I have yet to have a need to actually give my chickens a bath. The little boy is not old enough to be in 4-H or FFA, so there is no chicken showing and we don’t have a bird worthy of an entry in the county fair either. But just as any animal does, chickens need to get clean too.
On their own, they take dust baths. This seems a bit contradictory if you as me. But there is good reasoning behind their method. Chickens wiggle and flutter around in loose dirt, the finer the better it seems. When outside, they will dig holes, wallow in them and in sunny spots take a nap. They work the dust into their feathers and when done they give a good shake and leave a cloud of dust around them. By doing this they are able to control any excess moisture or oils on their skin. It clean feathers, allowing them to control their body temperature and keep their feathers healthy and injury free. Feathers broken in the right spot can bleed and for the 100th time that is not good. This also helps rid them of fleas, mites and parasites.
During the summer it is quite easy for the girls to find a good dusty spot for a bath but in the winter this is a whole new challenge for them. During another “after church coffee” conversation my Great Uncle Bill said they used to toss out their wood ash for the chickens to bathe in. I had been putting our ash for the girls and was glad to hear that I was on the right path. I found an article where they had mixed their wood ash with sand and diatomaceous earth (DE). I was leery about adding the DE to the ash because it can cause some serious respiratory problems and when its super cold out I don’t want that wafting about the coop. Ash can cause respiratory issues too so it should be used with caution. The addition of sand to the ash gives it a little weight and in theory, helps. I however, am not going to start buying sand just to add to the dust pan.
In our coop, I have placed a pan, about the size of a small cow lick tub, in which we put our wood ash. The pan was the dish I used to coax Lucy with grain. She won’t mind it the chickens use it now. It works really well. When it’s super cold out I put the pan inside the coop; on the nicer day’s it goes in the outside run. Those are the days there is a line of birds waiting to get their bath in.
Using wood ash has some advantages all it’s own too. The ash contains vitamin K, a blood clotting agent. The tiny bit of vitamin K that the birds can get from the ash may be all they need to stop bleeding quickly should they break a feather or get a scratch. Ash also contains calcium and magnesium. It is also naturally removes toxins from their system (people take charcoal supplements for such purposes as well). The charcoal or ash will work as a laxative (one reason I have not tried the supplement myself), it will move impurities out of the body and rid their system of harmful internal worms too.
Just because there are so many positives with using ash doesn’t mean it will be completely harmless. I just mentioned it can cause respiratory issues, so keep an eye on your birds when using ash; especially if you are not mixing it with sand. Another thing to give some thought to is lye. Wood ash makes lye in the right environment, just add water. Personally, I would not let my chickens play in an ash pan that has been rained in. I soak hides in wood ash and water to remove fur, I don’t want to start removing feather like that. In the case that a pan gets a good watering, dump it out, rise it out and start again with fresh ash.
There are many beneficial herbs that can be added to the ash as well. The two that I have used are rosemary and thyme. Both are said to help clear respiratory problems. I haven’t gotten to deep into the herbs for chickens yet so that might have to be a discussion for after I do some more research and trial and error.