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.
2. Perch the bird on the side of the laundry sink or tub – with their rear facing
the sink. Most birds will perch quietly. They are far more stressed if you try
to submerge or set them into water.
3. Use warm water (the same temperature as you would bath in) and pre-wet
the area with the sprayer. Most birds don’t mind this one bit!
4. Use animal shampoo or human-grade organic/natural shampoo. You only
need a tiny amount. Never use any pesticide flea/tick shampoo for pets.
5. Use a comb to tease out the gunk. Chickens have ticklish butts, so many will
be all “hee hee” when you suds up their rear end. They may bite or nibble at
6. Thoroughly rinse the area. Towel dry the wet feathers (toilet paper works
great at sopping up water from wet feathers.
7. If it’s chilly, use a hair dryer on the low setting (hair dryers van get really hot
on skin). If it’s a warm summery day – let the chicken dry au naturel. This
refreshing touch up bath will make the other hot chickens jealous.
Heat stroke note: This is a medical emergency. If you notice a bird that is listless,
even collapsed on a hot day (chickens can get overheated, even in temperatures we
don’t find oppressive). Heavy breeds (Brahma, Wyandotte) are at extra risk, but any
bird can be afflicted. Some just do too much and don’t drink enough. Not drinking is
a real concern for roosters who will work and forget to take a “break.”
Immediately begin to cool the bird off. Water will not penetrate their feathers so
focus lukewarm water (avoid cold water as this can cause problems – but if that is
all you have, go for it) onto their vent area and under their wings. Sponge their comb
and face taking care not to get water into their nose. Let the bird drink if they
choose to do so. Dehydration is also a factor.
Keep the bird in a cool area with water. Saturating bread with water is a great way
to get the bird hydrated (birds do not lose electrolytes through sweat. Only diarrhea
conditions usually warrant pedialyte). Birds rebound quickly. If your chicken is not
improving – this is an emergency, immediately bring him or her to a vet clinic.