Dust baths – or dirt baths, as we also sometimes call them – can sound quite strange at first, almost oxymoronic. Yet, they are the preferred bathing method of chickens of all breeds and types.
But what exactly is a dust bath and how can a chicken “bathe” in dust? And, more importantly, is this why your chickens are constantly digging up holes in your backyard and can you stop that by simply making them a dust bath? Here’s how to make a chicken dust bath easily and effectively.
What is a chicken dust bath and why is it necessary?
A chicken dust bath is exactly what it sounds like – a bath made of dust rather than water. While this may seem weird to us, dust is significantly better for chickens’ hygiene than water. Here are some of the many benefits of dust baths for chickens:
- Dust baths are excellent at removing parasites such as mites and lice from the chicken’s plumage. Simple dust and dirt aren’t necessarily toxic to parasites but they do create an unwelcoming and dry environment for them. Plus, if you add certain other ingredients to the dust bath – as we’ll mention below – it can turn into an actual insecticide.
- A dust bath also helps knock off and remove dead feathers. Both the smaller and larger dust and dirt particles, together with some scratching from the chicken, are almost always enough to keep the bird’s plumage in perfect condition.
- Dust and dirt also help by soaking up some of the excess body oils and other moisture that can build up inside the chicken’s plumage.
- By “bathing” in the dust near many plants and herbs, chickens also get parts of them through their feathers together with the dust which also helps protect them against parasites.
- Chickens simply love dust baths. Just look at how happy this chicken is. And, as the man says in the video, a happy chicken lays more eggs.
So, while bathing in dust seems ridiculous to us, it’s actually exactly what a chicken needs to stay healthy and clean.
Plus, a water bath actually turns chickens’ skin into an even better environment for mites, lice, and other insects, parasites, and pests as all of those love damp and warm skin with feathers to snuggle into. That’s why chickens have evolved into bathing with dust rather than water.
Why you should make a chicken dust bath instead of just leaving your pets to their own devices?
Even if you don’t build your backyard chickens a dust bath, they will still find a way to bathe themselves. However, this usually includes digging holes in the chicken coop, the chicken run, or your backyard.
This is especially annoying when the chickens decide to dig those holes near the base of the yard’s fence or in between some of your plants and herbs – which is exactly what they often do.
So, a good solution to the above problem is to just build your chickens one (or several) dedicated chicken baths.
Does that mean that they all will automatically start using the baths and stop digging out your magnolias? Not 100% of the time, but the cases of bathing holes being dug out will decrease substantially the more – and better – dust baths you create.
The second big reason to learn how to make a chicken dust bath is that a man-made chicken dust bath can be substantially better for the chickens than any hole they dig out themselves. There are many reasons for this:
- You can make the whole bigger and deeper than the chickens can.
- A man-made hole can have a much more secure foundation and walls.
- You can make sure the hole has only things that’d be conducive to a chicken dust bath and not stuff such as stones, roots, branches, insects, etc.
- Making the hole yourself also allows you to add a lot of additional chicken dust bath ingredients that are healthy for your chickens – we’ll cover those in a bit.
- You can choose the best spot for your man-made chicken dust bath holes – somewhere dry, safe, and secluded where the chickens would feel the most comfortable bathing.
How to make a chicken dust bath?
So, how can you set up your own DIY chicken dust bath? The good news is that it’s surprisingly easy – often you can do it in a matter of minutes with stuff you’ve got lying around. Here’s a basic step-by-step guide for how to make a chicken dust bath:
Step 1: Location, location, location
The first big part of how to make a chicken dust bath is picking the right spot. Chickens will usually make their baths wherever they feel like it or wherever the ground is soft enough to dig typically near fences and plants.
You, however, can be more selective when choosing the best spot. The two main criteria to keep in mind are:
- Somewhere that’d be safe from nature’s elements, particularly rain, wind, flood water, and so on. You can place a tent, tarp, or umbrella over the bath if it’s on an exposed spot too.
- Somewhere your chickens frequent – if you place the chicken dust bath too much to the side of where they frequent or somewhere out of eyesight of the chicken run, for example, they may not use it as much.
Step 2: Set up the bath’s structure
There are many ways to set up a chicken dust bath. You can:
- Dig a hole somewhere
- Set up a car tire or a tractor and fill it up
- Get an old cat litter box, an apple crate, an old basin, a wide bucket, or another similar container your chickens can easily get in. If it’s taller, such as a bucket, you might want to dig it into the ground a little bit.
The dimensions can vary depending on how many chickens you want in the bath at a time. The minimum would be 20 cm deep and 60 cm in diameter but more than that is also great. Our favorite of these methods is the tractor tire.
Step 3: Add the bathing ingredients
Now that you’ve got the bath’s structure done, what should you put in it? Just dust? Dirt from the ground? Yes and no.
As your chickens will be using this bath to clean themselves and get rid of parasites, it’s a good idea to fill it up with the ideal dust bath mixture for the job. The basic ingredients for that can be divided into 4 categories:
- The base. This usually includes stuff such as builder’s sand or soil. In both cases, you’d want something fine and not too coarse so that your chickens have an easy time getting it through their feathers. If you’re going with soil, we’d recommend peat moss or compost, as showcased in this video.
However, there are a few things to watch out for. In particular – make sure it doesn’t include any clay, fertilizer, vermiculite, or other chemicals that might be harmful to your chickens.
- Ash. Wood ash and fireplace ash both work great here. They typically include vitamin K which is a fantastic blood clotting agent as well as magnesium and calcium.
Ash is also very easy to get in the winter as you can literally just scoop it out of your fireplace. Most crucially, however, ash is an excellent insecticide as it helps suffocate the parasites that may be crawling through your chickens’ feathers.
- Diatomaceous earth. We’re putting this in a category of its own because of how useful it is for chicken dust baths. Diatomaceous earth is a famous insecticide that’s perfectly natural and safe for all types of pets and farm animals, including chickens.
That is, as long as it’s food-grade and not for pools – look for a “For livestock feed” label. In essence, diatomaceous earth works similarly to ash in that it helps suffocate insects. You can use ash and diatomaceous earth together or interchangeably.
- Herbs and plants. You can also add powdered dry herbs such as mint, rosemary, bay leaves, oregano, catnip, borage, cayenne, parsley, cinnamon, cloves, garlic, ginger, nasturtium, sage, thyme, yarrow, lavender, and others to help your chickens smell better and supply them with some vitamins to their skin and feathers. Many such herbs also act as additional natural insecticides which is also great.
And that’s about it. Using these ingredients in relatively equal parts is a great way to help keep your chickens clean year-round. Plus, you can also change “the recipe” a bit depending on what you’ve got on hand.
4. Consider adding multiple baths if you have more chickens
Chickens like to bathe together – when one hen starts bathing, the rest of the flock often jumps in the dust bath area too. So, it’s a good idea to make the bathing area larger or add several baths next to each other if you have many chickens. This will further dissuade them from digging more holes.
All in all, figuring out how to make a chicken dust bath isn’t all that complicated. As long as you’ve dug it in the right place and you’ve put the proper stuff in it, your chickens will be clean, healthy, and happy all year!