In general, you should not water bath your chickens, and chickens don’t like to be water bathed.
Based on our research:
- They usually do not need it so long as they have adequate access to dust baths (for chickens, quail, and other gamebirds) and water for waterfowl like ducks and geese.
- It can (lethally) chill/shock them if they are not adequately dried, even in relatively mild weather.
- It strips their natural oils (primarily if you use soap), which means they may overwork/irritate their oil/preen glands in order to waterproof themselves again.
- Non-waterfowl can easily aspirate the water (water gets into the lungs) and end up with pneumonia/secondary drowning.
- It is stressful for the birds.
Is it OK to give a chicken a bath?
The only situations where we do recommend you bathe your poultry is limited to:
- Injuries that require cleaning the area. Flushing the injured area with saline (not submerging the animal in water) is recommended in this case.
- The bird coming in contact with toxic or noxious substances, such as oil spills, paint, other harmful chemicals, where immediate attention is needed.
- Tough pasty butt cases may require a soak.
If you must bathe your poultry for the reasons above:
- Never leave them unattended due to drowning risk.
- Use warm water and thoroughly dry them.
- Do not bathe them on their backs (which can cause them to fall into tonic immobility and drown.)
- Try to only wash the affected area unless there is no other choice.
- If you find your birds seem to get dirty very often, fix the cause of the—if due to wet weather, improve the drainage in the run. Make sure the coop has dry and clean bedding and adequate ventilation. If they are making a mess of their run or coop, switch to a nipple waterer, or watering them outside of the run/on a drainage platform.
(We understand some people wash their show birds but for the purpose of regular poultry maintenance, we do not recommend it.)
Shannon Stansberry has been engaged in the business of raising chickens for more than 12 years. In 2016, she accomplished the Agriculture & Natural Resources program at Mt. San Antonio College. At present, she tends to more than 80 chickens on her 4-hectare farm. Shannon regularly shares her insights and experience on how to raise healthy and contented chickens on the platform Typesofchickens.com