When it comes to chicken bathing, they do not rely on Calgon to take them away. Instead, their preferred method of bathing is to wallow in loose dirt. This is known as a dust bath and is the way chickens keep themselves clean and free of parasites such as lice and mites. By coating their skin and feathers in dust, chickens make their bodies less favorable places for parasites to live and feed.
Dust bathing is a practice that should be encouraged, and you can do this by creating an area for your chickens to do so. In or near their coop, cordon off an area to become the designated bath area. The idea is to trap the bathing dust in a location where it will remain rather than disperse, making your bathing area disappear. By blocking off a small section and creating a barrier to contain the bathing dust, you ensure your chickens constant access to a place to dust bathe as they see fit. This can be done by building a wooden box, using an old kiddie pool, or even large wash basins. You can do this by creating a square out of wood and placing bathing sand inside, much like the concept of a sandbox in which children would play. However, chickens do have minds of their own and may decide they prefer to bathe elsewhere, so if there is an area they seem to already enjoy bathing, incorporating that into a designated bath area is best for all.
There are several items you can put in the dust bath area from which your chickens will benefit and find enjoyable. Fireplace ash is one of those items, but it must be wood ash only; do not use anything with chemical components such as lighter fluid as that can be harmful to your chickens. Charcoal is a grayish-black residue containing carbon that results after wood is heated with the absence of oxygen and water is removed. Charcoal is known to absorb toxins in the body and animals will ingest it to take advantage of such medicinal properties. It also contains calcium, magnesium, and Vitamin K as well as working as a laxative that pushes toxins (including worms) through the digestive tract and out of the animal's body. Do not confuse charcoal wood ash with charcoal briquettes; the latter is full of toxins to which chickens should not be exposed.
Adding natural repellants to your dust bath can go a long way towards reducing or eliminating pests. To fight insect problems and ward off mites and the like, add dried versions of rosemary, mint, or lavender to your bust bath. When your chickens cover themselves with these items, they will become less appealing to parasites that could harm them.
Another item said to repel ticks, fleas, mites, and lice is food-grade diatomaceous earth. The jury is still out on using this, however, due to potential for harm. The way DE works is by passing into the bodies of parasitic creatures then dehydrating them and causing respiratory failure. With that in mind, you do have to be cautious about inhalation when it comes to both you and your chickens. Inhalation of this product can result in irritation in the lungs, so wear a mask when handling this product. While many individuals claim DE to work wonders, others are hesitant to use it based on potential dangers. If you do opt to use DE, read all labels thoroughly and do so at your own risk.
Chickens dust bathe on their own accord, but you can take steps to make it a more beneficial process for them. Adding natural pest repellants as well as keeping dust plentiful will aid in keeping chickens healthy and happy. Dust bathing also tends to be a social behavior, with several chickens indulging at once. With a nice dust bath area in place, you will be able to watch and enjoy as your chickens get down and dirty.