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How To Make A Dust Bath For Your Chickens

Friday, January 24th, 2020 

You might not think it necessary to actually make a dust bath for your chickens. They seem to do it for themselves. Whenever there’s a dry spot of earth they’ll peck and scratch at it, and then crouch down, fluff out their feathers and shake their wings to cover themselves in dust. That’s fine. But there are ways of making the dust bath even more enjoyable, and more effective too. A bit like trading in a bucket of cold water for a power shower!

Why do Chickens Need Dust Baths?

Just like a human bathtub, a dust bath is all about cleanliness. It’s not only chickens who like to hit the dirt – you may spot other birds such as sparrows and blackbirds taking a dust bath too. The dust or sand absorbs surplus moisture and oils on the skin. A dirt bath maintains the water resistance of the outer feathers of a chicken. It also deters parasites such as mites and lice by coating the insects’ breathing pores or simply driving them away. Dust bathing is an important part of keeping chickens healthy and clean. Once fully coated in dust or sand, the chicken will have a shake-down, just like a dog after a dip in a river. A quick preen of the feathers, and they’ll be all done and dusted. Literally.
In addition to these physical benefits, dust-bathing is also thought to be mentally rewarding for hens. It helps them relax, and is a way of socialising too, when a group of hens bathe together.

A Social Get Together

Chickens derive immense pleasure from dust-bathing. Studies have shown that hens will work to repeat a dust-bath even when they have just had one, indicating that they seek this experience for its own sake and the sheer pleasure it brings. Dust-bathing is an important social event with flock members collecting together to engage in this mutual activity, often splashing dirt across each other in a frenzy of bathing. Indeed, just like other gregarious beings, hens form close relationships with particular members in their group, often foraging alongside each other and sharing titbits and nesting companions when laying eggs. Dust-bathing is just another way of hanging out together and having some chill-time!

It is in the Genes!

Chicks start dustbathing from a very young age. It is instinctive and does not need to be taught by a mother hen. It is in their DNA!  From as early as 2 to 3 weeks we see our young chicks dust-bathing in the wood shavings in our chick brooder boxes. They get right down low in the wood shavings, shuffle around and give it all they have got! They love it!

You can provide some dry dirt/sand for them to play around in if you like especially if they are in a pen that has no access to a dirt bowl. Chicks also love to dust bathe with their mother as in the photo alongside.

Things to Add to a Dust Bath

Many owners convert an old cat litter tray, plastic container or an old shallow box, into a chicken dust bath. These can be a little shallow though, resulting in the bath contents being scattered around. An old tyre can be used, or an old crate or wooden box. It should be 20 to 30 cm high, which is enough to contain 10cm of ‘dust’ plus extra height to prevent the stuff spilling out. The dust bath should be placed in a sunny spot. This seems to be an important detail, and chickens will seek out a sunny dust bath even in the winter. The bath tub should be filled with non-clay-based, chemical-free soil (sandy is ideal), and kept dry. It will become fine and dusty in no time.
If your chickens aren't free-range or their run area doesn't have a dry patch of ground where they can dig a hole, you'll need to provide them with an artificial dust bath. 

Dust Bowl Ingredients

  • Wood Ash - One of the best things to add to the dirt is wood ash. It contains vitamin K, calcium and magnesium, which is great for the birds’ health. It also absorbs toxins from the pores, so acts as a kind of medicine. Chickens will usually eat some of the ash too. This is fine – those nutrients work inside as well as out.
  • Appletons De-Mite Powder -This natural, silica-rich powder has powerful anti-parasite properties, killing mites, lice, fleas and ticks. Hens will bathe in it, and it can also be added to their food.
  • Calcium Carbonate - It is is safe for chickens, animals, and the environment. It is commonly used in coops and barns to destroy odours. It stops the growth of pathogens with its high pH level and deters insects. Perfect for a dust bath!
  • Fine sand - Even if you have sandy earth in your area, adding fine sand will improve the dust bath. It cleans feathers very effectively, and also helps deter those pesky parasites.
  • Dried herbs - While very much optional, herbs bring health benefits to hens. Lavender, rosemary and thyme and mint are gentle insecticides, helping yet again with chicken parasites. Rosemary and thyme are also anti-inflammatories, and are thought to help keep hens’ respiratory systems healthy. Oregano and sage help boost their immune systems, and parsley provides a vitamin boost. Mint can help the birds keep cool in hot weather, and is also, due to its strong smell, thought to deter rodents and insects. And all that green stuff helps produce brilliant yellow egg yolks too.

For dust-bath maintenance, all you need to do is clean out the droppings each day,
and refill the bath every week or so, depending on how heavy the usage is.

If you provide your chickens with the ideal bath, you won’t see them for dust!

Ash from Your Fire

As long as you're burning only "clean" wood - nothing chemically treated, pressure-treated, painted or stained the wood ash can be used in various ways around your coop and garden. Wood ash is roughly 10-25% calcium, 1-4% magnesium, 5-15% potassium and 1-3% phosphorus, depending on type of wood burned. If wood ash were packaged and sold commercially as fertilizer, it would have an N-P-K value of 0-1-3. To keep the coop clean - sprinkling wood ash on your coop floor can help reduce odours. Like baking soda, wood ash is alkaline and therefore will absorb and help neutralize bad smells. It will also help reduce the humidity levels in your coop.  Wood ash also works wonders in the garden as a garden fertilizer - since wood ash is a plant-based substance, it contains most of the essential nutrients that soil needs for optimal plant growth. 

Healing Herbs from The Garden

Herbs provide healthy medicinal properties for both chickens and humans!

Mint: A natural insect and rodent repellent. Works both fresh and dried.
Coriander: Full of vitamin A and K and plenty of antioxidants
Parsley: Packed with lots of vitamins.
Lavender: This herb not only smells great but the pests absolutely hate it!
Basil: Antibacterial properties make it the perfect booster for your chooks respiratory health.
Dill: Helps respirator health and boosts the immune system and is full of antioxidant properties.
Catnip: is a relative of the mint family and works well as a natural insect and rodent repellent.
Lemon Balm: A natural insect and rodent repellent with additional stress relieving properties plus it smells great!

Appletons De-Mite Powder

For long-lasting residual control of red mite and other external parasites in poultry housing and dust bathing bowls.
Dust on perches and in nesting areas in poultry houses. The mites will crawl through the powder to get to the birds. The powder scratches the red mites waxy outer covering of their exoskeletons causing them to slowly dehydrate and die.

This product is 100% natural, DE based and can be used safely in organic systems. There is no withholding period for meat or eggs.

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New Dust Bath Bowl Kit

All chickens get clean by getting dirty 😊

Keep your hens mite and lice free with an Appletons Dust Bath Kit.

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