The chicken dust bath. It is how chickens naturally and instinctively clean themselves.
How does a dust bath work?
The way a dust bath works, is that the birds dig into loose dirt in and around their chicken coop and essentially roll around in it. They fling it up onto their backs, bodies and wings and then ruffle it into their feathers so the loose materials make their way to the chickens skin.
What does a dust bath do?
The dust bath does a few things for chickens, including absorbing excess oils and residue, and most importantly, it gets rid of insects, mites and other bugs that are trying to make a home on the chicken.
The dust bath is an effective way to keep mites and parasites away, but there are ingredients you can to your flocks dust bath areas which will help increase this mitigation.
And dust bathing is not just for full grown chickens, you will find your baby chicks will dust bath themselves after about the first week.
This is why it is so good to provide a dust bath area in the chicken run for them as well will start them off on the right foot. It also helps to keep a clean coop for your chickens (just make sure you are wearing the proper mask for cleaning a coop out).
Why provide a dust bathing area for chickens?
Providing your birds with a proper dust bath is an important way to maintain a healthy flock and it keeps your poultry happy.
So as a chicken keeper, think of it as your duty to provide a good dirt bath for your chickens and for your chicken health.
Dust Bathing Questions
So, how important is a chicken dust bath? Do poultry really clean themselves with dirt? What is the best material for dusting? When should chickens have a dust bath? We are going to share our dust bath recipe and ingredients with you today.
As experienced backyard chicken keepers, we are diving into the topic of dust bath and dust bath ingredients, based on our experience and the science of chicken dust bath recipes.
We will also look at what you can and should include for your birds as dust bath ingredients.
We will also chat about how to optimize the health of your flock by providing the best loose materials that they will use to stay clean and healthy.
Chicken Dust Bath
In the world of backyard chickens, it is generally accepted that healthy birds need access to clean drinking water in their chicken waterer, a safe environment, good bedding material and access to a dust bath.
Most chickens will instinctively dust themselves and work dirt and loose soil into their loose feathers and up against their skin, but can we provide our chickens with a better dusting material that is healthy, easily accessible and works better for cleaning them?
We will first have to learn what a chicken dust bath is, what it does and how it helps them before going into what makes a better cleaning medium. Then you can go off and make your own DIY chicken dust bath and be happy in providing your flock with what they need.
What Is Dust Bathing?
Dust bathing or a dirt bath is when a bird gets down on its belly/breast area and they fling dirt and dust up into the air and onto their skin, in between their feathers. We often see our chickens dusting in our garden or even dry dusty areas and areas around the yard as our chickens are free ranging.
We notice that chickens begin to dust bathe at a very young age; typically as we start to see their flight feathers begin to develop, and we are always happy to see this in our feathered friends as we know they will be off to a healthy start.
Do Chickens Need To Dust Bathe?
Simply put, chickens need dust bath opportunities to help combat the parasite problems and kill pests. If you do not have a dry dirt patch for them then you need to set one up. This could be shallow tray, a tire or Rubbermaid style container.
We like this heavy duty rubber, farm grade style feeder pan because this type of rubber container will last a long time and doesn’t crack or damage easily. This one is also the right dimensions for a dust bath.
How Do You Make A Dust Bath For Your Chickens?
When you have your own chickens, it is important to provide them with the best dust bath recipe in terms of location and container.
As for location, you can have a dust bath area right in your chicken run, or have it somewhere on your property if your flock free ranges. You flock may be picky though when it comes to the location and look of the dust bath. So here is how to make a chicken dust bathing area that they will actually use.
First, you will determine the location, next you can decide what materials to add to your dust bath (DE, dried herbs, construction sand...etc).
Dust Bath Location
Choose a location where they feel safe. When chickens are rolling around in the dust, they are vulnerable to predators and they know this. So placing a dust bath in an open field or somewhere unknown to them will not get any action.
Our free range birds have chosen to make their own dust bath areas alongside our fence where there are cedar trees above them, they have one in our barn where there is a bit of sand, and we made some quick dust baths behind their coop/along a fence line which they love.
We also have one right in the fenced in chicken run. The common factor here is that the locations they prefer are safe; where the they can be at their most vulnerable and still enjoy a good dusting.
Dust Bath Ingredients
The number one thing you must remember when making a dust bathing area for your chickens, is to make sure it is dry material recipe.
- sand (construction sand is great)
- food grade diatomaceous earth
- fireplace ash (make sure it is only wood ash in it)
- Dried herbs (some people swear by adding dried herbs in their dust bath)
- or anything that has small particles that the birds can roll in and get up under their feathers to kill pests is good.
Dust Bath Recipe Ingredients
Here are some of the ingredients you can add to your chicken bath dust recipe for their health and happiness.
Sand is an ideal addition to a dust bath as it is easily found and can be easily added to any dust bathing area. What is important to note about adding play sand or a fine sand, is that in addition to the natural dirt and dust as well as other ingredients you add as an extra layer, it prevents those ingredients from becoming compact and settling in your dust.
You will get a nice, naturally even distribution of ingredients by adding fine sand. Sand also helps exfoliate skin and kill parasites.
There are different kinds of sand you can purchase, such as contractors sand, all purpose sand and multifunctional sand, but it doesn't really matter which type of sand you get for a chicken bath. In this case, the least expensive option may just be best.
Studies show that sulfur is very effective at treating mites and has been used for a long time by commercial animal farmers to control pests. It’s even used to control pests on plants like fruit trees. If you want to go this route you can do a couple of things.
One is by adding handful of sulfur to a simple dry dirt bath. Alternatively you can hang a bag of it in your coop where the birds brush up against it. If you have an open water source, keep it away from that because you don’t want the sulfur dust mixing with the drinking water.
Sulfur precautions: High doses can be toxic to humans so don't breathe it in. Too much sulfur dust can also be combustible. If you just use a handful when applying it, you don’t have to worry about these issues.
A side benefit to sulfur is that it continues to control mite populations even after treatment, and can also control mites on the birds that don’t have those hygienic instinctive to dust bath themselves.
Entomology Today found that "Sulfur dust has been used for decades to control mites on chickens. The sulfur is usually provided to chickens in a “dust bath,” [...] Murillo and Mullens strategically positioned small gauze bags of sulfur dust in the chickens’ cages where the chickens were likely to brush up against them, such as near a food dish. The chickens effectively dusted themselves with sulfur when they fed. [...] On average, sulfur reduced mite infestations to low levels within one week of treatment and eliminated mites as of three weeks post treatment." We have used small amounts of sulfur in our own poultry dust baths and it is a great addition.
You might be able to find sulfur for chickens it at your local store (try the garden section) but we find they don't have it in the quantities we like so we like this sulfur sold in a four pound container with a handy screw on lid.
If you want the sulfur bags to hang in the coop so the chickens brush against it when they are moving around in there, here are some options on Amazon. Just remember not to place it near their water. We suggest hanging it near their door to go out.
Fireplace Wood Ash
Fireplace wood ash or charcoal wood ash is a product that can be used in place of sulfur as they are natural insecticides, as long as it is from a wood stove or you know that only wood was burned in the pile.
Wood ash contains potash which, in conjunction with water, produces the resulting alkalizing solution that is susceptible to serious skin burn. This is how lye is actually made. Wood ash can be used to keep bugs away from feasting on your chickens.
Many people swear by this natural ingredient and say it works great for a dust bathing chicken, including chickens feet which could get scaly leg mites.
We personally don't use wood ash as our chicken dust bathing areas can be exposed to water via rain, as well as we often have cook outs in our fireplace outside and sometimes things get thrown into the fire by the kids, and the contents in the wood ash are not well controlled.
However, it is an option that some people use as dust bath additives. If you want to use wood ash, just be sure to add very little and only if you know exactly what is in the ash (wood products only).
Check price of peat moss on Amazon here and have it delivered to your door!
Many backyard chicken keepers prefer to add peatmoss to the dust bath blend. Peat moss, much like sand, can be added as a de-clumping agent. It is quite dusty and can add great value to the chicken dust baths.
Peat moss is often added as it absorbs excess moisture that may be present in the dust bath and many believe that it helps absorb toxins and excess oil that may be on the chickens feathers and skin.
Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth (DE)
Diatomaceous earth (DE) is a bit of a controversial material when it comes to chicken coops. Many people love it, many don't. We have used DE in our chicken coop and in our chicken dust baths, and have found that chickens can be picky when this is present.
Too much DE, which has the same consistency and look as kitty litter, and your birds will avoid it. This may be why people don't like it. We have found that it helps if added in small amounts and mixed in to the dust bathing areas.
If you want to include DE in your dust baths, we would suggest sprinkling it in. People often add DE for pest control. It has been proven to kill mites and other parasites by absorbing the insect’s fats and oils and dehydrating them. DE is not poisonous.
If you are wondering what DE is exactly and why it can be controversial, you can read more from the National Pesticide Information Center here.
Plenty of studies have been done exposing rats, rabbits, mice, etc. to DE for extended periods of time, some studies for years with minimal health effects.
We have used DE with mixed results which pretty much aligns with what we have read in the scientific papers. Unfortunately on social websites it is touted as the silver bullet to fix almost any ailment for your birds.
What we do like to use DE for is sprinkling it right into our chickens feathers to help them out if we notice a lice or mite problem.
We really like this DE on Amazon for this reason, as it comes with a powder duster for getting it right under their feathers. This makes a world of difference when trying to get it close to the skin of your hens and roosters.
Kaolin is a clay ingredient that’s used in cosmetics and even toothpaste. Its main use is for the industrial production of paper. It has been tested for use as a chicken dust bath with fair results and this study from the National Library of Medicine showed that it was particularly effective in reducing the population of poultry parasites when compared to Diatomaceous Earth.
This ingredient can be tricky to purchase for a reasonable price for your dust baths recipe. It's marketed as a cosmetic product; an industry that excels at selling inexpensive material with fancy labels at high prices.
Life pro tip - when searching for it, look for large bags used for pottery. We found a 50lb bag here that should last you a long time. Plus, since it is from Amazon it will come right to your door, which we like.
Many natural farmers add dried herbs to the chicken dust bath, both for the pleasant odor and for the natural medicinal properties they have in deterring pests. Herbs such as dried lavender, sage, dry mint and rosemary are all natural insect and parasite deterrents.
Here is a dust bath compound made with non-gmo dried herbs that you can purchase in 5, 10 or 20lb bags and have delivered right to your door.
Why Do Chickens Need To Dust Bathe?
Dust bathing is a natural way your chickens defend themselves against parasites like mites and lice. As a chicken owner and steward, we always need to be cognizant of pests on our animals as their health and happiness should be priority.
According to studies posted in the Journal of Applied Poultry Research, “Mite infestations, in addition to being a nuisance for human workers and egg handlers, cause reductions in egg production, feed conversion efficiency, and BW [body weight] gains and may affect egg size”.
I’ve also read that a bad mite infestation can drink 6% of a chickens blood in a single day. To stop this problem before it even emerges, we provide chickens with the best dust bathing opportunities.
We all want to set our flocks up for success by giving them everything they need to clean themselves, starting when they are just baby chicks.
What Can Happen If Chickens Don't Dust Themselves
In extreme cases where mites feast on the blood of chickens who are not dusting (maybe due to being broody or not being provided proper dusting areas and opportunities), a chicken can actually die from a bad infestation.
Mites can take too much blood from a chicken that is not dust bathing to get the mites off.
Researchers sampled backyard chickens in California (study here from the Journal of Medical Entomology) and found that there were more parasite types on backyard chickens than in commercial settings.
They attributed this to:
- little to no biosecurity
- bird age
- strain mixing
- decreased pesticide use
- exchanging birds among owners
- lack of experience
Results From Dust Bathing Studies
Dust bathing isn’t a silver bullet for chicken pests. Studies have shown inconsistent results as described by Professors at the University of California here. At The Farmers Cupboard we have also seen varying results.
There are plenty of studies on the topic and they show varying results when it comes to chickens and dust baths, but they mostly agree that chicken dust bathing decreases mite populations on your birds.
On top of all this, not all chickens will actually use a dust bath. Those chickens are more likely to have higher mite populations on their bodies, which will then transfer to your other chickens over time. We have actually seen a chicken with a mite infestation on their body and in the same coop, have chickens without a mite to be seen.
Some chickens (breed, age, genetics) have better hygienic qualities than others.
Chicken Dust Bathing Summary:
- chickens bathe and naturally and instinctively clean themselves by dust bathing
- most chickens will instinctively dust themselves and work dirt and loose soil into their feathers and up against their skin
- chickens begin to dust bathe at a very young age; typically as soon their flight feathers begin to develop
- dust bathing containers could be a shallow tray, a tire or a Rubbermaid style container
- you can add sand, sulfur, peat moss, ash, diatomaceous earth kaolin clay and herbs to your chicken dust baths to help deter pests
- Not all chickens will use a dust bath; it depends on their age and natural mite and lice resistance
- There are plenty of studies on poultry dusting and they show varying results, but they mostly agree that chicken dust bathing decreases mite populations on birds
Here are some other questions people are asking about dust baths:
How important is a dust bath for chickens?
It is essential for your chickens to have access to this for their mental and physical health. Parasite infestations can be the cause of a poor quality of life in a flock.
How deep should a chicken dust bath be?
A chicken dust bath should be about 8 inches (20cm) deep to hold enough that the chicken can lay in comfortably and have enough material to throw around and on themselves.
Can I use potting soil for a chicken dust bath?
Potting soil can be used for a chicken dust bath, and in fact, any dry dirt mixed with a handful of sulfur or any other clay soil or sand ingredient will work well.
How much diatomaceous earth do I put in a chicken dust bath?
A generous helping. This could be a half gallon or more. You can use 100% diatomaceous earth if you like but as your flock spreads it around that can get expensive.
Here are some other chicken-related articles you may be interested in:
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