Do you raise chickens, either for production or pleasure?
If so, you might want to consider adding a dust bath to your chicken housing.
A dust bath provides your chickens with a way of keeping clean. Sand and dust can help keep their feathers clean, removing the likelihood that they will suffer from lice, mites, and other kinds of parasites.
If you don’t have a dust bath yet but are curious about how to build one – as well as the benefits in doing so – consider these tips as you get started.
What is a Dust Bath?
Just as you might hop in the shower when you’re starting to feel a little bit grimy, when your chickens start to feel dirty, they will dig a shallow trench or ditch in the soil or other loose materials.
Once they’ve dug an appropriately sized burrow, they will jump in and begin throwing dirt over themselves.
They will carry on with this behavior for what seems like quite some time, allowing the dirt to coat their feathers and settle down into their skin.
There, the sand helps to absorb extra oil and moisture, clogging their respiratory pores of parasites that may be living on your chickens.
After they’ve done this, they will hop up and shake off the dirt, preening themselves before going on with their day.
Dust baths help keep your chickens clean, and while it might seem odd, engaging in regular dust bathing rituals can help keep parasites at bay.
This behavior is also incredibly relaxing to your chickens, and can help your flock bond together.
An important social ritual, dust bathing is one of a chicken’s favorite pastimes.
What Are the Benefits of Dust Baths?
Dust baths are important to chickens’ health and wellbeing for multiple reasons.
They not only provide a way for your chickens to clean themselves, but they also reduce the buildup of parasites like lice and mite.
In the summertime, a dust bath also gives a chicken a play to cool down. A dusty chicken, much like a pig rolling in the mud, is much cooler than one that is completely dry.
Dust baths are also social activities for your chickens. Chickens tend to calm down and relax when they are in a dust bath, sometimes go so far as to sigh in relief!
How Do Chickens Dust Bathe?
Chickens will dust bathe in just about any location they can find – including on your lawn, in your flower beds, or even under the chicken coop!
If your chickens are confined to a coop all day – or if you pasture-raise your chickens and there are never bare spots of dirt for them to roll in – you will need to build your own dust bath.
You might also need to DIY a dust bath if your chickens are bathing in an area that you don’t want them to ruin- like all the areas of your lawn that you put so much effort into landscaping!
A chicken dust bath can be located in just about any location, but your chickens will want to perform this activity in the sun and in plenty of dust and dirt.
A location that doesn’t muster up to your chicken’s finicky standards simply won’t pass their muster – and they’ll pass up a “formal” chicken dust bath in order to return to their favorite haunts.
The process of dust bathing is simple. Left to its own devices, a chicken will first approach a spot of loose soil and then scratch at the area as if it were foraging for grubs.
Then, it will create an oval-shaped indentation in the ground. The chicken will lower itself into the hole and use its legs to kick dirt up onto its back. It will straighten up and puff out its feathers, shaking the dirt around its body and head.
This process can be repeated once, but you might notice that your chicken bathes itself over and over again.
You will know your chicken is finished in the dust bath when it closes its eyes and remains relaxed and content in place.
It may linger in the dust bath for some time, or it might find a new place to go forage.
Immediately after dust bathing, you might also notice your chicken engaging in the process of preening.
This is a copycat behavior of sorts; when one of your chickens starts doing it, the others usually join in. this process involves using the beak and an oil gland in the tail to smooth feathers and remove feather sheaths.
They will also eat any insects or parasites that are hitching a ride on their feathers.
What Should I Include In My Dust Bath?
A dust bath is easy to set up. All you need to do is find a dry spot in the run or coop where you can lay down some fine-particles sand or dirt.
While a bit of sand is really all you need, you can also add materials like diatomaceous earth, dried herbs, or even fireplace ash for added benefits.
Wood ash makes a fantastic addition to a chicken dust bath.
You should use fireplace ash that only contained wood – you don’t want to use remnants of briquettes or any wood that had lighter fluid or other kinds of chemical residues on it.
Charcoal wood ash is also a good option. It helps to absorb toxins from your chickens’ bodies, and it can be consumed for medicinal properties.
Wood ash has a number of vitamins and nutrients, like Vitamin K, calcium, and magnesium. It can provide your chickens with great internal benefits as well as benefits for their skin.
If you notice your chickens nibbling and pecking on materials from their dust bath, not to worry – wood ash helps remove impurities like worms or parasites from the body. It is also a laxative.
Not unlike the human digestive system, the chicken digestive system can greatly benefit from a “charcoal supplement” – which you can provide by including charcoal in the dust bath.
Diatomaceous earth, the home and garden-owner’s miracle remedy, can also be added to a chicken dust bath.
Just make sure you only use food-grade diatomaceous earth. This product helps kill fleas, ticks, mites, lice, parasites, and other pests.
It works by acting as an abrasive agent that cuts through the protective coating on these creatures’ shells.
As a result, the insects become so desiccated and dehydrated that they cannot breathe.
It is nontoxic and not dangerous to most animals, because the particles are so small.
That being said, if you include diatomaceous earth in your dust bath, only use small amounts. If it is inhaled in extremely large quantities, it can be dangerous.
That being said, the risks posed to your chickens by mites and other parasites are far greater, so the reward of using diatomaceous earth far outweighs the risk.
Everybody loves a good herbal remedy!
You can use dried herbs of all kinds in your chicken coop, as well as in your dust bath.
You might want to consider options like rosemary, mint, dried lavender, or even thyme.
Many of these have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, helping to keep your chicken run smelling fresh and your chickens naturally healthy.
Plus, many of these herbs are natural insecticides!
Here are the best herbs and plants to consider using in your chicken dust bath:
- Lemon balm
Peat moss makes a great addition to a chicken dust bath when the soil is too heavy or compacted to make an effective dust.
If your soil is mostly clay, for example, you can add peat moss to loosen up the texture of the dust bath, making it easier for your chickens to work with.
Sand is the number one most important ingredient you must include in your chicken dust bath.
Why? Because chickens love it!
It helps them keep their feathers clean and also helps to kill parasites like lice, fleas, and mites.
It also feels good – your chickens will enjoy rolling around in it and enjoying its grainy texture. It’s a lot like how we love the feeling of exfoliants on our skin!
Selecting a Location For Your Dust Bath Area
Setting up a dust bath may sound complicated, but it’s actually remarkably easy.
The key point in getting started is that you want to encourage the chickens to dust bathe where you want them to – not necessarily where they want to.
If you don’t, you might find that your chickens are bathing in an undesirable location, such as under your porch, under their coop, or even in the center of your lawn!
Avoid this unwanted behavior.
In order to do this, you must encourage them to use a spot of your choice. Chickens will prefer to bathe in the sun, particularly in the winter, when the sun will help warm the soil.
Fill a wooden or plastic container with your sand and other dust bath ingredients, and place it in a corner of the run that receives plenty of sunlight.
Ideally, your chicken dust bath should be placed in a location that receives lots of sun and warmth, but it should also be one that will allow you to watch your chickens as they bathe.
Not only is this entertaining, but it also gives you the opportunity to inspect your chickens and monitor them on a regular basis for problems like parasites, disease, and injury.
Bathing is a social event for your chickens, too, so providing them with the opportunity to bathe will also give you a chance to monitor the dynamics of your flock.
You can familiarize yourself with the pecking order and take note of any issues the flock might be having.
How to Build a Chicken Dust Bath
You can buy a coop or run that has a premade, built-in dust bath, which will take some of the work out of DIY-ing your own fixture.
Alternatively, you can allow your chickens to create their own dust baths.
However, if your chickens are unable to free-range, or if you live in an area with hard packed clay that is difficult to loosen naturally, you may need to make a dust bath for your chickens.
The same rule applies if you want your chickens to bathe in a designated area.
The process of building a dust bath is simple.
All you need to do is start by selecting a container that can be used for your dust bath.
This container should be deep enough for you to fill it with the sand mix, and it should have short sides so the chicken can easily hop into and out of it.
There are multiple containers you can turn to in building your chicken dust bath. Your selection will depend on a variety of factors, including how much money you want to spend, how large you want the bath to be, and how sophisticated you need it to be.
Some options you can select when building your dust bath container include:
- Old plastic tubs
- Wooden boxes or barrels
- A ring of cut logs
- Kiddie pools
- Litter boxes
- Galvanized tubs
- Wooden crates
- Plastic totes
Choose the largest possible container that will still fit within your set parameters.
Because dust bathing is a social activity, you will want to make sure that multiple chickens can fit inside the dust bath at one time.
This will eliminate territorial behaviors like fighting and pecking if there is not enough room for all of your chickens.
Once you have the container in place, you should fill it with your basic ingredients. At the most elemental level, your dust bath needs to contain either loose dirt or sand.
You can also add other ingredients as listed above, such as food-grade diatomaceous earth, wood ash, and dry herbs.
Make sure the dust is well contained inside the basin. You want to make sure the walls are tall enough to keep everything in, but not so tall that the chickens can’t jump inside.
Placing your dust bath out of the direct path of a breeze or crosswind can also help keep all of your dust in one place.
A good ratio to follow when filing your dust bath is:
- 2 parts soil
- 1-2 parts sand
- 1 part wood ash
- ½ part diatomaceous earth
- ½ part dried herbs
You may also want to add perches near the dust bath to provide extra space for preening chickens.
If you give your chickens a “waiting area,” or so to speak, they will wait patiently to use the dust bath while there are other chickens inside of it.
They can use perches like small fence posts or short stumps while they wait, and will then return to those perches to preen themselves after bathing.
How to Maintain Your Dust Bath
You will need to clean and maintain your dust bath on a regular basis.
While your chickens likely won’t frequent the dust bath just to do their business, so to speak, the extensive amount of time they spend in this area may result in the buildup of droppings and feathers.
If your dust bath becomes too dirty, your chickens may stop using it, or it may even become less effective.
Be sure to rake out the droppings on a regular basis, and remove and change out the sand and other dust bath ingredients every month or so.
Remember that you will also need to add more dust (sand) from time to time, as the chickens will use it up and kick it outside of the bath.
Eventually, your dust bath will become too shallow, and so you will need to remember to top up the area with a few pails of sand or dirt from time to time.
Dust Bathing in Winter
Dust baths can be more difficult to come by in the dead of winter, particularly if you live in an area with lots of snow or ice.
When the ground freezes up hard, or even if it’s particularly wet and swampy, it can be tough for your chickens to get in a good dust bath.
But don’t abandon all hope! Just because it’s more challenging, it doesn’t mean that your chickens won’t benefit from a wintertime dust bath.
You can help them out by building a dust bath inside the coop or run.
You can build a dust bath inside your coop to be used during the winter months – just keep in mind that an indoor dust bath might need to have taller walls so that your chickens don’t constantly kick bedding inside of it.
In many cases, you chickens will take advantage of their surroundings and create their own DIY indoor dust baths, too.
If you use wood shavings as bedding and prefer the deep litter method of cleaning and bedding your coop in the winter, your chickens may take impromptu dust baths in the litter. The same goes for chickens whose bedding consists of sand or other fine materials.
You can even build an outdoor dust bath for your chickens to use in the winter, too. Consider burying a four-foot long plastic or metal culvert section.
Place dirt inside the buried section only, as the top curve of the culvert will protect the dirt inside from rain and snow.
If the dirt is dry enough, it shouldn’t freeze and should still be suitable for bathing.
Can Baby Chicks Have Dust Baths?
Just as dust baths are beneficial for adult chickens, they are also appropriate for chicks and juveniles.
Start your chicks off on the right foot by engaging them in good hygiene habits at a very young age.
Even when your chicks are still in the brooder box – yes, as young as a few days old, even! – you can provide them with a miniature dust bath.
This behavior is natural and healthy for your chicks, but keep in mind that a brooder dust bath should be smaller.
Your week-old chicks will enjoy hopping in a tray full of sandy and flapping their tiny wings.
Remember that as they get older, you will need to expand the size of the dust bath and also add more dirt – they will need to consume more grit as they digest more food.
Remember that engaging in dust baths is a normal behavior for most birds. Chickens aren’t the only creatures that enjoy a good dust bath – you will also find animals like robins, turkeys, ostriches, pigs, horses, bison, and prairie dogs engaging in dust baths, too!
Common Dust Bath Problems
Remember that wet soil is not dusty soil, so you need to make sure your dust bath is placed in a location where it will be (mostly) dry.
Winter time can wreak havoc on a dust bath, so consider protecting it from the elements so that your chickens can access it during all seasons.
You may have issues with the type of your soil, too. Clay soil is usually too compacted and heavy for chickens to stir up, so you might want to add some sand to loosen up the mixture.
Just make sure you only add sand that is free from added chemicals.
Is a Dust Bath Right For Your Backyard Chicken FlocK?
The first time you see your chickens squirming and writhing in the dirt, you might be alarmed – if not downright panicked! But don’t worry!
This behavior is natural, and it’s important for chickens as it keeps their feathers clean and removes the risk of mites, lice, and parasites.
A chicken dust bath is our equivalent of a shower – chickens need to bathe in the dirt in order to remain clean.
Although that sounds oxymoronic in nature, it’s part of normal chicken behavior and should be encouraged, no matter how large or small your flock might be.