So, you have backyard chickens and you’re wondering why they’re digging up holes around the yard?
First of all, this is perfectly normal behavior. Although, it shouldn’t become a huge problem. It’s not like chickens leave large holes everywhere.
As to why they dig holes; there are two main reasons why chickens dig holes:
They Are Searching for Bugs
Chickens are natural scavengers. If you’ve watched them going about their daily business for any length of time, you will have seen them scratching around for sure.
In the wild, bugs and insects make up a huge part of a chicken's diet. Some backyard chicken owners also rely on their chickens finding a lot of their food if they have a lot of land for them to free-range on.
Chickens are pretty much always keeping an eye out for anything that moves. They will also scratch around at the surface of the ground, and if it’s loose or they think they’ve spotted something, they’ll dig down.
They have extremely sharp claws too, chickens can make a dent in hard soil. Mine love nothing more finding a worm or some other invertebrate, bug, or insect living underground.
They Are Making a Dust Bath
The other main reason why chickens dig holes is to make a dust bath.
If this is the first time you’re hearing the term dust bath, you read it correctly - chickens bathe in dust.
They’re not the only animals that do this. Some small rodents, like degus, gerbils, and chinchillas take dust baths, as do some other birds and larger animals like pigs, elephants, and bison.
To do this, a chicken will scratch around using their beaks and claws to create a shallow hole with loose dirt in.
They will then squat or lay down in the dust pit, spread out their feathers, and roll around kicking up a dust storm and rubbing dirt in between their feathers.
How does this clean them? First of all, the dirt helps kill and remove parasites, lice, and mites. In addition to this, it helps dislodge anything stuck in their feathers.
Your chicken will then shake off as much loose dirt as possible. Then apply oil while preening to help clean and protect their feathers.
These two reasons will almost always explain why your chickens are digging holes. If you don’t think it’s due to either of these reasons, there are a couple of lesson common reasons:
They’re trying to escape - I’m not suggesting your chickens are unhappy in any way or trying to escape! However, if they’re digging holes near fencing that’s keeping them in, they probably are trying to dig their way out to investigate further afield.
As long as you’ve dug their fencing in a decent amount, their chance of escaping is low. Chickens don’t typically dig deep holes, neither are they great at working out what angle to dig at.
They might be building a nest - If you have enough nesting boxes set up in your coop and you lock your chickens in overnight, the chance of them making a nest outdoors is low.
Some chickens might though. In fact, some species, such as guinea fowl, prefer to make a nest somewhere more discreet than a nesting box.
What To Do About Holes Chickens Are Making?
No one wants a yard full of holes. It’s more likely you have a resident mole if this is the case, as chickens do not burrow or dig for no reason as I’ve explained.
If you’re wondering what to do about the holes, it depends on why they’re making them. Using the information above, you should now have a better idea as to why your chickens are digging.
Here’s what I recommend:
Dust baths - If your chickens are making dust baths, you have to accept that they need to do this. In fact, I always add some diatomaceous earth to their baths to make it even more effective at killing parasites.
Related - Here are some of the best materials to add to dust baths.
Scavenging - If they’re digging for food, again, there isn’t much you can do to discourage this behavior. Just simply replace the dirt and cover the up hole.
Along the fence line - If your chickens are constantly digging along the fence line, you should dissuade them. You wouldn’t want a case of Chicken Run on your hands one night!
Now you know, chickens don’t burrow and dig holes in your yard just to annoy you - they’re being chickens.
They are most likely either scratching and digging for tasty bugs, or creating a dust bath to roll around and rub dust and dirt into their feathers.
Two behaviors that are completely foreign - and even a little strange to us - but we’re not chickens!