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Build your Chickens a Raised Bed Herb Garden Dust Bath

 

Chickens need to take dust baths to keep their feathers shiny, clean and bug-free. A kiddie pool or large tub filled with dry dirt or sand works just fine, but why not build your chickens their own raised bed herb garden that can also double as a dust bath?


There are so many herbs that possess all kinds of benefits for chickens (and people!). Many help to repel bugs like mites and lice, flies and mosquitoes, all of which can be a bother to your chickens.

Studies have shown that wild birds will line their nests with different herbs, weeds and edible flowers. The thought is that they somehow realize the health benefits of the essential oils in the plants and understand when their babies rub against them or nibble on them, the benefits are transferred to the newly hatched chicks.

Build your Chickens a Raised Bed Herb Garden Dust Bath

You can do the same for your chickens. In the winter, I have a covered area in my chicken run that I fill with coarse, dry dirt and wood ash from our wood stove, but in the warm months, my chickens get to bathe in their very own herbal dust bath!

After watching my chickens for years when they were out free ranging, I soon realized that they would make a beeline for my herb garden. I paid attention to which herbs they seemed to eat more of (basil, dill, oregano, parsley), which they ignored (not many actually!) and which they chose to wriggle down into the soil near to take their dust baths (lavender, rosemary, thyme).


When we moved to Maine, I decided I had enough of the chickens munching on all the herbs I was growing to use in my cooking, so I started planting a kitchen herb garden on the deck that the chickens can't get at which contained all the herbs I commonly like to cook with: basil, cilantro, dill, mint, rosemary, tarragon and thyme.

Building a Raised Bed

Then I built the chickens their very own raised bed right next to the coop.  

Here's what I did:

First I figured out how large I wanted it to be and cut boards to size. My garden was going to measure about 4x6, so I needed two four foot long boards and two six foot long boards.

I used 1x8 boards for  the sides of my garden, but 1x6 or 1x10 would work just fine as well. I also cut some 2x4 scrap boards to the same height as the boards (8") to use as corner pieces to secure my frame.


Instead of worrying about tilling or removing the grass in the spot where I was building my garden, I just laid down pieces of cardboard I had cut from some shipping boxes we had sitting in the garage. The cardboard would work to kill the grass an suppress weeds.

I built my raised bed using long wood screws and my cordless drill.  I made the frame by screwing two screws through the end of each board into the 2x4s, then screwed the boards together into a box shape. Then I set it on top of the cardboard.

Then I added a layer of straw bedding from the coop into the bed on top of the cardboard. The mix of straw, chicken manure and feathers not only added nutrients to the garden soil but provides good drainage and soil structure as it breaks down. 

On top of the straw, I added some dirt and mixed in some sand, and then some nice potting soil as the top layer. Then I was ready to plant.

Planting a Raised Bed Herb Garden

The beauty of making a dust bath in an herb garden is that most herbs love dry, sandy, well-drained soil. So the addition of some sand into the herb garden will not only please the herbs, but make a nice dust bathing mixture for the chickens that will really get into their feathers and down to their skin. 

In the raised bed I planted all of the herbs that I like to add to my chickens nesting boxes for their calming and restorative properties: bee balm, calendula, catmint, echinacea, mint and yarrow. 

 I also planted the herbs that I knew were great for repelling parasites like mites and lice: chamomile, lavender, marigold, rosemary, and thyme. 

Lastly, I planted a few types of herbs the chickens like to snack on: basil, dill, oregano, parsley and sage.



I started all of the herbs from seed to save some money. Many are perennials, meaning they'll reseed themselves and come up year after year. Of course I had to fence around the garden while the herbs were growing. But once they were mature, I let the chickens in. 

Of course some (most!) of the herbs were immediately decimated by the chickens, and by the end of the season, not much is left. Casualties are a given any time you let your chickens into any garden area. 

But since the whole garden cost me almost nothing and didn't take long to build or plant, I'm okay with it. It's the chickens' garden. The perennials will come back next spring and I'll replant the annual seeds.



The sturdier herbs like the bee balm and echinacea, lavender, sage and thyme hold up much better to the chickens' scratching about. 

The more tender herbs like basil and dill don't stand much of a chance against the chickens, and of course mint is nearly impossible to kill, so you can take that into consideration when you decide what to plant.

The chickens love to take their communal dust baths among the herbs. They wriggle in the dirt, flap their wings madly, peck at the plants, find small stones and coarse dirt to act as grit in their crops to help them digest their food, and just generally enjoy sprawling out, their heads and wings at weird angles, in the sun on a warm day. 

I've never had problems with mites or lice in my flock. I think that's attributed to several things: healthy chickens with strong immune systems, adding brewers yeast to their daily feed, and also incorporating herbs into so many aspects of their diet and environment, including their nesting boxes, daily feed and dust bath area.


The Chickens Enjoying their Raised Bed Herb Garden Dust Bath


As you can see below, the chickens love their new raise bed herb garden dust bath! Each spring I replant the annual herbs such as basil, dill and marigolds. I've had pretty good luck with the lavender, oregano, rosemary, sage, and thyme coming back each year. And of course the bee balm,  cat mint and echinacea always return. 

Building your chickens a raise bed herb garden dust bath is honestly a pretty inexpensive way to not only keep them occupied, but also clean, happy and healthy! 





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