How do chickens keep themselves clean?

A flock of chickens that have been cleaning themselves very well.

It is perfectly normal for chickens to clean themselves by bathing in dust and preening their feathers with their beaks.

Dust bathing is a behaviour that chickens engage in to remove parasites and dirt from their feathers.

Below: A chicken in a dust bath.

Chickens will find a loose, dry surface, such as sand, dirt, or wood shavings, and they will roll around in it, flapping their wings and spreading the dust over their feathers. The dust helps to remove the parasites and dirt, and it also helps to keep the feathers in good condition.

Preening is the process of using their beaks to groom their feathers. Chickens will use their beaks to remove dirt, debris, and parasites from their feathers. They will also use their beaks to spread oil from a gland at the base of their tail over their feathers. The oil helps to keep the feathers waterproof and in good condition.

Sunbathing serves multiple purposes. Sunlight exposure helps control parasites like mites and lice, as these pests dislike the heat. Additionally, the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays help kill bacteria and promote healthy feather growth.

Chickens do not sweat so they do not need to bathe in water and are self cleaning and unless they get very wet and muddy you do not need to interfere.

Chickens have special adaptations that aid in feather maintenance. They possess a gland called the uropygial gland at the base of their tail feathers, which produces a waxy substance known as preen oil. Chickens spread this oil on their feathers during preening, which helps to condition and waterproof the feathers.

If you prefer clean chickens get dark coloured ones!, black doesn't show nearly as much dirt as white.

What do clean chickens look like?

Its not uncommon for a chickens feathers to be a little dirty as they spend their whole lives outside.

Chickens are generally meticulous groomers. They use their beaks to carefully remove dirt, debris, and any loose feathers from their bodies. They can reach almost every part of their body with their beaks, ensuring that they maintain cleanliness.

Below: This chickens feathers are in pristine condition, although she has slightly dirty feet!

Chickens get dirty from their environment and cockerels treading on them. Mud is the big enemy when it comes to clean chickens.

You can help keep your chickens clean by:

What do chickens clean themselves with?

Chickens don’t wash themselves in water like humans do so you might be wondering how chickens clean and wash. 

It is easier for chickens to keep themselves clean as they do not sweat through their skin.

Chickens clean themselves by dust bathing and preening. The dust bath helps remove parasites and preening spreads special oils over the feathers from the preen gland on the tail.

Below: Here is one of my leghorns cleaning her feathers and skin in a dust bath.

Preening also zips the feathers back together renewing the protection they provide.

Here are some additional tips for keeping chickens clean:

  • Provide a dust bath area that is made of dry, loose sand or dirt.
  • Make sure the dust bath area is in a shady spot so that the dust does not get too hot.
  • Change the dust in the dust bath area regularly.
  • Provide fresh water for your chickens at all times.
  • Clean the chicken coop regularly to remove any dirt or debris.
  • Inspect your chickens regularly for parasites.

Dust bathing and preening are critical chicken behaviours that are crucial for their long term health and well-being. 

Below: Chickens have a habit of standing around near the coop and it becomes muddy very easily.

Chickens preen when their crops are full and if you live somewhere where the days are very short in winter they may not have enough time to do everything they want in the winter months.

Can you wash chickens?

You can wash chickens but in my experience most chickens do not like water and trying to wash them will cause panic. Washing with soap also removes the natural oils from the feathers removing the protection from water. 

Chickens are often washed before poultry shows and do get used to it, especially if the water is warm and they are given time.

Chickens clean themselves every day and if they go for more than a few days without being able to it can cause stress and frustration in the flock. 

Dust bathing is a communal activity that involves many birds.

Why do chickens clean themselves?

Chickens have to keep their feathers clean and in otherwise they might get cold, ill and even die from exposure.

Dust helps remove parasites from the skin and chickens have a pre-programmed routine of rolling and rubbing in their bath to get the dust into all the feathers.