Chickens are funny creatures and while most of the time, they can take care of their own hygiene (after a fashion, at least) there are times when you’re going to want to bathe them. It’s important to follow a process when you do this as a bath can potentially be harmful if you don’t know what you’re doing. Fortunately, we’ve got you covered with a very simple process to follow.
So, how to bathe a chicken in 12 simple steps includes where to do it, making a washing station, what soap to use, how to get the water right, how to catch your chicken, how to bathe them, how to lather them, how to add salt, how to rinse them, how to towel dry them, how to blow dry them and how to return them to their pen.
We’ve also got an explanation of how chickens normally bathe and what to do if you want to show your chickens. We think that makes this the most complete guide to bathing a chicken anywhere.
How Chickens Bathe Normally
Rather like cats, chickens are naturally clean. If their living conditions are good (in that they have enough space both inside the coop and outside it) they will normally keep themselves quite clean and should look good.
Though, if they’re molting, they might look a little scraggier than usual – there’s not much they can do about that. Your best layers may also look a little less polished than the rest of the flock because the eggs draw calcium from the body and can leave the feathers (which also need calcium) lacking in minerals.
Chickens Like Dust Baths
Hens will happily give themselves a dust bath. They do this by going outside on a warm day and rolling around in some dirt. The dirt gets pushed through the feathers to give their skin a good scratch and polish and then they shake it off and feel good.
Oddly, bathing in dirt is a really good thing for a chicken – it kills off many of the parasites that like to chew on them (the dirt basically chokes them to death).
How To Make A Dust Bath
Now, if you live in a rainy place or there’s no natural place for your chickens to have a dust bath – you can always provide one.
Make them a sand box (use 1-inch thick boards) on a 6” x 20” frame. Mix fine dirt with sand in a 1:1 ratio and then let the chickens do the rest.
When they’re not bathing in dust – chickens will preen themselves. That means they pluck out any damaged feathers and reapply any oil from a gland (which is hidden under the tail).
Can You Give A Pet Chicken A Bath?
If you want to give your chicken a bath, you can. But the big question is, should you give your chicken a bath?
We’d say that chickens really hate getting wet and that if you bathe them when it’s cold outside you risk them getting sick.
However, if you want to show your chickens or one is simply particularly filthy and their own methods of washing aren’t working – you can bathe a chicken as long as you follow a simple process which is designed to ensure the chicken’s welfare.
How Often Should A Pet Chicken Get A Bath?
You should only really bathe a pet chicken when you really have to or if you’re going to exhibit it in a show. Most of the time a dust bath might look filthy to you but it’s really very hygienic and it’s just what the chicken’s skin and plumage needs most.
It’s a very effective way of keeping a chicken happy because that’s what nature intended for your chickens to bathe in.
How To Bathe A Chicken In 12 Simple Steps:
OK, if you’ve thought it through and you’re still positive that you want to bathe your chicken then you’re going to want to follow this simple 12 step process.
Please don’t try and take any shortcuts with this – you want your chicken to enjoy it as much as possible because otherwise, you’re going to be fighting it while you bathe it.
Choose Where To Set Up A Washing Station
The odds are that during the bath, water is going to end up going everywhere. So, choose a space that is a decent size and where the floor isn’t going to get water damaged. It wants to be a flat surface if at all possible.
If you have a bad back or joint pain, we’d recommend using a table to set up the washing station because you don’t want to hurt yourself any more than you want to hurt your chickens while you wash them.
Construct The Washing Station
We use a 2 tub (or large bins) approach for a washing station. First, we cover the floor (or the table) in towels and then we place two tubs side by side on them in the center of our towels.
It doesn’t matter, really, what the tubs are made out of as long as they can be easily rinsed and cleaned at the end of the process.
We’d also note that it’s a bad idea to use these tubs for anything other than washing chickens in – if you use them for other things, sooner or later they may get contaminated with strong chemicals which can hurt the chickens.
Always rinse the bins before you start. Finally, place another fresh towel somewhere within easy reaching distance – this is the one you’re going to use to dry your chickens.
Get The Soap Right
There’s no need to go overboard on your use of soap. You want to use enough to clean the chicken and not so much that it ends up left on the chicken after you rinse it at the end.
That means no more than 5-6 drops of soap into one bin. We prefer to use a natural soap or anti-allergenic soap too so that it won’t irritate the bird’s skin.
If, after you add water, you don’t think the mix is bubbly enough, you can add a couple more drops of soap but be careful. Less is definitely more when it comes to soap for washing chickens with.
Get The Water Right
It is very important to realize that our objective here is to wash a chicken and not to cook it in boiling water. You can be certain that a chicken plunged into water that’s too hot is going to try and claw its way out very quickly through you.
So, fill each container with water (one with the soap, one without) and then stop when they’re just a few inches from the top of the tub.
The water temperature should never be cold, and it must not be too hot, so test it with your hand – it should feel slightly warm with absolutely no feel of burning at all. If you’re not sure dry your hands and test again. Your chickens will appreciate the effort.
Catch The Chicken
We know that many chicken owners get used to carrying their chickens like pets and can be found cradling them in their arms, this is fine for showing your chicken some love but it’s a bad idea when you catch a chicken for a bath.
What you need to do is go and find your dirty chicken and pick him or her up with your hands pressed firmly over its wings and into its torso. This is exactly how you want the chicken to stay until you place them into the bath water.
If their wings are free when you put them in, you can be prepared for them to scoop much of the water out of the bath and all over you, which might be funny (once) but will mean having to start again with filling the bath.
Pop The Chicken Into The Warm Soapy Water
Chickens are not big fans of water and it’s important to help your chicken adjust to the bath water without spooking them. Try to keep your hands over the wings and gently lower it into the tub.
Some birds are going to startle a little and others will just chill straight away. If the chicken does get a bit flighty, you want to keep control over its wings and keep going on. Talk to it in a soft and measured voice to indicate that you have its best interests at heart.
You can lower the bird under the surface of the water until just its head pokes out above the water. Give it a few seconds to get used to the sensation of being submerged before you move on to cleaning it.
Give Your Bird A Lather
Now move one hand to the point where it can cup both wings of the chicken. Take your other hand and rinse the chicken with a small cup (any cup will do for this as long as it’s clean). Gently drip soapy water all over the bird with the cup.
It’s best to let a truly filthy fowl (one with encrusted poop or dirt on them) to sit for a few minutes before you try to lather them up.
You can clean your chicken’s feet while it waits – get a small nail brush and get any dirt that has built up on them off, this can help to prevent the unpleasant “bumblefoot” infection.
Don’t startle the chicken. Make slow, measured movements and eventually give it a gentle rub to lather the soap on it.
Add Salt To The Water (For Mites)
If you think that your chicken might be suffering from mites, then now is a good time to tackle it. The easiest way to do so is to throw some salt into the bath water.
This will help the skin that the mites have infected heal and it may also help drown the mites, so take a few large tablespoons of salt and sprinkle them into the water. Then keep your chicken’s body under water for about 5 minutes (its head must not be submerged for obvious reasons).
Try to keep the water away from the chicken’s eyes now, salty and soapy water may be jolly healthy, but it really stings if it gets into your eyes and the same is true for your chicken’s eyes.
Rinse Your Chicken
OK, don’t let go of those wings just yet. It’s time to take your fully lathered up bird and give it a proper rinse. You’re looking to get rid of all traces of soap at this stage as you don’t want it to give the chicken as skin infection or irritation later on.
Pick the bird up slowly and hold it firmly as you lower it into the nice clean tub of water. Don’t let the wings go. Now take a nice clean cup and give your chicken a thorough rinsing with that clean, fresh water. Don’t stop until you can’t see any traces of soap on your chicken. Now, it’s ready to be dried off.
Wrap Them In A Towel
That towel that you placed near the washing station back when we started? You need that now. Wrap your chicken in it by moving the chicken from the rinsing tub to the clean towels around the tubs.
Get the towel and wrap it around the chicken and then gently press the chicken allowing it to move around inside. This will help draw out any water between the feathers.
It is important to remember that you must not let a wet chicken return to the coop. Chickens can’t regulate their body temperature like people can and they can easily catch a chill.
You must dry your chicken in a very gentle fashion. If you are too vigorous then you may end up breaking their feathers rather than getting them dry.
Blow Dry Your Bird
A towel is a good place to begin the drying process, but chicken feathers run deep and that means you’re going to want to blow dry your chicken.
Set the blow dryer to a low setting – you don’t want to burn the feathers or the skin. Make sure it is never closer to your chicken than 6 inches or you risk breaking feathers with the airflow.
You will probably need someone to come and help hold the chicken while you do this bit. There’s no getting around the fact that the loud noise of the blow dryer is likely to scare the chicken and have them trying to get away. It’s much easier to do this bit with a friend.
Put The Chicken Back In Its Pen
Yay! Now you should have a nice clean chicken which should have feathers that feel completely dry to the touch. Check the whole of the chicken’s body and if it’s dry, it can be returned to the coop or the run.
We’d recommend giving the coop a bit of a clean first or the hard work you’ve just been through with your chicken is likely to be undone in a few moments.
Notes On Bathing Chickens For Show
We think the main reason that people wash chickens is for show, so we’ve got a few extra tips if this is you:
- Always wash them 2-3 days before showing. This gives the natural oils a chance to come back.
- White birds can be given a rinse in an optical whitener (specifically for chickens) to make them as white as possible.
- Keep them in a clean coop until the show. That means keep checking the bedding and replacing it as necessary.
- Trim their nails and spurs. You need some rabbit nail clippers plus a very coarse nail file to do this well.
- You can add a little olive oil to your chicken’s plumage if you want it to look shiny and well-turned out on the day but don’t go overboard. You’re aiming for vibrant rather than the chicken version of the Fonz.
- Just before the show give them a gentle wipe (always in the direction of the feathers) with a silk cloth. This helps give them a little extra glow.
We hope that our guide, how to bathe a chicken in 12 simple steps, has been helpful and that you’re now feeling confident about getting your chickens sparkly clean. Please remember to be careful and to do everything thoroughly so that your chickens enjoy the process as much as you do.
If you’re going to be showing your chickens after bathing them, we wish you luck and hope that your clean chickens wow the judges.
Here are some of my favorite products for chickens and their coops: