Bathing Beauties – How to Wash Your Chicken
All animals bathe. Some enjoy a good splash in a pool of water; others frolic in a mud
hole. Most of us position a sparkling birdbath in the flowerbed for the songbirds to
drink and preen. Birds love to soak in the cool water and bath even in the winter.
Their fluffing and splashing is a treat to witness. Wild birds require water to
recondition their feathers. Any ornithologist will tell you that offering a water
source creates an irresistible draw to our favorite songsters. So…we set a pool out
for the chickens to wash in.
We change the bucket. Maybe it was too deep, too small….wrong color? Hmm.
It’s full summer and the temperature is in the high 80s. Thoughts of diving into the
ocean or lake are sooo inviting. “I bet the chickens would want that swimming tub
You put out the cool tub. Stand back – last chook in is a rotten egg!
Nope. “What is wrong those chickens?”
Chickens won’t bathe in water. They will walk in puddles and sip from rivulets, but
soak in the refreshing tub? Noooo way.
Chickens prefer to bathe in dust and silt. Sometimes this method of scrubbing just
doesn’t cut it. Caked on debris holds onto their feathers despite concentrated effort.
Poo can get pasted to butt feathers and dirt won’t scrape that off.
You need to step in!
When to use a water bath?
Like cats, chickens handle their own hygiene. But when your bird steps or sits in
droppings or a broken egg (that also happens) you need to bring out the suds.
The chickens cannot get caked on egg, or manure, off of their feathers, and this is a
health issue. If you leave these dirty materials in place they will create an unsanitary
situation for the bird. Poo on their feathers and skin is unhealthy and can cause
infection. Flies are more than just a nuisance. Chickens can and do die horrific
deaths from “fly strike.” Fly larvae attracted to manure, usually around the vent
(chicken’s rear end), will hatch and burrow into the thin skin – eating the bird alive!
It is no joke.
• Regularly check the rear-end, vent region, of your birds. If you see manure stuck to
the feathers, wash this off as soon as possible.
• This is a great time to check the vent for mites and lice. Look for white, egg clusters
stuck to the feather base, creepy crawlies scattering, and scabbed or reddened skin.
• Chickens can get droppings stuck to their rear feathers. This is not usually a sign of
anything bad. Some breeds have fluffy feathers that are prone to “catching”
droppings. Breeding from roosters can also cause pasting at the rear. Seasonal food
changes (juicy grass, fruits, worms) and warm weather (chickens drink more in
warm weather) can change the consistency of their manure, making it more, well,
liquidy. Egg laying can also cause a bit of a mess.
When to worry: If you see unusual behavior in your bird, you are looking at a health
issue. Watch for diarrhea, very soiled vent feathers, unusual odor, listless birds,
straining/sitting for long periods, excessive drinking or any “off” behavior. Know
your birds. As prey animals, chickens hide any signs of illness until it has
progressed. Take any abnormal signs very seriously. It can save your bird’s life.
Pasting at the butt could be caused by any number of serious health conditions -
from heat stroke to egg binding, to vent gleet and cancer.
Always make a note of ANY unusual or “off” circumstances in the flock. Never ignore
any signs. Even a bird with heat stroke is in a life-threatening situation (see note).
1. Brush and comb off any excess mats or poo. You may want to trim overly
long feathers to prevent a repeat soiling. Don’t trim too much if you plan to
show your birds.