How to wash chickens
Authored by Gail Damerow
Authored by Gail Damerow
As long as your chickens have access to loose dusty soil for dust bathing, they may never need a water bath. So how do you know when a chicken needs a bath?
Whether or not you should bathe your chickens depends on how dirty they get. Most of the time chickens don’t need a water bath. In fact, frequent bathing is harmful, because it strips the feathers of healthful oils the chickens have so carefully spread over their feathers while grooming.
So how do chickens stay clean? They bathe in dust. And like anybody else, a chicken needs a bath when it gets dirty.
Area cleaning - Birds may get muddy during rainy season, in which case it may need only its feet, legs and bottom washed. It might get poop on it, for instance by walking beneath a perching chicken that had to go. Or it might have a poopy butt. In both cases, again, you may need to only clean the poopy parts.
All-over bath - A chicken could use an over-all bath if it has lice or other external parasites. Then a pet shampoo makes an excellent parasite-control option. Ridding chickens of parasites is the only time I can think of when you might bathe all your chickens. That’s assuming you have only a few; for a large flock, other methods of parasite control are more practical
You may need to bathe chickens you are grooming for show. Washing will enhance the fluffiness of loosely feathered breeds. Light-colored birds should always be washed before a show, but dark-colored, tightly feathered varieties need washing only if their plumage is soiled.
I like to bathe chickens in the laundry room. It’s a warm, draft-free place to work and has a deep basin with a spray attachment and plenty of warm running water.
A bath tub also works, but be sure to disinfect it afterward. For sanitary reasons, bathing chickens in the kitchen sink is a bad idea.
A lot of chicken keepers prefer to work in the garage or, if the weather is nice, outdoors. In that case you’ll need three tubs filled with clean water — one for washing, two for rinsing.
Begin with a tub full of warm water (90°F). The temperature is right if you can comfortably hold your elbow in it. A chicken may faint in water that’s too hot. When possible, use soft water, as it cleans chickens better than hard water.
Add enough shampoo or mild liquid dish soap to the water to whip up suds. Don’t use a harsh detergent, which makes feathers brittle. I have had great results with flea and tick shampoo for household pets. Not only does it get a bird shiny clean but also zaps any lice or mites that may have gone unnoticed.
After the shanks and feet have been soaked, dirt and scales will be soft and easy to clean. Even if you don’t wash the whole bird, you can just soak its shanks and feet in warm water.
Leg scales molt annually, just like feathers do. You can easily remove any dead, semitransparent brittle scales by popping them off with a nail file, a toothpick, or your thumbnail.
If any dirt clings beneath the scales or toenails, gently remove it with a toothpick. Use a toothbrush and soapy water to scrub the shanks and toes. Now’s a good time to trim long toenails with clippers or nail scissors.
Finish up by coating the cleaned feet and shanks with baby oil, vitamin E oil, or a mixture of equal parts alcohol and olive oil. I don’t recommend petroleum jelly. It accumulates dirt and dust and also gets feathers greasy.
Bathing a chicken takes only 15 or 20 minutes. Complete drying takes 12 to 18 hours, depending on the density of the feathers.