How to Bathe a Chicken
Best Practices for Cleaning Chickens in Warmer Weather
Do you know how to bathe a chicken? Do chickens like baths? Hell no! There is a reason for the saying, “I’m madder than a wet hen.” However, as the flock master, you sometimes must force your birds to do things for their own good against their will. A dust bath for chickens will only go so far toward maintaining the health of your flock.
Similar to the sentiments often said about spanking a child, bathing your birds will “hurt you more than it hurts them.” Even if you know how to bathe a chicken, no chicken bathing can be done without much flapping, squawking and splashing. I assure you that you are going to end up fairly soaked and smelling of wet chicken by the end of the bird bathing process. At least a wet chicken does not smell nearly as bad as a wet dog. Don’t let a little chicken bath water deter you though — it’s a very doable process and not horrible.
Though most chickens don’t like having a bath, if you have the water perfectly warmed, some of the birds (once they accept that they are all wet and stuck in a bath) end up enjoying the warmth of the water. A couple of our birds acted like they were nodding off in the bath. A word of caution: be sure that your water is not too hot you don’t want to scald your chicken’s feathers or skin.
How to Bathe a Chicken: The Three-Bucket Chicken Bathing Method
For our bathing process, my sister and I used the three-bucket method out in her backyard. Some online chicken sources suggest that you wash your birds in your kitchen sink. I can understand the argument for using the kitchen sink. Certainly, it would be easier control the water temperature and rinse the bird in a kitchen sink than in buckets in the backyard. I, however, do not personally subscribe to the kitchen sink method. The idea of washing dirty chickens where I prepare my food simply grosses me out. Your chickens may look relatively clean, but get them into a bath and you will be surprised by how filthy they actually are. If I were inclined to wash my chickens inside my house, the bathtub would seem a more tolerable location to do so.
Regardless of whether you choose the three bucket method in the yard or use a sink inside the house, the process of properly washing your birds is the same. Under the three-bucket method, each bucket represents a different step in the bathing process. If you are using your sink or tub you replicate each of the bucket bath stages.
The first bucket is a soap bath. In this bucket, you add mild dish soap to the warm water. This stage of the bathing process is where you will actually remove all of the dirt, poop and other gunk from your bird’s feathers, feet, comb, and wattles. Gently work the soapy water into the bird’s feathers. Be gentle and work the soap and soapy water by stroking in the direction of the feathers, or you will break feathers otherwise.
You might wish to consider adding salt to this warm soap bath as an easy chicken mites treatment that can help kill any pests that might be hanging out on your birds. In order to kill any creepy-crawlies, your birds will need to soak, fully emerged up to their waddles for at least five minutes. I should note that we did not get any of our birds’ earlobes wet. I have read that wet ears can make birds much more susceptible to getting ill. Is that true? I really do not know, but decided to error on the side of caution.
After the soap bath, the second bucket is the vinegar-water bath. I added about 1 to 2 cups of white vinegar (though apple cider vinegar would also work quite well) to a large bucket of warm water (3 to 5 gallons). The vinegar bath step is beneficial to your birds for several reasons.
First, vinegar is non-toxic to birds and will help remove any soap residue from the bird’s feathers. Second, vinegar brings out the shiny quality of a bird’s plumage. And third, a good soak in vinegar water can also kill pests. While each of our chickens was in this bath, we worked the vinegar water through their feathers all over their bodies.
The final tub in the three-bucket method is simply a bath of plain, warm water. This final bath is the final rinse to remove any remaining dirt, soap or vinegar from the bird’s body. Be sure to again gently work the plain rinse water through your birds’ feathers.
How to Bathe a Chicken: Drying Your Wet Birds
The next step in how to bathe a chicken is to dry your birds. Birds are not able to regulate their body temperatures when their feathers are soaking wet, and consequently, even on seemingly comfortably warm days, your birds they may become chilled if left to drip-dry in the yard. A chilled bird very easily becomes a sick bird. The last thing you want after learning how to bathe a chicken is for your birds to start showing sick chicken symptoms.
To avoid your bathed chickens from catching a cold, I strongly suggest that you dry your birds. First, wrap the freshly washed bird in a clean towel to soak up much of the water. Next, you should blow dry the wet bird gently on a warm setting. Do not use the hot setting on your blow dryer as you can easily scorch your bird’s feathers this way.
My sister and I dried our bathed birds in an unusual, but highly effective manner. Since we were washing several birds in a row, we did not have time to individually blow dry each bird. Instead, we wrapped each bird tightly in a towel (we wrapped each bird into chicken burritos or a “chicquito,” if you will). Bundling the birds this way discourages escape and running around. We then detached my sister’s clothing dryers vent hose from the wall and set it on the floor of her laundry room. We then laid out each of the towel-wrapped chickens (“chicquitos”) in front of the blowing laundry dryer vent on the floor. My sister was able to get double value during the drying stage as she was drying her clean laundry and drying our wet birds at the same time.
Using the laundry dryer vent hose in this fashion worked great! We saved a lot of time, effort and energy being able to dry the birds together as a group. Additionally, under this dryer-vent method, there was no risk of scorching feathers. Most of our birds seemed to enjoy the drying process, closing their eyes and dozing off during this blow dry. This is an easy and effective alternative to using a hairdryer on your birds.
If you would like to learn more about how to wash your own backyard flock and learn additional tips to getting your birds into competition shape read more HERE about it or listen to Episode 053 of the Urban Chicken Podcast (Listen HERE).
Do you have any helpful hints or tips for someone learning how to bathe a chicken? Leave a comment here and share your tips and tricks with us!
Originally published in 2014 and regularly vetted for accuracy.