The first time you see a chicken dust bathing it can be a bit worrisome. Is it having a seizure? In its last death throes? Nope, just playing around in the dirt. It’s a bit counter-intuitive: you have to get dirty in order to get clean.
Chickens don’t use water to bathe like some birds, but prefer loose soil that they spread around their bodies by flapping and rolling. This activity shakes small parasites, like mites and lice, off their feathers. It also coats their feathers, which keep them clean. Chickens need access to a dust bathing area all year long.
I have two dry, covered areas with tires or metal rings that I fill up with wood ashes. Ashes are very fine and the perfect medium for dust bathing. The rings keep them from being spread far and wide. If you haven’t got a wood stove or fireplace ask your friends and neighbours for their ashes. Or better yet, contact your local chimney sweep. I get mine from lots of sources – the only thing I ask is they are free of metal bits and chemicals.
You can also use diatomaceous earth (DE), the fossilized remains of diatoms, whose sharp edges can kill mites and lice. It’s an organic product but be aware it will kill friendly, beneficial insects in your pen/yard as well. Another option is fine sand. Some people sprinkle herbs into the dust bath. I prefer to use herbs in the nest boxes as I think they last longer.