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How Do Chickens Clean Themselves?

If you’ve ever wondered how chickens clean themselves, then you’re probably not alone, it’s one of those things people probably never have to think about unless they start keeping chickens of their own.

The quick answer is; chickens clean themselves in two ways which are either dust bathing in loose dirt, soil or sand to remove parasites from their feathers and skin along with preening with their beaks to pick out bits and to re-align their feathers for optimum protection.

It’s for this reason that it’s a good idea to provide your chickens access to places where they can dust bathe in the right kind of substances which are most effective at keeping them clean and parasite free.

Read on to find out more in-depth information on how chickens clean themselves by dustbathing and preening along with things you can provide your chickens to help them clean themselves more effectively.

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How Chickens Clean Themselves by Dust Bathing

The primary way that chickens clean themselves is by dust bathing in a loose surface to remove parasites and oils from their skin and under feathers.

Now you might be thinking, how can dirt make a chicken cleaner? But this method of cleaning is used by many other birds and animals in the natural world.

Chickens Kicking Dirt onto Themselves

Chickens have strong feet and legs which come in useful for various tasks including dust bathing.

Chickens will often make holes or dips in dry earth to lie in as they use their legs to kick dirt on themselves while lifting their feathers to get maximum dust coverage underneath their feathers.

The texture of dry loose earth helps to dislodge parasites, excess oils and debris found on the skin and underneath feathers and acts as an exfoliant in a similar way to how we humans exfoliate to remove dry skin.

While chickens are dust bathing they can make themselves look really messy and scruffy but don’t worry because once they stand up and shake their feathers out, they’ll go back to looking clean and fluffy.

Chickens digging holes in dirt to dustbath

Best Chicken Dust Baths

When chickens are free-range they will find their own places to dust bathe and this is usually in a place with loose dusty soil in a sunny position so it quickly dries to a consistency they like.

If you don’t have an area like this in your garden, don’t worry because you can create your own chicken dust bath by filling a low tray with various substances which help to keep chickens parasite-free.

You can make a chicken dust bath with a soil or peat base and then add in other substances to improve the cleaning action, these include:

  • Diatomaceous earth – a type of fossilized earth made into a super-fine powder that is good for parasite removal.
  • Coarse sand – adding sand to a soil-based dust bath can help to get the right consistency.
  • Ash – if you have access to ash it works similarly to diatomaceous earth in that it suffocates and dehydrates any parasites living on the skin.

How Can Chickens Dust Bathe in Winter?

If you live in a climate where the weather tends to be wet in the winter months, then finding a dry spot for chickens to dust bathe in can be a little more difficult than in the summer months.

During the winter the ground tends to stay cold and damp, but even on a cold sunny day chickens can find a place to dust bathe, such as under trees and hedges where it doesn’t get so wet.

You can help your chickens by providing a homemade dust bath (see above) on a dry day or by covering their favourite dust bathing spot with a board or cover when it’s wet and uncovering it on a dry day.

If you have a homemade dust bath, it’s a good idea to keep it covered when it’s not in use so you can use it as and when you want all year round.

How Often Do Chickens Dust Bathe?

Chickens dust bathe regularly and in hot weather when dusty soil is more readily available they will dust bathe three or four times per week. When the weather is colder and the earth is damp, they might only dust bathe once or twice per week.

Chickens incorporate dust bathing with relaxation time and will mostly bathe as a small group while preening and relaxing in the sun.

Our chickens tend to dust bathe in the afternoon when it’s warmer and they can enjoy the feeling of the cool earth around their bodies.

How Chickens Preen Their Feathers

Chickens also keep themselves clean and in optimum condition by preening their feathers which they do with their beaks.

A chicken’s preening routine involves fluffing up under feathers, picking out debris with their beaks, re-forming feathers that have become separated along with feather oiling which is done by gathering oil on the beak from the preening gland above the tail.

If you watch a chicken preening you’ll see them reaching to their backs with their heads to gather oil from the gland which they spread over their bodies which helps to lightly waterproof their feathers and prevent them from getting too wet when it rains.

You can sometimes see the preening gland (which looks like a large pimple) above the tail if the chicken has lost feathers during a heavy moult or if you keep ex-battery hens who have bald patches.

Chickens also use a beak action which helps them to re-form any feathers which have become separated. This takes the feather back to its original shape and gives protection in the rain and helps the chicken to stay warmer in cold weather.

Social Preening

Chickens love to preen their feathers socially on a lazy afternoon and they’ll find a safe place to do so to get their feathers back into top condition after a busy day grazing.

They will also preen each other and pick bits from each other’s backs as they go, you often see this behavior between a hen and a rooster when they’re close.

The image below shows my hens having a good clean up underneath a garden table, it’s such a relaxing thing to watch especially when they make a contented purring sound as they preen.

chicken feather preening in the shade

Do Chickens Need to Take Baths?

Chickens don’t require traditional baths like humans. Instead, they perform “dust baths” to clean themselves. To facilitate this, provide a dry, sandy area in their enclosure. Chickens will dig a shallow hole, roll in it, and fluff their feathers, allowing the dust to absorb excess oil and remove parasites.

A cleaning routine of preening and dust bathing is all a chicken needs to stay clean so a water bath isn’t necessary and can actually do more harm than good.

Most chickens don’t like to get wet and so will not choose to go into a bath of water to clean themselves. Bathing chickens can lead to them becoming cold and can remove the oils they rub onto their feathers to protect them from rain.

Some chicken keepers bathe their birds if they have a dirty bottom, but in most cases, it’s better to carefully trim away any compacted dirt because it takes a lot of washing to remove it fully.

This article was first published on April 15, 2021 by Pentagon-Pets.

Chickens should be able to live a full life without ever having to be bathed, so it’s not something you need to do as part of a chicken keeping routine.

For more information on chickens around water, you might find the following article helpful:

Keeping chickens safe around water

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This article and its contents are owned by Pentagon Pets and was first published on April 15, 2021.

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