Safe Dust Baths

Dust bathing is essential for chicken health. It’s how a chicken keeps external parasites at bay. It’s good for feather maintenance. It’s also essential for chicken happiness. If you don’t have your own flock then you probably haven’t seen the pleasure that hens get from wallowing in the earth. You can see that joy on this video.

Chickens prefer to take dust baths in shallow pits of earth that they’ve scratched up. They prefer it dry, hot and sunny. Here in New England, those optimal conditions are rarely met. So, I provide my hens with a dust bath indoors. I fill it halfway with coarse sand and add a cup of food-grade diatomaceous earth. These two materials both desiccate and shred parasites, and my hens love the feel of them under their feathers. Sometimes I add fireplace ashes (wood only, not burned trash.)icon

This is a bird in bliss.

dust bath

Recently, a reader brought to my attention that bags of builders sand had health warnings on them. This is because sand is crystalline silica, a basic component of rocks such as quartz, and sand on the beach, which are certainly not dangerous materials. However, on construction sites with jackhammers and blasters, or in quarries where rock is mined, the crystalline silica becomes a fine airborne dust. Breathed in it can damage lungs. Years of inhaling it can cause disabling diseases. Years. Like 15 to 20 (this according to OSHA.) Because of this danger, bags of sand have warning labels.

If I were a stone mason, I’d wear a mask on the job. But, my chickens don’t need to. The value of dirt baths far outweighs the minimal risk of kicking up some dust.

February Egg Bounty

The molt is over. Daylight lengthens. The young chickens lay.

Seven eggs from twelve hens today!


My thoughts turn to baking. Or custards. Or egg salad. How to celebrate this abundance? What would you like to see me cook?

Buffy’s Status, Etc.

So many of you have emailed me about Buffy, that I thought I’d fill everyone in on how she’s doing.


Buffy hatched seven years ago this spring. Over the long span of her life she has had a multitude of illnesses, which she rather miraculously recovered from.  But, Buffy can’t beat old age. She’s been ailing for months, and in all honesty, I’m surprised that she’s still alive. What’s even more surprising is that she is still bright-eyed and has her appetite! Can you see in this photo how it looks like her pantaloons are drooping? She’s very weak in the legs, and so cannot get around much. Neither can she roost. When a hen stops roosting, it’s usually a sign that she is going to die within days. Not so, Buffy.

I keep a close eye on her to make sure that she isn’t suffering. I pick her up to judge whether she’s eating. Trust me, Buffy remains hefty! I watch to make sure that she is steady enough on her feet to get around the coop. I observe the interactions with the other hens; no one is bullying her. When it is sunny, I take her outside to sit in a warm patch. I dust her with louse powder so that she isn’t bothered by external parasites. But, mostly, I leave her alone. Buffy has never been an outgoing, friendly hen. Rather, she’s been a placid, calm presence. She’d prefer if I don’t fuss with her. And so I don’t. I don’t expect her to live through the winter. But maybe she’ll surprise me again.

You’ve also asked for a post-blizzrd report. It’s rained. It’s been warm. It’s been freezing. The two feet of dry, light snow that fell during the storm has shrunk, but it has also absorbed the added moisture, and become a dense mass. Some days Scooter can traipse along the top of it, sometimes he falls in and disappears. The shoveled paths are becoming worn. There are days that they’re muddy, and others that they’re slick with ice. The dead-end path on the left is Scooter’s bathroom area, which he only deigns to use when it’s warm and the snow surface can’t hold his weight.


On other news, the Gail Damerow book contest is over, and Ruth won. I’m delighted, because she’ll be sharing it with her 4-H club.

Lastly, you’ll notice that there’s a Tractor Supply ad on this page. In an effort to justify the full-time job that this website has become, I’m trying to earn revenue from it. TS has an affiliate program, so that I’m rewarded if you click through this site and shop there. FYI, the other ads on the page are through Google Adsense. I have no say in what you see, but they also bring in a (very) small bit of income. I appreciate your support!

Weasel Tracks

Early this morning when I went out to the barn, I noticed Lily sniffing in the snow. I went over to see what interested her and found these tracks.


A weasel. I’m not knowledgeable enough to know which member of the mustelidae family it was. I rely on Tracking and the Art of Seeing by Paul Rezendes to guide me. My best guess is that the visitor was a long-tailed weasel, a lithe and agile predator, that turns the color of snow in the winter.

Least weasel by Marko Kivelä

Least weasel by Marko Kivelä

It was 10 degrees F this morning when I told Steve about the tracks. While I drank my coffee, he went out with the camera to see if the tracks would reveal a story. They did.

The weasel came onto the property by climbing a tree and then jumping onto the Small Barn’s fence post.

from tree

It leapt from post to post,


and then landed lightly on the ground,

post to ground

hurried along the front of the Big Barn, sat a spell on the Adirondack chair,


crossed the yard, traveled along the top of the perennial flower garden’s fence,

low fence

and disappeared into the woods.

The chickens were closed up safely for the night, which is a good thing, or there’d be fewer hens this morning.