Chickens love to take dust baths. I let my 8 hens free-range on a daily basis, and usually the first thing they do is run to the nearest place of soft dirt and roll around for a few minutes. It is a great way for them to remove parasites and excess oil. The oil chickens produce is a natural water-repellent, which causes rain to bead up and roll off their backs rather than soaking through to their skin.
Recently one of my cousins came for a visit, and his wife’s mother keeps a flock of chickens in an enclosed building with cement floors. My cousin’s wife said that the chickens have room to walk around, but they can’t take dust baths. She said that they roll around on the cement as if they are taking a bath. I found that chicken behavior somewhat disturbing. Giving chickens a place to take a bath is an easy problem to fix. Her mother could put a shallow box filled with dry dirt and the chickens would be happier.
Here is an equation for hen happiness:
Happy Hens (water, food, 10ft2 of individual space, dust baths, no predators, sunshine) = More Eggs
Unhappy Hens (crammed in small cage, cement or wire floor, limited food and water) = Less Eggs
There is a caveat to my equation and that is the model used by factory farms where the chickens are crammed into small cages and drugged to keep their egg laying and growth rate at a “normal” frankenchicken level. A recent news article said poultry from factory farms are given caffeine, active ingredients of Tylenol and Benadryl, banned antibiotics and arsenic. Arsenic is fed to chickens to reduce infections and makes the flesh appear a healthy pink color. Sounds yummy!