Jan 8, 2013

Chicken Dust Bath: The Ultimate Spa Treatment

Chicken Dust Baths
Few chicken activities are as entertaining to humans as the dust bath. To the uninitiated, stumbling upon a dust-bathing chicken can be alarming and is often mistaken for seizure activity or death. Prior to getting my first chickens, I had read about dust baths, so I was prepared for the sight and the first time I witnessed it, I found it hilarious-  I still do. A dust bath is the chicken equivalent of a shower- it is both functional and recreational; chickens use dust baths to clean themselves, to relax, and to socialize. The fact that they are entertaining to us is a collateral benefit. 
Polish crested chick dust bathing in mulch
Communal Chicken dust bath
Dig, snuggle into ditch, scoop with beak, toss into feathers, roll, repeat, shake.

Chickens care for their feathers and skin by digging shallow ditches in soil, mulch, sand, even pine shavings, then tossing it onto themselves. The dirt coats their feathers and settles next to their skin, absorbing excess moisture and oil. It also serves to repel parasites that would otherwise set up housekeeping among the feathers, causing skin and feather damage, irritation, weight loss and interfere with egg production and fertility. 
In hot weather, chickens dig down into the ground to rest in cooler soil

At the end of a dust bath, the dirt is shaken off and the chicken proceeds to preen and groom its feathers back into place.
Post dust bath shake-out
Post dust bath shake-out.
Blue Splash Marans preening their feathers
Synchronized preening. 
From a very early age, chickens enjoy tossing bedding up into their feathers and settling down into the shallow ditches they have made. Baby chicks appreciate a sand box for this purpose, but will dust-bathe in pine shavings if sand is not made available. 
Quail chick taking a dust bath
This is a baby quail. Quail enjoy dust baths as much as chickens!
Mulch is a favorite dusting area for chickens
Mulch beds are a favorite dust bathing location for my chickens. 
When I was a new chicken-keeper, my chickens were confined to the run, which consisted of clay-laden earth that was much too dense for an enjoyable dust bath. I had read different suggestions for concocting dust baths that ran the gamut from sand to fireplace ash, road debris, peat moss, food grade diatomaceous earth and garden powder. I opted for plain, unadulterated, construction grade sand. The truth is: sand performs all of the functions chickens require of a dust bath- there is no need for additives. I use sand on the floor of my chicken runs and for litter in all of my coops and the chickens dust-bathe in all seasons and weather conditions.

I am often asked about the utility and safety of food grade, diatomaceous earth (DE) in dust bath areas and have come to the conclusion that, not only is it unnecessary, it is unhealthy for chickens' sensitive respiratory systems. DE manufacturers recommend the use of respirators when using DE and I feel that if DE is bad for me to breathe, it is bad for my flock to breathe. For a deeper look at the subject of DE and opinions from two experts in the field of poultry keeping, a chicken veterinarian and Gail Damerow, read my blog article here. I do not use DE anywhere around my chickens.
Polish Crested chicks dust bathing in mulch
My baby Polish Crested chickens, enjoying a nice, mulch dust bath. 
Winter dust bath in the sand, under the coop. As long as the sand stays dry
 it will remain loose and good for dust-bathing all year.

Chickens that are free to range will select their own areas in which to dust-bathe. Invariably, they will choose the driest, most dusty spot available. By far, mulch and sand are my flock's materials of choice. I long ago resigned myself to the fact that my chickens would scatter my mulch beds and dig up certain plants; that's their natural tendency and that's okay with me. 
Golden Laced Wyandotte hen dust bathing
Thank goodness for that third eyelid!
Kathy Shea Mormino, The Chicken Chick®


  1. Amy Harrett1/8/13, 11:46 PM

    WOW! What fantastic photos! I so enjoy watching my chickens do their dust-baths, too.  It's amazing how they can make their bodies do some of the things they do when dust bathing. LOL

  2. TheChickenChick1/9/13, 12:07 AM

    Thanks Amy! I really get a kick out of watching their antics while dust-bathing. They're a riot.

  3. Thanks so much for this. I will be getting my fist chills when the weather cools here and am finding you site v helpful.

  4. Thank u so much for the info. Being a new chicken I had heard different things about whybthey were dusting.

  5. Langela Richardson1/9/13, 9:14 AM

    That quail chick looks like a guinea keet. Love its little bath tub! I love watching our hens take dust baths, too.

  6. Karen Bates1/9/13, 10:28 AM

    Thanks for this informative post.  I always love your photos!

  7. Heidi Carlson1/9/13, 8:00 PM

    Even though it is January, here in northern MN my girls have found scratchable dirt under the fallen needles in a row of pine trees. The area conveniently also faces south, and gets quite a bit of sun. They are over there, every day, bathing, snuggling together, and enjoying the relative warmth of the sun!

  8. TheChickenChick1/10/13, 10:08 PM

    Thanks Karen!

  9. tricoteiras SF1/14/13, 5:42 AM

    Olá Kathy!
    Primeiramente obrigada por acessar meu blog "tricoteiras sem fronteiras" foi uma alegria recebê-la.
    Suas fotos, são muito bem feitas. Suas galinhas são muito lindas!
    Seu trabalho é incrível, parabéns!
    Eu adoro fotografar estas aves elas tem uma fotogênia inata.



  10. I used to have chickens growing up I'm our back yard in the city! I will never understand the dust bath! Lol thanks for following I'm following back and will check out the blog hop!


    xx kelly

  11. I just don't understand why my pullets never dust bathe. I've only ever seen one do it, one time, a couple months ago.

  12. Steve Howie6/5/13, 12:20 PM

    We have a two-year old Australorp who returns to the same spot, every day, when we free-range our birds in the afternoon - it's soft earth near a huge cedar tree and it's absolutely priceless watching her luxuriate in the soft soil. She is often joined by her boyfriend an Australorp rooster and they snuggle and preen together. The "pit" is now about 8" deep and growing!

    A silver-laced Wyandotte does the same thing about 10' away. Hours of amusement :)

  13. Even though it is January, here in northern MN my girls have found
    scratchable dirt under the fallen needles in a row of pine trees. The
    area conveniently also faces south, and gets quite a bit of sun.

    this link

  14. Thanks for the video. .it was cute watching them..love the blogs!

  15. Linda Marinoski7/28/13, 7:25 PM

    love watching them have a dust bath, very entertaining :)

  16. chicken lady8/2/13, 8:17 AM

    Hi! ;-) Im a first time chicken keeper, I have a question, so when a chicken baths in the dirt , it helps take care of mites an fles? Does it get rid of them ? An how will you know if thay have mites? Then will you need DE?

  17. TheChickenChick8/2/13, 3:10 PM

    This will help with your questions: http://www.the-chicken-chick.com/2012/08/poultry-lice-and-mites-identification.html

  18. Where can I get construction sand for my babies? Sounds perfect!

  19. TheChickenChick8/15/13, 9:04 PM

    A local quarry or landscaping supply/garden center will carry it.

  20. Kathryn Wetzel8/25/13, 6:26 PM

    Love watching our chicks dust bath!!!!

  21. Denise Allison Magil8/25/13, 7:57 PM

    i picked one of my girls yesterday after a nice dust bath yuck

  22. What sand should I buy to add to my soil?

  23. TheChickenChick8/28/13, 10:18 PM

    This is what I recommend, Jules: http://www.the-chicken-chick.com/2012/09/chicken-coop-bedding-sand-litter.html

  24. Katja Sheikh10/12/13, 8:18 AM

    How about finely grated egg shells? I bake cakes and have tone of egg shells. I pulls them into dust and feed some back to chicks but I only have 5 chickens :) so I came up with the idea to simply mix them with some ash and grid. Qails seem to love that!

  25. Hi! I live in New Zeland and bought 2 Hy-Line hens just before Christmas (great present for myself). This is my first time having chickens and I just wanted to let you know how much I love your website and how helpful it has been! Just today I have been reading up on dust baths for my girls ... wanted to check its ok to use sand. I have your site added to my favourites so I can refer back to it. Thanks so much and keep up the great work! You are teaching & reaching people all over the globe! Happy New Year from Christchurch :) Shaz

  26. Lee Su Win1/9/14, 1:59 AM

    I am keeping chickens in my backyard and they get the free run of the garden

  27. TheChickenChick1/10/14, 9:23 PM

    You must get a necropsy in order to determine why they are dying. It is NOT because of the weather. Only a post mortem exam will reveal the cause. I recommend you do it as soon as possible so you don't lose any more birds if it's possible to contain the problem.

  28. Brandon Marshall2/17/14, 5:59 PM

    Why sand? My chicken don't want to live on the beach. I've been using landscape mix (finely ground pine bark i think) and natural native mulch from the tree companies for free. They love it! Just seems more "natural" And will eventually decompose and add it back the vegetable garden. Win-Win

  29. James Bond Bond3/25/14, 4:03 AM

    Awesome blog! Now In anticipation of a follow-up ….http://plus.google.com/112458942571457568265/posts

  30. The slight roof overhang keep some clay soil dry against the house-a favorite dust bath area for my adorable buff cochin bantum

  31. Vickie Redmond4/22/14, 12:18 PM

    What type of mulch do you use in your chicken area? I have brown and black around the house but will the coloring hurt them in the run?

  32. One of my hens (out of 3) is acting really weird. She is sitting in the nesting box for long periods and when I make her get out she runs like crazy. I have checked her for lice and mites and don't see anything on her skin or on her feathers. Egg production hasn't really changed, she just acts different. When she is made to get up her feathers look like she has them all stand up right. Her feet are fine as well. She goes crazy in the dirt bath (which is just plain dirt), nothing added. something isn't right with her, just can't put my finger on it yet. Should we eat the eggs from her? Just wondering, any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thanks

  33. TheChickenChick4/23/14, 10:16 PM

    She could be broody. Read this and see what you think: http://www.the-chicken-chick.com/2012/05/broody-breaker-when-hens-mood-to-hatch.html

  34. Great info, again, Kathy. Would beach sand suit the purpose?

  35. I tell you... this never gets old!! I can tell that that Rachel is just a hand full to you. I've got a fix it!! Send her next day mail to me!! I'll take her off your hands. (hehehehehe) Poor thing.... Never gets ANY attention EVER. She needs her own website. :) I'll call it "Rachel the Princess" and her needs.

  36. No, beach sand has too much salt in it.

  37. My cat brought in a quail chick this morning. I looked her over, she seems to be ok, she hops around a lot. Have any good tips I could use?

  38. My cat brought a baby quail to my bedroom door today. I checked her/him over its fine. What food would you recommend giving it? I have no quail starter feed. Would it be fine if I give her/him chicken starter feed?

  39. My white silkie is almost never white; red Hawaiian soil stains everything; her feet and head are always soiled.

  40. I have sand in my coop. My chicks are about 6 weeks old. Haven't seen them dust bathe. When do they start?

  41. LeAnn McKenzie Lewis6/15/14, 6:17 AM

    Im wondering that as well. I have sand in my coop and hen house. My girls are nine weeks and I have never seen them do this. And I watch them A LOT!

  42. Last year I decided to try the sand in our chicken house. I liked it. It was easy to clean, the chickens loved it and it was clean and kept the odor down. Today I'm shoveling it all out and will never use it again! My black Silkie, Licorice has been to our vet three times last week to have her crop flushed. When we realized we had to go back for the third flushing our vet decided to take X-rays to see what was in Licorices crop. It's sand! It's been accumulating gradually for over a year! She is now on four medications and will have to go back a few more times to have her crop flushed. Every time he flushes her crop the sand lifts up and then falls back to the bottom of her crop because it's heavy and that's what sand does. I'm sure she will be alright eventually, but to have her go through this is silly. I'm going back to pine chips or flakes. Much easier to shovel out and replace once or twice a month. If you are using sand make sure you check your chicken's crops frequently. If it feels like they have a water balloon on their chest get them to the vet immediately!

  43. Abbi Beuby Auger6/29/14, 7:59 AM

    My Pullets are not dust bathing. I've given them a kiddy pool full of construction sand and another one full of dirt and mulch combined. None of them touch it. They are constantly pecking at themselves and seem like they itch. I haven't seen mites or anything on them, but I'm worried. I've read your blog on the mites and don't see signs. Is there anything I can do to get them to start bathing in the sand (outside of me diving in, that is)??

  44. my girls started dust bathing the minute i placed them in their new coop and run. i love watching them they are very entertaining

  45. We've had a constant problem with bird lice. We try so hard to get rid of them but only to find them again. The neighbor two doors down, feed the pigeons and doves so there are so many! They come into my yard and try to eat my girl's food. We've gotten to the point that we only put food out there when they ask for it. I've often felt that DE isn't healthy for them to breathing but still don't know what to use. We love to pick up our girls but we are afraid of the lice. I know they can't live on humans but they are just gross. Help....

  46. Lisa Serafini7/26/14, 5:34 PM

    Our new run gets a lot of shade and there is some moss around the trees. Does this pose any danger to the chicks? It is sandy soil and I know they will take no time to eat up all the grass. What about the winter? Pine shavings in the coop? We are in upstate NY and the ground freezes solid. :-)

  47. I use sand in my coops and runs.

  48. Home depot has bags of it

  49. Alison Taylor8/12/14, 4:56 PM

    Mine aren't either. What's up with that?

  50. Try peat moss, potting soil without pearlite or mulch mixed with the sand.

  51. I saw somewhere on a video about using peat moss for dustbathing..I have noticed mine love to get in an old little tykes wheel barrow that had soil-less mix and flowers but now there are no flowers and they just love that mix, better than the sand or just dirt. This won' hurt them will it?

  52. Karen Sanders Warner10/4/14, 10:43 AM

    I made a dust bath box for my girls in their run. I put in sand and peat. They absolutely love it.

  53. Karen Sanders Warner10/4/14, 10:46 AM

    I chuckled at your description of what an inexperienced chicken owner thinks when they first see dust bathing. I thought it looked sexual...told my husband I thought it was the big "O."

  54. Mine too. I think I'll switch to sand.

  55. Hi - I just got hens for the first time last spring. They are free range and all summer we enjoyed watching them dust bathe all over our large yard. Now that it is rainy, they are bathing less and have fewer spots that they go to, and I am worried that even those spots will become too wet. It rains a lot where we live. When would it be considered too wet for free range chickens to be expected to find their own baths? Should I make them one that I can cover up, or is that unecessary?


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