What Chicken Farmers Need To Know About Chicken Dust Baths
What do chicken farmers need to know about chicken dust baths? Read on to know more. As a backyard farmer, one of the ways to maximize the production of eggs (or meat) is to keep a healthy flock. How do you keep your chickens healthy? You should observe them notice any changes in behavior that might signal health challenges.
It is also vital to ensure that your chickens stay clean. Their plumage should be free from external parasites such as ticks and lice. An essential method that Chickens use to maintain good feather and skin health is called dust bathing.
How Do Chickens Stay Clean?
They simply take a bath in the soil. They roll in soil, and by shaking off the soil, they are cleaner. Unlike humans who have to shower with water, chickens prefer to use the earth/soil/dust. The chickens writhe and turn on the ground, and new chicken farmers might be surprised at such behavior.
The chickens are very happy to take their bath, and they take the dust bath at any available area. If you are new to poultry farming, there is no cause for alarm when you see the birds turning around in soil as it is a perfectly natural thing for chickens to do.
What is a Dust Bath?
Dust bathing is a maintenance behavior and a social activity carried out by chickens (and some other animals such as rabbits and hares). When chickens feel dirty, they will find a spot to dig. Any loose soil would do. They would burrow and throw the dirt over themselves, squirming in it for some time.
In a typical dust bath, the chicken rolls or moves around dry earth, dust or sand. The purpose of this ritual by animals who practice it is to eliminate parasites and pests from their skin, feathers or fur. The chickens continue the dust bathing until their feathers are fully coated with dust to remove excess oil and dirt.
The dirt would also clog the breathing pores of most external parasites. After the dust bath, the chickens would shake off all the dust and dirt thoroughly. After dust-bathing, chickens shake vigorously to further ruffle the feathers which may be accompanied with preening using the beak. With the dirt removed, the chickens are cleaner, and their plumage is brighter.
You can’t really know when the chickens would want to dust bath but generally chickens dust bath every few days. They can be trained to bath in a provided container rather than just any available soil. However, if you don’t provide a container, they would, at any time, just start rolling around in the soil!
This link here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nKhOrAIwZd8 shows a video of what it typically means when we say chickens are having a dust bath.
Why Dust Baths are Important
Dust baths are the chickens’ method for keeping clean. Dust bathing is essential to maintaining healthy plumage. The feathers of chickens can often be a hiding place for all sorts of external parasites as well as a starting point for health problems.
A regular dust bath can serve as a natural insecticide, helping to remove or kill off ticks and mites. Dust baths are essential to the health of the flock. After the dust baths, the chickens often preen, and during this process, they secrete oil to improve the appearance of their plumage.
You would often find that several chickens take their dust bath at the same time. This highlights the importance of dust baths as an important social activity for the chickens.
Chickens that don’t have dust baths may become aggressive and start perking each other. Dust bathing can thus be a very relaxing activity for the chickens, helping to improve the welfare of the flock.
Should You Provide Dust Bathing Facilities?
Many backyard farmers raise poultry on a free-range basis. Consequently, they may not want to provide dust bathing facilities for the birds. This has some drawbacks: firstly, the chickens might take their bath in dirty, infested soil and while they would get rid of any external parasites, they might also be in danger of microbial (bacterial or fungi) infestation from the soil.
Secondly, it is not uncommon to find chickens carrying out their bath in the most inconvenient (for the farmer) areas. Farmers who also raise a garden might find that the chickens have upturned their vegetables as part of their bathing ritual.
Common areas for chickens to take a dust bath are areas beside buildings, under shrubs, trees and other plants, and inside the coop.
Even though you are a free-range farmer, it can be more advantageous to provide dust bathing facilities for the birds instead of letting them flock around to find their own spots.
Making your own dust bath essentially guarantees that your chickens continuously bath in beneficial dirt instead of dirt mixed with manure, decaying or even dead matter that could harbor harmful bacteria which could lead to some severe health issues that could ultimately reduce your chickens’ life cycle.
Building a Dust Bath Feed
If your chickens have already adopted a certain area of dirt pile or sandbox for frequent dust bathing, farmers could preserve such areas for their continuous use. However, if such areas do not exist, you can build an attractive dust bath for your chickens.
Your proposed dust bath site should have dry soil, a shelter nearby for the birds to retreat for cases where they are threatened and large enough space to accommodate several chickens at the same time.
Many backyard farmers have used the following materials to create a dust bath inside or outside the coop;
- Stumps: Tree stumps with soil placed on them can serve as a dust bath container.
- Crates: Apple crates and other types of crates can be used.
- Logs: Logs of wood can be used if you have a small flock.
- Containerized Dirt: Dirt in any clean container can be used as a dust bath.
- Wood Ash
- Culverts (usually used during winter).
Many farmers have also used tires, galvanized tubs and cut gallons as containers for dust baths.
Far more important than the material used in building the container are the materials used in the bath. You should include materials that would help achieve the purpose of the bath, that is, improving the health and appearance of the chickens.
Fine sand (or builder’s sand): Not all sand is good dirt for the dust bath. Fine sand does not clump, and this makes it appropriate for building the dust bath. You may add some dry dirt in case the chickens need to forage. You can also buy topsoil from any gardening shop.
Diatomaceous Earth: Diatomaceous Earth (DE) is a naturally occurring soft sedimentary rock that is crumpled into a soft, white powder. Typically, diatomaceous earth that’s been oven-dried consists of Silica (80%-90%), Iron Oxide (0.5%-2%), and Alumnia (due to the presence of clay minerals has about 2-4% content).
This is an important material in building a dust bath. As an effective insecticide, Diatomaceous earth would help attack pests. It is an effective organic material against ticks, mites, and even lice. To be effective as an insecticide, diatomaceous earth must not be heat treated. You can get DE at gardening shops or online. However, be sure not to add too much DE as it could cause respiratory problems for the birds. Incorporate a little into the fine sand.
Wood Ash: Wood Ash is a source of magnesium, calcium and Vitamin K. Chickens forage even while taking a dust bath. Including ash in the mixture for the dust bath container can provide needed nutrients for the birds. The wood ash also helps to improve the cleaning process and remove dirt from the chicken’s feathers.
Organic Pest Repellents: Farmers can also incorporate organic pest repellents such as lavender and lemon balm into the mixture. Apart from helping to keep parasites away from the chicken, these materials also help keep the chickens fresh and pleasantly smelling. Both materials also have antibacterial properties.
Herbs (optional): You can also provide herbs such as mint, thyme, basil, marigolds, almond, catnip, lavender, rose petals, and even pineapple as part of the dust bath material. These herbs are good for the chicken’s respiratory system, and they also have a pleasant aroma that helps relax the chicken. Some of them can also repel insects and pests.
DIY Guide to Building a Dust Bath
How do you build a dust bath for use in your coop? Follow the information below, and you’d have your own effective dust bath in no time.
- Get a container that is at least 12*15*24 in inches. Each container should be used for 3-4 chickens. Old tires, apple crates, and logs can be used as containers. The container should be clean.
You can construct your own container by using a circular saw to cut pines into four 24 inch segments. You can then fasten them together with 1.5-inch nails. In no time, you would have your box.
- Get the ingredients in the above section and mix in equal parts (except for the diatomaceous earth which should not be so much). Smooth out the mixture and ensure it is even.
- Put the chickens into the dust bath.
Check out this DIY dust bath tutorial video
During winter or in cold weather, it might be better to have an outside culvert for the chickens to dust bath. Bury a plastic or metal culvert section, ensuring there is fine sand inside the buried section. The dirt should be sheltered from rain or snow. Chickens can’t make use of frozen sand so be sure you have protected the culvert from the elements and that the dirt or soil does not freeze.
How do you know if the Dust Bath is being used?
- You’d notice some of the “bath” content on the coop floor.
- You would notice your chickens nested together throwing dirt on one another
- Your chickens are free ranging and suddenly shake from comb to feet, and a cloud of dust comes out around your chicken
Maintaining a Dust Bath
The importance of keeping the dust bath clean cannot be overemphasized, to keep your chicken happy and healthy requires dedicated care and maintenance. You must ensure that the environment is safe and enriching for your chickens to live in. Your chickens should have access to an area free from danger where they can exercise, savor the sunshine and fresh air.
Remove the chicken droppings regularly and do not over-use the materials in the dust bath. Regular maintenance of the dust bath would help you in raising healthy, good looking chickens.
Change the materials frequently to keep the bathing productive. You should add more dust from time to time. At the initial stages, you may need to train the chickens to use the dust bath provided as they are naturally inclined just to use the nearest available soft soil.
When next you see your chickens writhing in sand, be happy as it means your chickens are trying to be healthy and “recharge their feathers” while kicking out ectoparasites. If you want to be a successful chicken farmer, watch out for the health of your flock by providing dust baths with the appropriate and beneficial materials.