Photo: Brian Keenan. Look of approval: two of Brian’s Yorkies with the new bedding in their cage

Next to the quest for the ideal bird, there’s nothing that gets fanciers so worked up as the quest for the ideal floor covering. So, has BRIAN KEENAN got there ahead of the competition, after his latest ‘eureka!’ on the internet? At the very least, he has discovered an interesting new pub.

I HAVE tried all sorts of floor coverings for my canary cages over the years and found them all lacking. I started out using sawdust, which I gathered from the bottom of woodcutting machines at a local sawmill. I then switched to wood shavings using the same source. In those days I didn’t mind scrabbling about with a couple of hessian sacks under the machines for my freebies, but I switched to buying baled wood products once health and safety rules came in.

There are several problems with wood products. From a health viewpoint, both my birds and I were breathing in dust particles – no matter how clean the product was reputed to be – and there are always disposal issues. Dust settles on the seed hoppers and on top of the water pots, particularly after a weekly cage clean. Spraying the sawdust/shavings does help, but it is not the answer. I tried sand, grits and even carpets on the cage floors (an idea picked up from one of our top Yorkie breeders, Len Tanner from Warminster). None of them worked, and I got into all sorts of bother with Sue when she caught me hoovering my carpet squares one day! 

I tried newspaper, which works for a couple of days, then needs changing as the birds’ feet start to clog up. Wallpaper and chip-shop papers were the same.
A reader’s letter in Cage & Aviary Birds earlier this year intrigued me (see April 12 issue). It suggested using plastic tablecloths as a suitable floor cover, but I could never find one with a sawdust or grass pattern on. 

In the past, like many breeders, I have used a hemp-fibre product, but found it was not particularly absorbent when used as a cage-flooring product rather than a deep-litter horsebox product. A friend uses cat litter and, while this is OK, the depth to which he uses it makes it prohibitive from a cost viewpoint. 

When I discussed the problem with a Belgian friend, he showed me a wood-based product that he uses, but at £25 per bale, plus shipping, it was far too costly to consider. It did, however, make me trawl the internet searching for alternative bedding products suitable for small animals.

I ignored straw and hay: I had tried them before and they flew about the cages too readily. But I did find a product used for horses, chickens, rabbits, guinea pigs and so on that intrigued me. It was the chaffings from rape seed that are sold on after being chopped into 2.5cm (1in) pieces, cleaned and dust extracted. Depending on the quality selected, this includes insect repellents. Several of these products are sold by horse feed suppliers, which included one based only a few miles away in nearby Burtonwood, Warrington. 

“How do you fancy a pub lunch today, Sue?” I asked innocently. On the way, I explained we were just calling in to the farm first, which we duly did. I purchased some bedding for the princely sum of £7, loaded up, and set off in search of an eatery, which we found just down the lane.

All I can say is that the birds took to the bedding immediately. It stays in the cage and is much better than wood products, but turns over to keep the birds’ feet and legs clean. They do have a nibble at it, but none have come to any harm in the two weeks I have used it.

The bale will clean out 80 cages about six times over before being used up, so it is far more economical than shavings, and the birdroom smells more like a meadow than a sawmill. My breathing is easier than when breathing wood, and the birds seem quite content, too. And the bonus? Spent cage cleanings can be composted and rot down in under two months: even the bin men are happy with that!

Brian Keenan is the publicity officer of the Yorkshire Canary Club and chairman of Liverpool & District YCC.

For more features from Cage & Aviary Birds, click here