This Is Why Chickens Dig Holes (And Lay in Them)


If you’ve ever been on a farm, you may have noticed chickens digging holes, lying down in them and then flopping around in the dirt and sand – and then shaking it all over the place, but why do chickens dig holes? It might appear to be really odd behavior, but there are very important reasons why chickens do this. 

Chickens dig holes to create dust baths for themselves. A dust bath is when a chicken rolls around in the dirt to keep itself clean and cool, while preventing parasites such as fleas, ticks, and mites. 

Chickens engage in some odd behavior when it comes to digging, dirt, and dust, but it always has a purpose. Curious about why their instinct drives them to do it? Let us explain!

Chickens Dig Holes as a Dust Bath

Dust bathing is an innate act that chickens are born with the impulse to do. You’ll even find the youngest ones are picking at their skin or digging holes for their dust baths. 

Advantages of Chicken Dust Bathing

Not only is it good for ridding them of parasites, but it also brings other advantages. Some of the perks of a good dust bath include:

  • Keeping cool. Dust bathing allows the bird to tap into its natural state of cooling with the dirt going into their feathers and skin to keep them cool on hot, summer days. (Source www.homesteadfowl.com/chicken-facts/why-do-chickens-dig-holes/)
  • It’s therapeutic for them. There is something calming for them about cooling off, staying clean, and generally just rolling around in the dirt. Their sleepy-looking eyes and relaxed wings are a clue they are thoroughly at home and enjoying this. 
  • All of the edible bugs are in one spot. Every worm and root that will be within that hole will provide the chicken with a quick snack at their convenience!
  • To absorb excess oils. The oils on a chicken’s skin get absorbed through the dust bath. Parasites and bugs are deterred by the dust and sand – or even suffocated.
  • As a bonding experience. Digging holes for chickens has been shown to display great euphoria amongst them while enjoying their time together. Aside from searching for their food and keeping their body hygiene up to par, chickens find themselves happier with the rest of the flock while enjoying this experience. 

Dust bathing for chickens has shown to be great for chickens to keep up with their personal hygiene as well as to create an environment of positivity and happiness as well.  (Source: BetterHensandGardens.com

And to be honest, if none of these essential needs are driving them to dig, they may just be doing this because they are bored. It is something to do to pass the time, especially if there is a friend in the dust bath. 

Do your chickens get bored? Learn how you can keep them entertained in my article.

Disadvantages of Chicken Dust Bathing

With the upside that comes along with dust bathing, there is also a downside to it as well, but it’s more so for the farmers and not the chickens! 

While the chickens are enjoying what they do the most, the farmer has to undergo some stress and grief when it comes to maintaining the beautiful landscape of their farm. Some of these disadvantages include:

  • A disrupted garden. If not planted properly (i.e., not fencing in a patch of potatoes), the foods that you have within your garden may end up being next on your chickens’ food list. 
  • Messy wood chips. If you have a suburban situation with mulch and wood chips, expect that chickens will make a mess. With all of the chickens’ and kicking and scratching, the wood chips that are graded into the soil cannot remain intact. 
  • Lawn mowing will be difficult. The holes that the chickens dig into the soil can cause a lot of uneven ground, which can cause more problems when trying to mow the lawn. 

Do your chickens have an insulated coop? Learn how to keep a warm flock in my post.

What Happens If a Chicken Doesn’t Take a Dust Bath?

If a chicken doesn’t have a place to take a regular dust bath, all the advantages of having one become the very disadvantages of not having one. Chickens who don’t engage in this very natural act can end up:

  • Having lice, mites, and other parasites
  • Overheating in hot weather
  • Stressing out

How Chickens Dust Bathe

It may seem simple at a glance, but the process for dust bathing is a little bit more complex. Usually, you would see the chickens just flapping their wings while rolling around in the ground, but it takes more than that sometimes to ensure that they get every nook and cranny to keep the parasites out and away.

Sometimes, the chicken will take the dirt and put it in their mouths and try to through it on their back (they are able to accomplish this due to their good flexibility). They will even lie next to each other and throw the dirt on each other’s’ backs if they are having a hard time doing it themselves. 

Do your chickens struggle to put on weight? Learn how to fix this problem in my article.

Building a Dust Bath for Your Chickens

If you live on a farm or have a good area or two for your chickens to dig into and have their way with the dirt and sand, you are all set. The chickens will find the spot and help themselves!

To see how to make your own chicken dust bath check out the above video by Welcome to Chickenlandia. She sites this study on diatomaceous earth and it’s benefits for chickens, get 4lb for a bargain on Amazon your chickens will LOVE you for it.

But if you are a suburban or urban dweller with a chicken coop, you may need to create a good space for your chickens to get down in the dirt. Depending on how much you care about how it looks, you have some options for what to put the dirt in:

  • A baby pool
  • A cat litter box
  • A big, wooden crate
  • An old tire
  • A structure you build

No matter what you use, the container itself should be at least 15”x 24” and 12” deep. (HGTV.com) Of course, the more birds you have, the bigger the dust bath you will need. You want to be able to fit at least two chickens in there at once, so they can have their social time. Get a food storage box to use for your chickens for a great price on Amazon.

Check out these step-by-step instructions offered by The Modern Homestead. These plans call for a taller structure, which probably helps anyone standing nearby when it’s time for the chicken to shake off all of that dirt and dust. 

What Kind of Dirt Goes Into a Dust Bath?

Well, chickens will dig and bathe in just about anything. But if you are building a dust bath, you are going to have to fill your structure. A sandy soil is best, but any soil will do. If your soil isn’t sandy, consider adding some play sand to it. 

Some sources recommend adding the following:

  • Food-grade diatomaceous earth (DE)
  • Ashes from burning wood
  • Wood shavings

But some of these particles can be really fine and not great for your chickens to breathe in. The best choice is just the dirt from your yard and maybe a bit of play sand (not too much). 

Do your chics have access to grit? Grit is essential for chics as without it they cannot digest their food properly, learn how to supply your chics grit in my article.

Do Chickens Also Dig Under Fences?

Occasionally, chickens can dig under fences, too. This behavior can be risky if they dig enough to either get themselves out or let a predator in. This is why some people bury chicken wire in a trench near the fence and cover it back up. There are a couple of common reasons a chicken may dig under the fence:

  • They see something they want on the other side. For instance, chickens may see more bugs and roots in a particular area near the fence – or on the other side of the fence. That’ll be enough to get them digging. (Source:https://peteducate.com/why-do-chickens-dig-holes)
  • They are looking for loose soil. If the soil in the ground is too tough for chickens to dig into, they’ll try elsewhere. The dirt that is around fences is softer and not as thick for them to dig underneath, and most likely will continue to dig around the same areas.

Chickens work smart – they’ll dig holes in areas that they feel will be the easiest for them to get into to get that bath going! 

Do your chickens have access to food and water at night? Learn if they need it in my article.

If A Chicken Is Digging, There is a Reason

Chickens are willing to dig anywhere that they feel will be perfect for them to find food,  bathe, and destress. In their mind, there are no limitations as to where they can find the best spot for them to please their need for hunger, good hygiene, and happiness. 

If you are raising chickens, make sure they have a spot for this very important ritual. Whether it’s something you have around the house or something you put together expressly for the purpose, providing your chickens with a space to dig and roll around is essential to their health and happiness. 

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