Chickens do not like to be dirty birds – they love dirt, and hate water. It is just that simple, fellow homesteaders.
If you have ever had to give a chicken a bath – or a wash off a chick with the dreaded “pasty butt,” you know exactly what I’m talking about. To keep themselves clean and both rid or prevent mites, chickens NEED dirt baths.
Sure, the label “dirt bath” sounds like an oxymoron, but flopping around in loose soil will make your chickens feel fresh, clean, and rid them of nasty parasites.
Not only will a dirt bath help the hens with flock hygiene, the bathing activity is also a social gathering and serves as a superb boredom buster. Bored chickens equal destructive and ill-behaved birds.
Dust Bath FAQ
Why Do Chickens Throw Dirt On Themselves During A Dirt Bath?
Once a chicken is offered a dirt bath, expect the hens to spend a whole lot of their time wriggling about, rolling, and flapping their wings in the loose dirt. This behavior is instinctive, even when the poultry birds are mere chicks.
The dust that attaches to the bodies and feathers of the birds clogs up the pores any parasites on their bodies must have open in order to breathe.
A little time in a dirt bath will kill the nasty parasites, and help prevent others from turning your chickens into their hosts.
How Do Chickens Take Dust Baths?
When in a dust bath, the chicken will start the process by scraping its feet into the soft, fine, and dry loose soil mixture. Next, it will place her breast down onto the surface of the dirt, and start rolling around.
Often, the hen enjoys herself so much that she rocks or sways back and forth. An indentation from the hens movement will be created in the soil if it is the proper consistency.
Once all settled into the dust bath, the hen will vigorously flap her wings to toss the dirt all about her body to clean it – much like a child will do in a bubble bath – maybe not to cleanse themselves, but to get all sudsy and wet while playing with their water toys.
Why Are My Chickens Digging Holes In Their Dirt Bath Or Coop Run?
Chickens will dig holes in the ground in their run if they are not provided with a dirt bath. A stubborn hen will work all day long to dirt and peck a hole into even the hardest ground so she can have a dirt, or at least a dust bath.
The holes in the coop run or the ones the hens dig into the softer and more loose soil in a dirt bath to help keep cool, or sometimes even to lay their eggs.
Do Chickens Like Water?
The short answer to this question is no… not at all. But, surprisingly enough, some chickens have been known to attempt to swim alongside the ducks they are kept with.
Now, the chickens will not venture very far out into the water like your meat and egg ducks, but they may go in up past their legs to cool down, or in search of a meal.
But, far more often than not, you will never see a chicken willingly get wet to swim or take a bath. They prefer a dirt bath to water almost exclusively.
Which is a very good thing because chickens will sink to the bottom of a pond like a rock once they get soaking wet because they do not secrete an oil like the ducks and will become too weighted down with wet feathers to stay afloat.
Do Roosters Like Dirt Baths?
Some do and some don’t. I have never personally had a rooster that liked to take dirt baths, but some homesteading friends of mine have.
Typically, if a rooster is at all interested in a dirt bath, it will wait politely until the gals are all done before he ventures into the container to “wash” himself.
Expect to see an attentive and protective rooster patrol around the dirt bath area when the hens are having their fill of socializing, and ridding themselves of dust mites.
Do Any Other Farming Animals like Dirt Baths?
Homesteaders should not expect to ever catch a duck hen hanging out in the dirt bath with the chicken hens.
While a duck might walk through a dust bath to eat bugs on occasion or maybe even lay an egg in the dirt (and then abandon it if it is a Pekin duck) they will not use the loose soil to rid themselves of mites, ticks, etc.
Meat rabbits, on the other hand, have been known to enjoy spending time in dirt baths. When making dirt baths for your chicken flock, scrounge up an extra container to place in the meat rabbit run or hutch.
How Many Dirt Baths Do I Need?
On average, you will need one standard tire size dirt bath for every 8 to 10 hens, or 5 mature rabbits.
When making a dirt bath for chicks, make sure that the container being used is shallow enough for the young birds to easily get in and out of.
If getting into the dirt bath or flopping back out is too challenging or scary of a proposition, the little chicks will simply not use it.
Chicks generally want to huddle about in small groups. I recommend making a chick dirt bath large enough for all of the little bundles of feathers to get in at once, just in case they refuse to separate long enough for a necessary dirt bath.
The dirt placed in the chick dust bath should only be deep enough so the birds can have their underbellies fully covered.
Creating a dirt bath that is too deep can intimidate the birds, and even when a loose soil mix is used, it might be too tough for them to wiggle and flap about in.
What Depth Do I Need to Make Them?
The dust bath container should be large enough to hold about one foot of dirt.
Ideally, the chicken bath that can hold enough dirt, and allow ample freedom of movement for at least three mature hens at once should measure a minimum of 15 inches by 24 inches (40 cm by 60 cm).
What to Put Inside a DIY Chicken Dust Bath?
Standard builders sand is better to use than play sand first of all because it is a lot cheaper and also because it tends to be less irritating to the skin. Play sand may have salt added into it.
If your soil is sandy, just digging up a shovel of dirt can provide you with two needed ingredients for a chicken dust bath.
The sand will help prevent the dirt mixture in the dust bath from clumping when it gets damp or wet. Both builders sand and play sand can add in the grit the chicks or chickens need and cannot get naturally if they do not free range.
Save the wood ash from your wood burner, fireplace, or fire pit to stir into the chicken dust bath mixture.
As long as the wood ash is “clean” and was comprised of burning only wood or paper, it is safe for the flock members to nibble upon.
The wood ash or charcoal can help remove toxins from the body as it also helps kill the lice, dust mites, fleas, and other parasites on the outside of the chicken’s body.
Shovel up some soil from anywhere on your homestead that has not been exposed to chemical agents and use it in your DIY chicken dust bath.
I use dirt from my composting pile because it also offers worms and other bugs for the hens to munch upon as a treat while bathing.
Diatomaceous Earth (DE)
Use food grade Diatomaceous earth to help coat the outside of parasites with even the hardest of shells.
The miniscule razor sharp silicon pieces in the DE will become heavily coated on the outside of the parasite’s body and cause their airways to become blocked and spark dehydration.
DE has also been used as a natural dewormer and toxin removing natural agent, making it a highly beneficial part of the chicken dust bath mixture.
This is an optional dust bath mixture ingredient, but one that will help soak up moisture and also tends to help chicks and juvenile birds feel more safe or like they are in a nest and not so exposed to the whole flock or potential predators.
While this is an optional part of the mixture, infusing healing herbs into the dust bath will provide a healthy and potentially healing (and free!) snack for the chicks or hens.
Herbs most often used in a dust bath include oregano, rosemary, basil, cinnamon, thyme, lavender, peppermint, and sage.
The best DIY chicken dust bath mixture, in my personal experience, is made of equal parts wood ash and sand, two parts dirt, and one-half to one part Diatomaceous Earth or sawdust shavings.
Stirring in roughly 1 cup of herbs on a weekly basis is highly recommended.
22 DIY Chicken Dust Bath Ideas
Snag a tire or two from your “junk” stash on the homestead, and use them to make a super duper quick dust bath. The depth of a typical car, truck, or front tractor tire is perfect for a dust bath.
Using a back tractor or heavy equipment tire will make the dust bath too deep.
When the dust bath mixture hardens during the summer or after drying out from a rain, the mixture may be too heavy for you to easily turn, and break up for the flock.
If the hens or chicks cannot dig into the dirt, they will abandon the dust bath, allowing the parasites to continue to use your meat and egg birds as their hosts.
I often plant sprouts or herbs in the tire dust bath for my chickens to dig up and eat. Because my flock free ranges everyday day, the edibles usually have a little growing time before they are eagerly consumed.
Turn an old wheelbarrow into a portable dirt bath. The chickens will enjoy using the handles as a roost, and like having a high view over the coop run or their outside free range area.
Using a tub that is roughly tire size is yet another great option for an easy and cheap (or free) DIY chicken dust bath.
The tub will rust over time if the dirt bath is placed outside or the coop or is left uncovered in the chicken run.
A plastic storage tub, even one with a crack in it, can also be rapidly turned into a spacious DIY dust bath for your chicken flock.
Buy or build a wood crate or box with scrap wood to make a dust bath. The bottom of the box will rot over time, as will the wood if it is not pressure treated.
Placing the wood chicken dust bath on top of a piece of tarp, rubber, or plastic will help decrease the rate of rotting.
If you build a frame onto the crate or box it can be covered with clear plastic to protect the mixture from rain and snow, but allow the bathing hens to see out on all sides while ridding themselves of parasites.
Chickens tend to prefer an open or see-through dust bath instead of one with a covered top and sides.
If you want a large dust bath for a big flock and do not want it taking up all the space in your coop run, consider making a combo structure that can serve as both an outdoor brooder when needed as well as a massive dust bath.
Turn a bucket sideways to make a dust bath for chicks or chickens.
A square bucket can be placed directly on the ground but a round bucket will need to be sunk just a bit into the ground or it will roll around as the birds bathe in the dirt – they will not like this… at all.
This type of container is the perfect size and depth to accommodate baby chicks who want to take a dust bath.
As you can see by the photo below, the chicks tend to get a bit rowdy and messy when bathing in their dirt mixture.
Expect them to kick and flap out all but the heaviest or stickiest parts of the mixture. I typically have to refill my DIY chick dust bath at least two or three times per week.
Tree Stumps or Log Pieces
Arranging removed tree stumps or large pieces of firewood that have not yet been split into a circular shape – or any shape that you choose, and pouring in the mix is yet another free way to make a DIY chicken dust bath.
If you are making a rather large dirt bath to accommodate a sizable flock or a large breed of birds, this will likely be the easiest route to go.
You may want to dig a little hole in the ground to set the pieces or logs to avoid any concern they will fall over on a chicken.
Built a square or rectangular shape bottomless box out of bricks to make a sturdy DIY chicken dust bath that will not rust, bend, or break over time.
These large brick-like building materials will not need to be secured into place like the smaller and lighter weight bricks, yet will provide the same amount of durability and longevity.
Cut a plastic barrel in half, and screw it to some split logs, or scrap pressure treated lumber to create a free or nearly free chicken dust bath:
Use a drill to make multiple index finger to thumb sized holes in the bottom and lower sides of the barrel to facilitate better drainage.
Even if the wood or log supports need to be replaced over time, the plastic barrel should last for decades even when exposed to wind, rain, or to intense periods of heat.
Turn an old metal fire ring or scrap metal that can be bent into a circle, square, or rectangle (heck, even a triangle if you want to get fancy) and place it in the chicken coop run to use as a dust bath.
Turn a plastic baby pool into a chicken dirt bath in a matter of seconds.
While not absolutely necessary because of the depth of most plastic kiddie pools, drilling some drainage holes in the bottom and lower sides will help keep the dirt dry enough for the chickens to enjoy.
If you children have outgrown their plastic or wood sandbox, or you can pick one up cheaply at a yard sale or local store, these items also make excellent chicken dust baths that multiple hens – even large bird breeds, can enjoy at the same time.
Lay the heavy and flat paving stones in the desired shape and layer them roughly three high, to create a durable chicken dust bath that will last for decades.
If making the dirt bath for chicks or banty hens, you will not need to layer the boredom buster and parasite remover so high.
Make a compost pile in the chicken run or in the flock’s free ranging area, and accomplish two important tasks at once:
The food tossed into the compost pile will serve as healthy treats – as will the worms and bugs they attract.
The chickens will turn the dirt for you with all of their scratching, pecking, and bathing, while adding in plenty of nitrogen from their droppings.
Clean Motor Oil Pan
This shallow plastic pan (deep tray, really) is perfect for chicks, young birds, and small breeds of chickens. The plastic is thick and durable, and should last for many years.
Cat Litter Box
You can use the litter box without the top, which the hens will love, or keep the top on to prevent the dust bath mixture from ever becoming wet, if it is kept uncovered in the chicken coop run.
Plastic Dog Box
Like the litter box option noted above, the base of a plastic dog box is comprised of a durable plastic that is weather resistant. It too can be used open without the top or with the domed top in placed.
This small plastic container is a nice size for just a single hen to use at once. The plastic is more thin than a standard storage tub, but thick enough to last for several years even after drilling some drainage holes into it.
Rubber Livestock Tub
These tubs come in deep 5-gallon sizes like the one pictured above, or one to three gallon more shallow tubs. They are commonly available at livestock supply stores like Tractor Supply, Rural King, and on Amazon.
The thick rubber makes the tubs durable and heavy enough to last for years. Because of the thickness of the rubber, holes can be drilled into the livestock tub without worry over tearing.
Chicken dust baths are an important part of a poultry bird’s daily life. Keeping a dirt pile of loose natural matter or a loose mixture like the recipe noted above in a more confined space, the birds will be able to keep themselves clean and parasite-free, which keeps them healthy.
All of the dust bath ideas in this guide can be made either for free or cheaply, in one hour or less and, in most cases, in mere minutes.
The only tools you will need to make one of the dirt baths for your chicken flock will be a drill to make drainage holes (unless you are building a wood frame).
A circular saw or table saw may be necessary to build the wood frame, along with basic measuring tools, hardware, and the drill already noted or a hammer.
Dust baths are absolutely necessary: they prevent parasites such as mites and lice from finding a home in your chickens’ feathers and legs.
If your chickens aren’t free-range, or if their run area doesn’t have a dry patch of ground where they can dig a hole, you’ll need to provide them with an artificial dust bath.