Seeing a chicken dust bath for the first time may seem weird to those who are not used to it. Chickens twitch vigorously, flopping their wings and rolling their heads. The scene is quite mad, but after they just lay still in a hole. If you get near, they will shake themselves off covering you with the mixture.
These dust baths are not only for chickens; turkeys, quail and guinea fowl love to bathe in them as well. Ducks do not like this, since they prefer water.
What is a Chicken Dust Bath?
Chickens do not bathe in water, so they like to get clean by taking a dust bath. Make sure to always keep your chicken coop clean and not to leave poop in the floor. Chickens will naturally bathe in dirt or dust while free ranging. Usually they pick a spot under trees that is relaxing and has dry ground. Dust bathing keeps your chickens cool during hot weather.
Dust bathing is a social activity, usually done by several chickens from your flock – think of a chicken spa! Hens will teach their baby chickens to bathe from a very young age, even a week old! If you are using an incubator and have a brooder (place to keep the baby chickens while they get old enough to be in a coop) you can put some clean sand (either play or builders sand) for them to bathe.
Fine dust particles help remove mites and fleas, scrub feathers clean and absorb excess oils.
How to Create a Chicken Dust Bath?
Pick a pick a place to set up your dust bath, ideally with some type of roof like a large umbrella or a zinc ceiling so your chickens can use it throughout the year. If you don’t put a ceiling then you need to have drainage holes. The bathing area needs to get sun, but be protected from the rain. If gets wet, you can bake the wet soil in the oven for a few hours or let it sun dry. For both options make sure to turn it so it dries evenly.
Some people prefer to do a chicken dust bath in the coop or in furnished cages. Chickens will fling dirt all over, so it is best to keep it contained. You can also put some used tires or a simple frame. Even a cat litter tray can work if you have very little chickens. Other things you can repurpose are large plastic sandpits, kiddy pools (plastic and sturdy), large plastic totes, wooden boxes, large flower pots, and a barrel cut in half lengthwise. A ring of stump logs can also work and chickens love to perch on them.
Dust baths should be at least 4 inches (10 centimeters) deep to give chickens space to bury themselves. The container should be twice that size otherwise the mixture will all be kicked out. Do not place a chicken dust bath near food or water sources, roosting areas or where hens are laying.
Size will depend on how many chickens you have. If you have a lot, you may need to make more than one. Estimate a chicken dust bath for every 10-15 chickens. Chickens may have already picked a place they like to bathe or otherwise you may have to train them to use the location you choose.
What to Add to a Chicken Dust Bath?
There are certain things you can include for a chicken dust bath to be more effective. Use wood ash – this is easier for people who have wood stoves or fireplaces – that has no accelerators or chemicals. It should only be ash from wood or paper. This wood ash helps kill lice, mites, fleas, reduce smells and absorb oils. Chickens may also nibble the charcoal / ash to clean their bodies from toxins and parasites – it is a laxative just like charcoal pills for humans. It contains vitamin K which provides calcium and magnesium, as well as being a blood clotting agent.
Sand adds a layer of girt to the mixture. You can get it from the beach or a local construction or gardening store. A chicken dust bath needs some dirt, so you can simply get some from your garden and let it dry or buy some but make sure it does not have chemicals, fertilizers and vermiculite. Sawdust can also be used, as long as it does not have camphor. Peat moss can also be used for drainage and to keep the bath dry.
Diatomaceous earth may be a little harder to get, depending on where you live. It needs to be food grade since they will peck and eat it. This is a great natural pesticide for your plants and chickens since it attacks both internal and external parasites. Diatomaceous earth will cause parasites to become dehydrated, block their airways and attack their respiratory system, thus killing them.
Best to use a mask when handling diatomaceous earth, since it could create lung issues. There are some people that advice for it and some that are against. It is best for you to do your research. An alternative is sulfur dust which is a pesticide free option that is scientifically proven.
Do not use cat litter mix since it has all kinds of additives. Straw is also a bad idea as it brings rats and insects such as mites, lice and creates mold. Coal ash has mercury, sulfur and heavy metals, so it is also not a good idea.
There is no exact formula to mix all of these ingredients. There should be more ash, soil and sand than the rest of the components. If you use diatomaceous earth make sure to mix it thoroughly.
Maintenance of chicken dust baths is very low. Just top off the dust week and add more diatomaceous earth and herbs. Scoop out the poop (if any) with a sieve, small rake or cat little scoop every 2-3 days.
What Herbs should you include in a Chicken Dust Bath?
Herbs for chickens are easy to grow and they are an inexpensive way of feeding them, repelling insects, and healing them. Using herbs you can build up their immune system, which is especially important since chickens do a great job at hiding their illnesses.
For a chicken dust bath you should use inset repelling herbs such as rosemary, lemon balm, mint and lavender. Use dried wormwood (Artemisia) to keep lice and mites away. Mint, sage, ginger, dill, fennel and anise are good at preventing parasites and diseases. While dried yarrow is an anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial herb, that has plenty of functions including clearing respiratory systems and sinuses. It is also a stress reliever, insecticide and wound healer.
Simply place whichever of these herbs you have available, there is no specific amount
To keep these herbs you can hang them upside down in a cool place till they dry out or simply use a dehydrator. Then chop them up in a food processor and store the powder in a sealed container to preserve the volatile oils. Make sure to use the herbs within a year.