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Behavior

Chicken Dust Baths: Why & How to Build One

by Alexa Lehr | 06.21.2022
A white chicken happily dust bathing

It sounds counterintuitive, but chickens roll in the dirt to stay clean! While this habit may seem strange to us, rolling in the dirt is pure heaven for a chicken. Plus, it serves many important roles in keeping a chicken healthy and clean. To ensure your flock feels their best, be sure to provide plenty of opportunities for them to bask in the glory of dirt! Unsure of how to provide the best dust bathing experience for your chickens? We’ve got you covered. We’ll provide some DIY dust bath ideas and details on the art of the chicken dust bath protocol.

What Is Chicken Dust Bathing?

The behavior of rolling in the dirt is called dust bathing. All chickens instinctually feel the need to act on this unique (and endearing) activity. Chicks even partake in dust bathing.

Chickens are not the only creatures that partake in this ritual. All birds take dust baths in fact. Chipmunks, chinchillas, horses, and zebras do, too. 

All chickens take pleasure in happily ‘splashing’ in the dirt. Even northern flocks who get to free-range during the summer often benefit from a home-built dust bath during the winter when they may not be able to access their usual bathing spots.

What is a Dust Bath Exactly?

A dust bath is simply an area of loose dirt where chickens can roll around in the dirt to take a dust bath.

If you have ever seen a chicken taking a dust bath, it can seem odd and awkward at first. If you have not, picture a chicken laying down in the dirt, then rolling and flopping around at the same time it uses its legs to kick loose dirt into its fluffed-out feathers. 

Dirt can really get flying when a chicken takes a dust bath! 

Why Do Chickens Dust Bathe?  

Dust bathing is essential for your flock’s health and happiness. If you don’t provide them with a dust bathing area, they will make their own! 

Chickens dust bathe for several important reasons. Chickens don’t take baths in water. Given the amount of feathers they have, allowing a bunch of wet feathers time to dry out would compromise their survival in the wild. So instead, chickens take a bath in the dirt! 

Dirt works just as well for helping a chicken stay clean and parasite free. 

Here are several reasons why dust bathing is important for a chicken’s health: 

1. Oil Control

    A chicken has an oil gland that produces oil for the chicken to spread on its feathers to keep the feathers clean and water-resistant. Rolling in the dirt absorbs excess oils that are sometimes produced by the oil gland.  

    2. External Parasite Prevention

      The dirt can smother and dry out tiny external parasites that like to hide under a chicken’s feathers and feed off of the chicken’s skin or blood.  

      3. Skin Health

        Dust bathing helps remove dead skin cells and promotes healthy skin. In this way, a chicken’s dust bath is similar to a spa treatment that involves mud or even a salt scrub.

        4. Dust Bathing Builds Community

          Dust bathing is often a community activity that many flock members participate in at the same time. The more the merrier in the dust bath hole! They seem to love pecking around in the dirt as each bird takes a dust bath. As they dust bath, chickens will also eat any tiny bugs they find and ingest small pieces of grit to help with digestion.

          5. A Welcome Break from the Heat

            Much like hogs in mud, a layer of dust helps keep your chickens cool. Plus, only the top layer of dirt or dust in your flock’s dust bath tends to heat up under the sun. As your chickens shimmy and shake down into the deeper dirt, they find a layer that’s much cooler–and perfect for a hot summer day.

            6. Enjoyment & Enrichment

              Chickens thoroughly enjoy the community activity. Not only does bathing in dirt feel great, but it is also a stimulating and enriching natural behavior.  

              Planning Your DIY Chicken Dust Bath

              Chickens in their dust bath

              Fact: Chickens crave dust bathing. So much so that they will try and make their own dust bath at all costs if you don’t provide them with a dust bathing area. And, even if you do provide them with a dust bathing area, they may like another area better and completely ignore your chosen spot! 

              To make a DIY chicken dust bath area as appealing as possible, you should consider a few factors.  

              1. Location, location, location.

              Before you decide where your chickens’ new dust bath will go, you must consider where they’d want it. Chickens will naturally choose a spot that is protected or has some element of protection nearby. Loose dirt near thick shrubs or at the base of trees are often ideal spots. Wet, heavy dirt is not good for dust bathing.

              Like ‘most-things-chicken,’ the dust bath spot should ideally always stay clean and dry as well. 

              Ideally, build the chicken dust bath in an area where they have dust bathed previously. When they go to take a dust bath, they will be pleasantly surprised that their bathing area got an upgrade!  

              Chickens Like Options  

              Chickens also like the option of having several different areas to dust bathe in. Sunny spots are nice for cool days or for sunbathing and dust bathing at the same time. Shady spots are nice for super-hot days when your flock wants to dust bathe to stay cool.  

              A chicken dust bath can be made in the coop, in the chicken coop enclosure, or in a free-range area. If you provide a dust bath spot in the chicken coop or enclosure, make sure it is far enough away from any feeders or waterers to prevent dust from dirtying the flock’s food and water. Also, make sure it is far enough away from perches and nesting boxes for the safety of your flock.  

              2. Containing the Dust Storm is Key

                Before you dive into your DIY dust bath, consider how you are going to contain the dust bath area. Chickens don’t always like to be confined within parameters when dust bathing, but when situated in a prime spot or constructed correctly, you can provide your flock with a contained dust bathing area that they will love! 

                Size & Containment

                When choosing a method of containing the chicken dust bath area, consider the size of the dust bath. Since dust bathing is a community activity, the dust bath area should be able to fit at least 3 to 4 members of the flock at a time, preferably more members if the flock is large.  

                Dust Bath Container Options

                Here are some chicken dust bath containers to consider: 

                3. Keeping the Dust Bath Dry

                  You may consider building a shelter over the dust bath area to keep it dry. However, you still want some sunshine to be able to reach the dust bathing spot since chickens do like sunny locations for dust bathing.  

                  4. Chicken Dust Bath Ingredients  

                    Lastly, you need to consider dust bath ingredients. Yes, chicken dust baths do have ingredients! While loose and dry native dirt will often suffice for a chicken dust bath, there are a few other amendments you may consider adding to the DIY dust bath you make for your flock.  

                    The essential base ingredient of a chicken dust bath should be plenty of loose dirt. It can be native dirt from wherever the dust bath is located, or you may have to make up your own mix of dirt to fill a dust bath container for your flock.  

                    Some Sand Will Work

                    Sand is often a chosen litter for the dust bath since it stays loose and can be easily acquired. However, sand is often not a chicken’s chosen litter for dust bathing, so you will want to mix in some additional dirt with the sand. 

                    Sand can help with exfoliating and removing excess oils, but dirt works better at suffocating and killing external parasites.  

                    When using sand, make sure you only use construction-grade sand. Construction grade sand can also be called all-purpose sand, contractor’s sand, or multipurpose sand. Basically, you want coarse sand that is not super fine since fine sand can lead to impacted crop when ingested. Do not use play sand in the chicken coop or in the dust bath since it is often treated with chemicals.   

                    Plain Dirt Will Also Do the Job

                    A plain dirt dust bath is healthy for your flock! However, you may consider adding a few natural amendments to your flock’s dust bath for added health benefits. 

                    Additional Dust Bath Ingredients to Consider

                    Check out these additional chicken dust bath ingredients:  

                    How to Make a Chicken Dust Bath 

                    A happy flock of chickens in their DIY dust bath

                    Once you have the dust bath location chosen, a way of containing the dust bath picked out, and some dust bath ingredients handy, it’s just a matter of assembling the dust bath and introducing your flock to their new bathing area! Here’s what to do:

                        1. Start by setting up the dust bath container in the ideal location or surrounding an ideal location with rocks, short boards, or logs. 
                        2. Make sure the dust bath is filled with a thick layer of loose, dry dirt. 
                        3. Then add small amounts of natural amendments if you desire.  

                    If you choose the location well and make the dust bath area big enough and appealing, your flock should naturally want to use their new DIY chicken dust bath area! 

                    What If Your Chickens Opt-Out of Your Dust Bath?

                    If your chickens don’t want to use your homemade dust bath area and instead make their own somewhere else, consider why they may not like your chosen dust bath area. Maybe the dirt isn’t loose enough, the area is not big enough, there are too many additional amendments in the dirt, or it’s not protected enough.  

                    How to Make a Dust Bath for Chicks

                    A young chick dust bathing

                    From a young age, chicks feel the desire to dust bathe. Baby chicks will often try to dust bath in the brooder litter as soon as they are a week or two old. When a mother hen raises baby chicks, the first thing she will often do when given the chance is head right to a dust bath spot. Her chicks will follow her and learn the art of dust bathing.

                    Creating a Mini-Dust Baths for Your Chicks

                    A black silkie chick enjoying her DIY dust bath

                    To give your chicks the delight of a dust bath, you simply have to provide them with a mini version of the ‘big hen’ dust bath. 

                        1. Use a small, shallow container that will contain the dust bath dirt. Just be sure it’s easy for your chicks to climb in and out of it.
                        2. Fill the container with loose, dry dirt. You can mix in a little sand if you don’t have a lot of dirt available. 
                        3. Avoid adding any dust bath amendments at this point. Chicks are so small and sensitive, just plain old dirt will be the best thing for them! Adding a few sprigs of herbs won’t hurt though.  
                        4. Place the dust bath container in the brooder and watch your chicks instinctively know what to do! 

                    Since it is a new object in the brooder, they may be scared of it at first. Just leave it in the brooder and let the chicks check it out on their own timing. They will quickly learn what it’s meant to be! You may even have to limit dust bath time if the chicks get too carried away with ‘bathing’ or start eating too much of the dirt. 

                    As the chicks get older, you may consider introducing them to the ‘big hen’ dust bath when it is not being used by the rest of the flock. A big version of their mini dust bath will be a delight for your brood to explore and use!  

                    Few Things Are as Delightful as Happy a Hen in a Dust Bath

                    A silkie hen in her dust bath

                    For a chicken, it doesn’t get much more enjoyable than playing in your dust bath! A well-built chicken dust bath is a great gift for your flock whether they free-range or are confined in their coop and run! Providing your flock with a place to take dust baths is the perfect way to keep your flock happy, healthy, and naturally entertained. Chicks and full-grown chickens alike benefit and enjoy dust baths!

                     

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