Providing Suitable Dust Bath Areas for Your Chickens
If anyone has not had the comic pleasure of watching chickens take a dust bath, you should do so. Nothing is as enjoyable as watching a chicken roll around in the dirt and fling dust under her wings. If you do not provide your chickens with suitable areas and materials (dust and dirt) for dust bathing, they will find their favorite dust spots themselves! When we first got chickens years ago, I remember my mom having to frantically shoo the dust bathing chickens from under her perennials. They also enjoyed the carrot patch and one of their favorite spots was all of the dust and dirt under the porch. We would come outside to find dirt thrown everywhere on the steps. We would also discover their other spots by seeing large holes in the yard and garden. These holes could be as small as a foot across or as large as three feet across in a matter of a few hours. Depending of course on how enthusiastic the chickens become over a specific spot.
We, like many others, discovered that if you provide your chickens with suitable dust bath areas, they usually stick to those and leave your rose bushes alone.
The reason behind the chickens having a dust bath is for more than pleasure. A dust bath is essential to a chicken’s health. Just as a water bath helps us to rid ourselves of dirt and grime, a dust bath cleans the chickens skin and feathers, getting rid of scales and dry skin. More importantly, the dust bath can help chickens prevent and treat parasites and lice. This is why mixing fine sand into dirt or using ashes is ideal as the fine dust actually suffocates the lice and the rougher dirt helps to remove them from the chickens feathers and skin.
Since our chickens are free-range (though they are inside a large electrified movable fence as we have pest problems) we like to give them outdoor areas to take their dust bath in. You can create “dust pools” for your indoor chickens by using a deep tray filled with healthy dirt, soft sand, ashes, or best yet, a combination of all three. Place the pool in an accessible area and watch the fun begin!
For your outdoor chickens, find areas that your chickens already gravitate to and that are “owner approved.” You can usually tell where a few good spots might be just by looking for rounded indents in the ground. This is most likely where your chickens have already started to create their own dust bath area. If the area is suitable, ie: not under your favorite and expensive weeping flowering pea tree, you just need to provide your chickens with the right dust and they will do the rest.
We have a wood stove and a pellet stove that we burn throughout the chilly parts of the year. When we clean out the stoves we keep the ashes in a container and when we have accumulated a good amount we dump the ashes in a few of the areas that our chickens like to dust bathe.
Most of the time the chickens go nuts and start in right away! Although chickens are not usually considered the most patient creatures, ours will wait in line for their favorite dust spots!
As the holes get deeper, the other plus side for us is that by using our stoves ashes we are helping to fill in the holes. The best part though is that we are using up and re-purposing ashes, something that normally has limited reusable purposes. Our chickens are happy and healthy, we get beautiful eggs, and we use up a homestead byproduct. This way, everyone wins!