Shadrach's stories and articles.

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Shadrach's stories and articles.

Post by Shadrach » Tue Jul 02, 2019 11:48 am

In order not to clutter up other threads I thought I would make my own.
I'm very interested in chicken behaviour and I've been fortunate here to be able to arrange a setup that has allowed me to study flock dynamics at considerable depth.
I intend to post a few stories and articles here. Some are unedited versions from my book.
The stories, both the imaginary and the factual, are the core of the book and from the observations in the core stories I draw some conclusions about chicken behaviour.
Please feel free to comment. :)

Fat Bird's Revelations.

There was an expectant silence when I said goodnight to Tribe 1 and closed the door for the night.
Mora was perched closest to the rear door, next was Ruffles, then Fat Bird and finally Able.
Once Ruffles was satisfied I was out of earshot, she shuffled a bit closer to Mora, hopefully out of striking distance of Fat Birds beak and unable to contain her curiosity any longer, asks Fat Bird,
"How was your night with Bucket Boy then?"
Mora craned her neck out as far as she could without toppling off the perch in order to see Fat Bird past Ruffles and said,
"Come on Fat Bird, tell us what happened? Able said you fell in the pond and nearly drowned."
Able, who was busy picking mites off his bad leg hoped on to the roof of the nesting box below the perch and fearing a bit of a scrap might be in the offing, jumped up between Fat Bird and Ruffles. After some foot shuffling, squawks of indignation and a few pecks, order was restored, and Fat Bird who was now standing, said in a tone that forbade any dissent,
"I didn't fall in!"
Able pointed out he was only relaying the information he had received from Jenny the Muscovey Duck, who had told him when he went to escort Fat Bird home at bedtime, she saw Bucket Boy's sister lift Fat Bird out of the pond and carry her away.

'The Pond' is a large concrete clothes washing basin with a sloping corrugated side on which the wet clothes were scrubbed. All the chickens know the water is deep and the slope slippery. No chicken has ever 'fallen' into this basin in the past, and Fat Bird is a very experienced hen.
Chickens don't swim and avoid deep water. Their feathers are not water-proof and when their feathers are soaked, they can't fly, their body temperature drops and their body weight increases, making running much more difficult and flight impossible

"What did happen then Fat Bird?" Mora asked.
Fat Bird, looking slightly shifty, took an intense interest in rearranging her wing feathers and muttered "I can't say."
Realizing that opportunity to increase her status in telling the others the story of that night might be slipping away, Fat Bird gave one final sweeping brush of her wing with her beak and settles down on the perch, while casually mentioning that Bucket Boy takes his feather off when he goes to sleep. Ruffles and Mora's neck shot forward and their eyes widened, their attention riveted on Fat Bird.
Fat Bird mentioned in a deliberately offhand manner that while she was recovering on Bucket Boys soft rocking chair, eating the last of the tuna she had been given off the blanket that had been carefully arranged around her, she saw Bucket Boy go to bed.
Ruffles beak dropped open and her eyes went all wistful and misty "I love tuna" she sighed, and slipped into a reverie where she attempted to recount all her favorite foods in no particular order.
"Shut up Ruffles" Fat Bird snaps, "the point is he takes his feathers off at night."
"Not sure I could fancy a man with no feathers" Ruffles murmured, still deep in her food reverie.
Fat Bird, eager to get to her most astonishing revelation, sets about telling the whole story of that night.

The others sat silent and listened, eyes wide, slightly in awe of Fat Birds experience, and slightly in awe of Fat Bird, who had after all, cheated certain death and spent the night with Bucket Boy. Fat Bird arrived at the point where she's eating the Tuna, gave Ruffles a threatening glance to forestall any further lapses in Ruffles concentration and continued her tale.
"It must have been late; easily badger time when Bucket Boy finished fussing over me and got me settled for the night. He turned out the lights except one, went to the toilet, and then into the room where his perch is. He took off all his feathers, drops them on the floor, and gets on to his perch."
Fat Bird paused and even in the gloom of the coop you could see that the memory of what happened next still haunted her. "I couldn't believe what happened next. I was close to panicking. How was I going to get out? Did anyone else known where I was? There was no more tuna; no water. I just sat there paralyzed."
Able, Ruffles and More were now on the very edge of their perches with anticipation, necks craned, eyes practically popping out of their heads and in chorus shouted,
"What happened Fat Bird?"
Fat Bird took one more pause, shuddered and said,
He said "goodnight Fat Bird," rolled onto his back and went to sleep.
Pandemonium broke out. Mora who had leaned out the furthest in order to see Fat Bird as she told her tale, slipped of her perch with a brief squawk, and crashed to the floor in an undignified pile of flying feathers and dust. Ruffles, recoiled in horror, shuffled away from Fat Bird barging Able off the perch and on to the roof of the nesting box below banging his beak on the perch during the fall as he stumbled to maintain his balance. Mora, on regaining some composure and realizing what she was about to say was bound to bring an irate Fat Bird down from above her, dived into the nesting box, and warily craning her head out, neck bent so she could see Fat Bird above said. "I don't believe you Fat Bird; everybody knows only dead things lie on their back."
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Re: Shadrach's stories and articles.

Post by Marigold » Tue Jul 02, 2019 12:31 pm

Wonderful! Thank you, Bucket Boy!!
Next chapter, please!
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Re: Shadrach's stories and articles.

Post by bigyetiman » Tue Jul 02, 2019 12:31 pm

Fantastic :-)08 :-)08
It reminded me of our Light Sussex Dizzy Izzie, who one day decided to chase a couple of Canada Geese, made somewhat easier as the gate that separates the lake area from rest of garden was open. It had escaped her mind that they swim she doesn't. Luckily we were on hand to fish her out as they headed into the lake with her in hot pursuit. The geese were so stunned at this sudden white tornado heading towards them they forgot to go into attack mode and just ran.
Bet she had a tale to tell of having pond weed removed and a wash a blow dry.
That is just one of her many escapades, hence Dizzy Izzie.
Look forward to more stories :D
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Re: Shadrach's stories and articles.

Post by bigjim » Tue Jul 02, 2019 9:00 pm

Caught one of mine having a bath in my acer tub this afternoon. It looked quite content nestled in there.
I wouldn't mind but they've the whole garden to dust bath in.
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Re: Shadrach's stories and articles.

Post by Shadrach » Sat Jul 06, 2019 12:32 pm

Unfortunately the relevant pictures won't load with the article.

Why Chicken Bath In Dust And Not In Water.

As humans became ‘civilised’ and water and cleansing agents became widely available, bathing in water became more commonplace and to some extent the purpose of bathing forgotten. We tend to bath out of habit and the primary purpose of bathing is no longer as relevant as it is to other species.
Because we now have cloths to protect us from our environment, the condition of our skin with regard to protecting us from our environment, has become of secondary importance. We attire ourselves in different garments for the different circumstances we encounter, including combat.

This hasn’t been the case for the chicken. The purpose of bathing for the chicken is primarily for the conditioning of skin and feathers.

When humans get ‘dirty’ we wash in water. Our skin excretes a saline solution (water and salt) when we sweat which helps clean our pores, but dirt will stick to the sweat and leave us feeling uncomfortable and sticky.  Hot showers, steam baths, saunas, Turkish baths all aid skin cleaning by encouraging the skin to sweat and the residue we wash off with plain water. When we become particularly dirty we scrub our skin with an abrasive be that a sponge, luffa or even pumices stones and rinse with water. All the above systems work because of the nature of our skin and because of the secretion of sweat. The salt in our sweat is soluble in water.

For a chicken getting clean is rather different. Chickens don’t sweat; they don’t have sweat glands.
What the skin of a chicken excretes is oil in tiny amounts through the follicles  that their feathers grow out of and through a gland at the base of their backs called the preen gland. To condition and help make their feathers water resistant, the chicken rubs it’s beak and neck around the preen gland area and spreads the oil it picks up on it’s feathers. While preening doesn’t make the feathers waterproof; it’s the zipping together of the tiny barbs on the contour feathers that give the contour feathers their water resistance,  it does condition and help the contour feathers in particular shed a certain amount of water.

The purpose of the dust bath for chickens is to absorb excess oil on their feathers and skin. Once the chicken has thrown a sufficient quantity of dust over their bodies and this dust has mixed with the oil they can then pick off the dust that has absorbed the oil with their beaks by grooming.
Some dead skin (dander) will inevitably stick to the oil but the majority of a chickens dead skin is removed through normal grooming along with dead quill ends and parasites. The chicken pecks at the skin and feathers to dislodge the dead skin and then shakes itself so the dead skin falls to the ground. For the contour feathers in particular which are the strongest feathers providing the greatest protection from the elements and during mating and fighting, a small feather called the filoplume which carries tiny nerve endings situated next to the contour feather quill can be used to arrange the contour feathers in an optimal position for grooming.

If you have kept a chicken confined in your house for some reason one of the things you will have noticed is the quantity of dander dropped on the floor. This happened without the aid of a dust bath.

If you have had to deal with a chicken with scaly leg mite for example you will know that immersing the legs in oil, or surgical spirit is necessary to drown the mites, or alternatively, a thick coat of Vaseline that adheres to the leg is needed to suffocate the mites. A chicken dust bathing is unlikely to achieve a sufficient covering of dust to suffocate mites.

There are other benefits to dust bathing for chickens. While they are dust bathing some parasites may be removed, in particular lice, but interestingly there is some evidence that when they bath in certain types of soil ants may remove parasites.

Finally dust bathing can be a social event for chickens, but my observations have led me to the conclusion that differing types of soil promote communal bathing in preference to bathing solo.

If you’ve tried to clean up spilt oil with water you’ll know it’s a pointless task. The same can be said for trying to wash a chicken in water.
You may remove some particular spots of faeces for example and the chicken will look cleaner judged by human standards of cleanliness, but not by the chickens.
People use soaps and detergents to wash chickens to overcome the problem of removing oil.
This isn’t good for the chicken. One only has to think of the damage detergents in shampoos do to human hair and the necessity of using conditioners after washing to try to restore the oils you’ve just washed out to understand this. Add to this that you can’t scrub a chickens skin through the feathers, nor can you easily apply any conditioners so the effect of any detergent will be to dry out the chickens skin and feathers leaving them unprotected from bacteria and the feather quills brittle and fragile like dry hair.

I had a young pullet with three four day old chicks get caught out in a very sudden and intense storm. Her natural instinct was to protect the chicks from the storm, a cold wet chick of that age goes hypothermic and dies very quickly. It rained over an inch of water in the space of a few minutes and the hen got completely soaked. Because she had spread her wings to protect the chicks the inside of her wings and the sides of her body which in normal circumstances would have had at least some protection from her contour feathers got soaked through. Once I had rescued her I weighed her and she weighed 18% more than when dry.

I’ve had another hen get knocked into an old style wash basin with vertical sides and a scrub slope on one side. Chickens can’t swim and because of the extra weight of the water she couldn’t use her wings to jump out. Fortunately somebody found her quickly, but she went into shock and for the first hour when I was trying to dry her out it didn’t look like she was going to make it.

Some do get very wet when caught out in the rain but given the increase in body weight and the loss of the ability to fly they’re extremely vulnerable when wet and hypothermia can push a chicken into shock and eventual death.

Water is for drinking when it comes to chickens.

Once the reasons that chickens dust bath are understood it then becomes worthwhile considering what types of soil and dust make a good dust bath.
There is a wide range of options for dust bathing for chickens where I live and I’ve noticed a distinct  preference for two particular types of  dust bath.
The first type comprises the ash that gets thrown out from the wood burning stoves here. There are two main sites for this, one is on the driveway leading to the main house and the other I constructed outside my house. At the site on the main drive wood-ash has over time mixed with the fine dust eroded from the gravel that is the main driveway material. The hens here are very fond of this site, but I have never seen a rooster bath here.

The same is true for the site outside my house. This is wood ash that over time has mixed with fine soil. Once again, the hens will bath here but the rooster never have; they just stand and guard the hens.

The dust bath on the drive.

The dust bath I made outside my house.

However, provide a freshly dug and sifted pile of compost and you have trouble getting the roosters out. Both hens and roosters will bath in this.
Both types provide fine particles but the wood ash sites give a fine, dry, material while the compost, or newly turned earth, has a degree of moisture in it.

Two favourite dust bath locations with moist soil.


I became intrigued by the difference in the roosters and hens dust bathing habits and carried out some rough experiments.
Rubbing a finger on a chickens preen gland allowed me to roughly assess the viscosity of the oil it secretes. The nearest oil I had available to this was a light oil used for sewing machines.
I poured this oil onto two pieces of silver foil; 1.0 ml per piece of foil.
I added a gramme of the dry dust to one piece of foil and a gramme of the slightly damp compost soil to the other. I waited five seconds and then tipped the dust and soil onto a sheet of white paper.
What I found was there wasn’t any perceptible difference in between the two types of ‘dust’ when it with respect to the amount of oil they had absorbed. The difference between the two was the dry wood ash dust coagulated and formed lumps having absorbed some oil, while the moist soil tended to remain ‘loose’.

The hens bathing in the dry wood ash dust spent on average 6 minutes bathing. Both the dry wood ash bathing sites are relatively exposed and the roosters have a habit of hustling the hens out of their baths at the slightest sign of danger, or when the majority of the hens move off leaving a single hen, or two in the bath. The hens when using the dry wood ash baths tended to bath with a gap between them, each hen having a small bathing area separate from the others, the senior hen often demanding the ‘best’ spot’.
The moist compost type baths are more communal and often an entire tribe bathes together, The most obvious difference with these baths is the roosters bath with the hens and everybody baths in a tight group, jostling and shoving. These communal baths last considerably longer, on average 36 minutes. Occasionally I’ve found a single rooster bathing in this type of bath.

Two roosters and two hens bathing in one of the favourite moist baths.[ATTACH=full]1556392[/ATTACH]

The next bath along. The soil in these baths is moist all year round because the enclosures get watered.  The roots are grape vines.[ATTACH=full]1556393[/ATTACH]

I have tried making a sheltered dust bath with both types of ‘dust’. I made one underneath one of the coops using soil and wood ash. The chickens used it once that I observed then went and bathed in one of their preferred sites. I made another outside my house with similar results. It seems the chickens prefer an open site.

The favourite bathing spots have stayed the same over the eight years I have records for. There was one favourite spot that no longer exists and this used to be the top of a pile of composting straw and hay on the outskirts of the sheep field that had some cover given by clumps of rosemary bushes growing on the bank above. The chickens used to scrape away the loose straw and make a hollow in the compost beneath.

The preferred bathing spots change with weather conditions. It doesn’t take a lot of rain to turn some of the preferred moist soil baths into mud baths. The fine dust bath spots are very weather dependant but tend to dry out more quickly than the moist soil. On the few occasions it has remained wet over a few days the chickens just don’t bath, or as in the picture below, find a make do spot with ordinary earth until the ground dries out.


Chickens given the opportunity will dust bath in most types of ground they can scratch and break down in to dust. What I became interested in was the marked preference of the chickens here for the two distinct bath types and the roosters reluctance to bath in fine dry dust. I imagine for the chickens ancestors the jungle fowl the fine dry dust baths are not an option, jungles tending to keep humid under the tree canopies and the soil remaining moist through the seasons.

While it is true that you can get a chicken to settle in a bath of warm water if you force the issue, and there may be some medical reasons why this is advisable, I have never heard of a chicken voluntarily getting in a water bath, they even avoid deep puddles here. There are, during the summer here, lots of potential water bath sites for chickens; at least three bowls which a chicken could if the desire for a quick hot bath overtook them get in and out of without difficulty, or risk of drowning. Then there is the ‘pond’ for the Muscovy ducks. In the summer the water gets quite warm. Not once has any chicken shown the remotest interest in getting in any of these potential baths for a quick wash, or splash around to cool down, or even get clean.

Chickens spend a large proportion of their day grooming and maintain correct feather orientation.
For chickens, the condition of their feathers is vital to their survival. A chicken with damaged feathers may be that fraction of a second slower when trying to escape a predator. Better feather condition may mean they receive less damage when fighting, or mating Well oiled and groomed feathers will offer better protection from the elements and greater resistance to harmful bacteria.
Water does absolutely nothing to help condition a chickens feathers, or skin.

If chickens came with a care and cleaning label like clothing the chicken's label would read, DRY CLEAN ONLY.
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Re: Shadrach's stories and articles.

Post by bigyetiman » Sat Jul 06, 2019 2:11 pm

Fascinating and enjoyable to read. Love the idea of getting a chicken with DRY CLEAN ONLY written on it.
Found a foolproof way of getting chickens back into the coop/run. Just have the Red Arrows go over the garden. They made it from one end of the garden to coop nearly as quick as the jets. Wonder if you can hire them for bedtime :) :)
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Post by Hen-Gen » Sat Jul 06, 2019 6:52 pm

Agree. It made great reading. I’ve also found that if you add mite/lice powder to their favourite site they do what is a stressful job for you.
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Re: Shadrach's stories and articles.

Post by rick » Sat Jul 06, 2019 10:31 pm

Its thought provoking! Water birds obviously do things a different way but then they don't roost on a branch! Only exception with the water is my little feather footed fella who occasionally has to paddle in flooded a dog crate tray for 10 mins as its the best way of softening up the muck balls stuck to his feet. (a bit like accumulated snow balls weighing down a long haired dog.) Walking around on wet grass would do nicely but we don't have any grass here.
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Post by Hen-Gen » Sun Jul 07, 2019 8:33 am

It’s very unpredictable Rick. As a lad I used to breed Gloster Canaries. These are perching birds but loved to bathe. Parrots prefer showers.
There’s some other kind of bird who’s name I’ve forgotten that breaks open ants nests and rolls in the angry ants. It is proposed that the formic acid in their bites deters mites and lice.
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Post by bigyetiman » Sun Jul 07, 2019 9:40 am

I know corvids especially Jays use ants and so do Green Woodpeckers and Blackbirds. I am sure lots more do as well. You notice these species doing it.
Our lot in the main dust bathe in sand in winter and anywhere dry and dusty in summer, the exception were the Bluebells which always chose somewhere slightly damp. Guess they had there own reasons for that
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