Chickens love taking a bath, as long as it is in dust and not water. There definitely is a reason the phrase “madder than a wet hen” was coined, as I learned when bathing dirty chicks once.
But, frollicking around in a dirt bath (or chicken dirt bath, as they are also often called) is a boredom busting social activity for hens that also helps rid them of parasites.
Chicken dust baths not only help give a vibrant sheen to a hen’s feathers but smothers parasites like Northern fowl mites, poultry lice, ticks, scaly leg mites, roost mites (or chicken mites) and Sticktight fleas.
There are several medicated and non-medicated home remedies you can use to kill or help prevent such poultry parasites, but using a simply and properly established dust bath is the easiest, quickest, cheapest, and most natural.
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What Is A Chicken Dust Bath?
A chicken dirt bath is a blending of natural substances that together possess the ability to clean and deter the growth of parasites. An easy to access framing around this natural matter helps it remain solid and turns it into a bath for the poultry birds.
Homesteaders and farmers often use old tires, plastic tubs, kiddie pools, or cinder blocks arranged in a square or rectangle, to cheaply make a “bath” or the chicken dust materials to be placed inside.
A chicken dust bath should be at least 10 inches deep (I tend to make my dust baths a full one foot deep) because the hens will burrow down into a bit and then work steadily to expose as much of their body all at once into the dust materials.
The tossing about of the proper dust bath matter allows it to land on and soak into the hen’s body just long enough to stick to the pores and smother the parasites that can make them ill – or kill the poultry birds.
While it would be rare for a rooster to take a dust bath, or a duck or turkey hen to engage in the same type of dirt bathing behavior, it has happened.
If your rooster does wander into the dirt bath, he will most assuredly do so alone and not bathe with his male coop mates or hang out with the clamoring ladies of the flock.
A chicken dust bath would ideally be large enough in diameter for multiple mature hens to bathe in it at the same time.
As noted above, dirt bathing is a social activity for the hens and they will prefer to gather together to enjoy the activity – yet still need enough room to truly cleanse themselves for the dust bath to do its job.
A dirt bath that is 15×2 feet wide should be large enough to accommodate three mature hens of most breeds, or two adult meat birds.
15 Things To Put In A Chicken Dust Bath
A fine sand is a perfect base for your chicken dust bath. It will help the types of natural matter used in the dirt bath mixture have proper drainage as well as provide some grit for the flock to munch up – which helps them digest their food properly.
The sand, which I highly recommend using as the base of any chicken dust bath, will also help prevent the soil used in the mixture from clumping when it gets damp or wet.
Sand alone does not make a good dust bath because it would be too scratchy on the chicken’s body, not absorb into pores long enough or deeply enough on its own, and would bake rock hard on a summer afternoon and be rather uninviting to members of your flock.
A natural play sand is safe to use in a chicken dust bath, but would likely be the most expensive type of sand that you can purchase.
A medium to coarse grained sand is also safe to just, but is larger than necessary and will be more expensive than a fine sand – which makes better grit.
A gravel supplier will typically refer to the type of fine to even course sand you can purchase as mortar sand, river sand, or concrete sand.
✅ Soil – Dry
Good dirt, of the same quality grade that you would place in your garden, should also be a part of the chicken dust bath mixture.
I typically scoop some nice dirt from my compost pile to use in the chicken dirt baths placed in the coop. The dirt helps to bind all of the lighter weight ingredients in the dust bath together.
Some folks opt to place a compost pile right inside of the coop run so the chickens do the work to turn it and use the kitchen scraps tossed into it for a healthy snack.
While this is a wonderful idea, a compost pile alone will also not serve as a proper dirt bath.
There will not be enough drainage of the soil and it will get bogged down by water and chicken droppings to the point where the chickens will not have any lightweight matter to toss onto their bodies to rid themselves of parasites.
The compost pile will get muddy during the spring and fall rainy seasons in most climates and do nothing more than get your hens messy and weigh their wings down to potentially destructive levels.
✅ Diatomaceous Earth (DE)
Diatomaceous earth (DE) is a natural substance that is created via the fossilized remains of miniscule diatoms – aquatic organisms. These little skeletons hold compounds of natural silica.
Over an enormous amount of time the diatoms accumulate in the sediment present in creeks, lakes, rivers, and even the ocean. That is why silica mining takes place in these types of waterways.
Silica comprises roughly 26 percent of the overall weight of the earth’s crust. Silica can be found in several forms: mica, sand, clay, glass, quartz, emerald, feldspar, and asbestos.
Silicon is not the same thing as silica. It is a component of silica and never exists in its pure natural form.
Silica reacts with both water and oxygen to create silicon dioxide. This type of dioxide has but two naturally occurring forms: amorphous and crystalline.
The majority of diatomaceous earth is comprised of amorphous silicon dioxide. Yet, diatomaceous earth may also contain minimal levels of crystalline silicon dioxide. The first ever pesticides that were manufactured during the 1960s, contained diatomaceous earth.
Use only agriculture grade diatomaceous earth in the chicken dust bath. This is safe for the poultry livestock (as well as other animals – including humans) to ingest.
The DE that could be accidentally or intentionally consumed by the chickens during the course of their dust bath may also help rid them of internal parasites, such as the various types of worms that their little bodies can play host to over the course of their lives.
This is why many homesteaders and farmers regularly sprinkle diatomaceous earth onto their feed of all their livestock.
Diatomaceous earth may be the most powerful type of natural matter you put in the chicken dirt bath when it comes to vanquishing (or preventing) ticks.
✅ Wood Ash
The ash from a wood stove, fireplace, or campfire is also an essential part of any chicken dust bath. The ash contains potassium and calcium – which is why some homesteaders also mix in a little bit (less than one percent) with daily grain feed rations.
If the wood ash is consumed occasionally by the hens during the chicken dust bath (which is common) the added nutrients can help not only increase her laying season but may also make her droppings decidedly less stinky.
The smell of the wood ash alone often helps to deter some pesky parasites. Its small and extremely lightweight nature make it perfect for attaching to the bird’s body and filling up the hen’s pores.
Never use wood ash that was generated from burning wood that has been treated, painted, had lighter fluid or other chemical coating applied to it, or from the burning of trash.
Wood ash created by any of these means would be toxic to the chicken flock that bathes in it or consumes matter from the bath.
Tossing some herbs into the chicken dust bath not only makes the area look pretty and smell good, but also provides a little healthy snack for the hens as they bathe – a snack that itself can help prevent some external parasites.
Lavender has been used for centuries by herbal practitioners to help relieve stress, anxiety, exhaustion, and insomnia naturally.
When placed in a chicken dust bath used by laying hens the lavender may help increase blood circulation, which is particularly important for hens who spend a lot of time sitting their eggs instead of moving about the coop and run.
This beautiful and fragrant herb may also help aid the digestive system.
This herb may be helpful in keeping the respiratory system healthy. Putting some dill in the chicken dirt bath may serve as a preventative to respiratory illness, especially during damp months of the year and times of extreme weather fluctuation.
✅ Lemon Balm
Lemon balm is a member of the mint family of herbs. Placing or growing this rapidly spreading herb in the chicken dust bath may help not only keep the hens calm and help them to relieve stress but they also could benefit from its natural antibacterial compounds.
Chickens are drawn to both the wonderful woody scent of rosemary and its delicious taste. Tossing some rosemary into the chicken dust bath for them to munch upon as a free choice snack may serve as a natural pain relief aid and help bolster the respiratory system of the hens.
Because chickens are far more prone to respiratory illness than ducks during periods of dampness and winter chill, adding some potent herbs like rosemary into the dust bath can help keep your ladies healthy during a long hard winter as well as the dampness off the early weeks of spring.
Ginger helps to stimulate the appetite, reduce anxiety and stress, as well as serve as a natural antioxidant for members of your chicken lock. Ginge may also help stimulate blood flow and promote a robust circulatory system.
Sprinkle or grate some ginger into the dirt bath for the hens to peck at as a healthy snack while they are dust bathing to help keep them healthy and producing quality eggs year round.
This potent herb can help to improve the reproductive health of hens and may also serve as an egg laying stimulant. Shave or toss some fennel bulb into the chicken dirt bath so they can snack on it while engaging in their favorite social and boredom busting activity.
Cats are not the only creatures that love catnip, odds are your hens will as well. Catnip has been used as a natural insecticide to keep mice and other pests and parasites at bay.
Tossing some catnip into the chicken nesting boxes should help to repel various types of mites as well as lice from the poultry birds and their living area.
All types of mint are good for chickens. Members of this herb family have often been used as both a natural rodent repellent and a natural incesticide.
Tossing some mint into the chicken dirt bath may help keep pests away from your coop and run – they tend to loathe both the smell and taste of mint.
When hens (and chickens in particular) romp amid mint, it tends to help rid them of all types of common parasites. When mint is combined with other herbs such as lavender, basil, thyme, lemon balm, and oregano the pest protection is amplified and the scent of the dirt baths is bolstered, too.
Pests and parasites do not generally like the scent of thyme, making it another great herbal addition to your chicken dust baths.
This herb may also hold both antibiotic and antibacterial properties, some of which can help keep the respiratory system fully functioning.
The herb basil may help keep the respiratory system of the hens in top working order and also enhance the mucus membrane in the poultry birds.
Some keepers staunchly maintain that hens who consume basil on a regular basis produce egg yolks that are a brilliant shade of orange.
The natural antibacterial compounds found in basil can also help bolster a chicken’s immune system.
I like to mix basil, thyme, cinnamon, turmeric, and dill together to harness all of their healing properties at once and sprinkle the mixture into the dust baths in my chicken run – especially from the late fall through the early spring when the birds are more susceptible to illness and frostbite.
This strong green herb boasts a robust vitam content and may also help promote circulatory system health. Many chicken keepers favor using parsley as a free choice healthy snack because it has shown promise as an egg laying stimulant.
Dill, all types of mint, lavender, rosemary, parsley, lemon balm, thyme, and basil are good natural parasite deterrents and are also frequently used in natural chicken respiratory home remedies.
Other herbs that are commonly used in a chicken dirt bath to help remove parasites and as a natural and potentially healing herbal snack include rosemary, fennel, catnip, and ginger.
Growing marigolds around the edges of the chicken dust bath can also help deter parasites, especially flying ones, from making your coop and run, their home.
Herbs that the chickens enjoy (which may have beneficial topical properties, and provide ample nutrients that could also be tossed into or grown around the dust bath) include: echinacea, yarrow, calendula, and bee balm.
It is becoming more calmer for poultry bird keepers who are also gardening fans to plant a deep chicken herb garden right inside of the coop run for the chickens to free range and dust bathe in.
Chicken Dust Bath Mixture Recipe
For optimal results in the creation of your chicken dust baths, I recommend using the ratio below:
- 2 parts soil
- 1 part wood ash
- 1 to 2 parts sand
- 1 part diatomaceous earth
- ½ part dried herbs
7 Things To Not Put In You Dirt Bath
❌ Kitty Litter
Don’t use kitty litter as it often contains fragrances and deodorisers and avoid commercially produced wood pellets and ash from processed logs and coal fires.
Sawdust may make decent bedding inside of a chicken coop, but it is too lightweight and absorbent to be a good dust bath ingredient.
Sawdust will attract moisture (which is why it is good for chicken droppings inside the coop) and either retain it or turn mushy from the moisture – making the dust bath a thick mess that the hens cannot toss about on their bodies.
If you choose to use a small amount of sawdust in your dust bath even though it is not ideal for this purpose, make sure it was not dust that came from pressure treated, stained, or painted wood to avoid exposure to by the flock to toxic chemicals.
Straw does not retain moisture as much as hay, but it almost always houses some mites and lice.
How long these parasites would last after the straw has been mixed in with the natural matter that is prone to killing them remains unknown, but adding in the pests you want the chicken dust bath to get rid of simply does not make good sense.
❌ Coal Ash
This type of ash and wood ash are not the same thing. Coal ash contains various heavy metals, sulfur, and mercury – all of which are toxic to chickens and other poultry birds. sulfur and heavy metals.
❌ Ash From Wood Pellets or Commercially Produced Fire Logs
Wood ash from these products typically also include adhesives, stain, and varnish, which are toxic to the poultry birds that will be bathing in and possibly ingesting them.
❌ Pine Shavings
The abietic acid in pine shavings can have a disastrous impact on a chicken’s respiratory system. The scent compounds and terpene hydrocarbons in pine can also cause damage to the liver of poultry birds.
Long-term exposure to pine shavings in a dust bath or as coop bedding can cause a minor to serious illness in a chicken – and possibly death.
❌ Cedar Shavings
The plicatic acid present in cedar wood contains tiny dust particles that are inhaled by the chickens (and other animals, especially small ones) and can cause severe or terminal damage to the lungs. This acid breaks down the cells in the bird’s airway and lungs after being inhaled.
Plicatic acid is a fungicide that helps prevent cedar from decaying and it is found in particularly high concentrations in western red cedar.
Even though the chicken dust bath is placed outside or in a very well ventilated coop, the plicatic acid is still harmful when inhaled.
Common ailments caused by chickens inhaling this acid found in cedar shavings include: coughing, congestion and phlegm, asthma, wheezing, labored breathing, and mucous membrane inflammation.
How Many Dirt Baths Do I Need?
The number of dirt baths that you will need depends on the number of birds in your flock and the size of their breed. It would take a lot more dirt baths to accommodate a flock of 7 meat birds as it would 7 Bantam hens.
As noted above, taking a dirt bath is a social activity for the hens.
A momma hen will take all of her chicks regardless of their sex, into the dirt bath with her to either protect them or teach them what to do – or both. In my experience, a dust bath large enough to fit at least three but up to 5 mature hens is best received by the ladies of the flock.
If your dirt bath is going to be deep, consider makeshifting a wood ramp up to the dirt bath using a piece of scrap board so a momma hen does not become distressed when attempting to take her week old chicks (or younger) into the dust bath with her.
Dust Bath Maintenance
No matter how perfect the chicken dust baths you create are, sometimes the hens still prefer to dig their own holes to bathe in, especially if they have found a piece of ground that suits their fancy. As long as the hens are taking a dust bath somewhere is what is important.
But, review your dust baths whenever you see this type of behavior. They have become too soggy, too hard, the dirt levels are low due to frequent bathing, or have become overly saturated with droppings.
Any of these scenarios can cause the hens to turn their feathered backs on the dust bathing areas you have so carefully created.
There is rarely ever a need to dump out a chicken dust bath entirely and start from scratch. Simply scooping off the top of the bath if it has become too soiled and placing some fresh natural matter into the bath, should suffice.
When many hens are heavily using the dust baths, you may need to rake or shovel droppings off the top of the bath monthly.
Wood ash may need to be added back into the bath once or twice a month because it is so lightweight and the chickens love flopping around in it that usually it is the first ingredient to be kicked outside of the bath.
If the dust bath material has become too hard, take a shovel and “stir” it to soften it up. Do not add water.
Typically, a dirt bath becomes hard when it has been baked in the hot sun, adding water will not fix this issue for very long.
Stirring the dirt with a shove, adding some more lightweight and well draining material like a little more sand, can help provide a long term solution.
You may also consider moving the dirt bath to a spot with more shade during the warm weather months, and then relocating it to a spot that draws sun, during the coldest months of the year.
Adding some rather low hanging perches just above a dirt bath will also likely be greatly appreciated by the ladies of the flock.
The chickens often like to preen their feathers after taking a dust bath and will happily hop or fly onto the perch to do just that – showing off how beautiful they look after bathing to the roosters.
It is possible that a hen will become so enamored with the perfect dust bath you make for her that she will start using it as a nest and laying eggs there.
Check the dust baths for eggs during your morning collection so that you do not miss any that were intended for your breakfast plate or incubator.
Chicken dust baths are not just enjoyable for the hens. It is really fun to sit and watch the hens romping about in what can amount to play in their dirt baths.
They will chatter to each other and have a grand old time while getting rid of the parasites that can make them sick.
Tara Dodrill is a homesteading and survival journalist and author. She lives on a small ranch with her family in Appalachia. She has been both a host and frequent guest on preparedness radio shows. In addition to the publication of her first book, ‘Power Grid Down: How to Prepare, Survive, and Thrive after the Lights go Out’, Dodrill also travels to offer prepping tips and hands-on training and survival camps and expos.