If you haven’t yet built a dust bath for chickens, now is the time to start.
Luckily, it’s an easy project to complete, and it won’t cost you very much (yay saving pennies, right?) As you’ve watched your flock toss dust and crumbs of earth on themselves, did you ever wonder “Why do chickens take a dirt bath? Is it even necessary?”
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Dust bathing is a very natural and necessary part of your chickens lives, and if you don’t provide one, your flock will find a way to create one in the most inconvenient spot you can imagine. I speak from experience, friends.
Chickens are creative creatures, and will put a dust bath in the oddest places.Ours have had great fun digging a dust bath next to a car tire, in seedling patches, or in my potted plants. So, anything can be a possible (and massively destructive) place for them to dig a dust bath hole.
But why do chickens roll in dirt anyway?
Chickens HAVE to dust bathe – it’s how they keep themselves free of external parasites that can otherwise devastate their feathers and cause all sorts of nasty health problems. A hen covered in dirt is a happy hen, and if you’ve never seen chickens rolling around and kicking earth over themselves you’re missing out.
Making your own dust bath for chickens also ensures that your hens are bathing with beneficial dirt, rather than dirt caked with manure, dead and decaying matter, etc, that harbor bad bacteria that can harm your birds.
You can also include parasite-preventing supplements and herbs to get your flock squeaky clean and ready to preen themselves. So, let’s talk about how to make a dust bath for chickens. While my chickens like to create a dust bath directly in the ground (and it’s not a bad decision!), I also like to use a food-safe plastic container to make sure they’re getting goodies like wood ash and diatomaceous earth that help keep them free of mites and lice.
The nice thing about a plastic bin is if it gets gross (and it will because chickens poop over everything), it’s really easy to clean. A good choice is an old kiddie pool – it’s low enough that your chickens can easily get into it, and wide enough to accommodate more than one hen. Because, let’s face it, when one chicken uses a dust bath, everyone else wants to join in, right?
So, if you choose something like a kiddie pool to make a dust bath for chickens, your flock is more likely to use it. Other options are wood boxes or even a cement or mud brick bathing area.
What dirt is best in my dust bath for chickens?
Next, let’s talk about what to actually put in your dust bath. You’ll need:
- Loamy dirt or sand
- Diatomaceous earth
- Wood ash (optional)
- Herbs such as lavender, wormwood, and oregano, if desired
You can purchase sand or use regular ol’ dirt. We have loamy soil here (it’s mostly sand thanks to the Mississippi), so we just scoop dirt from our yard into the dust bath. If you have super rich top soil, you might want to mix it with some sand. The point is to have loose dirt your flock can easily toss over themselves. You shouldn’t have to buy dirt for this project, but if you want to, you can easily get bags of topsoil for $1 at your local big box store.
Create a 1 or 2-inch layer of soil at the bottom of your container, smoothing it out so it’s even. Your chickens will mess it up quite quickly, but this step helps you judge how much diatomaceous earth or wood ash to add. Next, sprinkle diatomaceous earth over the soil. This will help to get rid of any mites or lice on your chickens and prevent them.
The amount of diatomaceous earth you use will depend on the size of your container, but I like to use a 2:1 ratio in favor of dirt. If you plan to use wood ash (which will kill mites like diatomaceous earth, but isn’t as effective in my opinion), you can add it now.
If you want, you can pre-mix the DE and dirt, but without a doubt, your chickens will do it for you. If you want, you can add herbs such as mint or sage to further repel parasites. And voila – your dust bath for chickens is done!
I’d like to hear from you!
Do you think you’ll try making a dust bath for chickens? Leave a comment below!
Scholz B, Urselmans S, Kjaer JB, Schrader L. “Food, wood, or plastic as substrates for dustbathing and foraging in laying hens: A preference test.” Accessed August 13, 2016.
Barnett JL, Tauson R, Downing JA, Janardhana V, Lowenthal JW, Butler KL, Cronin GM. “The effects of a perch, dust bath, and nest box, either alone or in combination as used in furnished cages, on the welfare of laying hens.” Poultry Science. 2009 Mar;88(3):456-70. doi: 10.3382/ps.2008-00168. Accessed August 12, 2016.
Maat van Uitert is a backyard chicken and sustainable living expert. She is also the author of Chickens: Naturally Raising A Sustainable Flock, which was a best seller in it’s Amazon category. Maat has been featured on NBC, CBS, AOL Finance, Community Chickens, the Huffington Post, Chickens magazine, Backyard Poultry, and Countryside Magazine. She lives on her farm in Southeast Missouri with her husband, two children, and about a million chickens and ducks. You can follow Maat on Facebook here and Instagram here.