When you think of the word dust and bath that may not seem like a spa day to you but for your chickens this is the best way for them to preen their feathers and maintain cleanliness. You might not think it is necessary to actually make a dust bath for your chickens. For example, whenever there’s a dry spot of earth they’ll peck and scratch at it, and then crouch down, fluff out their feathers, and shake their wings to cover themselves in dust.
This natural method is fine, but there are ways of making the dust bath even more enjoyable and more effective too. Find out more below about the importance of dust baths for your feathery friends.
Much like humans taking a daily shower, a dust bath is all about cleanliness. It’s not only chickens who like to hit the dirt – you may notice that other birds such as larks and thrushes enjoy taking dust baths as well. The dust or sand absorbs extra moisture and oils on the skin like when humans do a mud mask to cleanse our skin of harmful oils. It also fends off parasites such as mites and lice by blocking the insects’ oxygen supply or simply driving them away. Also, in the Summer months it can help hens stay cool by digging into the earth similar to when pigs roll around in mud to cool off from the heat.
Once fully coated in dust or sand, the chicken will shake out its feathers, just like a dog after a swim in the ocean. A quick preen of the feathers, and they’ll be all done. It’s as simple as that!
In addition to these physical health benefits, dust-bathing is also found to be mentally stimulating for hens. This ritual helps them to relax and is a way for hens to socialize with each other.
Many owners convert an old cat litter tray or the base of a bird or small mammal’s cage that is not being utilized into a chicken dust bath. These makeshift dust baths can be shallow though, resulting in the bath contents being scattered around. An old crate or wooden box is a great alternative. The box or crate should be 7-11 inches high, which is enough to contain 3 inches of ‘dust’ plus extra height to prevent the contents from spilling out over the edge.
The dust bath should be strategically placed in a spot that gets a decent amount of sun. This seems to be an important detail since chickens will seek out a sunny dust bath even in the Winter. The “bath tub” should be filled with construction grade sand or chemical-free soil from your backyard. Also, avoid any clay-based substances and make sure to keep the contents dry.
Wood Ash/Charcoal wood ash – Charcoal wood ash is a great option or ash from your fireplace as long as there are no remnants of lighter fluid or other chemicals used in briquettes. One of the benefits of wood ash is that it contains vitamin K, calcium, and magnesium which is great for the birds’ health. It also absorbs toxins from the pores, so acts as a kid of medicine. Chickens will usually eat some of the ash too. This is fine – those nutrients work inside as well as out.
Fine sand/construction grade sand – Even if you have sandy earth in your area, adding fine sand will improve the dust bath. It cleans feathers very effectively, and also helps deter parasites.
Dried herbs – This addition is optional, but herbs offer great health benefits to hens. Lavender, rosemary, thyme, and mint are gentle insecticides, helping fend off parasites. Rosemary and thyme are also anti-inflammatories, and are thought to help keep hens’ respiratory systems healthy. Oregano and sage help boost their immune systems, and parsley provides a vitamin boost. Mint can help the birds keep cool in hot weather and because of its strong odor deters rodents and insects. An added bonus for you is that these herbs help your hens produce a vibrant yellow egg yolk.
For dust-bath maintenance, make sure that droppings are cleared out each day and refill the bath every week or so depending on how often your hens tend to use it.
Also, providing a designated area for your chickens to bathe is an added way to spoil your girls. Consider our Eglu Cube which can be attached to our spacious walk in run. Another essential tip is keeping the dust bath dry and an added bonus to the Eglu Cube is that it comes with a handy shade that can be attached to the run. The Dust bath can be placed in the run so your ladies have an area to enjoy their dust bath with their friends.
At the end of the day, if you follow these guidelines your hens will be happy and healthy too!