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If you’ve ever seen a chicken flopping around in the dirt, then you’ve seen a happy chicken. But why do birds roll in dirt? It’s their version of the ultimate spa day! Since chickens don’t bathe in water, a chicken dust bath is how they keep themselves clean and parasite-free.
Chickens that aren’t provided a good dust bath will make their own – and it’s usually where you DON’T want them to. In the driveway, a sparse part in your lawn, or in your new flower bed.
So, if you want to save that new flower bed for…maybe flowers!…then you should provide your chickens a good dust bath.
Why do chickens take dust baths?
Chickens take dust baths to keep themselves clean. The sand and dirt help remove mud and other debris from their feathers. It also helps to “comb” their feathers, and removes old ones. Chickens don’t bathe in water like some animals, and definitely don’t use soap like we do. So dust bathing is their natural way of cleaning themselves.
The abrasive quality of the dirt and sand helps remove dead skin cells, remove worn-out feathers, and knock off parasites. This is how the chickens naturally avoid lice and mite infestations. But with the right chicken dust bath materials, you can help them even more.
What do you put in a chicken dust bath?
Naturally, chickens just use dirt for their dust baths. But dirt tends to pack down, especially when it gets wet. So with the addition of other materials, you can keep your chicken dust bath soft, fluffy, and dusty. Just how they like it!
A good portion of your chicken dust bath should be plain old dirt. Don’t worry about buying dirt for the biggest portion of the dust bath! Just get a shovel and dig up some dirt from your garden or any other area of your yard. Put a lot of native soil in there.
With the other additions I’ll list here, your native soil will stay nice and fluffy for your girls.
The next “ingredient” in your dust bath should be sand. Sand is really important, because the gritty texture helps exfoliate and remove dead skin cells and old feathers.
Go to any home improvement store and buy some cheap builder’s sand. Medium or coarse sand is the best to use. It usually comes in a 50 pound bag for around $5. Unless your chicken dust bath is huge, you probably only need 1 bag. Caution: don’t use silica sand or the really fine play sand. These are too fine and can cause impacted crops or respiratory distress.
If you’re lucky enough to have a river nearby that has nice sandy banks, or the beach, you can even get some from there. Just spread it out on a tarp in the sun to let it dry before adding to your dust bath.
If you have a wood stove or firepit, don’t throw away those ashes! Wood ash is a wonderful addition to any chicken dust bath. It is inherently dusty, which means it will help balance out the heavier portions of the dust bath and keep it fluffy.
Wood ash also kills chicken lice and mites. In fact, you can dust wood ash all over your chickens if you spot some bugs. It may not be strong enough for a full-blown infestation, but it will help keep them under control if caught early. Just make sure you are only using ash from untreated wood. You can learn about more uses for wood ash here.
Ash from a wood stove or fireplace will also have pieces of charcoal in it. Your chickens will eat it, and that’s actually a good thing! Charcoal helps remove toxins and may have some mild deworming effects.
Lime is another great dust bath ingredient that I recommend, specifically dolomite lime. Dolomite lime helps control parasite numbers, without being too harsh on your chickens’ skin. Like wood ash, it might not be able to treat a full-blown infestation, but it really does help. It also helps control odors, and since it’s a fine powder, it prevents the dust bath from packing.
Diatomaceous Earth, also known as DE, is one ingredient that causes lots of controversy. Some say it’s great to use, others says it’s horrible to use. I lean more toward the “great to use” mindset. But you will have to do your own research to determine if Diatomaceous Earth is safe for your chickens.
For me, I think Diatomaceous Earth is great at controlling bugs on chickens and in their bedding. I think it’s okay to put some in the chicken dust bath, but I would advise against using a lot of it. It is a very fine powder that can irritate respiratory systems. But it does have its merits on killing bugs with soft exoskeletons.
If you are going to use Diatomaceous Earth, please make sure the kind you get says “Food Grade” on it. This is important to ensure it will be safe around animals.
Again, I wouldn’t use DE to try to eradicate a big infestation of lice or mites. But if there’s just a few, you might be able to get rid of it with DE.
This is one chicken dust bath ingredient that I would strongly recommend if you have a bad case of bugs. While all of the other ingredients I listed MAY help, poultry dust is one dust bath ingredient that WILL help.
While I don’t necessarily recommend using poultry dust all the time in the dust bath, you should definitely use it if you are dealing with chicken lice and mites.
I love putting herbs in my chicken dust bath. Most herbs have health benefits that the chickens will get if they nibble on them. And some herbs even help repel insects, so they are wonderful in a chicken dust bath.
Sage, mint, and lavender especially have insect-repelling properties. Lemongrass, basil, and thyme are some other good ones. Throw some in every time you top off your dust bath!
Chicken dust bath containers
You don’t need to spend a lot of money on the container for your chicken dust bath. In fact, a lot of people just dig up an area in the corner of the chicken run and add the other ingredients. You can line the in-ground dust bath area with logs or cinder blocks to keep the material somewhat contained. But you can also have a little more fun with it!
- Plastic dish tub. A wide, but not too deep, plastic tub makes an efficient dust bath container. If it’s too deep or too tall, the chickens won’t jump up to get into it. But if it’s shallow, it’s a great size for one chicken to be able to bathe in. I’ve bought a few dish tubs at the dollar store for this exact purpose.
- Kitty litter box. While it might be a little small for a dust bath, a kitty litter box works well. As a bonus, it already has a cover on it to keep the dust bath dusty!
- Old tire with no rim. Old tires can work good for dust baths. This is the only “Shawna approved” uses for tires. Don’t put your veggie gardens in tires!
- Shipping crate. If you happen to have an old shipping crate around, this makes a great dust bath. If not, I’ve seen pretty big ones on Facebook marketplace for $20-30!
- Old water troughs. Shallow water troughs that don’t hold water any more make great dust bath containers.
- Sandbox. An little kid’s sandbox is a perfect container. You can usually pick these up for free (but I’ve seen some adorable turtle ones at Walmart!).
- Kiddie pool. A kiddie pool is a great idea for a dust bath container. It’s big, so multiple chickens can fit in it and dust bathe together. Remember, spa day is often a social activity!
Where should the dust bath be?
Chicken dust baths are best kept in the chicken run. It should be in an area that is somewhat shaded, and sheltered from the rain and wind. It’s best to not let the dust in the dust bath get wet, as it will cause it to pack down and turn to mud. Even worse, if you’re using DE in your dust bath, it becomes ineffective if it gets wet.
Putting a cover over the dust bath, like a lean-to type shelter or umbrella, is a good idea. Or, if your chicken coop is raised off the ground, you can put the dust bath under the coop (chances are, they will do this themselves!). If you have no other way to keep it dry, you can put it directly in the chicken coop if you have enough room in there.
Go create your chicken dust bath!
Now that you know what the best chicken dust bath materials are, get out there and build your girls a dust bath. They will love it, and will love you for it!
Just don’t be surprised if your chickens fight over their turn for “spa day”.