This article will walk you through how to make dust baths for your chickens. What you need, why your chickens need it, and where to keep your dust baths for your flock.
When I first starting raising chickens I knew nothing.
Every day was a learning experience.
I remember one day going out to check on my girls and I found one throwing dirt up all around her. I had no idea what she was doing but stood watching her for some time marveling. She was lying on her side tossing loose soil all over herself causing a small cloud of dust to bubble up around her as she did. She then stayed still for the longest time napping in the soil in the sun. Next, she jumped up shook all the dirt out, and walked off just as happy as could be.
I found out later, she was just taking a bath. Yes, a bath with dirt. Just another reason why I love raising chickens in my backyard.
I later did some research and learned that the addition of a dust bath to my chicken run was necessary to not only promote the health of my flock but to create a calm environment as well. It is really important to have a zen-like (is that a word?) atmosphere for your hens to deter henpecking. A scary thing to witness if you are a new chicken owner.
You can read my post, Thinning out the Flock to learn more on this and how to deal with henpecking and bullying in your chicken flock.
To reduce tension in a coop you will want to add in things for your hens to do that will decrease boredom this will go a long way to keeping your flock from picking on other and weaker hens.
If you are new to chickens dust bathing may sound like a crazy idea. Do chickens really like to bathe themselves? And in the dust? Seriously?
Why yes, I am being serious.
Chickens really do love dust baths and find the act very comforting so much so that when they finish they literally pass out sometimes even on their sides or backs.
I cannot even tell you how frightening it was for me the first time I saw a hen on her back sleeping. My hens sleep so soundly that many times, even now, I need to walk up to a dust bath napper (Say that 3 times fast) to check and make sure she is actually just sleeping.
When you first see a chicken dust-bathing the ritual can be quite comical.
How a Chicken Takes a Dust Bath
First, the hen will dig a shallow hole loosening up the dirt by scratching at the ground with her feet. This part can take quite a while and the hen will enjoy it so much she tends to do more than one area before settling on the very best spot.
She will then lie down in the loose soil and begin kicking and tossing the dirt all over herself and into her feathers. She will continue to do this over and over again resting in between each roll and toss. Eventually, she will shake all the dirt out (a show in itself) and off only to finally settle down and take a long nap right there in the hole.
Why do Chickens Take a Dust Bath?
Dust bathing, also known as dirt bathing, is an ingrained act; even baby chicks will attempt to dust-bathe in their brooders. I have never added a dust bath for my babies, but I know others have with good success.
Chickens take dust baths as their way of keeping clean. By tossing dirt or sand into their feathers they help to free themselves from pests. Pests that can invade chicken coops such as lice or mites.
Dust Baths For Your Chickens – Now For The Techy Stuff….
Why are dust baths so beneficial?
Chickens have glands that secrete oils. Over time excess oils can build up along with dead skin creating the perfect home for parasites. When a hen tosses loose dirt through her feathers she dries up the excess oils and removes debris, dead skin, and any parasites. This leaves the chicken feeling clean and refreshed.
If your outdoor area (chicken run) is small, you may want to create a specific spot for your gals to bathe in. This can be easily done (and quite inexpensively) with a dishpan, litterbox, or even old tires as I did in our own chicken coop.
Check around the house for anything large enough to hold a hen but shallow enough for her to get into without tipping it over.
How To DIY Old Tires Into A Chicken Dust Bath.
Step #1. Clean Your Tires
Gather up any old tires that you may have lying around. For our flock of 20, I had 4 tires and that number seemed to work quite well. Next, give them a good cleaning being sure to remove any debris that may negatively affect your chickens. You can do this with soapy water and a stiff scrub brush. Be sure there is nothing on the outside or the inside rim of the tire that may harm your chickens.
Step #2. Allow Them to Dry
Once the tires are washed and rinsed you can allow them to dry in the warm sunshine. Sun acts as a natural sterilizer that will disinfect your tires while allowing them to dry rather quickly as well.
Step #3. Paint
You can then paint the tires white to keep them from getting too hot in the sunshine once they are out in your chicken run. This is not a necessary step but one you can do if you want to brighten things up a bit.
The purpose of the container, in this case, tires is to keep the dust bath materials contained in one area.
Step #5. What to Put Inside
You can add in different ingredients to give even more benefits to your chickens. Depending on where you live and how much you want to add will determine what ingredients you have inside of your dust baths.
The most common ingredients found in a chicken dust bath are:
- Wood Ash
- Wood Chips
- Diatomaceous Earth
It is not necessary to add in all that is suggested, remember soil is really all you need for an effective dust bath. You can read more on a dirt bath below.
Dust Bath for your Chickens – the Supplies:
- A sturdy container that will hold up in weather and large enough for 1-2 hens at a time such as a plastic washtub, shallow tote, or even old tires will work great.
- Loose dirt – This will work as the base for your chicken’s dust bath and is the most common ingredient found.
- Construction grade sand – this will help to keep the materials inside of your DIY dust bath loose so that it doesn’t clump up.
- Wood ash – This will help to remove any pests found in your hen’s feathers. A little goes a long way. Be sure to never use wood ash from bricks or any that was started with lighter fluid.
- Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth – This will help to deter ticks, lice, and other pests that can affect the health of your flock. DE is a great addition to any farm or homestead as it has many beneficial uses.
Directions for your DIY chicken dust bath:
- Location – Place your bath in an area that is easily accessible for your hens. If you have a large flock, more than one is a good idea. You are looking for a nice sunny spot in the spring but not in the heat of the sun during the summer. This is why a portable chicken dust bath is so nice. You can move it depending on the season and the weather.
- Protect – If you cannot find a location that is sheltered from the elements, such as heavy wind or rain, you may want to create a lid of some sort to help keep the contents dry. For our chickens, I use either a square board or old trash can lid. These both do the job quite nicely.
- Mix the base – Combine in equal parts the sand and dirt mixing with your hands to incorporate them all together.
- Add in extras – This will be about 1 cup DE (Diatomaceous Earth) and a few cups of wood ash (these amounts depend on the size of your bath)
Stand back and enjoy!
Remember, if you are building an outside chicken dust bath, you will want to make sure you have something to cover your dust bath at night and during rainy times I have found if the materials inside get wet it can take forever for things to dry out.
You can use just about anything as a cover.
- Trash can lid
- Wooden board
- Plastic tote lid
SLCG PRO TIP: If you use Diatomaceous Earth be sure it is food grade. Some folks warn against DE in dust baths believing it may do damage to the bird’s lungs if used in large amounts. I have not had a problem with this, but I want you to know the warnings just the same. If you choose not to use DE don’t worry, the dust/sand/ash will do the job just fine.
What if you do not have room for a separate dust bath?
Not all chicken runs have room for a DIY dust bath so here are a few extra options you can use to add in an area without sacrificing some of your run or chicken coop.
A few times a year take the time to loosen up some of the soil in your chicken run. You can do this with a shovel taking scoops out and turning the soil over. You do not need to break up any dirt clumps either, your chickens will enjoy doing that as they search for worms and other treats in the overturned soil.
You can also use a rototiller and either work on the entire run or just a small area inside. As time goes on, a chicken run can get very hard and compacted down. The goal is to loosen up the soil so your chickens can first scratch out any treats then use the loosened soil to bathe in.
I really like the low-cost method of simply rototilling up an area in the run to loosen the dirt. This was how we did a dust bath area for our hens for many years. This will give your hens hours of enjoyment and stop boredom that can easily happen in a flock that is not free-ranging.
What is Free-Ranging?
Free-ranging means allowing your chickens to be loose during the day giving them the freedom to look for worms and other bugs around your yard and property. A note of caution if you choose to free-range your flock. Train them to come when called. This will help you to get them inside of the coop each evening where it is safe from predators.
You can train your chickens, or any livestock animal to come when called through consistent training.
Each time you are out to feed your hens, shake a bucket of grain and give them a call. Be sure to use the same tone of voice and words when you do. After a short while, they will understand that your voice and that call means food and will come running from all over to eat.
What if my chickens don’t use their dust bath?
Don’t worry if your chickens ignore your new dust baths. Chickens are not quite as curious as, say goats or cows. Something new in the coop is not nearly as interesting as scratching for bugs or worms. Just give them time.
Yes, it may take a while for the hens to realize exactly what you have made for them, but don’t worry before you know it they will be bathing to their heart’s content!
Congratulations on adding another integrable part of a healthy happy chicken coop. Being proactive in your animal’s health and wellbeing is more cost-effective than waiting until you have a problem.