Why Your Chicken Needs a Dust Bath

20180323_145950-1   All chickens should have access to dust baths.  It doesn’t matter what breed or age of chicken, it is instinctual for them to wallow in the dust and dirt.  It is their way of getting clean and practicing good hygiene.

When you first witness this dust bathing, you may think that something is wrong with your bird.  It almost looks like they are in trouble or having a seizure.  They are lying on their sides with one leg sticking out and the other scraping dirt and dust in kind of a circular motion.  The wings are throwing dirt up into the air so that it falls back down on top of them.  It looks scary , but it is perfectly normal.

Chickens will create a dust bath area all by themselves.  A chicken scratches and digs out a bowl shaped depression in the dirt or will even use the shavings inside of the coop.  The chicken settles into this hollow, fluffs up its feathers and then scratches up the dirt.

It might look like they are making a nest to lay eggs because it is round in shape but these are preparations for dust bathing.  Chickens use their feet and wings to get loose dirt throughout their skin and feathers.  Once they are completely covered in a layer of dirt, the bird will fluff and shake off the substance to evenly distribute it on their bodies.

A chicken’s dust bath helps to remove excess oil, as well as parasites such as lice, mites and ticks.  Dust bathing is an important part of keeping chickens healthy and clean.  It is important that your chicken has access to areas where dust bathing can take place. Most will look for a sunny spot with loose dirt.  Even if they never get to free range, you can set up a dust bath in their coop or pen.

There are four main behaviors when dust bathing: vertical wing-shaking, head rubbing, bill raking and scratching with one leg.  The hen scratches with her feet and beak at the ground.  She then erects her feathers and lies down. They create deep bowls as they wiggle and squirm to get dirt deep under their feathers.  They make happy noises while flipping dirt all over themselves.  The dust collects between the feathers and then is shaken off.  This helps to give the feathers good insulating abilities.

Chickens clean their feathers and skin by preening with their beaks and using an oil gland at the base of their tail. After a dust bath a hen will spend time primping and pecking at their feathers. This helps to smooth their feathers and removes sheaths on new feathers.  Feather maintenance is very important.  Birds of all kinds take dust baths and certain mammals do as well to keep clean and remove parasites.

Most dust bathing occurs in the middle of the day. Warm temperatures increase dust bathing behavior. Hens will tend to dust bath if they see other hens doing it.  It ends up being a very social activity.  It is not just hens that will dust bath, but roosters enjoy doing it as well.

The need for a dust bath is ingrained in their behavior.  They will dig holes if you don’t provide them with a spot.  Free ranging birds will find a place in your garden if you let them.   Battery hens in cages will sham dust bathe.  They will go through the motions of dust bathing even if there is no other material in their cages.

Here at VJP Poultry, we decided it was time to create some dust bathing areas inside of our runs.  We used treated 1″ X 4″ lumber and made 18″ X 24″ boxes with no bottom.  We set them in the run and filled them half full with play sand.

There are other things that you can use to create your dust bathing areas. Any large shallow pan such as a kitty litter pan or small kiddie pools.   Fill it with a variety of substrates.  Some examples would be :  Fine sand, dry dirt,  or peat moss.

Some people like to add food grade diatomaceous Earth or DE.  The sharp edges pierce the soft body parts of parasites and kills them.  Be careful with DE as it can be very harmful if inhaled and can damage lungs.  Use a small amount as part of your substrate.

Firepit ash or ash from a wood stove is another product that can be used. Birds can absorb magnesium, calcium and vitamin K from the ash.  Use ash from hardwood trees and make sure that if you remove it from your own fire pit that there isn’t any additional chemicals such as in treated lumber.

Dried herbs are natural pest repellents.  They can get rid of mosquitoes, flies and ants as well as parasites such as mites, lice and ticks.  They provide calming aroma therapy and have antibacterial properties to heal minor scratches and wounds.  Add them to the substrate as well.

You can also purchase ready made dust bath products.  It is easy to add to what ever other products you want in your dust bath mix.

Remember that you will need to periodically clean out your dust bath area.  I pick out the big chunks daily and give it a good raking.  A cover or a beach umbrella will help to keep out the rain.  You want your dust bath to stay as dry as possible.  One of those turtle sand boxes with a cover or any plastic cover sandbox can make a great dusting area.  If possible, move your dusting area inside in the winter to prevent the substrate from freezing.

For tips and tricks for raising outstanding silkies check out our Chicken Learning Center at VJPPoultry.com .  VJP Poultry is an NPIP and state inspected hatchery located 30 miles north of St. Paul.  We hatch out silkies all year long so we always have stock available.  Like us on Facebook to get weekly updates on what we currently have for sale.

Victoria J. Peterson

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Egg Color and Colored Earlobes in Chickens

20180324_153532-1Chickens lay a rainbow of colors when it comes to egg shells.  White, cream, tan, pink, blue, green, brown and speckled.  But did you realize that a chicken’s earlobes are different colors as well, and that some people can make guesses as to what color egg a certain hen will lay based on her earlobe color.

A chicken’s ears are located on each side of its head, just below its eyes.  They do not stick out like most animals do.  The ears are located inside of the head.  The earlobe is just below the ear.  It is a slight thickening of the skin and is smooth with no feathers.

Birds are the only animal that lay colored eggs.  Popular folklore says that if a chicken’s earlobes are white, they will tend to lay white eggs.  If they have red earlobes they will lay brown eggs.  We know that there are many exceptions to this.  Some red earlobed birds lay greenish or blue eggs.  Silkies have turquoise earlobes and lay a cream colored egg.  Chicken breeds which have white earlobes with a pearly iridescent shine such as a cream legbar, lay blue eggs.

Eggshell color is definitely based on breed.  Unless you have a mixed chicken, the birds will lay true to their breed.  Araucana have red earlobes and lay blue or green eggs.  Penedesencas have white earlobes and lay dark brown eggs.  Some Americanas have white earlobes and lay blue eggs.  Earlobe color is based on breed genetics as well.  You can’t correlate earlobe color and egg shell color because one is not based on the other.

Depending on the breed, a hen will lay about 500 eggs in her lifetime.  All eggs start out white.  Those that are other shades have pigments deposited on them as the eggs travel through the hen’s oviduct.  This journey takes about 26 hours until the egg is laid.  The shell itself takes 20 hours to complete.  Ameraucanas have the pigment oocyanin deposited on the egg as it travels.  This pigment permeates the eggshell resulting in both the inside and the outside of the shell being blue.

Chickens that lay brown eggs deposit the pigment protoporphyrin on the eggs while they are forming their shells.  This pigment only stays on the top of the shell.  The inside of the shell remains white.  The darkest brown eggs are from Marans.

In order to create a green colored egg, a brown pigment overlays a blue egg shell.  The darker the brown pigment, the more olive color the egg will look.

No matter what color the outside of the egg is , the inside will all look similar.  The color of the yolk is determined by the hen’s diet.  The more green veggies in the diet, the deeper the color of the yolk.

Chickens have two ears on each side of their head.  They have eardrums and an outer ear, middle ear and inner ear.  They are able to harness sound waves and send them to the inner ear.  Unlike humans, who experience hearing loss as they age, chickens are able to regrow damaged hearing cells.  Scientists are very interested in learning more about this special adaption and in being able to apply it to help humans with hearing loss.

Hearing well is very important to all birds.  It is imperative that they can hear approaching predators.  Chickens can tell how far away a sound is coming from by gauging how long it takes the sound to reach the ear.

Baby chicks are able to hear their mother clucking from inside of the egg.  An embryo can hear by around day 12 of their incubation period.  Once hatched a chick will respond to its mother tapping on the ground when she finds food.  If you tap on the food dish your baby chicks should come running.

Ear infections in chickens are often caused by bacteria entering the ear.  Antibiotic drops can be given for 3 to 5 days if the infection is caused by bacteria.  Clean the ear with hydrogen peroxide and a Q-tip to loosen any debris on the ear.  Do not put a Q-tip deep into the chicken’s ear as it can damage it.

Timely egg collection is important.  Don’t leave eggs under hens unless you plan on hatching.  I like to use a wire egg basket to  help me handle all of the eggs if find.  If you are interested in more information on egg collection check out our blog.

It is fun to see the assortment and variety of egg colors that can come from your hens. You can display them quite creatively with an egg spiral holder or egg counter holder.  Eggs that have not previously been refrigerated can stay on your counter for about a week and stay fresh.  You can get quite fancy with your egg storage holder.

For tips and tricks for raising outstanding silkies check out our Chicken Learning Center at VJPPoultry.com .  VJP Poultry is an NPIP and state inspected hatchery located 30 miles north of St. Paul.  We hatch out silkies all year long so we always have stock available.  Like us on Facebook to get weekly updates on what we currently have for sale.

Victoria J. Peterson

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