How to Make a Dust Bath For Your Chickens

Dust baths are essential to a happy flock of chickens. Because of that, knowing how to make a dust bath, as well as what to put in it to optimize effectiveness, is important. Obviously, you want your chicks and chickens to live the best life possible. So today, you are going to learn how to make a dust bath for your chickens.

Grab a notepad, because you are going to want to take notes.

three chickens in Dust Baths

Why Do Chickens Need a Dust Bath?

If you take some time to observe chickens doing what chickens do best, you may notice them stopping, dropping, and rolling around on the ground. Dirt gets stuck to their feathers, and the chickens seem happy that it happens. While you may want to stop your chickens from rolling around in dirt, you shouldn’t. Such behavior is perfectly natural — and healthy.

In fact, if you give chicks a little patch of dirt in the brooder, their instincts drive them to bathe in the dust.

Chickens do not need to be bathed in water to get clean. Instead, they dig a shallow hole in the ground and use the mulch, sand, and other materials to coat their feathers. As the dirt moves through their feathers and over their skin, it is picking up excess oils and removing parasites. Plus, dust baths are great fun for your chickens. They get a little exercise and socialization while cleansing their bodies.

So, in a way, chicken dust baths are similar to human hot spring resorts and spas.

How to Make a DIY Chicken Dust Bath

While you don’t have to provide your chickens with a homemade dust bath — any patch of dirt will do — you can make them a better one. There are plenty of ways to go about making a dust bath for your chickens, but the following method is ideal for any kind of yard.

Keep in mind that you can customize the steps to suit your chickens and your yard. Plus, some materials may be available to you while others aren’t, which is why alternatives and examples are included!

Step 1: Choose The Location & Container

wooden box

The first task to make a dust bath for your chickens is to find a suitable location for it. You do not want the dust bath to be directly in the sun or without protection. Why? If it rains, your dust bath is going to become a swampy, muddy mess. Instead, look for someplace where the dust bath is covered from intense sun and rain. If you can’t find a place to set up a permanent dust bath in your chicken’s run that won’t get ruined, consider using a container.

A lot of chicken keepers like to use a kiddie pool as their dust bath container. The sides are low enough for chickens to step into without tripping, but it also keeps all the dust bath ingredients contained.

If you don’t feel like purchasing a kiddie pool, other options include shallow pans and bins, sandboxes, and tires. The only disadvantage of using a container is that you are going to have to clean out and replace the ingredients once in a while.

What is the Best Sized Container?

Yes, there are dozens of options out there for containers, but you shouldn’t immediately think that bigger is better. The size of the dust bath correlates to the size of your flock. However, even if you only have one or two chickens running around, the dust bath should be no smaller than 12-inches deep and 15-inches by 24-inches wide.

Many chickens will not dust bathe alone. Make a space that accommodates at least 2-3 chickens at a time. You may also notice that when one chicken begins kicking up dirt and bathing, the others want to join. Pecking order often dictates which chicken gets which area of the dust bath, so don’t be concerned if everyone cannot join at once. They will all eventually get their turn.

Step 2: Add Your Soil

chicken in sand bath

The base of the dust bath is soil. You don’t have to go out and buy expensive top soil. Sand works perfectly fine. The one thing you do not want is sand that is composed of clay. In the event you have such earth in your backyard, opt for soil or peat moss. The loamier, the better.

Also, it’s important to note that peat moss is thirsty. It can absorb 20 times its own weight in moisture.

Remember, the dust from both the sand and other ingredients is essential. The grit should be fine and soft enough that it can coat the flock’s skin and feathers.

No matter what you choose, make sure your soil or sand does not contain any pesticides or herbicides. Chemicals could hurt your chickens.

Step 3: Mix in Diatomaceous Earth or Wood Ash

food grade diatomaceous earth supplement

The next important ingredient to the optimized dust bath is either wood ash or diatomaceous earth. These are two substances that can deter insects from making your chickens’ feathers home. You can gather wood ash from a wood-burning stove, fire pit, or grill. As long as the ash is dry and cool, it’s fine to use. The disadvantage of wood ash is that, when wet, it becomes lye.

You also do not need to worry about cleaning out any specks of charcoal. Chickens may peck at the pieces of charcoal, but it is harmless.

Diatomaceous earth (DE) is fossilized phytoplankton. DE is an excellent substitute for wood ash, as it dries out mites and lice. However, if you are on the fence about DE for fear that it could cause respiratory problems with your chickens, skip it and use a construction-grade sand, wood ash, or brimstone.

Yes, brimstone, also known as sulfur dust. Sulfur is powerful enough to eliminate parasites like lice and mites on the chickens that bathe in it but also by proxy. In other words, even chickens who don’t use the dust bath benefit. Cool, right? There have been studies done on sulfur and chickens that prove no harm comes to your flock. The only issue here is that you might have problems locating sulfur dust!

The soil-to-wood ash or DE ratio is about half and half.

Step 4: Blend With Dried Herbs

dried herbs

While dried herbs aren’t a necessity, they do add some goodness to the dust bath. There are many dried herbs that smell delightful and contain powerful essential oils that ward off insects and parasites. Plus, the chickens will love nibbling on them — another bonus! While you can go out and purchase dried herbs for the dust bath, you may find that growing your own is much easier.

Here is a list of dried herbs that are perfect for a chicken’s dust bath:

You can also add some beneficial weeds to your dust bath, including:

  • Nettles
  • Bee balm
  • Clover
  • Chickweed
  • Dandelion
  • Wood sorrel

Weeds don’t necessarily have the same insect-repelling effects as herbs, but they do make for a fun bath time.

Step 5: Step Back & Observe

Once you have mixed together all the ingredients and scattered some herbs and weeds on top for a garnish, let your chickens investigate. Remember to keep your dust bath somewhere covered. You don’t want the earth to get wet, because your chickens won’t be too pleased with bathing in mud.

After that, the only thing you need to do is sit back and watch the show. Rake or sift the sand and other ingredients once in a while to keep it fresh. If you notice that the sand-to-wood ash ratio is diminished, simply add more of whatever is missing.

Finally you can watch this nice detailed video:

Conclusion

Dust baths are necessary for chickens but, all in all, making a dust bath is fairly straightforward. Choose a location or container. Fill it with sand, wood ash, dried herbs, and mix it all together. Make sure to protect the dust bath when it is not in use or during rainstorms. With that, you are good to go!

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