If you are raising chickens at home, you should also have a chicken dust bath. This is a must as part of taking care of them. But don’t worry! Making one is not as hard as you think. Read along and learn everything about chicken dust baths. This includes its benefits, how it works, how to make one, potential problems, and how to solve them.
Table of Contents
- 1 What is a Chicken Dust Bath?
- 2 Important Benefits of Dust Bath
- 3 How Chickens Dust Bathe
- 4 What You Need to Make a Dust Bath
- 5 How to Choose the Best Location for your DIY Dust Bath
- 6 How Big Should a Chicken Dust Bath Be
- 7 How to Properly Maintain Your Dust Bath
- 8 Dust Bathing During Winter
- 9 Other Common Dust Bath Problems and Solutions
- 10 Should Baby Chicks Have Dust Baths, Too?
- 11 Conclusion
What is a Chicken Dust Bath?
Imagine yourself feeling comfortable after taking a bath. This is also how chickens feel after taking a dust bath. But for them, being clean is getting dirty. Unlike us humans who use soap and water, chickens prefer using sand and dust to keep themselves clean. Although it seems weird, you should also understand that they are not fond of dipping in water. Instead, they love throwing dirt at their body. Dust bathing also keeps them away from mites, lice, mites, and other harmful parasites. And believe it or not, it is also one of their social activities, recreational activities, or relaxation regimens. As compared to us, dust bathing is their ultimate spa treatment. Digging the ground lowers their body temperature. Amazingly, they know how to make one. It’s part of their basic instincts! So if you see them digging on soil repeatedly, they are not only searching for food. They also feel dirty and they want to clean themselves. But why should we make one when they can easily create on their own? The main reason is that chickens cannot distinguish if the location is safe or not. If they cannot find something that can be used for dust bathing, they might end up using feeds. If that happens, your chicken will be in great danger because feeds add lipids that parasites feed on. Besides, it’s our responsibility as their master.
Important Benefits of Dust Bath
As mentioned above, dust bathing is very important in keeping chickens clean and healthy. Ironically, a dust bath keeps their feathers clean and free from parasites such as lice and mites. In short, it serves as a natural insecticide. Also, fine sand helps a lot in absorbing excess oil and moisture, thus clogging the breathing pores of parasites and eventually killing them. Aside from that, dust bathing eliminates the old lipids and skin cells of a chicken. Therefore, it prevents parasites from wanting to stay in the feathers. During molting season, it also helps in loosening the old feathers while assisting the emerging feathers. Not to mention, they also need Vitamin D like us. It helps them absorb phosphorus and calcium. So if you’re raising chickens for egg production, you can expect greater possibilities of having healthier and stronger eggs. Needless to say, watching them dust bathing is also an added entertainment.
How Chickens Dust Bathe
Dust bathing is being performed in two different stages. The first one is the tossing stage where the chicken rakes the ground with its beak, scratching the soil with its legs, and, rolling its head and shaking its wings, allowing the dirt to penetrate its feathers and skin. The second stage is simply called rubbing. Here, the chicken will close its wings and rub its body over the dirt. This process usually takes about 15-20 minutes, or when the bird feels better. So once you see free-range chickens scratching or digging a shallow portion of soil in just any location, observe them closely. Just don’t go too near to avoid getting dirty. You will notice that the hole appears to be oval. They will then lower themselves and will kick off loose materials including mulch, dirt, and sand to their body. Shortly, the birds will stand up, spread their wings, and shake their head and body to remove the dirt. You will also witness the birds preening. This is when they use their beak to clean their feathers, thus eating nasty pests to death. They will then close their eyes and sometimes, making strange little sounds. In this stage, they are now done and feel more relaxed. Afterward, they will go back to doing their usual activities. Interestingly, they love to dust bathe on the same area over and over again. Once a chicken starts digging, you will see other chickens doing the same thing moments later. And in most cases, you will see them doing it in groups. Interestingly, they also love doing it under direct sunlight. It’s like watching a lot of people enjoying the beach sand under the heat of the sun!
What You Need to Make a Dust Bath
Now that you understand the importance of a dust bath, it’s your turn to make one. But first, you would want to know the things you need to make sure it will be effective. Aside from plain dust which is the main ingredient, you should also know the right sand to use. Avoid using play sand and beach sand. Both of them are composed of super fine particles, which can result to crop impaction to your chicken. Instead, use medium-sized sand, or something pea gravel and beach sand. You can also try construction sand.
For additional benefits, you may want to add some of these:
Wood Ash (Charcoal)
Wood ash or charcoal offers a lot of benefits for your dust bath.
Charcoal serves as a supplement in helping unwanted parasites suffocate and eventually die
It is known for having vitamins and nutrients such as Calcium, Vitamin K, and magnesium. They are very beneficial in keeping your chicken strong and having healthy skin.
Wood ash will not harm your chicken once they swallow them. As a matter of fact, it also acts like a laxative, which can help chicken in bowel movements.
And believe it or not, charcoal can also absorb from 100 to 200 times its weight!
As a safety reminder, never use wet charcoal because it easily gets burn. Also, never use those that were used for burning plastics or waste.
Peat moss (sometimes called sphagnum peat moss) is actually a natural product, composed of dead material but doesn’t contain harmful microorganisms. Hence, it is also an excellent additional ingredient in making dust effective and is safe for baby chicks and adult chickens.
If you have heavy clay soil, adding peat moss will help in loosening up the dust’s texture. This will make your chicken enjoy more during dust bathing. Amazingly, peat moss can absorb 20 times its weight when in the water!
But unfortunately, peat moss does not release moisture that much and may contain toxic chemicals that may harm your chickens. Also, it may be the best for chicken coop bedding because it is too dusty and may respiratory disease to your chicken.
So as a safety precaution, make sure that you only use those that don’t contain fertilizers. Also, make sure the coop has excellent ventilation.
Diatomaceous Earth (DE) is a powdery type of sand that consists of microscopic, fossilized algae, and is a great alternative for wood ash.
In general, there are two main types of diatomaceous earth – food grade and filter grade. The first one is suitable for consumption while the other one is not.
The food-grade type acts as an abrasive agent that causes pests to dehydrated and desiccated. However, note that it is a form of preventative measure and not a medicine.
But while DE is considered helpful in the dust bathing of chicken, it can also be harmful to them. According to several studies, heavy amounts of DE can cause lung irritation once inhaled. Exposed skin may also be prone to wounds.
There is no general rule when it comes to safe amounts of DE for a dust bath. Nevertheless, it mainly depends on the size of your container.
Generally speaking, adding dried herbs is only an option and is not really a requirement.
Nevertheless, small sprinkles of herbs contain natural insecticides and help your chicken smell fresh.
Here are some herbs that are ideal for your dust bath:
- Lemon balm
How to Choose the Best Location for your DIY Dust Bath
Chickens can make their dust bath by themselves in any area they want. But it does not mean you don’t have to choose an area. First of all, choose a place where there is enough sunlight. This will help the soil to be warm. On the other hand, a dust bath should be placed where you can easily watch over them.
Unlike ducks that love mud, chickens hate it. Therefore, you should not place your dust bath in a wet area. To avoid the birds getting wet when it rains, you should put something on cover the top such as a tarpaulin and umbrella.
You would also want to avoid placing it under their coop, near the entrance of your house, areas unsafe from predators, and at the center of your lawn. But most of all, keep the dust bath away from feeds and water supply. As a general rule, know where your chickens will be safe and will enjoy most.
How Big Should a Chicken Dust Bath Be
Now, it’s your time to do the work. Buying a coop with a built-in dust bath is fine, but building one on your own is pretty much better. To start with, you need a container deep enough to put your mixture for the dust bath. For bantams, a chicken dust bath should be at least 6 inches (half a foot) deep. For full-size chickens, the ideal depth is at least 8 inches. But see to it that its sides are short enough so that your chickens can easily hop in. Size also matters. Make sure it is big enough for your chickens to move freely and enjoy the bath. Do you want to take a bath inside a very small bathroom? The exact size of your dust bath depends on how many chickens you have. But ideally, a 1–square foot space is enough for one chicken. And as mentioned earlier, chickens love to bathe together. Although some chickens will patiently wait for their turn if the space is full, some of them have territorial behaviors. Obviously, you don’t want to see them fighting for space. In the same manner, you may want to add perches near your dust bath. Your chicken will enjoy themselves during preening.
Below are some of the containers you can choose from.
- Cut logs (looks pretty but may not last long)
- Galvanized tubs
- Kiddie pools (best for few chickens only)
- Litter boxes
- Old plastic tubs
- Old tires (use truck tires if possible)
- Plastic totes
- Shallow bins
- Wooden boxes or barrels
- Wooden crates
Note, however, that the kind of material is not really important. Chickens don’t need a very good-looking dust bath. What matters for them is the size and space so that they will feel comfortable.
There is no required exact amount of each ingredient for the mixture of your dust bath. Nonetheless, here is a good ratio:
- 2 parts of soil
- 1-2 parts of sand
- 1 part of wood ash
- ½ part of diatomaceous earth
- ½ part of dried herbs
How to Properly Maintain Your Dust Bath
Chickens love dirt but it does not mean you don’t need to clean their dust bath anymore. Just like your bathroom, you should also have regular maintenance on them. To maintain the cleanliness of your dust bath, make sure you inspect them from time to time. Remove the droppings and feathers on the ground. Know when to replace add sand and other ingredients. As you may have observed, chickens tend to kick the sand outside the area. Time will come; the dust bath will be too shallow for them. Check also the roof or top cover if there is a water leak. If you notice the ground getting wet, you need to change its position or replace it.
Dust Bathing During Winter
By now, you already know that chickens need warmth and sunlight. But what if winter comes? Or you live in a cold and snowy area? Unfortunately, this could be a bit challenging for you and your chickens. Worry no more! There’s always a solution for every problem. If putting the dust bath outside in the open is not possible, simply place it inside the coop. However, you will need to make some adjustments. For example, the walls of the indoor dust bath should be a bit taller. This is to avoid your chicken kicking the bedding inside of it from time to time. On the other hand, if your bedding is made of wood shavings, and you are doing deep cleaning the dust bath during winter months, your birds are likely to dust bathing without “pushing” them. You can also design an outdoor dust bath that is applicable during winter. Simply bury a section of a plastic or metal tunnel section into the ground. The ideal length is 4 feet. Then, place the dirt mixture inside the buried part so that the top portion of the tunnel can serve as a roof or protection from raindrops and snow. Just make sure the mixture is dry enough. But more importantly, you can easily build an all-season dust bath. To make one, the first thing you need is a huge plastic storage tub with lower sides and a tight-fitting lid. With this technique, you can easily pick it up and move to a warmer place during cold seasons. Incidentally, chickens are somehow safer during winter because parasites are less active at this time.
Other Common Dust Bath Problems and Solutions
Some of the most common problems of dust baths have already been discussed above. Nevertheless, here are additional practical solutions.
- Clay soil is usually dense and closely packed together, and your chicken might find it hard to stir them up. To solve this problem, simply add more sand into the mixture.
- Aside from choosing construction sand, you should make sure that the sand has no harmful chemicals.
- Again, chickens do not like getting wet especially for so long because they might get sick. Also, their feathers are not waterproof and they are prone to respiratory problems. This is why you should always keep them warm and dry.
- Common sense tells us that chicken cannot explain their problems to you. Therefore, it is your responsibility to monitor them closely.
Should Baby Chicks Have Dust Baths, Too?
The answer is yes. Definitely, yes. The only question is how to make one for them. There’s no minimum age for a chick to dust bath. In fact, they will learn it on their own. But normally, a one-week-old chick would already start digging. You will notice it if your brooder floor has sand on it.
If you plan to make one for your baby chicks, you don’t need to make a big one. However, make sure you can easily expand it so that they can still enjoy it as they grow older. Otherwise, you should make a bigger one.
A dust bath is a must for chickens, regardless of breed and age. It is very easy to make and does not require special skills or huge investments. However, making a small mistake can endanger them. A particular dust bath that applies to other chickens might not apply to yours.
Lastly, don’t force your chicken to dust bathe anywhere you want to, as much as don’t allow them in an area where they are not supposed to be. Nevertheless, you can guide each other in finding the most appropriate size and location. Always remember that comfort and safety should be your primary concerns.