My chickens are quite the pampered ladies. Not only do they get the occasional spa treatment in the house, but they also get self-imposed spa days in the backyard.
Have you ever watched a chicken take a dust bath? It’s one of the most intriguing and entertaining things of raising your own flock. Watching this plump, rumpled, bouncy ball of feather luxuriate in the dirt, sometimes upside-down and sideways, groaning and purring in pure contentment, makes me almost want to roll around on the ground myself.
To a chicken, a dust bath is the ultimate in preening. Though it sounds counterintuitive to get clean by getting dirty, a dust bath is the bird equivalent of bathtime, massage and yoga all in one.
First, she rakes up a shallow pit with her beak or claws and then nestles her booty right in the center. She proceeds to stretch, scratch, toss, and fling the dirt all over her body, deep in between her feathers, over and over again until every surface is covered in dirt, sand, soil, mulch, whatever she’s lying in. She then puffs up her feathers and shakes herself off, and repeats the ritual. If you have two or more chickens dust bathing together, it’s quite a joy to watch them throw dirt on each other and wallow in their pits.
Dust baths can be as simple as a 10-minute detour in a chicken’s day, or they can last hours through a lazy afternoon in the sun. The abrasive action of dust bathing helps rub grime off their skin and remove mites and parasites. Once a chicken is done cleaning herself, she’ll vigorously flap her wings and shake from comb to feet, enveloping herself in a cloud of dust.
Since my chickens free-range, it’s not unusual to find shallow pits all over the yard, perfectly formed in the shape of their butts. I’ll often rake these holes over, only to find them dug up again in a matter of moments. Even though a dust bath can get pretty messy if not confined to a particular area, it’s important that your chickens have access to loose, airy dirt for their daily bath.
Since the run in my coop is filled with sand, my chickens can dust bathe even when I haven’t let them out for the day. But if yours is filled with wood shavings (not dusty enough), grass (not dirty enough), or clay soil (not loose enough), you’ll have to provide them with a dedicated area to dust bathe in. This will also keep your girls from digging up your garden beds or destroying your mulch.
For small flocks, a litter box, wash tub, storage bin, or rubber feed bin works well. You want enough room for your chicken to sprawl and spread her wings; a bin the size of an apple crate is ideal. For large flocks, a kiddie pool allows multiple chickens to dust bathe at the same time.
Fill the bin or pool with about 6 inches of sand or dirt. You can use washed plaster sand, construction-grade sand, playground sand, or sandy topsoil (dug up from another part of your yard). If you have wood ash from your fireplace or stove (so long as the ash came from untreated wood), you can toss that in with the sand — the goal is to make the dust bath as dusty as possible. Periodically, I’ll scatter a thin layer of food-grade diatomaceous earth (DE) on the sand and rake it in to kill any mites, lice or fleas. DE isn’t crucial, but if you do use it, be sure you’re buying the food-grade version from feed stores or garden centers, and not pool supplies.
Put your dust bathing bin in the sunniest spot you can find, and enjoy the show when it happens.
Doesn’t this look like one satisfied hen?