How Do Chickens Bathe Themselves?

“How do chickens bathe themselves?” ~ Katheryn Nutter

Katheryn thanks so much for the question.

Chickens are naturally clean animals, particularly if their living conditions are ideal. If they have sufficient space and the coop is kept clean, your chickens will usually look pretty good.

An exception to this is just before and when they are molting. Also really good layers usually look scruffy because they use their calcium to make egg shells rather than to keep pretty feathers (made up mostly of calcium.)

With that said, chickens do in fact bathe themselves.

Hens love to give themselves dust baths. Roosters aren’t as likely to enjoy a good roll in the dirt though. When it is warm outside, your hens will look for a new place and scratch down until they reach nice, fine dirt. They’ll flop onto their backs, close their eyes and just roll around. They get the dirt way down into their feathers until it reaches their skin. When they are done, they’ll shake it all off and feel fresh and clean.

I wish I could figure out how chickens use dirt to clean themselves, when my children play in the dirt they just get dirty!

In addition to cleaning the chickens, dirt naturally clogs the respiratory pores of parasites, like lice and mites. When the respiratory pores of these parasites are clogged, they can no longer breathe and they die.

Smart chickens, huh?

If you don’t have suitable facilities for your chickens to scratch and roll, you can easily build them their own “sand box”. Use 1 inch thick boards about 6 inches wide and 20 inches long. Place the box someplace where it won’t get rained upon.

A good mixture is ½ sand and ½ fine dirt. Your girls will love it!

You’ll need to keep droppings cleaned up and change the contents every few weeks. As the seasons change and the weather gets cooler, move the box to a spot that gets lots of sun when you’re changing out the dirt/sand mixture.

Chickens also keep themselves clean by preening.

They will remove damaged feathers, get rid of built up oil and distribute fresh oil from a gland located at the base of their tail.

Under normal conditions, there is no need to bathe chickens with water. The only time it may be necessary would be if you were showing them in a contest or some similar situation where they must look their absolute best. A caution here; water bathing can easily dry out their skin so it should be done only occasionally and only when necessary.

I must admit that I’ve never water bathed a chicken before so this information is passed on to me and is not from personal knowledge. I’ve always taken the saying “Mad as a wet hen” seriously and had no reason to see just how mad a wet hen gets.

However, for those of you who are interested;

Do not wash your chickens on a cold day.

Start with a tub of warm water. If you use something like a tall kitchen garbage can you might eliminate some problems. For instance, the confined space will cut down on the flapping of wings. You’ll only fill the can with enough water to just about cover the chicken and of course you must keep its head well above the water at all times. For this reason it’s a good idea to have another person helping you, one does the washing and one keeps the chicken from drowning.

Because the can is tall, there won’t be as much splashing of water.

Apparently if the chicken is looking up, it’s looking for a place to fly, hang on tight and prepare to get awfully wet.

In this first tub you’ll put the “shampoo”. Use something very gentle, like baby shampoo. I believe there may be shampoo made for chickens available as well. Once the shampoo is in the tub, add the water so that it gets sudsy.

Gently and slowly place the chicken into the water.

This is the part where the greatest protest on the chicken’s part will take place. Carefully raise and lower the chicken into the water a few times getting them good and wet. DO NOT scrub or you’ll break its feathers.

Lift the chicken out of the water and let it drain a little. I’m told it’s amazing how much water they seem to soak up. If you do have help, your helper could clean their feet if necessary while the chicken is draining.

Next you’ll move on to the “rinse cycle”.

Ahead of time, fill a second tub with plain water. Again slowly and carefully lower the chicken in and out of the rinse water to get all the soap off.

Again lift the chicken out of the water to drain as much water as you can. Gently pat the chicken with a towel. Remember, do not rub. Lift each wing and dry underneath as well.

Finally, confine the chicken to a clean area until it is completely dry. If you release the bird before it is dry, it will likely flop down for a dust bath and come back up covered in mud.

Katheryn, I hope this was helpful, thanks again for the question.

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