Chickens start dust bathing within days of hatching. As long as you provide some sand, you’ll see your little chicks rolling around flapping their wings. It’s a natural, innate behavior that chickens do throughout their lives.
In this article, I’m going to explain why chickens take dust baths, how it helps them stay clean, what you need to do to help, and more.
Why Do Chickens Roll in Dirt (Dust Bathe)?
It’s one of the more odd behaviors that takes all new owners by surprise, but chickens roll around in the dirt, sand, and other dusty substances to clean themselves.
That’s right. Just as you take a shower to get clean, chickens roll in dirt!
A lot of animals do this to be fair, it’s not a behavior unique to chickens. Creatures as small as gerbils and chinchillas dust bathe, as do large animals like bison and elephants.
The reasons why chickens do this and why it’s so effective is because dirt helps to:
- Remove excess oil and loose debris
- Keeps them cool in warm weather
- Remove lice and other parasites
- Is a fun social activity that they clearly enjoy
Essentially, by rolling around in dust and rubbing it through their feathers they get a good clean.
Dust bathing is essential for chickens to maintain their plumage and it's good for their mental health. So, you have to make sure they’re able to create a place to dust bath.
Do Baby Chickens Take Dirt Baths?
Baby chickens do take dust baths, yes. Within days of hatching, as long as there is some sand or something similar for them to use, chicks will have a little roll around in it.
It's a behavior that is completely natural and innate to chickens. The best material for baby chicks is just simple play sand.
Obviously, they shouldn't be dealing with lice or a lot of dirt in their fuzzy coats. It's more a case of them just learning how to bathe and how to be chickens at this point.
Do Chickens Need a Dust Bath?
Chickens do need to dust bath, yes. If they aren’t able to create and take a bath, there is a risk of lice and parasites getting out of control and causing some serious health issues.
Not to mention that their plumage will become disheveled fairly quickly. You’ll see broken feathers, patches of feathers sticking up, and so on.
I can’t stress enough that although it’s a strange concept to us, being able to roll around in dirt is the perfect solution for chickens
If you keep them in a run or an enclosure and there are no patches of loose dirt where they can make their own dust bath, you're going to need to do it for them.
You can either buy a chicken dust bath, which is essentially just like a small sandbox. Or, as I prefer to do, you can make a hole for them and fill it with some materials they will use.
Either way, your chickens have to be able to roll around in some loose dirt, sand, etc.
How to Make a Dust Bath for Chickens
You want to help your chickens out by making them a dust bath, the good news is pretty simple.
First of all, you need an area that's covered so it doesn't get wet and muddy when it rains. then you simply need to loosen the surface and add some materials that chickens love to roll around in.
Most of the time you can get away with just loosening the soil in your yard if you're able to create a fine consistency.
There are some materials you can add that will help a great deal, however.
- Play sand - the consistency of sand is perfect, and it’s coarse enough to run through their feathers and remove dirt, lice, debris, etc.
- Diatomaceous Earth - Diatomaceous earth or DE as it’s also called is like the gold standard of sand bath materials. It’s very effective at killing lice and parasites.
- Ash - Chickens love rolling around in ash, it’s the perfect consistency for them.
- Herbs - If you’re into herbs, then you can look into the benefits and pest-repellent of certain herbs and add those to the mix.
As I said, dust bathing is something that comes instinctually to chickens and they're going to go out of their way to do it.
As long as you're providing an area where it's possible, you don't need to stress too much about exactly what they're rolling in as long as it's loose dirt.
How Big Should a Chicken Dust Bath Be?
The answer to this is the bigger the better. Chickens love to take dust baths as a social activity and will often roll around together.
So, the more chickens you have, the larger area you're going to need. To answer this question per chicken, I would say around 1 square foot per chicken should be fine.
They need to be able to dig a good few inches down as well. Chickens like to be around surface-level or lower when lying down.
I know some owners that have created large designated areas in the yard to create bathing pits. If able to do this, that’s perfect.
Dust bathing is as natural and as important to chickens as scratching around and interacting with one another.
Baby chicks will start using sand and other materials you give them in the brooder to clean themselves from just a few days old as they learn how to maintain their feathers and clean themselves.
It’s essential you make sure your chickens are able to take a dust bath!
Image credits - Photo by Chalaphan Mathong on Unsplash