One of the funniest chicken behaviors to watch is dust bathing (but it’s often disturbing the first time new chicken keepers observe it) . The chickens find some warm, dry, loose material like dirt, sand, or mulch; and proceed to dig themselves in. They’ll dig and dig, throwing dirt all over themselves, and make happy noises while doing it. One place ours like to bath is beneath a window with a bench seat, and we enjoy sitting there watching and listening to them.
Chickens take dust baths to get clean and rid themselves of the parasites that tend to afflict them (mites, fleas, etc.), because instinct has taught them that the dust clogs the breathing pores of the parasites, and kills them off. They’ll find a suitable warm spot, close their eyes, and roll or dig until they have dust down to their skin. When they’re all done, stand back because they’ll shake out a considerable amount of dust and dirt.
Providing Bathing Facilities
All chickens should have access to dust baths because it’s a natural, non-polluting cleaner and insecticide for them. Even if chickens are completely confined, it’s easy to put together suitable dusting facilities. Simply take a large shallow pan (I’ve seen kitty litter pans, small kiddy pools, and wooden boxes) and fill it with loose dirt, sand, hardwood ashes (another good use for fireplace ash), or a combination of these. Place it where it won’t get wet, and in the warmest spot available during cold months.
Dust Bath Maintenance
If you provide artificial bathing facilities for your chickens, you’ll need to clean the droppings out periodically, and completely change the contents every few weeks. Small amounts of food grade diatomaceous earth can also be added to the bathing material to help control any build-up of parasites. The sharp edges of the diatomaceous earth pierce the soft body parts of the parasites and kill them.
Clean, Bug-free Chickens
At first, we didn’t realize the importance of dust bathing for chickens, and didn’t provide ours any facilities. Being smart chickens, they quickly turned one corner of their pen into a dust bathing station, and also have several favorite locations established around the yard. If you want super clean, bug-free chickens, make sure they have dusting facilities – they’ll love you, and you’ll chuckle as you watch them dust.
P.S. I’ve read that roosters aren’t really interested in dusting, just hens. But our roosters all seem to love dusting just as much as the hens. Any others have roosters that love dusting?