Dust Baths are a crucial part of any happy chickens life. Keeping chickens healthy, clean and comfortable is always important. If you have a small coop and a small flock, winter can be a tough time. Having a clean and dry coop, that’s draft free is of course important. But making sure your birds also have a dust bath is also key to maintaining healthy hens.
When the weather outside is less frightful, and there’s no snow on the ground, hens will find a place to have a dust bath on their own. Usually a warm sunny spot, with loose soil. Then they’ll dig down and start fluffing the dirt into their feathers, scratching away and all around having a great time. It’s not only very silly and fun to watch, it’s also very important for their health.
No More Mites
Hens will take a dust bath for a couple reasons. One, it keeps them clean and oil free, and allows them to preen their feathers properly. And two, it helps them to rid their bodies of parasites, like mites and lice. Small particles of sand, dirt, and wood ash, along with nutrients and micro organisms in the soil will help to prevent parasites from making a home. And will suffocate and kill off any that might be there already.
DIY Dust Bath
We have a small coop and currently only have 4 birds. So we have a pretty confined run space for them, compared to our entire property when the snow is gone. This means size is key. For our space, I’ve found that cat litter pans are a good size. Two birds will happily hop in together and you can get enough of the soil mix into them for a satisfying dust bath. Nothing fancy, just a standard size, hard plastic litter tray like you can get at the dollar store is fine. You’ll want to get two of them. That way you can swap out a clean one for a dirty one, and your birds will always have a bath spot.
The Dust Bath Soil Mix Ingredients
Next you’ll want to get your “ingredients”. You can go as simple as just dry soil. But adding just a couple things can make the dust bath much more enjoyable and beneficial.
Soil & Wood Ash
Along with soil, I add sand, and wood ash. The sand is helpful for loosening the whole mix and makes it easier to fluff up in to the feathers. And small sand particles really help deter pests.
Wood Ash works to cut and kill small parasites. I used to use diatomaceous earth, but our vet recommended not using it for dust baths as it can get into chickens lungs and cause damage. (It’s better to use underneath the coop bedding around the edges of the coop to prevent parasites there. Where the birds are less likely to inhale it in large amounts.) Wood ash is slightly heavier, so won’t billow and cloud up as much and still has the same parasite killing power. It also has the benefit of having some beneficial minerals in it like calcium and magnesium. So while your birds peck and dig in the box they will get an extra benefit!
How much of the mix you make will depend on the size of your container. But a good ratio I use is 1 part soil, to 0.5 part sand, to 0.25 part wood ash. It’s not hard and fast, but this rough amount gets you good distribution, without being too heavy or too dusty.
Next, Mix it up!
Ready for Bath Time!
Once you’ve filled one of your containers, you’re good to put it into the run. If your chickens are new to having their dust bath in a box it might take some time to jump in. But once one of them figures it out, they’ll all be begging for a turn!
Regularly check that the box is staying clean. Scoop out any poops that might end up in there and every week or two, mix up another batch in your other bin, and swap them.
You’ll have happy, healthy chickies all winter long! Our bath remains inside the run until the snow around the coop begins to melt. And usually around maple syrup boiling time the girls can be up on the deck with me!
For some more winter chicken tips check out my post about Winterizing Your Chicken Coop.