At the beginning of the winter when the chickens were first incarcerated in the greenhouse for the season, we prepared some bird baths.
Inspired by my neighbour, who brings warm (room temperature) sand from her house to the hen house (hot bath!), I put a bunch of mud on the woodstove to heat up.
I shoveled the mud out of a couple of popular summer-time hen bathing holes, where, when it wasn’t soaking wet, it was fine dust. The old style metal crisper trays were perfect for heating on the wood stove.
It took days to dehydrate the dirt. It cracked like the desert, made little popping volcano vents, and then we’d break it up and cook it some more. HW stirred it assiduously, raving about how much those lucky birds were going to enjoy these baths, and pronouncing it not yet ready, day after day.
Finally, the bird baths- heavy with warm, finely stirred, premium dirt- went out to the greenhouse. I was looking forward to seeing the birds enjoy them, too, probably in the lazy, sunny, afternoon. I expected to hear excited clucking, to find two hens and the oversized rooster jammed in one bin at once and overflowing the sides, legs sticking out in odd directions….
and I never saw them. Not one single solitary sighting of a chicken getting her dirt bath on.
They were definitely using it. They were using it with vigour. There was a dirt radius around each bin. Feathers in the dirt. Week by week, the level in each bin went down. Every time a chicken bathes, she covers herself thoroughly with dirt, then gets up, walks out, and shakes herself off like a dog, making a Pigpen puff of dust. This slowly erodes the dirt capital.
Months passed. Then last week, I caught a brown hen in the bath! I crept back from the door, went for my camera, and of course, she was finished her ablutions by the time I got back with it. One sighting in months – the odds were poor that I’d ever catch another.
But I did! I didn’t waste time going for my camera but used my damaged phone – a sighting!