Our feathered friends clean themselves in a special way using a chicken dust bath. For first-time chicken keepers, seeing chickens taking a dust bath for the first time can be an alarming sight. The chickens often appear to be having some sort of seizure or suffering from an illness. Reluctant to give up on such a delightful practice, my chickens often act as if they don’t hear or see me trying to round them up from free ranging time. Selective hearing from the chickens! It sure must feel good to roll around in a shallow hole of loose sandy dirt.
What is the Purpose of a Dust Bath for Chickens?
Once you understand how chickens use a dust bath, it will make more sense when you see it happen. Chickens have oil secreting preening glands. The oils from these preening glands can secrete excess which can build up. The act of using a dust bath for chickens rids the skin and feathers of mites, other parasites, dirt, dead skin cells and built up oils. Dust bathing is a key factor in chicken mite treatment. Although the chickens will find a way to take a dust bath, it is good to consider the dust bath when thinking about what does a chicken coop need.
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Where Can the Chickens Take a Dust Bath?
Even if you don’t provide a specific dust bath for chickens, your flock will find its own spot to sprawl out and kick up some dust. The area close to buildings, under shrubs and plants, the base of trees and underneath the porch or the raised coop are all common places for a chicken created dust pit. There is nothing wrong with letting them find their own private place to bathe. But if you don’t have a large run, or if your chickens don’t spend much time out of the coop, you should provide a dust bath for them.
Adding a small dust bath area in the coop may take some creativity on your part. Some people use a cat litter pan, adding dirt, wood ash and a small amount of DE powder. A dish pan purchase from the dollar store or a department store can also serve as a dirt bath. If there just isn’t room in the coop for a container, adding the dirt and wood ash to a corner area will provide the chickens with enough loose dirt to roll around in and bathe.
Constructing a dust bath for chickens in the outdoor run gives you many more options. I re-purposed one of the duck’s swimming pools for the dust bath after the pool sprung a leak. I added loose sandy dirt from a dirt bath area in the yard, equal parts wood ash and a few cups of Diatomaceous Earth powder. While Diatomaceous Earth uses include reducing or eliminating mites and other parasites, it can also be a respiratory irritant. Because of the possibility of respiratory irritation, use the DE power sparingly and bury it under the soil and sandy dirt used in the dust bath.
Some people may prefer a more natural looking dust bath for chickens in their yard. Using landscape ties, logs from fallen trees, tree stumps, large rocks and whatever natural features you have available.
To Cover or Not to Cover the Dust Bath for Chickens
In the past, we have not had a covered dust bath area in the run. The chickens would find a spot in the coop if the ground was too wet or frozen. This year I added the outdoor children’s pool and I am working on adding an old patio umbrella to the area to keep the dust bath covered.
An easier approach might include a small lean-to type cover attached to the side of the coop. The base could be a shallow box for holding the sand, dirt and wood ash, with the sloping lean-to roof over top.
Whether you decide to include a fancy, man-made dust bath for chickens, a rustic natural dust bath or let the chickens dig out their own dust bath, the important thing is that they have a place to perform this important cleaning. Since my flock has a chance to get out of the run for supervised free range time every day, they find a natural, dry area and dust away their cares. They also have space in the run. Just remember that dust bathing is important for good chicken health and make sure that your flock has access to somewhere to dust.
What types of dust baths for chickens have you used? Share with us in the comments, we would love to hear how your chickens take care of their bathing needs.
Originally published in 2015 and regularly vetted for accuracy.