Lying and rolling around in the dirt. It seems bizarre, but chickens are known for doing this. And doing so regularly. But why do they feel the need to do so, and are there any benefits in this behavior and activity? Here is what you need to know.
So, why do chickens bathe in dirt? Chickens bathe in dirt to clean their feathers, remove excess oils, prevent or minimize the accumulation of parasites and as a means of relaxing. This process is known as dust bathing, and each hen will generally look to do so every 1-2 days.
Dust baths are, therefore, very strategic.
This is not something a chicken will ever do randomly.
And it’s a pretty important thing to do too.
With a range of benefits, this is something that any keeper should look to promote.
Or provide the opportunity for their flock to do so at the very least.
Let us now take a closer look at everything involved with dust bathing.
By the end, you will know exactly how to prepare, respond and understand the process – so keep reading!
What Is A Dust Bath For Chickens?
Dust baths are dry, safe, and spacious places of dirt that chickens use to roll around. They are used to kick up and spray dirt throughout their feathers and across their bodies.
They are as they sound, really.
Chickens actively seek out these spots and will often return to these same very spots when they feel the need to.
And they have even been known to do this, together, in groups.
It’s a social activity with three main benefits:
- Distribute oils across their feathers for conditioning,
- Minimize or even remove external parasites, which can range from ticks to lice to mites. The dirt can actually kill and remove these critters.
- To relax, particularly in warm, humid temperatures. The activity appears to feel good on their feathers.
At What Age Do Chickens Start Dust Bathing?
Chickens will typically start dust bathing as soon as they are physically capable of doing so. Chicken keepers have reported this is as soon as one week of age!
Of course, it depends on access too.
Young chicks will generally look to begin dust bathing when the first opportunity arises, and it is safe for them to do so.
And at the same time, the type of material in the dust bath can impact when it is used too.
For instance, sand is something that baby chicks often have access to, first and foremost, days before dirt.
Particularly if you use this on your brooder floor.
So, you may find young chicks dust bathing even sooner than a week – if they are afforded the opportunity!
Do My Chickens Need A Dust Bath?
Chickens should dust bath and be able to do so frequently year-round. Dust bathing not only has physical benefits and serves as a natural parasite treatment, but it has mental and emotional benefits for a flock too. It is an instinctual, natural behavior, after all.
Besides, believe it or not, dust bathing actually helps chickens to smell better.
It’s counter-intuitive, really.
Who knew that rolling in the dirt could help keep you clean and smelling fresh?!
Nonetheless, chickens do best with regular dust baths.
Just observing chickens and seeing them find a favorite dusty spot that they routinely attempt to bath in is simple evidence of this.
And thankfully, dust baths can be constructed from a wide range of different materials.
I’ve seen flower beds, kiddie paddling pools, and even sandpits as constructed areas for these activities.
Dry dirt, sand, diatomaceous earth, and even fire ash are commonly added for chickens to roll around in.
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All can be enjoyed, and all are particularly useful for bathing.
And dried herbs – especially the likes of your Sages, Rosemary, etc. Adding these can really amp up the benefits and keeping your flock smelling fresh.
There is one caveat to all this, though.
Dust baths need to be dry!
So, at any time when the weather turns, it’s raining, or the temperature starts to plummet – well, you will need to consider providing overhead shelter.
How Often Do Chickens Need A Dust Bath?
Chickens are typically keen to dust bathe often; every 1-2 days is commonly observed by keepers.
In reality, the best thing you can do as a chicken keeper is establishing and enabling your flock to dust bathe as and when they feel the need.
Their favorite dust bathing spot should be open to them at all times.
For free-range hens, you’ll notice that they will actually seek out their own areas to dust bath. These will often be in sunny areas, covered away from any winds.
If no suitable ground or dirt is available, they’ll be sure to peck, scratch, and make this area.
You can be sure of that!
And they’ll then return as and when they need to – every 1-2 days is the typical average.
Of course, chickens that are confined are another matter.
In this instance, you’ll need to be more mindful.
So, if your flock is confined to a run, then providing them with your own manually constructed dust bath that they can routinely access is advised.
Again, it is a good idea to do this, free-range of confined, ahead of a change of season or the onset of poor, wet weather.
In fact, indoor dust baths are often highly sought out areas for chickens on rainy days. It prevents boredom too!
Bathing in the dirt.
It may seem entirely random, but in fact, it’s an entirely calculated decision.
And chickens know instinctively it does them good.
On closer inspection, it is no real surprise that they are so keen to do it!
And you should allow them to do so and actively promote this activity.
And don’t worry about the decimation of your lawn.
Hens will find their favorite spot and keep returning there.
Failing this, you can construct and promote the use of a custom-built dust bath.
Enticing them in, however, may be a little more challenging.
But there are always treats for that!