Hens Busy Dust Bathing

It’s difficult to capture the cuteness of this chicken behavior with a still camera–we really should try to make a  video.  Anyway, this is called “dusting” or “dust bathing.” The ladies have dug a hole in our yard and are gleefully rolling around in it, flicking loose dirt under their wings and driving it between their feathers. This is an innate behavior and an important part of chicken hygiene. Dusting suffocates skin parasites that prey on chickens, and it also seems to be pleasurable for the hens, judging by their blissful expressions.

After dusting they puff up and shake off, and settle in to do fine cleaning by preening. When they’re done, they’re all pretty and shiny.

It’s really important that chickens have constant access to dirt–loose, dry, sandy dirt–so they can dust at will. If for whatever reason your chickens don’t have this access, whether that’s because they’re being raised in a concrete floor, or are trapped inside because of bad weather, or your chicken run is swamped with mud, or whatever, it’s a smart thing to provide them with a tray of dirt so they can bathe. Dusting is nature’s favored method of insect control.

ETA: To give you some indication of size, a kitty litter tray would be a good size for a few hens to share, a cement mixing tray for a bigger flock.

Warning: Rant Ahead

We first got our own hens because we disagreed with the industrial style of raising chickens and farming eggs.  But at the time that disagreement was purely theoretical–now it’s stronger than ever, because it’s based on practice. The more we know, and experience the fundamentals of chicken life, the more appalling the industrial practices become.  One fundamental is that chickens are designed to live on dirt. They love to scratch, peck, dig and bathe in it. Take dirt away from them and you have to scramble to make up for that deficit in unnatural ways. Being unable to scratch, chickens get bored and peck at each other–so their beaks have to be cut off. Deprived of the ability to dust, they get mites and lice, and have to be treated with pesticides. It’s just sad.

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12 Comments

  1. I completely agree. My girls’ large pen used to have a bit of a slope to it. Now, it’s almost all flat, due to their digging and dusting. They just love it!

    Poor things are stuck inside for a while though today; they got drenched yesterday, so they’re on forced time-out today.

  2. Rant on! I agree. I am working to get backyard hens legal in our small town- Berea, KY and it’s so frustrating that despite the crazy things happening with our food supply, people don’t want chickens in town and think a few hens in someone’s backyard will cause a major disruption in neighborhood peace and property values.

    This is totally off topic here but I just built a rocket stove in my backyard yesterday, using your directions, and I was wondering if you still use yours and how you like it. I really enjoyed making mine with my 8 year-old son and we made ham and eggs for dinner. My metal “L” isn’t totally 90 degrees and I haven’t insulated the burn chamber yet, so I need to do a little work on it, but thanks for the great directions! I spent $4.49 on an elbow and had the rest lying about my yard.

  3. I am always saying tot the chickens “would you just hold still for a sec?” I never can get a good photo of ours either.I really want a photo of the 3 now poulets one of our hens hatched earlier in the summer.They are my biggest homesteading pride and I’d love to show them off.

    I saw a semi with a load of chickens going to slaughter last week.All I could think of was A. Poor Chickens probably lived in those same small cubes their whole lives and then B.I had a soap box moment concerning all of the reasons why we have our own birds.Good thing I was alone in the car.

  4. @Katie: Congrats on building your stove! I’m glad our directions worked out for you. We do sometimes use the stove, mostly to show off, frankly! Because since you’ve tried it out, you know it’s not the most relaxing way to cook. But I feel good having it around, knowing I can cook no matter what’s going on with the utility company.

  5. Yes, rant on!! I just saw the movie Food, Inc. The situation in mass marketing chickens is cruel and inhumane. Having raised chickens myself I know what delightful creatures they are and they should be given their ‘chicken’ rights! Everyone should see that movie.

  6. This is good to know, since I live in northwest Oregon, which is a part of the state not known for its dust (southeast Oregon is another matter, however). I was actually thinking about how to deal with rain days (read: two thirds of the year) when the hens would be, excuse the expression, cooped up, but I think a tray of soil, maybe a large metal cake pan would do it. I’m still mulling ideas for their coop over in my head, and I have a little time since I’m not planning on chicks until next February. But I’m glad to know how important their dust baths are! To them, I mean.

  7. those chickens are super cute. i love this post. i grew up with chickens and even slept with them in my bed when i was a child. they are so sweet and it is so disturbing the way animals are mistreated. thanks for all the great posts.

  8. Thanks for your response Mrs. Homegrown, yeah, I mostly built it to outfit the outdoor kitchen we’re building in our backyard. I raised mine up to counter height and it’s next to our earth oven, which is great, but not a “last minute” cooking tool. That’s what is is appealing about the rocket stove to me.

    When I did some cooking with our rocket stove, my husband tended the fire and I did the cooking, much easier than me doing both!

  9. We recently decided to get some chickens, it will have to wait till next season as we have to build a coop + run, I totally agree with you about industrial farming practices, they just don’t work. Not to long ago it was very common to have chickens and a few other animals for food, now most people depend on some mega farm to feed them, so instead of our land feeding us we depend on jobs/government that are subject to recessions, depressions ect.

  10. I was wondering if anyone knew of a way to integrate dogs with chickens by any chance? A couple of years ago, we got chickens and built a fabulous 3-story coop and an outdoor area for dusting and pecking. We sectioned it off with a tall wooden fence because of our 2 medium-sized dogs. The problem was that either our dogs had to give up precious outdoor time so the chickens could go free-range, or the chickens weren’t truly free-range like I was going for originally. Anyone with ideas?

  11. @Rebekah

    It sort of depends on your dogs. Some dogs get along with chickens quite well. Others can be trained to leave them alone–if they’re trainable, ie used to listening to you. Others are bird hunters and can’t be changed.

    Our late doberman free ranged with the chickens. At first we were nervous, and kept them strictly separate. Then I started bringing him out on a leash to see them. I’d just sit in the middle of the yard with him next to me while the chix wandered around.

    I watched him really closely for signs of interest, and I saw nothing predatory–only curiosity, which quickly faded. So then I let him loose. It was a bit of a leap of faith, but I also knew he listened to me, so if he ever seemed too interested in a chicken, I’d growl “leave it” and he’d leave it. Pretty soon it just was apparent that I could trust him. He knew they were not prey–and I don’t think he was very interested in them anyway.

    I know several people with dogs and chickens which are integrated. I have heard some reports of unexpected bloodshed. Sometimes a chicken will do something that triggers a dog’s predatory instincts (like flapping in its face or something), and an otherwise peaceable dog will take out a chicken, even after years of not-bothering chickens. This is a possibility you’d have to accept in advance.

    Maybe others have stories or advice?

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