Make a Chicken Dust Bath for the Run

chicken dust bathThe flock missed their chicken dust bath and it was all my fault. As soon as the weather cleared and the chickens could go out to free range, they headed right for their favorite chicken dust bath spot. Apparently, I had forgotten this past fall to bring a chicken dust bath into the run or coop. Our fall was warm and the chickens had plenty of opportunity to dust bath their cares away while they free ranged and I did chores. Recently the weather took a turn and we had snow and ice for a few days. Rather than be ingenious, as they have in the past, the flock just waited. In the past I have seen them claim a corner under the nest boxes or some other out of the way spot, and stir up a personal dust bath. This time they just waited. 

And, then the day arrived. I opened the gate to the run and let them free! At last, they had a chance to get away from each other. To run to the farthest fence line and have some personal space.  Yet, they all headed for the local construction zone next door to their coop. The latest coop being built will have a slight overhanging porch area. For now it is the perfect spot to find dry dusty soil for a chicken dust bath. All 23 chickens from this coop huddled together in the same area, flipping dirt and flapping wings. It was a sight to see.

A few seconds into the video the barn kitty walked up. Three of the hens went on full alert. Then two returned to bathing, leaving Maggie to keep watch.

What kind of enclosure works for a chicken dust bath?

I realized that I better set up a chicken dust bath  in the run or have the risk of mites,and lice on feathers, feet, and dirty looking chickens. I looked around the farm for a large enough container. Since our chickens apparently like the communal, Roman style bath set up, I didn’t want to choose anything small.

I had a child’s wadding pool which works well, but not in the space I wanted it, under a covered corner of the run.  I have seen people use scrap wood, small logs, and old tires to make a dust bath. A cat litter pan is a good choice for one chicken to use at a time. It needs to be deep enough that the soil mixture won’t be easily scattered out of the box every time it is used.  I would suggest at least an 8 to 10 inch depth.  Some people suggest a 12 inch depth

chicken dust bath

My Ready to Use Options 

Last summer I used the child’s wading pool for the chicken dust bath. The drawback was, I never set up an easy to maintain way to cover the dust bath. And then storms happened, the dust bath was soaked, and muddy and unpleasant. It didn’t dry out well, being in plastic container, and I tossed the dust bath mixture out to get it to dry. Way too much effort!  I was determined that I would find a way to build a chicken dust bath under one of the covers in the run.

The wading pool is now being used in the other chicken coop run, where I have more room to keep it covered.  For this run, I chose an empty, shallow feeding trough.  Fits perfectly where I need it and there’s plenty of room for multiple chickens to dust bathe together. I like that I did not need to go shopping for something to use for the chicken dust bath. Reusing what is already on the farm is my go – to method whenever possible.

chicken dust bath

What to Put in the Dust Bath Mixture 

The recommended ingredients for the dust mixture are:

Dry dirt

Builders Sand

Wood Ash (from a fire pit or fireplace) I add a small bucket,  1 gallon approximately, to the large dust bath.  

Diatomaceous Earth – For the large bath I am building here, I added 4 cups of DE powder and mixed it in thoroughly.

The dirt here is very sandy already so I choose to not add more sand to our mixture. The important factors are coming up with a light fluffy soil but not so light that it will harm the chickens respiratory tract!

chicken dust bath

The chickens were in the bath before I even finished adding the wood ash and DE powder!


Add dried herbs to the dust bath if you have them. The extra snack while bathing will be appreciated and beneficial.


Don’t add chemicals! Make sure anything added to the dust bath is fertilizer free, chemical free, and pesticide free. Just like our skin, rubbing chemicals into the chickens’ skin is not going to be healthy. If your dirt has had fertilizer added to it, consider purchasing a bag of organic soil instead. 


You can use any container you like when building a dust bath. Some ideas for covers, to keep out rain, snow, cats, etc might be a small piece of scrap plywood, an inexpensive tarp, a piece of plexiglass, empty feed bags, or whatever you find! Have you built a chicken dust bath already? Tell us in the comments about your project. 

chicken dust bath




Winter Chicken Coop Cleaning

DSC_0654 Timber Creek FarmMany chicken keepers don’t do much winter chicken coop cleaning. When you notice a slight ammonia smell in the chicken coop, it’s time to investigate the source. You may have to do a winter chicken coop cleaning.   It’s been colder here, recently. We had been steadily adding bedding to the coop during the cold snaps.  I believe in using the “Deep Litter” method of coop maintenance during the winter.  You can read my explanation of this here.

Basically, you will continue to add dry bedding and let the waste material, ie, chicken poop, decompose in the coop to add warmth.  This works perfectly if you can keep the coop dry and not spill any water.  Using straw and kiln dried shavings is the best way to be successful with the deep litter method. The chickens had been in the coop a lot more than usual the past week and at one point a rubber bowl of water had been tipped over.  Anytime moisture is introduced into the environment with chicken waste and bedding, ammonia and odor will form. The best remedy for this is to remove any damp or wet bedding, shavings, straw, as soon as possible.  Allow the area to dry and then replace with new, fresh shavings and straw. 

  DSC_0653Timber Creek Farm coop cleaning 




coop cleaning

How I Perform a Winter Chicken Coop Cleaning

Okay, so what do I do? The temperature fluctuates greatly here in the winter. I know we need to build up some insulation again in the coop. Taking out a good portion of the accumulated straw, leaving the bottom layer of dry shavings intact, is one way to keep some insulating warmth in the coop. I changed out all the nesting areas and cleaned  up under the roost bars really well.  Adding more dry straw to the floor will ensure the chickens stay toasty warm overnight. A good airing out of the coop took care of the ammonia odor that was beginning to form. 

The piles of bedding outside will lend some excitement to the chicken’s lives for a couple of days.  They will pick through for any missed morsels of grain.  There may even be a bug or two hiding in the bedding. I let the chickens scratch through the used bedding in the run until it partially composts. Then it is removed to complete the compost process.

Summer vs. Winter Chicken Coop Cleaning

I only use deep litter bedding in the winter months. During warm weather parts of the year I keep less pine shavings on the floor of the coop, and clean it out weekly. The nest boxes and roosting bar and dropping areas are cleaned daily or almost daily. The humidity here seems to be a big problem for using deep litter coop maintenance in the summer. Keeping less bedding and cleaning frequently keeps flies away and leaves a sweeter smelling coop.

The Timing of Coop Cleaning 

All this coop cleaning was going on during prime egg laying time. I was trying to be quick to get the maid service work done and get out of the way. The line was forming for the nest boxes as I pushed some fresh straw into the nests.  

 DSC_0657Timber Creek Farm

A Rooster in the Nest Box?  Hazards of Mid Winter Coop Cleaning

Then a lot of squawking occurred. I looked over and saw TJ the Rooster in a nest box! Crazy boy. Nests are for girls. I watched as a crowd formed. The hens were clearly not happy about a boy being in the nest area. They let him know he must be moving on. The girls had serious work to do. The coop cleaning was done and I needed to move on too.

winter chicken coop cleaning winter chicken coop cleaning winter chicken coop cleaning winter chicken coop cleaning

Finally they convinced TJ to flee the area. 

winter chicken coop cleaning

All’s Well that Ends Well. 


winter chicken coop cleaning



When is the Right Time to Cull a Chicken?

right time to cull a chickenHow do you know when it is the right time to cull a chicken from your flock. Culling a chicken is a hard decision for many modern homesteaders.  We are able to be more flexible, in many cases, because the chickens we raise are often a cross between pets and livestock. Even so, there are situations when raising chickens, when we have to answer the question, is this the right time to cull a chicken?  The following situations may occur on your homestead or in your flock and lead you to the point of decision making. 

The Right Time to Cull a Chicken 

Egg Eating

Egg eating in a production barn would almost surely be met with the decision to cull.  After all is said and done, livestock is supposed to produce food. If the livestock is eating the produced food, it is counter productive to keeping it.  Now I will tell you that I have never culled a chicken for behavior, egg eating or other.  I try to work it out by gathering eggs more frequently or catching the culprit in the act.

If I catch the egg eater, quarantine in a crate for a couple of days with food and water of course, often stops the behavior.  Also, adding free choice calcium to the coop. If my calcium feeder remains empty too many days, I can  have a hen lay soft shelled eggs. These are easily broken by the egg eater, making it even more likely the chickens will try and eat the good eggs too. 

right time to cull a chicken


Aggression can take the joy out of chicken keeping.  If you have to continually watch your back while feeding and tending to the chicken’s needs, it wears you down.  Roosters commonly disrupt the care of the flock by over protecting the hens.  Try to train your roosters to look at you as the Flock Boss.  They should move out of your way as you move about the coop or run.  Sometimes keeping an aggressive rooster is just not possible. You may be ok with his antics but if you have small children, the danger is greatly increased and totally unacceptable.  

Hens can be nasty at times too.  In a flock without a rooster, one of the hens will often assume the roll of protector and behave like a rooster.  Even with no spurs, being attacked by a chicken can be startling and painful. You may want to assess if it is the right time to cull a chicken.


Non-Laying Hen

Older hens often slow in egg production until they cease to lay altogether.  At some point the hen becomes a fancy, well fed, bug hunter for your yard.  In our case, I am happy to let the older hens live out their days, enjoying life on the farm.  I think they add to the flock’s character. But then again, I am crazy about my chickens.  In some situations you are limited on the number of chickens you can keep. Having your aging flock take up the space that could be used for younger producing hens may not be the best idea.  This may lead you to think about the right time to cull a chicken.

right time to cull a chicken


Is Having a Chronic Illness or Injuries the Right Time To Cull a Chicken?

Even well kept backyard chickens can become ill.  If she doesn’t die from the illness, the hen may not lay again.  Once again, you are keeping a pet chicken at this point.  This is a situation I faced recently.  We had a chicken that was partially paralyzed.  I treated her for over two weeks, exercising her, holding her, making sure she could reach food and water.

Ginger tried to recover. She did really well and made progress. Then she  took a giant step backwards. The light left her eyes. Her comb became pale and discolored.  She was having trouble keeping her eyes open because she felt bad and was probably in pain.  I had to make a difficult decision. Chickens are commonly attacked by predators, too. You may find your hen near death and suffering. Sometimes the right time to cull a chicken decision is made for us, and we need to end the suffering. Each person has to make this after assessing the individual demands and drawbacks of keeping the hen alive.  


Bad Genetics 

Some chickens are hatched weaker than the rest of the flock.  Bad genetic combinations can lead to conformation issues in the chicken’s body, beak, legs, and feet, that keep it from living a normal chicken life. Some conditions, such as prolapsed vent occur and keep occurring.   Hens that repeatedly suffer from reproductive tract troubles such as prolapse and egg binding may be suffering from an infection.  In small chicks, spraddle leg can often be corrected if discovered early enough.  In cases where it treatment of bracing the legs does not work, the chick may need to be culled.  Cross beak or scissor beak can be trimmed but may eventually lead to the chicken not being able to eat enough food to stay alive. 

  • spraddle leg
  • cross beak
  • egg bound
  • prolapsed vent

The chicken is a rooster

Finally, one of the things we have little control over is ending up with a rooster when we ordered all pullets from the breeder or hatchery.  There is no 100% guarantee on sexing day old chicks.  When your community or city has a strict “No Rooster” policy, you must get rid of the rooster.  Some places will try to re-home a healthy rooster, especially if it is a rare or popular breed.  In many cases the rooster ends up as meat for the family.  

right time to cull a chicken

Being able to make the ultimate decision when the right time to cull a chicken comes along is part of the responsibility of raising backyard chickens.  Ending the suffering of your hen or using the other purpose for the surprise rooster is humane. Homesteaders and farmers have been carrying out this process for years.  It won’t be easy but the end of life decisions should be thought about before you start keeping chickens.

Making end of life decisions for our livestock and poultry is never easy. The subject is a sensitive one in today’s modern homesteader world.  If you have positive comments, encouraging words or courteous disagreement, I invite you to leave a comment in the comments section.  

right time to cull a chicken

9 Foods that are not on the Chicken’s Christmas List



9 foods that are not on the chicken's Christmas listA chicken’s Christmas List? The note was stuck to the door of the coop when I opened up.  The chickens were sleepy. Apparently they had stayed up a bit too late scratching out  a letter to Santa Claus. I noticed that there were a significant number of things missing from the chicken’s Christmas list.  Items that we, humans, indulge in during the holiday season.  We often read how it is so great to have chickens because they can eat all of our compost and garbage but that is not completely true.  And since a lot of us will be cooking and enjoying some delicious food in the coming weeks, I wanted to repeat the items that should and should not be on the chicken treat menu.

9 Foods that are not on the Chicken’s Christmas List.

1. Chocolate.  I know!  Wow.  One of my all time favorite foods.  But not for the feathered family members. 

2. Alcohol.  I think it’s probably common sense that this should not be included in a chicken’s diet but, hey, I am just making the list.

3. Caffeine.   All I can say is I am glad I am not a chicken

4. Avocados.  Yes avocados are green but they are not the type of greens that are good for chickens.  Avocados contain the toxin persin which can be fatal to chickens.

5. Potatoes.  The peels may look like something the chickens could peck at, but potatoes are a member of the nightshade family which contain solanine.  Cooking does not completely destroy solanine so it is best to avoid giving potatoes to your flock.  I do occasionally throw the last spoonful of mashed potatoes into the bowl heading for the chicken coop, but it is rare that I do so.  Do not give them the raw peels as you may have a flock with diarrhea or worse. 

6. Onions.  Onions are commonly used in cooking but the toxin found in onions is called theosulphate.  It can lead to a sever case of anemia or jaundice.  Garlic is fine to feed to chickens.  It contains much less theosulphate and the benefits it adds to the chickens immune system is a huge plus.

7. Rhubarb.  If you have been waiting to enjoy a delicious rhubarb pie over the holidays don’t take the last slice to the chickens.

8. Citrus.  Citrus fruit is high in vitamin C.  While some vitamin C is needed, an excess of it can decrease calcium absorption.  Decreased calcium in the chicken’s blood stream can lead to weak egg shells and lowered amount of egg production.

9, Heavily Creamy foods or lots of dairy products.  These foods can lead to digestive upset and diarrhea.


9 foods that are not on the chicken's Christmas List

So what do the chickens want from Santa? What is on a Chicken’s Christmas List?

1. Mealworms

2. Mealworms

3. Shredded cheese (but not too much at one time, as all dairy products can lead to digestive upset in chickens)

4. Leftover scrambled eggs from Christmas breakfast. ( the chickens don’t have to know the eggs are leftover!)

5. Vegetable scraps, carrot peels, leftover salad,  cooked corn

6. Sunflower seeds

7. Fresh greens.  Why not splurge a little on that extra large bag of kale at the market.  Tear the leaves into tiny pieces and sprinkle the kale on top of their food.  Yum!

8. Did I mention Mealworms?

So there you have it.  This list of Do’s and Don’ts is not all inclusive.  I was considering the foods that we commonly have at our house for the holidays, when writing about the chicken’s Christmas list. You may have different food traditions for your family celebrations. 


Santa Ike

Ho Ho Ho!

Time to finish up that Christmas Shopping, and don’t forget the mealworms!

Similar topic – Which Holiday Leftovers are Safe for my Chickens 9 foods that are not on the Chicken's Christmas list


Sick Chicken Symptoms You Should Recognize

sick chicken symptomsWhile it is good to recognize sick chicken symptoms, it might be more valuable for new chicken owners to know normal, healthy chicken behavior. If you know how your chickens act when they are feeling good and healthy, you will notice when your chicken in acting peculiar. 

How does the chicken look and act?

A healthy chicken is a busy chicken.  It is aware of what the other chickens are doing.  The healthy chicken is pecking the ground, scratching the dirt, and chasing others away from a tasty morsel.    When you first open the coop in the morning, the chickens should eagerly exit the building, raring to start a new day.  They should be happy to see food added to the bowls or feeders and start eating.  Any chickens who stay on the roost, or worse, are hiding in a dark corner should be immediately and gently checked over.  

When you look at a healthy chicken it looks  – healthy!  Feathers are glossy and in place, the comb and wattles are waxy looking and full color, and the eyes are bright and clear.  

sick chicken symptoms

Healthy Chickens are Communicating

Chickens talk to each other during the day, and some chickens talk a lot!  When you spend time with your chickens you will start to recognize certain sounds that are made repeatedly.  While my chickens are free ranging, I am often doing cleaning chores around the barnyard.   But, sometimes I hear a certain sound coming from my chickens and I just know it is an alarm of some sort.  Whether they saw a predator, noticed a hawk in the sky, or were injured by another flock member, the sound is unmistakably alarming.  It differs greatly from the regular clucking and squawking that they make.

 Another alarming sound is any respiratory sound.  A healthy chicken doesn’t make noise while breathing. Coughing, heavy breathing sounds and raspy sounds are signs of serious illness and should be evaluated quickly. With the current wave of avian influenza sweeping the country, it would be good to familiarize yourself with avian influenza symptoms.  


Healthy Chickens have Healthy Droppings

Some may feel this goes a bit too far, but notice the chicken’s droppings.  Their are two basic types of droppings that are excreted daily.  One type is often seen first thing in the morning.  It is firmer and capped with white urine salts.  Less frequently, the chicken will expel a runnier brown or green, cecal dropping.  While both of these droppings will  have a slight odor, you should notice if the odor is extremely bad or the appearance is really out of the normal range for your flock.  Keep in mind that certain vegetables, such as beet greens may turn the droppings a different color temporarily, without the chicken appearing ill. 

sick chicken symptoms

Healthy Chickens have Healthy Appetites

Chickens who are unwell do not eat much.  Sometimes they stop eating completely.  This is another reason it is good to observe your flock when you are feeding.  If a chicken does not come for food, stays off to itself, and is not pecking at the ground for insects or morsels, something could definitely  be wrong.  What follows next is weight loss, another sign of illness.  Young chickens are continually growing and maturing.  A young chicken who does not eat enough will not gain weight like the others in the flock.  The young birds continue to fill out in size for the first 6 months.  Even after egg laying begins, some growth and weight gain can still be occurring. 

Older hens and roosters should be able to maintain their weight.  The older hen that begins to look scrawny and small, may be suffering from an undetected illness.   Some of my chickens prefer to eat from the feeder and some prefer to free range while I am supervising.  Knowing what is normal for them is also a good indication of how they are doing health wise.  

Healthy  Young Hens are Laying Eggs

Many factors can influence egg laying, including age, molting, weather, stressful environment, and placement of nesting boxes.  If you reliably get an egg a day from a good laying hen, and then she stops laying , you may wonder why have my chickens stopped laying?   The quality of the egg shell can also be a sign of problems.  Thin, weak shells can be caused by inadequate nutrition or inadequate mineral absorption.  Knowing what to feed chickens will help you avoid any illnesses due to inadequate nutrition.  

sick chicken symptoms

Assessing Sick Chicken Symptoms

Chicken diseases and illness can be caused by a number of things.  Viruses, bacteria, molds, fungus, and parasites are the infectious type of illness.  Often, if one of these occur, more than one bird will be affected.  Some sick chicken symptoms are mild, leading to a day or two of not feeling up to par and exhibiting a low appetite.  Other diseases, such as avian influenza can and will wipe out the flock in a matter of days.   My recommendation is to not panic when signs of illness are observed.  When you see sick chicken symptoms in your flock, assess the birds overall health. First, isolate the sick chicken, to help prevent the spread of any possible contagious illness.   

Sick Chicken Symptoms

Is the chicken:

  •  active or listless
  •  grooming or is it unkempt with ruffled feathers
  •  interested in eating
  •  coughing or expelling fluid
  •  able to stand on its own


  • Is the hen still laying eggs
  • Is the bird excreting normal or abnormal droppings


Prevention and a healthy diet will go a long way to warding off serious illness.  Feeding an appropriate healthy diet, supplementing with herbs, and treating the chickens with probiotic rich foods will help them preventing many minor illnesses.  Fermented feed, apple cider vinegar (2 tablespoons in a gallon of water), garlic powder added to the feed(sprinkled on top), will all help build a strong immune system in your flock.  Clean and sanitary conditions are also important.  Removing droppings that attract flies, keeping the coop dry and well ventilated, replace soiled wet bedding immediately will all help the birds stay healthy.


sick chicken symptoms