Photos by author
A couple of years ago we went to The Grandpa Tiny’s Chicken Show. It’s a spectacular display of beautiful and rare poultry. The finest of the finest in our mid-Michigan area.
At the show, I remember passing a cage among the junior entries with a Silkie in it. This Silkie was among other white birds of its kind, but this particular chicken stood out because it had a slight blue tint to its feathers! Not a natural blue, but like BLUE! At this show, the judges leave comments right on the cage so you can read about how each bird was judged, how it lives up to the breed standard, etc. There was a comment on this cage that read “Too much bluing in the grooming process.”
At the time, it had never occurred to me to “groom” a chicken, let alone to “blue” a chicken. I figured that chickens groomed themselves through dust baths, and primping, and what ever didn’t come off through this process would eventually be shed off in their next molt. Our chickens will sit for hours and fluff their feathers arranging them just so. They run the length of each feather through their beaks and clean themselves, the way nature intended. Occasionally we humans would step in and dust each chicken for mites, wipe a dirty vent, or clip a wayward toenail, but grooming? Ha! How would one even go about grooming a chicken? What would you do give it a bubble bath?
Precisely! The answer to my question was yes, people give chickens bubble baths. When I first heard this, I thought the whole idea was ridiculous, and it kind of made me mad. I pictured these poor show chickens who’s owners care more about their looks than their well being. The idea of half drowning a flapping chicken just to get it’s feathers clean must be dangerous, stressful and un-healthy.
It wasn’t until the following year where we went to a poultry show and I heard an exhibitor asking another exhibitor if she had a hair dryer so she could blow out one of her hens. I decided this was my chance to find out about this whole “bath” thing. (Now, just to find the right phrasing so as to not sound like a jerk when I ask this woman if she is torturing her chickens.) I decided to ask if the chicken “minded being bathed”. Anger in my own mind was answering this question for myself rhetorically. I kept thinking, of course they mind! Poor things! It probably takes three people just to hold the chicken down while the fourth dunks the struggling bird in the water.
The woman smiled and answered that her hen doesn’t mind it at all, in fact she enjoys her bath time. I forced a smile, and nodded to the woman, unconvinced. The label “stage mom” welled up inside me. Images of the show Toddlers in Tiaras flashed through my brain and I pictured chickens wearing veneer teeth and spray tans.
When we got home I decided to do a little research for myself. I Googled “bathing chickens” and found quite a few results. I eagerly clicked on the first site expecting to see images of animal rights activists picketing this horrible practice, but to my dismay, bathing chickens seemed to be well… acceptable. The chickens in the photos seemed to be pretty content. Not stressed. Not drowning.
Still clinging to my initial suspicions, I decided not to believe everything you see in photos, photos can be edited after-all! Let’s see what You Tube has to show!
After watching several “How To Bathe Your Chicken” videos, I realized that I had completely over reacted and that chickens not only didn’t mind being bathed, but they really did seem to enjoy it. Not only that, but it can also be a healthy experience when done correctly. Bathing chickens helps remove mites, it conditions the skin, and cleans them of irritating contaminates.
I sort of put the matter to rest. Satisfied that I could attend poultry shows again without glaring daggers at the mean exhibitors.
Recently, we’ve experienced some relief from this unusually dry summer with copious amount of rain. Because of the wet conditions, some of our chickens look a bit well, …haggard. I decided to give one of our dirty girls a bath, and see once and for all how a chicken reacts to bath time.
This Coronation Sussex isn’t particularly tame so she was a good candidate to see how a chicken truly reacts.
We gathered the supplies which include:
- two tubs deep enough to submerge a chicken to the neck filled with warm, not hot water
- mild soap, we used this gentle puppy shampoo but something like Castille soap would probably work great
- white vinegar
- 1 or 2 towels
- hair dryer
- scrub brush or old tooth brush
- unscented Vaseline
We got the supplies ready before we had the chicken in hand and set them on our outdoor table. It was a nice warm evening so our girl wouldn’t catch a chill.
In the first tub, I added a very small amount of soap to the warm water and swished up some bubbles. Zach, my very tolerant husband, volunteered to do the bathing while I snapped photos…”yes dear, after dinner we’re giving the chicken a bath, won’t that be fun?”…VERY tolerant!
He placed the hen in the “bubble tub” with both of us wincing and bracing ourselves, expecting her to flap and freak out. The first dunk was surprisingly un-eventful. In fact, she sort of spread herself out and turned to pudding.
We rubbed the warm soapy water into her feathers gently with our finger tips, in the same direction that her feathers grow.
We paid attention to to some of her dirtiest spots, under her wings, and around her vent.
With a scrub brush we scrubbed her legs, feet and under her toenails.
When she was scrubbed all over, I added a little vinegar to the second tub and Zach dunked her in the rinse water.
We poured clean warm water over, avoiding her head, her until she was thoroughly rinsed.
Then we wrapped her in a towel and patted as much of the water out of her feathers as we could. I have to say that at this point she was so relaxed, she was dozing off in her towel.
I plugged the hair dryer in for Zach and set it on the low-warm setting, not hot. And he began to blow dry her. (Eventually I took over dryer duty.)
Again, she thoroughly enjoyed herself. I thought the noise of the hair dryer might startle her, but the only complaint she made was when I had to repeatedly make her stand up to dry her underneath. She was perfectly content to just lay on the table having her feathers blown about with the nice warm air. Standing was a bit inconvenient thank you very much.
When she was dry, we rubbed a bit of Vaseline on her feet, nails,
comb and wattle to moisturize and protect against parasites like scaly leg mites.
And off she went, smelling fresh and clean.
In the end, the decision to bath your chickens really has to be a personal choice. With fifty chickens, I don’t see myself doing this on a regular basis, but it’s good to know the option is there. It’s a great way to really give your chicken a thorough cleaning and examination, especially in the blow drying process. I was able to see each feather shaft, look for mites or eggs, and examine her skin for parasites or bites. One of the nice things is that she was so relaxed that she let us handle her all over. It was a great time to check her feet for problems or clip and file her nails.
While I’m now convinced that chicken bathing is not detrimental to a chicken’s health, here are just a few common sense precautions. I wouldn’t advise on bathing too often, as it might dry out the skin. Also, only bath in warm draft free areas as birds can catch a chill. Keep the water temps warm but not too hot. Dry thoroughly, but watch the hair dryer settings, also warm but not too hot. Keep the dryer moving at all times, and don’t hold it too close. Also, don’t pour water over the chicken’s head to rinse and avoid getting soap near the eyes.
Let me know if you’ve ever given a chicken a bath. Share your experience with the Community by leaving a comment below, or visiting the Community Chicken’s Facebook page.