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Build a BETTER Dust Bath for your Chickens

Build a better dust bath for your chickens.

Dust baths are a chicken's way of keeping clean.

The fine sand or dirt in their bathing area keeps their feathers in pristine condition and helps them stay free of mites, lice and other parasites.

As a  general rule, chickens don't need to be bathed in water. The dust baths should keep them clean.  

However if you notice dried poop on your chickens feet or around the vent area, you will need to get that rinsed off and your chicken cleaned up. A simple dunk in a tub of water soapy water, then a rinse and blow dry should take care of that.

Other than that, a dust bath is all your flock needs. 

Free Range Dust Bathing

If you let your chickens free range, then your chickens will choose their own spot to bathe. And it's usually the worst spot they could pick - whether it be under your prized rose bushes, in a flower pot or in the middle of your dirt driveway - creating deep 'bowls' as the wriggle and squirm to get the dirt deep under their feathers.

You can try to "encourage" them to use the spot YOU choose by picking a dry spot that gets plenty of sun and is out of the wind. Once you've found your spot, it's time to get busy. Your chickens will enjoy bathing and sunning themselves - and often bathe in groups. It seems dust bathing is a communal activity!

Build a BETTER Dust Bath for your Chickens

Here's how to build a better dust bath for your chickens.

Stumps/Logs in the Dust Bath

When we first started raising chickens in Virginia, I loved the idea of ringing the spot I chose in stumps, so after we lost a tree in a storm, my husband cut the trunk into logs and I was ready to set up the dust bath area.

The stumps help keep the dirt contained and every so often when I overturn the stumps, you should SEE the bugs and grubs for the girls to munch on!

Our chickens also loved to stand or perch on the logs to get up out of the mud or snow.

You could also use large stones or rocks, pavers....pretty much anything to keep the dust bath contents contained.

An Umbrella in the Dust Bath

My original dust bath area was great when the weather was dry, but took forever to dry out after it rained.

So I had the idea to construct an umbrella over the bathing area. I used a stick and old vinyl tablecloth for mine, but you could use a large beach or golf umbrella just as well.

Now the bath stayed dry even in inclement weather and provided nice shade when the sun was directly overhead, but was still in the sun as the day progressed.

You can also situate your dust bath under an overhang of a building or in another protected area, but it's best if the bathing area does get sun for at least part of the day.

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. 

Dirt/Sand in the Dust Bath

Any loose, dry dirt or clean sand is a great medium for your dust bath.

We have sandy soil here, so I just carted a few wheelbarrows full into the run and dumped it into the bathing area.

Wood Ash/Fireplace Ash in the Dust Bath

Wood ash or charcoal is a wonderful addition to the dust bath area.

Charcoal contains Vitamin K (a blood clotting agent), calcium and magnesium so those benefits will translate when your hens nibble on the wood ash as they bathe and rummage through the bathing area, as they are prone to do.

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 helps cleanse the body of toxins, as well as internal parasites, much like charcoal pills for humans.

Note: Never use briquettes or any wood that has had lighter fluid or other chemical coating on it.

Food-Grade Diatomaceous Earth in the Dust Bath

Food-grade diatomaceous earth kills mites, lice, fleas, ticks and other parasites by cutting through their hard-shelled exteriors, so is also great addition to a dust bath, although opinion varies about the safety.

It is non-toxic to mammals, but the dust and small particles can irritate the lungs and respiratory tracts of humans and chickens, so some experts advise not using DE in dust bath areas where the dust will get stirred up.

You can use Diatomaceous Earth in your dust bath in small amounts and always cover it with some dirt, so that by mixing it with the dirt and wood ash it is less likely to become airborne and breathed in by your chickens.

I feel that the potential risks of using DE are far out-weighed by the very real chance of your chickens contracting mites and then having to be treated with Sevin Dust, Frontline or another equally harmful carcinogen or commercial preparation, which I DO NOT ever recommend.

So just take care when applying DE in the dust bath area.

Dried Herbs in the Dust Bath

Dried herbs sprinkled in the dust bath area can also be beneficial. Some good choices of herbs for your dust bath area are those that work as natural insecticides or repel pests. These include:

  • Lavender
  • Mint
  • Rosemary
  • Anise
  • Fennel
  • Ginger

Dried yarrow is an anti-inflammatory and helps clear respiratory systems as do thyme and rosemary.  

Dust baths not only help your chickens stay in tip-top condition, but also stay parasite-free.

Dust Bathing is a Social Activity

Dust bathing is also a very enjoyable past time for chickens as they writhe in the dirt and then stretch out in the sun basking in the warmth together. Be sure that the area you dedicate to your dust bath is large enough for several chickens to get in there at the same time.

Start Them Early Dust Bathing 

Even small chicks or pullets will enjoy practicing dust bathing, as young as a few days old in a small tub of dry dirt in their brooder, and then once they move outside in the big girls dust bath.

These few tips should help your chickens enjoy their best dust baths ever. As the quote from Field of Dreams goes, "If you build it, he (they) will come." 

The same applies to dust baths! This is our new dust bath area in Maine. I used boards to make a back "wall" for a section of our run that butted up against the side of our coop. 

That part of the run also has a solid wooden roof, so the dust bath area stay nice and dry. I also put my chickens feed and water under the covered area as well. 

Pin This!

Charcoal and dried herbs - Backyard Poultry Naturally by Alanna Moore , p. 68 (2007)
Wild Health: Lessons in Natural Wellness from the Animal Kingdom By Cindy Engel
Charcoal in dust bath - The Complete Herbal Handbook for Farm and Stable by Juliette de Bairacli Levy, p. 358 (1952)

Herbs in the dust bath - The Complete Herbal Handbook for Farm and Stable by Juliette de Bairacli Levy, p. 358 (1952)

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