Anyone who has sat and watched chickens for a time will come to realize that they are quirky creatures and rather unpredictable. However, of their many odd behaviors, many deeply rooted in their instincts, are some behaviors more perplexing than most. One such intriguing behavior is when chickens dig holes and sit in them. Why do they engage in this particular activity? Is there a reason they go into the soft soil of your garden and decide to make a mess? Let’s explore the various reasons chickens dig holes and sit in them, as well as some tips on how to manage this behavior.
The Natural Instinct to Dig
Chickens have an innate ability to dig, and their feet are well-equipped for this purpose. Their claws and powerful legs make them master diggers. This natural skill serves several essential functions in their daily lives, and understanding these reasons can shed light on why chickens dig holes.
One of the primary reasons chickens dig holes in the soil is to facilitate their dust baths. Dust bathing is a vital part of their hygiene routine. When chickens dust bathe, they roll around in dry soil or loose ground, flapping their wings and tossing dust onto their bodies. This process helps remove parasites, oils, and debris from their skin and feathers.
Keep in mind that chickens have no other way to clean themselves, and so if no dirt is around for them, they will make holes to do it. You can expect to see your chickens rolling around in the dirt a couple times a week.
Additionally, by creating a hole or depression in the ground, chickens can contain the dust around them, allowing them to cover themselves more thoroughly. It’s not uncommon to see a group of chickens digging and dust bathing together, creating a communal “spa” experience.
Nesting and Laying Eggs
While less common, some hens may dig holes in the ground to lay their eggs. This behavior typically occurs when a hen is broody and wants to incubate a clutch of eggs. It can also happen if there are issues preventing them from laying in the coop.
However, this practice poses risks, as eggs laid in holes on the ground are vulnerable to predators. If you notice this behavior, it’s essential to address it promptly to protect your hens and their eggs.
Chickens are sensitive to temperature changes, especially when it’s hot. On sweltering days, they employ their digging skills to find cooler earth. The surface of the soil or dust is warmer than the earth beneath, making a dug-out hole a perfect spot to rest and cool down. Chickens regulate their body temperatures through behaviors like fluffing up their feathers, flapping, and spreading their bodies to allow air circulation. However, sitting on cool ground provides an extra layer of relief from the heat.
One frequent reason you’ll see your chickens digging holes is that they are simply searching for protein-packed insects, grubs, or other matter they can eat. The clear reason that demonstrates this is why they are digging is you’ll see them kick a few times then quickly look down to see what they’ve uncovered. They’ll actually do this kicking and searching behavior in many different environments, from soil, ground, bark, sand, and even grass. This is completely normal and forms part of your chicken’s foraging habits.
While this may seem like a bother to you, the type of digging done by chickens is actually good for the soil. It’s a natural till that also dislodges weeds.
Chickens are notorious escape artists, and when they’re confined to a run or coop for extended periods, they may resort to digging holes in an attempt to escape. They often target sections of fencing where they can easily slip through with a bit of effort. Allowing chickens daily free-range time can help prevent boredom and reduce their inclination to dig their way out.
How to Manage Chickens Digging Holes
While you do not want to curb your flock’s hole-digging tendencies entirely, there are ways to encourage them to dig in designated areas. Here are some strategies to try when trying to discourage your chickens from digging holes everywhere:
1. Make a Designated Dust Bath
Creating a designated dust bath area for your chickens is a simple yet highly effective strategy. Dust bathing is essential for chickens’ health and hygiene, and providing them with a dedicated space for this activity can keep them from digging up your garden.
Here are some tips:
Designed For Chickens
When establishing a dust bath area, consider enhancing its design to make it more appealing to your chickens. Start by selecting an appropriate location within their coop or run – an area with partial shade and good drainage is ideal. Create a shallow depression in the ground, approximately 12 to 18 inches in diameter and 4 to 6 inches deep. This size allows multiple chickens to dust bathe simultaneously.
Select the Right Material
Fill the depression with a mixture of fine soil and sand. You can also add diatomaceous earth, wood ash, or food-grade DE to the mix. These materials help control parasites and promote thorough dust bathing.
2. Block Off The Area
Preventing chickens from digging in specific areas where you want to protect your garden or landscaping requires strategic barriers. Fencing options, including temporary ones, are excellent, You can use chicken wire or hardware cloth to create a temporary barrier around the designated space. These materials are durable and can withstand the chickens’ attempts to dig through.
If you wish to reinforce the barrier, consider burying the materials below the ground.
Are you chickens digging in raised plant beds? Do the same thing. Place hardware cloth around the base of the plant beds.
Visual deterrents can also help. Try placing garden stakes, reflective objects, or wind chimes near the areas you want to protect. The unfamiliar and potentially startling sights and sounds can deter curious chickens.
3. Maintain a Good Food Supply
A well-fed chicken is less likely to engage in excessive foraging behaviors that lead to digging. Ensure that your chickens are getting the nutrition they need by providing high-quality commercial feed. Supplement their diet with fresh fruits and vegetables and the occasional kitchen scrap. Mealworms and other protein-rich snacks scattered about can also relieve boredom. You should also keep you chickens on a routine feeding schedule.
4. Replace Dirt
If your chickens have already dug up bare patches of earth, it’s essential to address these areas to deter further digging. To discourage chickens from revisiting dug-up spots, cover them with stones, mulch, or wood chips. These materials make digging less appealing and create a deterrent for further excavation. You may also consider chicken-friendly plants, like comfrey, clover, and various herbs for ground cover. Chickens will forage and nibble on these plants, but they won’t dig at them.
5. Provide Environmental Enrichment
Chickens are intelligent and curious creatures that benefit from mental stimulation and engagement. Providing environmental enrichment can reduce boredom-related digging. Some ways to make their time in the run or coop more exciting is to introduce toys. You can hang mirrors, pecking blocks, and even swinging perches to make their environment more intriguing. Once in a while, rotate the toys around the run. The change of scenery will reduce boredom.
6. Make Sure You Have Enough Nesting Boxes
Nesting boxes are crucial. When chickens don’t have adequate nesting boxes, they may resort to laying eggs in unconventional places, including holes they’ve dug. As such, make sure the coop is not only clean and safe but that there are enough nesting boxes for your hens. They will want the nesting boxes to be quiet and secluded, so if there are plenty, consider hanging some curtains.
At the end, you can watch a video where you can clearly see how a chicken digs a hole for itself.
Final Thoughts on Chickens Digging Holes
Why do chickens dig holes and sit in them? Chickens’ hole-digging habits are deeply ingrained instincts, serving various purposes from hygiene to temperature control and foraging. Since hole-digging is an essential behavior that keeps chickens healthy, you should opt to coexist instead. Create designated spaces for their dust baths, employ strategic barriers, maintain a proper food supply, replace dug-up areas with deterrents, and offer enriching experiences in their environment. By doing so, you can enjoy the charming antics of your chickens while protecting your gardens and landscapes.
Valerie has been content writing since 2016 for websites and companies all around the world. A traveler, dancer, martial artist, Valerie loves gathering experiences and wisdom. Her travels have taken her to over 20 countries, and she hopes to see more of the world soon.