So what is a dust bath and why do chickens do it? The what part is pretty simple, it is part of a chicken's preening regiment. Preening is a bird's way of grooming its feathers to keep them in the best condition. Preening involves a few components, including the dust bath!
The act of dust bathing is when a bird (yes, some wild birds do it too) finds a spot and begins by scraping their feet in dry dirt or sand to create a wallow. If your chickens free range, that spot will usually be in your garden or flower beds, because chickens just don't respect boundaries and well, there is usually ample dirt and dust in these locations. So be aware, if you don't want your garden or flower beds to have flopping chickens in then, you will have to fence them off.
|Buffy in my newly created flower bed, changing the grading of our yard next to the foundation |
of our house. Yeah, chickens are rude sometimes and could totally care less. Rotten chicken......
Once a chicken has loosened up the ground they lay down and begin rolling, They will rock back and forth to create a depression. A favorite area that is used over and over will develop a deep depression and I sometimes wonder if they are trying to dig to China! Once in the depression, a chicken will flap their wings and flop around in order to spread the dust over their entire body. They will fluff up, tail spread, so they can get the dirt closer to their skin.
|Chickens of all ages love to roll around in the dirt!|
Dust bathing is an inherited behavior, which means chickens are born knowing it needs to be done and how to do it. From a very young age, chicks in a brooder will begin to try to dust bath. They will use whatever is available, be it the wood shavings you are using as their bedding, or even their feed! I said they knew they were supposed to do it, it just takes some time for them to figure out WHERE they should be doing it!
|Yes, that is food flying as this little one tries to dust bath in the food bowl!|
It is a good idea to provide your brooder babies with the opportunity to dust bath, be it something in the brooder, or in our case, we have a tote of sand that we let them play in during exercise time in the living room. It is so fun to watch chicks learning how to move their bodies just right to pull off a proper dust bath.
|Now everyone watch Wanda and see how she does it.|
A dust bath can be a lot of work and many times after preforming the act, a chicken will take a nap right in the wallow! Do not be alarmed if you find a chicken all contorted, sleeping in the dirt, especially if it is a sunny day. The chicken's wings may even be spread out in an odd manner. It is okay, just chalk it up to a really exhausting but good dust bath!
|No, she is not a departed hen, just a really great dust bath!|
So what purpose does dust bathing serve in the preening regiment of chickens? The dust that is worked into the bird’s feathers will absorb extra oil to help keep the feathers in tip top shape. The oil-soaked dust is easily shaken off and let me tell you, watching a chicken shake after a dust bath is funny, like a little dirt explosion! Besides keeping the feather clean, a dust bath also helps the feather be more effecting with insulating. The process of dust bathing helps with the removal of dry skin and other debris a chicken may have. Regular dust baths can also help with mites and other parasites as well. Our girls dust regularly and we have had no mites or other parasite issues, ever!
Free range birds have no problem locating areas in which to dust bath, even if you may not be happy with their choice. If your chickens live in a run however, you may want to provide them with a designated dust bathing area, they are simple to "make." Just grab some dirt/sand and place it in a defined area. You could use an old tire and fill it like a mini sand box, or place a boarder of rocks around the area. Make sure the area is big enough for more then one bird as dust bathing seems to be contagious! Once one starts, they all wanna join in.
|What was going to be my corn patch is now dust bathing central. Rotten chickens......|
Our hens simply flop in all natural dirt to take their dust baths, but some folks like to add things to a dust bathing area like wood ash and diatomaceous earth. Both of which might help if you have an existing mite or parasite problem. Taking regular dust baths is an important part of a chicken's preening regiment, so make sure you provide them with access to what they need to do the job. Not only will your chickens feel good and look good, but watching them dust bath is very entertaining!