Ever wondered how chickens keep their feathers looking so shiny and clean? Wondering if you’re supposed to help bathe your chickens? Read on for a lesson in chicken hygiene!
How do chickens clean themselves? With a combination of preening and dust baths, chickens are able to clean themselves and keep their feathers looking clean and shiny.
Do I Need to Bathe My Chickens?
No, you shouldn’t need to bathe your chickens. They are perfectly capable of cleaning themselves, you just may not be aware of how and when they do so…
Chickens actually take dust baths to clean themselves.
It sounds counterintuitive to us, doesn’t it?
How can chickens roll around on the floor in the dirt and come out of the other side cleaner than when they started...
Well, it works. They aren’t the only animals in the animal kingdom to take dust baths either. Large animals such as elephants and bison take dust baths, as do loads of small rodents like chinchillas, gerbils, and degus.
When a chicken rolls around in the dirt, the small particles of dirt and dust work into their feathers. It then absorbs some of the excess oil they produce and as it’s flicked away it takes parasites and insects with it.
You can think of it as an abrasive shakedown of sorts. They use rough dirt to scratch away at dirt, debris, and insects within their feathers.
How Do You Make a Chicken Dust Bath?
If your flock isn’t able to make their own dust bath for some reason, you can help them out by making one for them.
Or, you can add some parasite-preventing materials to their dust bath to help make it even more effective for them.
Either way, all they need is an area where they can dig down a few inches large enough to roll around in. They also need plenty of loose dirt in the hole to roll around in.
What Do You Use for a Dust Bath for Chickens?
In the most basic form, all chickens need is some loose dirt to roll around in.
There are some materials that make a huge difference in how effective their bath is though. Some materials can actually have a really big impact as I’ll explain.
Here are some things I recommend testing out:
Diatomaceous Earth (Food Grade)
It amazes me how many backyard flock and other pet owners have never heard of or tried diatomaceous earth (DE).
It also makes for the best substance to use in a dust bath. It’s a fine white powder, which is just what chickens are looking for to rub into their feathers.
It’s also very effective at killing insects as it works into the pores of parasites and dries them out.
Loose Dirt and Sand
For a basic dust bath, you can add a layer of sand or fine loose dirt. Sometimes this is necessary if there aren’t any suitable areas within their runs or your yard if they’re free-range.
You’ll either need to dig out a hole, or if they’ve already selected a spot they’re trying to use you can sprinkle a layer there for them.
I love experimenting with herbs and some have some powerful wellness benefits that you can take advantage of by sprinkling them into your chicken’s dust bath.
Lavender and dried lemon balm are two herbs with powerful pest repelling properties. Adding either of these to your chick’s bathing area is going to help rid them of pests while leaving them smelling awesome!
Wood ash is another substance commonly used in dust baths. It’s great for neutralizing odors and has the perfect consistency for bathing in.
It also contains some beneficial compounds such as potassium and calcium, some owners use ash as a laying stimulant too.
Want to see chickens bathing for yourself? Here's a video with a bunch of chickens enjoying the good life in a huge dust bathing area:
In Summary - How Do Chickens Clean Themselves?
You now know the answers to two of the behaviors that new backyard flock owners commonly question:
How do chickens keep themselves clean?
The two behaviors are connected. Chickens actually roll around in the dirt to clean themselves.
If you think your flock needs a little help, I explained everything you need to know about creating a dust bath for them above.
Do Chickens Preen Themselves?
Yes, like other birds chickens do preen themselves. Preening their feathers helps to release new feathers, spread oils, and remove insects and bugs.
Do Baby Chickens Need Dust Baths?
Yes, baby chicks need dust baths. If you provide a space and the materials they need, chicks will start bathing when they’re a couple of weeks old.
Can I Use Cat Litter for a Chicken Dust Bath?
I wouldn’t recommend using cat litter to make a dust bath for your chickens. Most litters contain harmful/toxic chemicals and it’s likely a chicken will eat some of the litter.