If you decide to add a little backyard chicken coop to your home, chances are that one day you’ll walk outside to find all of your flock acting (and looking) a bit…strange.
Your sweet chickens will be thrashing and flailing around in a little hole of dry, dusty dirt they’ve so considerately dug somewhere around the yard.
When you catch your feathered ladies rolling around in dirt for the first time, if you didn’t realize that dust bathing was part of healthy chicken behavior, you’ll probably have mixed reactions.
Dead or Dirt Bathing?
When you notice your hens taking a dirt bath for the first time, initially, it can look pretty alarming, especially if you catch them while they’re taking a break.
They tend to stop and catch their breath in awkward positions, like while they’re flopped over on one side with their wings and legs spread out – sometimes with their head tucked underneath their body.
A resting chicken who's mid-dirt bath can look quite, well, dead.
Nowadays, the dust bath ritual around my yard is common and predictable. If chickens kept a written to-do list, it would look like this:
- Check out previous known dirt bath holes. If available and still dry, skip #2. If already taken by another chicken, go to #2.
- Scout out new dry area, and scratch up a new dirt hole, creating loose dirt to play in.
- Writhe around in the dirt, making sure to fling dust everywhere. Focus on top of the back, neck, and under wings, with no regard to where you’re located or who’s around you.
- Take a nap while still in dirt pile. If you leave the position, another chicken will steal it. You must hold your ground.
- Continue rolling in dirt at your convenience.
Why are dirt baths healthy for chickens?
Most birds owners probably already know this, but chickens are susceptible to parasites like mites, poultry lice, and other creepy-crawlies that like to feed on feathers and skin dander.
(Treating a flock for poultry lice isn’t impossible, but not most people’s idea of fun.)
When chickens give themselves regular, thorough dust baths, it coats their skin and feathers with materials that tend to keep external parasites at bay. Dirt bathing is just good chicken personal hygiene.
Once you know what you look for and understand that dirt bathing is normal – actually healthy – it’s hilarious.
Chickens are such funny animals to watch. They have odd mannerisms and quirky little personalities. When you have a group of chickens taking a dirt bath, it’s super entertaining to just sit down and watch!