Chickens just love their dustbaths. Suzie Baldwin reflects on a real ritual for hens …

Chickens don’t take water baths, they take dust baths – and they love it!

Dust bathing is a very important natural behaviour that chickens enjoy daily and is necessary in order to keep them happy and healthy.

Chickens are susceptible to parasites such as lice and mites that live on their skin and bedding, and dust bathing is their natural way of controlling them. It is not only great for the girls themselves but is so entertaining to watch.

Dust bathing is a serious business … and a rather social thing to do. How many hens can fit in? how deep can they go? The concentration on scratching down and flicking the dirt around is hysterical, and goodness help a hen that interferes.

It can be quite alarming for the newbie chicken keeper to witness dustbathing for the first time. I have received a few phone calls from customers about chickens having a fit! Yes, you guessed it…they were in the throws of a good dust bath and perfectly healthy.

A natural process

All chickens should have access to a dust bath. It is a natural cleaner and insecticide for them. If chickens can, they will make their own bath, usually in your favourite plant pot or in your flower bed if they free range, or else or in the driest part of their run.

In the winter months I provide my girls with dust baths. These can be made easily with old tyres, plant pots, litter trays, a circle of logs – the possibilities are endless, but they do need to be dry with sides to keep the dirt in. I add fine grade sand and wood ash from my log burners with diatomaceous earth and dried herbs. Wood ash is great. Charcoal contains vitamin K, calcium and magnesium. It is said that after forest fires wild animals will eat the ash for its medicinal properties. It is also said to help with worms as it has a laxative effect! If you watch your girls, they do eat some of the pieces of ash as they bathe. Adding diatomaceous earth kills the mites as it dehydrates them.

Dried herbs are a favourite of mine; not only do they smell wonderful but mint, lavender, rosemary, thyme, yarrow and wild garlic leaves have insecticidal and anti-inflammatory qualities too; it doesn’t matter if the girls eat them. They can be grown and dried so easily.

Even though you provide a lovely dust bath for your girls, it doesn’t mean they always use it. Sometimes they will have other ideas. My field can, at times, look like a minefield where they have made their own bathing areas. But, when the weather takes a turn and becomes wet, they soon use the dry ones provided.

On really hot days, chickens will dust bath not only to keep clean but to cool down. They scratch down to cooler earth and cover themselves in this.

Who ever said chickens were dumb? Take time to observe your girls – it really is a joy to watch them doing something they really love. They have an aura of total contentment which is rather contagious!

Suzie Baldwin runs Hollywater Hens in Hampshire.

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