If you own chickens or have been around them for any period of time, you will have seen them rolling around in a dirt pit acting like they’re fighting an invisible enemy.
But, why do chickens roll in dirt?
This comes as a surprise to most people the first time they hear it, but chickens are actually taking a dust bath!
When we think of bathing, we think about clean water and soap, the opposite of dirt.
But we’re very different from chickens. Chickens need something rough to clean their feathers and kill lice and parasites.
It’s a pretty interesting topic. Here’s everything you need to know about why chickens roll around in the dirt, and how you can help them out.
What Is a Dust Bath?
A dust bath is a small pit a chicken has dug out of loose soil, sand, or whatever surface debris they have available so they can roll around and cover themself in the dirt.
If you’ve never seen it in person, here is a video of a Rhode Island Red taking a dust bath:
As you can see, she has dug a shallow hole to loosen up the dirt. She then proceeds to rub the dirt all over her body getting it deep into her feathers.
There are a couple of benefits for chicks doing this; one is that the dust absorbs excess moisture and oils on their skin. The other is that it kills or disturbs lice hiding out in their coats.
Should You Make Dust Baths for Your Flock?
Chickens will make their own dust baths most of the time. If reading this you’ve realized that your chicken’s run is wall-to-wall thick grass, you might have to help them out.
All you need to do is dig up some topsoil and loosen up the dirt to make a small area where they can create a little dust pit. Ideally, it’ll be a spot getting lots of sun so it stays dry.
There are some materials you can add to the top of their dust pit to help them out, too. Try one of the following materials:
Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth
I’m a huge fan of diatomaceous earth. I’ve used it for loads of things over the years; getting rid of fleas my cats brought into my home, dusting my chicks bedding and coop to kill parasites, supplementing food, and more.
It’s also a great additive for a dust bath. Chickens roll in the dirt to help rid their coats of parasites, and DE is great at killing parasites while being safe for chickens.
Just be careful not to get carried away and use too much. Don’t let it come into contact with your skin either.
Related content - Here's how to use diatomaceous earth to get rid of roaches in your coop.
Using wood ash is another great way to recycle and make good use of what would otherwise be thrown away.
Charcoal ash from wood actually contains some useful compounds too. It has calcium, magnesium, and some properties that are good for your chicken’s coat (source).
Just like DE, it doesn’t matter if they peck at it too. Let them roll about, peck, and become familiar with it.
I’ve been big into experimenting with herbs in the garden over the last couple of years, and have found a number of herbs that are awesome for my girls dust bath.
If you want nice smelling chickens while also providing some antioxidants and insect repelling properties, try lavender or mint.
You can experiment with herbs of your choice, I haven’t come across one that’s bad for chicks. You can find a huge list of herbs and their medicinal benefits here (source).
Sand might be the best all-around bathing material. Creatures large and small use sand in the desert to roll around and clean themselves, it’s pretty awesome.
Just pick up any fine sand and sprinkle some on top of their bathing pit. It’ll help clean their feathers, kill parasites, and do all the other things they want from a dust bath.
There you go, I’ve revealed why chickens roll in the dirt and make all those strange rolling, flipping, and flapping motions.
They are enjoying themselves having a dust bath.
It’s the opposite reason to what most people think. They are cleaning themselves, not getting dirtier. While riding their coats of fleas, mites, and other parasites.
A dust bath is essential for a chicken’s general health and wellbeing. If there is anything you can do to help them bathe you should do it.