The 411 on Chicken Dust Baths

For chickens, getting clean is a dirty business. Find out why chickens dig a dirt bath.
Related To:
Dust Bath

Dust Bath

A dust bath helps keep chickens clean and free of parasites.

A dust bath helps keep chickens clean and free of parasites.

For those who free range their chickens, the sight of the birds rolling around in the dirt, lounging about in the dust before shaking themselves clean with a spectacular, plumage-rustling display, is a familiar one. At first glance, it might seem like the birds are playing around or perhaps trying to cool down on a hot day. Both of those suspicions are likely true, but rolling around in a shallow hole in the ground serves an even more important purpose. For chickens, getting clean is a dirty business. 

Dust baths are often a social event for chickens as they help each other pack as much dust as possible into their feathers. It’s fun to watch, but absolutely essential for the health of the chickens. As the abrasive dust rubs removes dead skin and dirt, it also smothers mites and lice that may be lurking in a chicken's plumage. This instinctive behavior keeps chickens healthy as well as looking and smelling good. When given the opportunity to free range, chickens will dig a shallow pit and may linger for hours, luxuriating in their makeshift spa. For chickens confined to a run, the process may be a little trickier. If the soil beneath the run is loose and not too rocky, the chickens will find a spot to set up shop within the run, cooperating to establish a dust bath. If the soil isn’t bath friendly, they may need a little help.

All that's needed to provide a dust bath for your flock is a span of loose soil deep enough for a chicken to accumulate dust as it rolls. While chickens dig in the ground, the same result can be achieved by placing a sturdy container in the run and filling it with an appropriate medium. 

The container chosen for a dust bath can vary by the number of birds in your flock, but should be no smaller than 15”x24” with a depth of 12”. A galvanized tub or large wooden crate will make an effective dust bath, but sturdy plastic bins can be used or even enclosures as large as a child’s wading pool or sandbox. Chickens like having a “bath buddy,” so try to provide a bath large enough to accommodate two or more birds at a time. 

The recipe for the dirt in your DIY dust bath can vary, as long as the blend is a clean, loamy mix free of chemicals. A loose soil that is free of fertilizers or chemicals should be a primary component of the mix, but a semi-abrasive blend may include ingredients like wood ash and builder’s sand for best results. Food-grade diatomaceous earth is sometimes recommended for its effectiveness in killing mites, fleas and other parasites, but airborne DE (as experienced in a dust bath) has been associated with respiratory problems. While the risk is minimal, my inclination is to skip it, unless parasites are a particular problem in your coop.

Place dust bath containers when rain will not be an issue and rake or sift occasionally to keep clean. Your chickens will thank you.

Keep Reading

Next Up

Bird Vain: Fantastic Fowl

Chronicle Books' "The Magnificent Chicken" celebrates the bird.

What Does Your HOA Think of Backyard Chickens?

It pays to do your homework when it comes to keeping chickens.

Chicken Breeds: Leghorns

What Leghorns lack in social skills they make up for in egg production.

Once Upon a Flock

Lauren Scheuer's new memoir explains how her backyard brood became part of the family.

The Advantages of Roosters

Find out the pros and cons of adding a rooster to the hen house.

Plant a Chicken-Friendly Garden

Learn how to plant a garden for you and your chickens to enjoy.

Winter Brooding: The Time Is Right

Give spring chickens a leg up by raising chicks indoors.

Chicken Breeds: Silkies

Silkies are loved for their sweet temperament and downy-soft feathers.

Animal Diaries: The Chicken

Find out what the stylish chicken is packing.

Selling Backyard Chicken Eggs

What you need to know before getting started.

On TV

Living Big Sky

6:30am | 5:30c

Living Big Sky

7:30am | 6:30c

Flea Market Flip

8:30am | 7:30c

Flea Market Flip

9:30am | 8:30c

Home Town

10am | 9c

Home Town

11am | 10c

Fixer Upper

12pm | 11c

Desert Flippers

1:30pm | 12:30c

Desert Flippers

2:30pm | 1:30c

Desert Flippers

3:30pm | 2:30c

Flip or Flop

4:30pm | 3:30c

Flip or Flop

5:30pm | 4:30c

Flip or Flop

6:30pm | 5:30c

Flip or Flop

7:30pm | 6:30c
On Tonight
On Tonight

Flip or Flop

8pm | 7c

Risky Builders

8:30pm | 7:30c

Flip or Flop

9:30pm | 8:30c

House Hunters

10pm | 9c

House Hunters

11pm | 10c

House Hunters

11:30pm | 10:30c

Flip or Flop

12am | 11c

Flip or Flop

12:30am | 11:30c

House Hunters

1am | 12c

House Hunters

2:30am | 1:30c

Risky Builders

3:30am | 2:30c

Follow Us Everywhere

Join the party! Don't miss HGTV in your favorite social media feeds.