Dust Baths: What they are and why they are important
We bathe to keep clean. Chickens take baths too. The interesting thing is chickens bathe in the dirt! And yes, this keeps them clean. Dust bathing is very important for chicken health. The dust keeps their feathers clean and absorbs excess moisture and oil buried in their skin. Dust bathing also kills parasites attached to a chicken’s skin by covering them with a fine coating that blocks their breathing pores, causing them to suffocate. Now that we know what dust bathing does, let’s take a look at how, when and where chickens dust bathe.
The first time you see a chicken dust bathing, your heart may start pounding. It is quite an interesting and summits frightening sight! It almost looks like they are having a seizure or playing dead. They roll and flop around in the dirt and then lie still as if dead. Afterwards, they stand up and shake themselves off. Sun bathing usually follows this event.
Dust bathing tends to be a very social activity meaning that lots of chickens will do it together. If the area is big enough, they will bathe as a large group. However, the pecking order determines who gets to dust bathe where if the area is small. I often find myself having a very hard time breaking up a social dust bath. It is just so fun to watch!
Chickens begin to dust bathe at an early age. My chicks started when they were only a couple weeks old. I remember their first dust bath they ever had was on a towel! They weren’t even in bedding or dirt. It was so cute! Be sure to provide your chicks with pine shavings, dirt or sand so they can have a proper bath however.
Chickens will dust bathe as long as there is an area to do it. It doesn’t matter if it’s winter or summer. Chickens will always love to dust bathe no matter what the season. (However they don’t do it as much in the winter and do it more in summer because the soil is cool.) You can never really tell when a chicken will dust bathe; it comes over them like the urge to sneeze. But usually, chickens dust bathe every few days.
Chickens aren’t picky when it comes to dust bathing. They will literally bathe anywhere as long as there is dirt, bedding, wood ash or sand. The frustrating thing is if you have a garden and your chickens free range and are digging up your plants just so they can have a perfect bath! In this case, you need to either confine your birds or confine your plants. On the plus side though, free range chickens can find a place to dust bathe, other than your garden, on their own. They will tend to choose the driest and dustiest place available. Confined chickens will need to have a dust bath area provided for them. When making one, you need to remember a few things: The area needs to be somewhat sheltered from the elements, large enough for several chickens to bathe in at the same time and have the ability to be cleaned and added to.
Some good ideas for a dust bathing area include: Large litter boxes, little kid wading pools, plastic containers, big flower pots and simple wooden boxes. Even a dirt pile dumped in the chicken run can work although it won’t keep the run clean. There will be dirt everywhere! I use an old wheelbarrow for my chicken dusting area. They love it! I also know someone who uses old tires filled with dirt as the dust bathing area.
Some people like to add special things to the bathing area to make it more enjoyable. Mulch, wood ash and dried herbs are some examples. I’ve only used herbs. But I’ve read and heard that mulch and wood ash are great to use. Avoid diatomaceous earth, as this is bad for chicken respiratory systems. Dried herbs are great to use because they contain health-boosting qualities. Herbs such as thyme, basil, marigolds, catnip, lavender, pineapple sage and rose petals are highly aromatic and good for chicken respiratory systems. Mint helps repel flies, which is also very helpful in the chicken run and dusting bathing area.
Chickens require baths just like we do. But instead of water they just need plain dirt. Dust bathing is entertaining, necessary and something that all chickens do. I hope this article has served as a helpful and enjoyable guide to a very popular chicken behavior: dust bathing!
If you are interested in seeing chickens dust bathe, I suggest watching this video. (Or just go out to your chicken yard!)