Chickens have a natural way of keeping their feathers clean, healthy, and free of pests: dust baths! Rolling around in the dirt is a fun, social and preventative health measure that is important for all chickens.
Watching your chickens take a dust bath can be highly entertaining. They scratch at the dirt, making sure the spot is just right. Next they plop down in the wallow, wings flapping and legs kicking, working to cover all of their feathers with dirt and dust. Once sufficiently covered, the chicken will stand and shake out her feathers, leaving a cloud of dust behind, and proceed to preen her feathers. Seeing a dust bath for the first time may be alarming for humans, as chickens can lie very still in a shallow hole or their quick and repetitive movements can be mistaken for a seizure. Chickens like to take dust baths a few times a week, all year long.
Dust baths are more than just fun and relaxing for your chickens, they are a natural preventative health measure for your birds. The dust absorbs the buildup of excess oil that parasites feed on, such as lice and mites. It helps diminish the population of any existing external parasites by smothering and suffocating them. Lastly, the preening that follows a dust bath helps to remove those pests. When given ample space, dust bathing is a social activity where multiple chickens will bathe together at once. In limited space, the pecking order determines who gets to bathe first.
Natural Bathing Areas
Chickens with room to roam will find themselves a spot to take a dust bath. Dry, cool places with loose soil or dirt are prime locations. Loose soil makes it easier for chickens to dig a small hole to roll around in. Keep an eye out for holes that are dug in dry areas where both you and your chickens have access, as they can be a tripping hazard. An open spot in your garden can be a tempting place to make a dust bath, but you can help prevent this by providing a specific dust bathing space for them in an area that works better for you.
Creating a Bathing Area for Your Chickens
If your chickens are confined to a smaller area, it is a good idea to provide them with a space to use for dust bathing. Most importantly, choose a place that is kept sheltered and dry. You can build a space modeled similarly to a children’s sandbox or raised planting bed, or repurpose something as simple as a large cat litter box, an old tire, a plastic swimming pool, or a storage container. Fill the area with dirt, dry soil, plain potting compost, mulch, sand, wood ash, or a mix of what you have on hand. You can also add beneficial herbs or food grade diatomaceous earth (DE) to their dust baths, but do your research before adding any foreign elements.
Let’s keep our chickens healthy and happy… and dusty!