The first time I saw my chickens laying on the ground in little fluffy chicken heaps my heart skipped a beat and I ran over in a panic. They looked up and blinked at me a few times before standing up, shaking the dust off, and huffing away, wondering why I insisted on disturbing them. Later I discovered that they were taking dust baths, a chickens way of cleaning themselves and preventing parasites.
My husband was less concerned about why the chickens looked like they were having seizures. His big question was why do chickens dig holes in the yard? Apparently when you are tall it’s a lot easier to trip over uneven ground than us shorter people. Chickens digging holes all over the place wasn’t his idea of a perfect yard. That’s partially why I reduced my hens from completely free ranging on our property down to an extra large chicken run/goat run. Marital harmony and all that jazz.
Moving the chickens into the run meant they could dig their holes and take their dust baths in peace, aside from my incessant worrying and running over every time they flopped around.
Why Do Chickens Take Dust Baths?
Chickens take dust baths because wallowing in the dust helps keep their feathers clean and in good shape until their next molt. Clean and healthy feathers help chickens stay warm enough, and discourages pests, such as lice and mites. And if you’ve ever seen a hen basking in her little hollowed out patch of ground, basking in the sun, you’ll figure that they enjoy their dust bath the same way we enjoy a hot shower.
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If you don’t mind them making holes, and you have plenty of space, there isn’t much you need to do. Chickens will take care of their own bathing without any help from us. If it’s wet and rainy, or you don’t want them making holes willy nilly, you may want to build a chicken dust bath for inside your coop or run.
Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens suggests that using wood ash or diatomaceous earth in a dust bath can cause respiratory trouble , but if you already have an infestation of parasites it is probably a good idea to add it into their dust bathing area.
So next time you think your chickens have seizures, don’t panic, they’re probably just taking a dust bath. 😀
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