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Bathing Beauties | Why Dust Baths are Important for Chickens

Chickens don't take water baths like wild birds or waterfowl. Instead they take dust baths to keep their feathers clean and bug-free.

Chickens don't take water baths like other birds. Instead they take dust baths. Dust baths are a chicken's way of keeping clean. The fine sand or dust keeps their feathers clean and helps them stay free of mites, lice and other parasites.

You can help make bathing easy for your chickens by finding a nice dry spot in the run where there is fine dirt or sand and adding some fireplace ash, food-grade diatomaceous earth and dried herbs.

Why Dust Baths are Important for Chickens

Without dust baths, chickens feathers can get overloaded with oils and not stay glossy and shiny. But more importantly, dust bathing keeps chickens free from external parasites like mites and lice.

Dust baths are also social events for chickens and you'll often find several bathing together. In the cold months when they're penned up more and don't have bugs to chase or grass to eat, taking dust baths is one way they keep busy and from getting bored.

In in the warm weather, the chickens will sprawl in the warm dirt absorbing Vitamin D as they bathe.  Vitamin D is important for chickens, just like it is for humans, and sunlight is the best way to get it. 

Absorbing the vitamin through the skin provides an essential element for the chickens. Without enough Vitamin D, they can't absorb and metabolism calcium and phosphorus. Calcium is, of course, critical in the formation of strong eggshells.

What should be in a Chicken Dust Bath

Fine, dry dirt or sand is the best base for the dust bath area. But there are a few things you can add to make the bath even more beneficial for your chickens.

Wood ash is a wonderful addition to the chickens' dust baths.  Make sure to only use "clean" wood fireplace ash, not briquettes or any wood that has had lighter fluid or other chemical coating on it.

Charcoal wood ash contains Vitamin K (a blood clotting agent), calcium and magnesium. Charcoal absorbs toxins and research suggests that after forest fires, wild animals will consume it for its medicinal properties.

Charcoal is also a laxative and removes impurities, as well as any worms, out of the body. Much like charcoal pills for humans, chickens can greatly benefit from the charred wood in their dust bath, as they will nibble pieces of it as they bathe.

Food-grade diatomaceous earth kills mites, lice, fleas, ticks and other parasites. The DE filters through the hard-shelled bodies of fleas, mites, ticks and other parasites. The razor-sharp microscopic silicon particles cut through the protective coating on their shells, causing them to become dehydrated, block their airways and attack their respiratory systems.

Note: Although DE is non-toxic and harmless to mammals even when eaten, it is always best to wear a mask while using it because the small particles it can cause lung irritation in humans and chickens if the dust is inhaled. 

Some experts advise not using DE in dust bath areas because of the possible risks of the chickens inhaling the fine powder as they wriggle around. I use wood ash instead of DE in my chickens' dust bath, but I do feel that any unproven possible risk of using DE is far outweighed by the very real chance of your chickens contracting mites and then having to be treated with Sevin Dust or another equally harmful carcinogen or commercial preparation, which I absolutely DO NOT recommend.  

It's sort of a lesser of two evils. So just take care when applying DE in the dust bath or coop area and you'll be fine. Thoroughly mixing it into the dirt is a good idea. 

Dried herbs sprinkled in the dust bath area can also be beneficial and help prevent mites and other parasites. Dried lavender, mint, and rosemary are all good choices as they are natural insecticides.  Dried yarrow is an anti-inflammatory and helps clear respiratory systems as do thyme and rosemary.

Setting up a Dust Bath Area for Chickens

I quickly found out that the chickens will bathe where THEY want to, not where YOU want them to, and ours initially decided to bathe under the coop.  

But you can always encourage them to use a spot of your choice.  You can fill a wooden or plastic tub with your dirt mixture, create a bathing spot in a corner of the run, or make a ring of cut logs for them. They prefer to bathe in the sun, especially in the winter, although something you can cover from the elements to keep the bath area dry is a good idea.

Why Chickens Prefer to Bathe in the Sun

Your chickens will enjoy bathing and sunning themselves on nice sunny days and you will enjoy watching their antics as they squirm and twist and then shake all the dirt out. Of course the first time you catch them bathing you might think they are having convulsions or writhing in pain.

Unless your chickens decide they like where you have chosen for them to bathe, your run will soon look like a mine field with small depressions and craters all over.

Try as I might, I can't get mine to stick with one place to bathe in and I just add ash to one area and they move to a different part of the run.

Chickens actually prefer to bathe in the sun. Not only does it help warm them up on a cold day (although my chickens will sprawl out in the sun when the sun is beating down on them in the summer too!), but the sunlight hitting various parts of their body helps move any parasites around to help the chickens find and eradicate them. 

Chickens Love to Bathe on Ant Hills! 

Chickens also sometimes like to take their dust baths on ant hills. If you spot them writing around with the ants, don't panic. There's a reason for it. It's thought that the formic acid on the ants' bodies transfers to the chickens' feathers which can help deter external parasites.

Dust Bathing Beauties


Dust Baths for Chicks 

It's good to start your chickens off with good hygiene habits at a young age. I fill a small plastic tray with some dirt and put it in the brooder box for my new chicks.

Even week-old chicks will hop into the tray and squirm around and flap their wings. It's healthy for them, keeps them busy and they are adorable to watch.  The dirt doubles as the "grit" they need to digest their food also.

As the chicks get bigger, their baths do as well... When they are finally old enough to spend time outdoors, the bath goes outside with them.

Dust bathing seems to be one of my chickens' favorite pastimes. Encourage yours by creating an environment where they can bathe in comfort. They will thank you.

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