Grooming and bathing chickens in preparation for a show is quite easy, but there are a few tricks you should know. Bathing poultry before a show is very common in the world of 4-H and other youth shows, but even seasoned veteran breeders wash birds when they get dirty. It’s all about keeping Fluffy clean and, well, fluffy.
Wash, Rinse, Repeat
Unlike a dust bath for chickens, we need to get our birds wet when grooming and bathing chickens. If you take issue with using the kitchen sink to wash chickens, set up three muck buckets as bathtubs. Use one for a pre-soak, one for soap and the last for the rinse. Let the water buckets warm up in the sun to avoid chilling your chickens. Also, avoid setting the buckets up inside your coop, otherwise you’ll be presented with the question of how to clean a chicken coop at the same time you’re cleaning your birds.
There are many show soaps out there for grooming and bathing chickens, but any “show and shine” will work, even if intended for another species. In a pinch, dish detergent will work, just be sure to give your birds a few days to re-oil their feathers again. If you have a dirty white chicken, use a whitening soap, but never use bleach on a chicken.
Check Before You Bathe
Before grooming and bathing chickens, check for chicken mites and lice. Look around their vent and under their wings for critters hiding in their plumage. If you find lice or mites, treat your birds with a permethrin-based spray, or use a permethrin dilution from concentrate.
Once you’ve set up your bathtubs, soak your bird in the room-temperature pre-soak tub. Give the bird a good 30 seconds to a minute to get wet to the skin. You won’t be able to saturate the feathers yet, but get the fluff wet as best you can.
Grooming and Bathing Chickens
Move to your soap tub and work a handful of soap into the plumage of the bird. If your birds were infested, pluck feathers at the vent that have the telltale hard calcium-like egg deposits of mites. These will look like dense clusters at the base of the feather. No amount of soap will get them off the feather, so pluck the affected feathers. The warm bath water will help loosen the base of the feather so they should come out easily. Don’t cut the feathers off; they will take forever to regrow if they’re cut, and the bird will look terrible. It’s better to be missing feathers than to have sharp stubs of feather for a judge to find.
Use your third tub, or a gentle spray nozzle with variable water temperature to flush all the soap of the bird. Keep rinsing until no more bubbles come off. Otherwise, it will be challenging for them to reapply their preen oils later.
Dry and Wrap
Some people pat dry their bird and let it dry out naturally; others prefer to blow-dry their birds. Either way works, but for particularly fluffy birds or birds that need to deal with cool temperatures quickly, it’s better to blow-dry them.
Once you’ve patted or blown your bird dry, wrap it in an old bath towel. Wrapping a bird immobilizes it and comforts it, even though it will protest at first. Be certain you’re not wrapping the bird so tight that it can’t breathe. Check on your bird periodically and loosen the towel if it looks cyanotic (turning blue).
How to Trim Beaks
Now that your bird is clean and safely immobilized, take a seat and put it in your lap. Birds naturally sharpen and hone their beaks on stones and dirt, but not all birds keep ahead of their growing beaks. Now is a good time to trim a long beak. We are not “de-beaking” here; we are trimming the beak just like you trim your fingernails.
If your bird’s beak is hooked, or there is a lot of white tip at the business end, then use a human finger or toenail clipper to trim the beak. Bantams do better with a fingernail clipper, and some standards are so big that you’ll need a toenail clipper to get things done. Never use a cat or dog nail clipper on a beak, you’re likely to crack it right down the middle and cause incredible pain to your chicken.
I like to trim one side of the beak tip on a bias, then the other. This leaves me a point to trim at the beak’s apex. Clip the beak tip square and round the beak’s profile with a fingernail file. Leave a little white to the tip of the beak; you don’t want to trim too close.
How to Trim Nails
Chickens scratch the ground naturally, so their nails are usually kept pretty short. Some birds, however, are either lazy, old or don’t have the opportunity to find something hard where they can scratch. If your chicken has long toenails, use a cat or small dog nail clipper to trim them. Just like a cat or dog, avoid clipping the quick, which is the blood vessel in the nail. If you do, use a clotting agent like Quick Clot or similar products. A bird won’t bleed to death from a toe bleed, but they do make a mess and present a potential for infection.
Keep Them Clean
Finding the fine line of washing too early and washing too late takes trial and error. If you’re taking your birds to show on Saturday, I suggest washing on Monday or Tuesday. Don’t wash too close to the show. Otherwise, your birds won’t have time to preen themselves back into shape.
Do you have any tips or tricks to make washing chickens easier? Share in the comments below!