch and turn the leaves. (You might even get someone to pay you for leaf raking and removal!)
- Since leaves fall from the trees they are essentially a free bedding source.
- Neighbors won't care if you take their extra leaves especially if you rake them up too. (You might even get someone to pay you for leaf raking and removal!)
- You can find free leaves already bagged up on sites like Freecycle
- Leaves are a great money saver for large coops that takes several bags of shavings to fill.
- Dry leaves add the 'brown' to the chicken poop which is 'green'. Give them some time to mix it all together and you'll have excellent homemade compost!
- Adding new leaves is a great boredom buster. Add them on a rainy 'can't go outside to play' day and the chickens will have a grand old time scratching around in them.
- You only have 1 time of year to collect the leaves, and it has to be done on a dry day.
- Leaves tend to mat down when wet so it's very important to clean up any water bowl spills or rain leaks right away.
- Since chickens have a hard time turning wet leaves over, they can get moldy.
- Avoid using a lot of oak leaves. A few are ok, but oak leaves contain tannins that can harm you chickens if they happen to eat too many. They shouldn't be eating the leaves, but why take chances?
- Bagged leaves need stored in a covered area. If moisture gets in the bag they could start to rot and become useless for the chickens.
If you're into using alternatives to traditional coop bedding, check out what happened when I used Shredded newspaper as coop bedding.