If you raise backyard chickens, you’ll want them to be as happy and healthy as possible. One way to achieve this is to add a dust bath to their run or your yard.
A dust bath is an important and great way to help your chickens keep themselves clean and free of pests.
What is a Dust Bath for Chickens?
A dust bath is a narrow, shallow ditch or trench filled with loose dirt, sand, or soil. It could also be a pile of dirt or an unplanted garden bed. Chickens will naturally create a dust bath anywhere they find that suits their needs – on the lawn, under the house or chicken coop, and even amongst your flower beds or veggie patch.
Just like humans, chickens can start to feel dirty – and this is as unpleasant for them as it is for us. Their natural instinct when they feel this way is to dig a narrow ditch in loose soil and jump on in! Here they have a “bath”- rolling and enthusiastically covering themselves in dirt, sand, or soil. This coats their feathers and settles onto the skin. On the skin, the dirt does its magic – absorbing the moisture and oils from the skin and stifling any parasites which may be living on your birds.
Benefits of a Dust Bath for Chickens:
- Encourages natural chicken behavior
- Keeps your chickens clean
- Helps control parasites in your flock
- Helps chickens cool down in summer
- Is an important social ritual for hens
- Great for flock bonding
- It’s relaxing and calming – and chickens love it!
How do Chickens Bathe?
Chickens will usually approach an area of loose dirt or soil, scratch around in it to check its suitability, and then create a circular or oval “hole”. The chicken will get in and kick dirt onto its back, sometimes even rolling in it. They will shake the dirt over their head and body and puff up their feathers and repeat the process as many times as they feel is necessary.
Your hen is done bathing when she relaxes contently and appears to be having a little snooze.
Many birds will join in when they see a flock-mate having a dust bath. When the chickens have finished in their dust bath, they shake off the excess dirt, preen their feathers to remove and eat any parasites and to smooth the feathers and remove any loose feather sheaths. Then, they just carry on with their day.
How to Create a Dust Bath
If you keep your flock confined to their coop or run, or if there are no bare patches of dirt for them to get into for a roll around, you need to create a bespoke dust bath for them. You can also do this to deter your birds from bathing anywhere you don’t want them to ruin (like your landscaped lawn or flower beds).
While a dust bath can be located anywhere, chickens prefer it to be in a sunny spot. It needs to have plenty of dirt and dust for them to really get covered! Lay down some fine-grain dirt and/or sand.
Some commercial coops and runs have built-in dust baths; you may elect to build/make one or let your chickens create their own. As long as they have one, it doesn’t matter.
If creating your own, dig a hole and create a border or use a shallow kiddie pool, litter boxes, wooden crates, or plastic tubs. They just need to be big enough for the birds to fit into and easy for them to access. As large as possible is best.
Add beneficial materials to the dirt, including:
- Fireplace ash: only use ash that contains wood and no chemical residue, briquette remnants, or other potentially harmful contaminants. Charcoal wood ash is great for absorbing toxins through the skin and it is also a good tonic if they consume it. Plain wood ash is safe and offers magnesium, calcium, and other nutrients which can help remove parasites and worms from the chickens’ bodies.
- Dried herbs: these help freshen your dust bath and chickens love eating and bathing in them. They are antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and help keep your hens healthy and smelling fresh. Some are also great for natural insect control. Use dried lavender, rosemary, oregano, thyme, mint, ginger, fennel, basil, seaweed, or lemon balm.
- Sand: this is an important addition to the dirt component of your dust bath. Chickens adore sand as it feels great and is the best feather cleaner. Think of it as a hen’s version of a body exfoliant.
- Peat Moss: this lightens the soil and creates a better, dustier texture for a more effective bath.
- Diatomaceous earth can be added as long as it is food-grade. It is a non-toxic gentle abrasive beneficial for controlling and killing fleas, mites, lice, ticks, and parasites. Use it only in small amounts in your dust bath.
Locate your dust bath in a spot from which you can enjoy the show! Dust bathing is very entertaining to watch and a good opportunity to monitor your chickens’ behavior, their pecking order, and overall well being.