Living out in the country I see a lot of chickens. As I was watching some chickens one day, I noticed one rolling around in the dirt. I’d never seen that before so I decided to do a little research to see if it was normal. Here is what I’ve learned.
Why Do Chickens Roll in the Dirt?
It’s their way of bathing! Chickens roll around in dirt or sand as a way to remove excess oil from their feathers and to kill parasites such as mites, fleas, and lice.
Even if you’re chickens are clean and well cared for you’ll want to provide them a place to bath, if you don’t they’ll scratch and dig until they make a place for themselves. It is their natural instinct.
Dust bathing helps protect chickens against parasites and they love it! Don’t worry about how dirty they seem to be getting, once they’re done they will shake off the excess dust and only a thin layer next to their skin will remain. This barrier helps keep the mites, fleas, lice, and other parasites out of their skin.
Whether your chickens are free range or penned in you should provide them with a place to bath. This place should be covered to keep the rain out and big enough for them to extend their wings. It doesn’t need to be too deep, maybe four to six inches is all.
Do Chickens Eat Dirt?
Chickens no eat dirt. In addition to actual dirt, chickens will eat seeds, insects and worms found in the dirt. Chicken’s eat dirt and sand to help them with digestion. Chicken have no teeth and the course dirt helps them to grind up their food. They will also eat small pebbles and rocks for this purpose.
Dirt stays in their gizzards ready to grind when they eat. This helps them to better digest their food. Eating dirt won’t hurt your chickens. Their stomachs are already built to digest the bugs, germs, worms, and other leftovers found in the dirt.
If your chickens seem to be eating a lot of dirt, and not just the food found in the dirt, they may have a mineral deficiency. Depending on where you live, your soil may be high in certain minerals that your chickens may be naturally speaking out. Check their diets to make sure they are getting enough grains, meat, and other minerals.
Do Chickens Need Water To bathe In?
Chickens don’t need water baths. They take dust baths to clean themselves. But a water bath won’t hurt them either. If you do give them a bath in water, make sure that the shampoo or soap doesn’t dry out their skin and feathers. Shampoo can cause chickens irritation and other health issues.
Even if you bath them with water you’ll still want to provide a dust bath for them. You may even see your chickens go take a dust bath to wash off your water bath!
Do Chickens Need Dust Baths In The Winter?
Even when there is snow outside and it’s cold, chickens need to take dust baths. Snow often makes it so that there isn’t dry dust for chickens to bath in. But, even with snow, chickens still fight lice, mites, and other parasites. That means that they will need to bathe in mud
If your ground is frozen in the winter you will need to provide them with a dust bath. Make sure their dust bath is in a sunny area, possibly under a window in their coop since chickens won’t usually bath in the dark. You will need to make sure to keep it clean and refresh it every week or so.
How To Create A Chicken Bath
If you keep your chickens penned in you’ll want to make them a dust bath and place it inside their run. You can use something as small as a kitty litter box, a washtub, or a kiddie pool.
Add sand, dirt, and wood ash. You could use the cooled ash from your wood burning stove or from an outdoor firepit. You can add wood shavings as well.
Some dust bath recipes also call for food grade diatomaceous earth (DE). If using a recipe calling for DE make sure it is food grade. Otherwise, it could harm your chickens, especially if they breathe it in. Those that use DE choose it because of its natural insecticide properties to help kill and keep the parasites away.
Once you have your chicken bath created you can put it in the coop with your chickens and roosters. I would recommend keeping it at least a foot away from the sides of the coop. You don’t want predators such as raccoons to be able to reach in and kill your chickens while they’re bathing.
Another thing to keep in mind, you will want to change out the dirt/dust mixture every few weeks to keep it clean. There may be times when they use their bath as a toilet, so keeping it clean is a must. You could use a kitty litter box, kiddy pool, or something else similar in size.
What Is Diatomaceous Earth?
Diatomaceous Earth (DE) is sediment found in rivers, lakes, and the ocean. It is made of fossilized algae known as diatoms. The skeletons are made from silica, a natural pesticide.
Food grade DE has been purified and is said to have many health benefits. This is what you will put in your chickens’ dust bath if you choose to use it. Non-food grade DE can be harmful, especially if it is inhaled so make sure you check the label when purchasing DE.
How To Keep Your Chickens Healthy
- Make sure you clean their feed and water dishes. You don’t want them getting sick from eating or drinking something they shouldn’t.
- Ward off bacteria. Add one or two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar (ACV) to one gallon of their drinking water. This helps keep unhealthy organisms from growing as well as the green slime that appears now and then. It also helps the chickens digest their food and encourages the good bacteria to grow in their digestive system.
- Provide Freedom. Chickens love to wander and be free. Give them plenty of space to scratch, run, and play. If your chickens aren’t free range provide them with a chicken run if you have room.
- Monitor for issues. Check on your chickens and observe them. Each chicken has a different attitude and personality. If you notice something off, check on them.
- Provide healthy food. Make sure you are giving them feed that is right for them. For example, laying hens need a diet higher in calcium than younger hens. When buying feed, keep the hen’s age in mind, you could use starter feed for chicks, grower feed for birds that aren’t quite laying, and feed higher in calcium for hens that are.
Types of Chicken Bedding
There are many different types of bedding that you can use.
Hay and straw are often the most popular bedding. It’s soft and springy which gives your chickens something soft to walk on and sleep in. It also smells good which is nice in a chicken coop.
Pine shavings are also a popular choice. It dries quickly, takes a while to break down, and is fairly inexpensive. You can usually find bags of it at pet stores or garden supply stores.
Sand is another great choice, especially in the chicken run. Although it can be more expensive at the beginning it can serve two purposes. If properly maintained, sand only needs to be replaced once or twice a year. You can use it as bedding but the chickens will also use it for their sand baths.
Other options for bedding is fresh cut grass free of pesticides or other chemicals, Finely shredded leaves, and even shredded paper. If you use shredded paper don’t use glossy paper and make sure there isn’t a lot of ink. The ink can be toxic to chickens in large quantities.
When choosing bedding material for your chickens, make sure it is soft, especially in the nest. You don’t want to lose your eggs because they cracked when they were laid.
What Do Chickens Eat?
The real question is what don’t they eat. You should keep your chickens away from raw potatoes and citrus. I would also keep them away from beans, garlic, and onions. It won’t hurt the chickens to eat garlic or onions, but the eggs may taste a little weird.
Chickens love grasses, seeds, and broadleaf weeds. Go ahead and throw some freshly cut grass into their run or coop. They’ll love the treat and enjoy scratching and searching for any insects that may be in there.
They will also eat food scraps from your table. This includes meat, eggs, egg shells, fruit, and vegetables.
Worms, slugs, and insects are also part of their normal diet. Mealworms are a great source of protein for laying hens.
As you can see, there are a lot of options when feeding your chickens. You can even grow your own chicken feed without too much hassle or time.
Just make sure they have variety in their diet so they get the nutrients they need to produce healthy, yummy eggs.
Do chickens preen themselves?
Yes, they do. Chickens need to replenish the oils on their feathers just like other poultry. There is a gland on the back of their tails that release oil. Chicken’s get a drop of oil on their beaks and rub it on their feathers to keep them in good condition. Preening also helps new feathers get loose of their sheaths and helps get rid of any bugs that have gotten in their feathers.
Why are my chickens scratching themselves?
If you see your chickens scratching themselves and not the ground you need to check them for lice. Lice can spread quickly from bird to bird.
Your chickens will scratch and peck at themselves, often their egg production is reduced and they may even start losing weight.
To get rid of the lice you will need an insecticide that is not harmful to chickens. If a lice infestation isn’t taken care of quickly you could start losing your flock.