I've noticed that chicken dust baths and how to make them are a hot topic on Pinterest. If you've ever owned chickens, you already know what chicken dust baths are. If you're new to backyard chicken keeping or if you haven't owned chickens, you may be scratching your head trying to figure out what in the world a chicken dust bath is.
If you're a chicken owner, you may have noticed your chickens laying around in a dirt spot, scratching and throwing dust all over themselves. They then get up, shake off and keep going like it's totally normal. For us, the idea of bathing involves soap and water. For chickens, all they need is a good coating of dust. Seems the opposite of 'bathing' until you understand the reason that they do it.
Why do chickens cover themselves in dust?
There seem to be a few reasons that chickens dust bathe.
The first is linked to external parasites. Poultry are subject to infestations from fleas, lice and several kinds of mites. Chickens have learned over time that by rolling in dust, they can remove and prevent these parasites from living on them. The parasites that live on the chickens bite the skin and chew it to draw blood to the surface. They then drink the blood from the chickens. The dust works in two ways to prevent the little pests. The dust coats the skin, making it harder for the parasites to chew through the skin. The dust also gets into the respiratory pores of the parasites and kills them.
Chickens groom their feathers with oil that is secreted from preening glands. This oil helps to keep the feathers smooth, waterproof and clean. The oil is continuously made and can become too much. Dust baths can soak up any excess oil that isn't needed on the feathers or skin.
Lastly, chickens seems to enjoy dust bathing. It is the chicken equivalent of taking a long, luxurious bubble bath. The chickens will often dust bathe together and use it as a time to socialize. You can often see groups of hens dust bathing together. Roosters don't dust bathe as often as hens but from time to time a rooster will join in the social event.
So, if you're wondering if dust baths are necessary, then the answer is yes. Dust baths are necessary for parasite control, grooming, and social health of the chickens.
Providing dust baths
Chickens that are allowed out on pasture or free-range will find a dust bath area themselves. They prefer to dust bathe in an area that they feel safe in. This could be under a shed, beside a bush or even, if your hens are as comfortable as mine are, in the middle of your backyard. They will scratch the ground up enough to make a shallow hole that is filled with fine dirt.
Chickens that are cooped up may need some help from you to dust bathe. If they can access the ground from their run then they will create a dust bath themselves like they would if they were free-ranged. If they cannot reach the ground then you should provide one for them.
You can make a chicken dust bath in a box, old tire or any other object that will hold about 4-6" of dust and is large enough for one chicken to move around in easily. You can create a mixture of fine road dirt, sand, diatomaceous earth and wood ash. Diatomaceous earth is a really good addition to a chicken dust bath as it is a natural pest control.
Shelby DeVore is an agricultural enthusiast that enjoys writing about gardening, raising livestock and simple living. You can read her most recent posts on Farminence.com or follow Farminence on Pinterest and Twitter.
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