A chicken dust bath is a necessity for chickens to keep their feathers and skin, and ultimately their health, in tip-top shape. Plus, nothing makes a chicken happier than fluffing her feathers and wriggling in sun-warmed dirt. Before you set up your chicken dust bath, check out this list of dos and don’ts to provide a fun and safe time.
Life or Death in the Chicken Dust Bath? – A Personal Story
I decided to construct an indoor dust bath for chickens to use during the winter when the frozen ground prohibited them from frequent dust baths.
I constructed the DIY chicken dust bath by filling a flexible plastic mixing tub with dirt and wood ash. Their new accommodations delighted the hens, and they happily scratched through the soil, looking for tasty morsels.
All was well until one day when a strange sound came from my chickens in the barn. I hurried inside to find one of my Speckled Sussex hens, Kristi, wheezing. I rushed her to the vet, where they put her on oxygen and did emergency radiographs to discover the cause. The vet diagnosed her with dust particles in her lungs (probably due to improper ventilation while dust-bathing) and gave her less than a 50% recovery rate.
My vet treated Kristi with a steroid injection and nebulizer treatment and sent her home with additional medications. After receiving around-the-clock care, Kristi returned to the vet for a follow-up the next day, where she was given a clean bill of health.
After Kristi’s near-death incident, I examined my chicken dust bath setup to ensure the safest experience possible.
Why Do Chickens Need to Dust Bathe?
A chicken wriggling around in the dirt may appear dirty, but this behavior is how chickens keep themselves clean and free of external parasites. As a chicken fluffs its feathers while dust bathing, a protective dust coating settles on the skin, creating a dust barrier to prevent insect bites.
Allowing chickens to dust bathe in a natural setting decreases bullying and cannibalistic behaviors amongst flock members in chicks and adults. Chicken dust bathing is a social event that helps build a strong bond between flock members. This natural behavior also reduces stress, allowing your flock to coexist more harmoniously.
Chicken Dust Bath Dos
How to make a chicken dust bath is easy, but before you begin, here are several things all dust-bathing spaces must have to create a safe and fun enrichment for your flock.
Natural is Best: When given the option, chickens always prefer creating their own dust-bathing area. Nothing makes a hen happier than scratching through new grass to the dirt below. So, providing an artificial dust bath during the summer months where hens can access this natural behavior isn’t recommended. However, in winter, when the frozen ground is covered in snow, chickens will happily utilize any dirt you can offer.
Adding Dried Herbs: Many herbs work as natural insect repellents, so it seems only natural to sprinkle some dried herbs in the dirt where your chickens dust bathe. Catnip, dill, fennel, lavender, mint, rosemary, thyme and yarrow are excellent insect repellents and help deter other vermin such as mice and snakes.
Outdoors Only: Only allowing chickens to dustbathe outdoors versus inside the coop is essential for proper airflow to keep chickens’ airways clean from dust particles.
Refresh the Dirt: When using a kiddie pool, flexible mixing tub,or a child’s sandbox, the dirt should be replaced with new, clean dirt. How often the dirt should be replaced will vary depending on the number of chickens in the flock and how frequently chickens are allowed access to the area.
Chicken Dust Bath Don’ts
Just like every dust-bathing space has specific needs, there is a list of things to stay clear of when setting up the perfect area for your chickens. Following the suggestions below should ensure the safest experience for your flock.
Indoor Dust Bath: Even in the most ventilated coops, airflow is still more restricted than out in the run. Never put a chicken dust bath in the coop to prevent the risk of dust or dirt entering the airways.
Forget the Wood Ash: Wood ash is often used in chicken dust bath areas. This natural ash has many health benefits but can irritate a chicken’s sensitive airways. To keep hens’ airways clean while providing the health benefits of wood ash and charcoal, feed charcoal free-choice like you would grit or oyster shell.
Stay Clear of Fertilizer: When choosing dirt for a dust bathing area for your flock, avoid soil with fertilizer since many contain harmful substances that can cause illness or death if ingested. (This rule also applies to gardens and lawns.)
Following safe chicken dust bath practices allows your chickens to experience the instinct of dust bathing, stay free of parasites and help to strengthen flock bonds.
This article about chicken dust baths was written for Chickens magazine online. Click here to subscribe.