We’ve all gotten a chuckle or two out of watching our chickens enjoy leisurely dustbaths and spend hours preening their feathers. We may have even gotten a few photographs to share with our families and fellow poultry enthusiasts. These routine behaviors are not only endearing, they’re also hygienic. Dustbathing and preening are a chicken’s way of keeping herself clean.
For the most part, that’s all the beautifying our birds will ever need.
Like everything in life, however, there are always exceptions. Breeders who raise exhibition poultry—or who just want to show their birds at the local fair—groom their chickens prior to arriving at the exhibition hall or fairgrounds. Owners of show-business birds risk losing jobs if their birds are dirty.
And it goes without saying that those who keep house chickens as pets stay on top of their chickens’ cleanliness.
While I was very active in my state’s show circuit, I actually learned how to beautify a bird via a different route. One of my White Silkies, Altaria, had discovered the dubitable pleasures of hopping up and down in a puddle.
Perhaps there were earthworms in it? I have no idea.
All I knew was that my beautiful girl looked like she’d played four hours of football in the rain. Fortunately, several show-poultry friends came to my rescue—not Altaria’s; she could have cared less—and within a couple of hours, my Silkie was more lovely than ever.
I had almost everything needed to achieve this at home. Over the years, I’ve added a few more essentials for grooming chickens to my list, too. If you want to keep your bird beautiful, consider keeping the following 11 items on hand.
A Shallow Tub
Your local feed shop or farm-supply store is your best bet for this. They most likely carry a variety of shallow tubs—both heavy black rubber and galvanized steel—to serve as feeders for livestock.
To bathe a bird, a shallow tub is absolutely necessary. Don’t fill it to the top. All you need are about 3 inches of lukewarm water in which to stand your bird to wash her (2 inches for a bantam).
Always keep one hand (you may need an assistant) on your bird to keep her calm. Also, more importantly, this will keep her from leaping out of the tub and making herself even messier. Some chickens actually find warm water relaxing and may settle down without so much as a squawk.
No More Tears Shampoo
This gentle baby shampoo is the best option for washing and grooming your chickens. It has minimal irritants that can affect your chicken’s eyes and other sensitive areas.
Just put a small amount—about the size of a quarter—on your palm and lather it up to apply to your chicken. Gently lather her, lifting up her wings to wash their undersides. Take extra care washing around her head and neck.
Handled Scrub Brush
A small, handled brush—the kind used to scrub stains on laundry—will help clean your chicken’s talons and feet. As chickens tend to get these caked with dirt, dust and droppings, properly grooming feet will take a little more elbow grease.
Keep fresh water at the ready to help rinse your bird once you’ve washed her. The water in your basin may no longer be clear enough to use to get all the soap off of her. A small pitcher will provide you with more control and direction as you carefully sluice the soap off.
Laundry bluing is a grooming must if you want your white chickens to gleam like freshly fallen snow. Use bio-degradable laundry bluing (available in your supermarket or on Amazon) to refresh your white bird’s yellowed feathers. Just add a minimal amount—I use barely a tablespoon—to the lukewarm tub water. Mix thoroughly before setting your bird in the water.
Note: adding more bluing to your bird’s bath water will not make her a brighter white. It will make her blue … in more ways than one.
Large Junk Towel
Earmark one of your old towels—perhaps the one no longer part of a set, or one with bleach marks on it—as your bird-drying towel. The moment you lift your hen out of the bathing tub, fully wrap her in the towel and pat her as dry as possible.
You may need to reverse the towel to use the non-wet parts. Better yet, use two towels to absorb as much moisture from your chicken’s feathers as possible.
A hair dryer with a diffuser is the best way to fully dry and fluff your hen’s feathers. You may need an assistant to hold your hen in place. She may react to the feel of hot air being blown at her… and, most likely, to the sound of a hair dryer.
Do not hold the dryer too close to your hen. Rather, gently go back and forth along her feathers until she is completely dry.
Baby Hair Brush
If you have Silkie chickens, you will need a baby hair brush for grooming this breed’s feathers. Blow drying a Silkie without brushing her feathers out afterwards will make your chicken look like she just escaped from a wind tunnel.
A small, soft brush especially designed for ultra-fine baby hair is the perfect tool for getting Silkie feathers back under control.
Cat/Small Dog Nail Clipper
A broken chicken claw is a very common occurrence in the barnyard and run. After all, our birds use their claws to scratch in the dirt, to preen and pick at their feathers, and—for roosters—as grippers during mating.
Usually, scratching will keep talons trim and you’ll only need the clipper to even out a sharp edge on a broken claw. Some birds—usually less active older birds and bantams kept in show brooders—will need regular trimming of their talons. If not trimmed, the claws will grow long and circle under the foot. This makes it very difficult for the chicken to walk or care for itself.
Your clipper can also be used on the rare occasion that your chicken’s beak needs trimming because of overgrowth or breakage.
Just like our own fingernails, a chicken’s claws can be filed to remove rough spots and buffed until they shine. This level of grooming is usually only done to exhibition c and to chickens used in modeling and acting gigs.
A metal file will last longer and will leave less striations on your hen’s talons than an emory board.
Yes, nail polish. A clear coat of nail polish on chicken talons keep them pretty and presentable, especially if your chicken is a show-business chicken.
However, you can be more adventurous! I know of several house-chicken owners who polish their chicken’s talons in a variety of colors, especially during the holidays. Feel free to do go all-out when grooming your backyard chickens (if you so desire)!