For a new chicken keeper, there’s nothing quite so concerning as looking out the window and seeing your favorite hen flopping about in the dirt, looking for all the world like she’s having some sort of seizure.
Don’t worry; all she’s doing is taking a healthy dust bath!
Chickens roll in dirt or dust bathe to keep clean. They roll around and throw dirt over themselves. The dirt absorbs excess oil on their skin and feathers and helps prevent mites, fleas, and lice infestations. They also lay in the cool dirt to lower their body temperature.
All our feathered friends need for the dirt bathing process is a shallow hole in the ground with some loose dirt, but it is much more fun to build them an attractive dust bath out of creative things like an old tire, a kiddie pool, plastic tubs, cinder blocks and so on.
Just be prepared for your chickens to ignore your carefully made dust bathing station and dig their own in their favorite locations!
It is vital to have year-round access to dust baths in the winter.
When the ground is frozen, they cannot dig their own easily.
What Are Some Good Dust Bathing Materials?
If you want super clean, bug-free chickens, a good formula for a dust mixture is:
- 2 parts loose soil
- 1-2 parts sand
- 1 part wood ash
- ½ part diatomaceous earth
- ½ part dried herbs
There are other dust bath products, but these are the basics.
Just make sure they can dig down in the actual dirt several inches, and they will make a loose depression in the dirt and create a dirt bath on their own!
They need a sunny spot to keep the dirt dry.
Garden soil from garden supply stores or other clean, loose soil is great.
Use medium to coarse construction-grade sand for a dust bath mix if you are using sand.
Playground or beach sand is too fine, and the dust will cause respiratory problems for your chickens.
Small bags of sand are available at pet stores, but this is not economical for chickens.
Wood ash is great for getting rid of parasites such as:
It is so fine it suffocates the insects, and your chicken gets rid of them when it shakes off any loose material and preens.
Only use about 1/3 of wood ash in the mix as it isn’t good for your chicken to breathe in, either.
Only use clean, untreated wood to source your ash as lighter fluid and other chemicals are harmful to your chicken.
Charcoal ash from wood contains vitamin K, calcium, and magnesium for your chicken.
If you don’t have access to wood ash, don’t fret, it is just an additive.
There is a lot of misinformation about Diatomaceous Earth (DE) as a bathing material.
DE consists of minuscule fossil remains of aquatic creatures called diatoms, whose skeletons are made of silica.
This silica is great for controlling insects as it absorbs the oils and fats from the insects’ exoskeletons.
Because it is abrasive and has sharp edges, the insects dehydrate and die.
This would seem like it makes it perfect for putting in dust bath recipes, but it is not quite.
Non-food grade DE has a 60% silica concentration and can cause silicosis, a form of lung cancer, so do not use it for agricultural purposes.
Food grade DE in the U.S. is 2% silica concentration, but other countries consider it a high amount, so use your judgment.
Regardless of which kind it is, silica is bad to breathe in; it is a lung irritant and has risks for humans and chickens.
If you use food-grade DE, watch your chickens for signs it is bothering their eyes or respiratory systems.
Many folks put fresh or dried herbs in with their chicken baths to deter insects and provide something for them to nibble on.
A list of some beneficial herbs and their health benefits for chicken baths:
|Garlic||A natural dewormer, use in moderation|
|Mint||A natural insecticide, good for parasite prevention|
|Rosemary||A natural insecticide|
Do Chickens Eat Dirt?
Since they have no teeth to grind food, chickens’ digestive systems work differently than ours do.
They have an extremely strong muscle called the gizzard, which uses grit to grind their food before going to their small intestines.
Eating dirt and larger grit particles is necessary and healthy for chicken health, so make sure you provide a clean source of grit in their coop or run.
Clean dust baths provide a source of grit.
Do Chickens Bathe in Water?
Chickens will not ordinarily seek out water to bathe in; they bathe in the dirt in a nice warm spot.
Chickens can swim, but their feathers will get soaked and weigh them down, so be careful if your chickens are around deeper water they cannot stand up in.
Some chickens like bathing in water, but it is not to get clean; it is usually to cool down.
If you live in a warm area, check out our list of warm-weather chicken breeds.
If your chicken gets poopy butt or otherwise soiled, it is fine to bathe them in water and then dry them thoroughly.
Be careful of using shampoo or other products to dry out your chicken’s skin.
How Do I Make Sure I Have a Clean, Healthy Flock?
Examine your chickens often for external parasites and other health issues.
Look at general health indicators such as clear eyes, good skin color, glossy feathers, healthy scales on their feet, etc.
Ensure your chickens have access to healthy food, clean water, and plenty of space to reduce health risks.
Make sure your chickens have year-round access to a clean, dry dust bath, and they will mostly keep themselves clean!