What to do when a chick really needs a bath

Three weeks into this backyard barnyard experience, I have to admit that chickens are surprising, ridiculous and oh-so amusing.

Those of you chicken whisperers out there know what I’m talking about. Honestly, I didn’t expect to like these little creatures so much, but I’m hooked. My agricultural roots tell me I shouldn’t have named them, let them sit on my lap, given them treats or called them my little chicky babies. But I just can’t resist.

And I’m not the only one. The chickens have worked their talons into Hubby as well, despite his resistance to getting urban livestock for years.

The evidence? Hubby sitting on the lawn, surrounded by the chickens and letting them peck his legs. His favorite remains Little Jerry, who has a tendency to climb up his shirt and perch on his shoulder.

This is the guy who said chickens are messy, annoying and not for the suburbs, remember?

How did this happen? There was a clear turning point on chicken bath day.

Yes, chicken bath day.

I know, some of you think chickens should never be bathed. But this was completely necessary, believe me.

See, I read in a chicken reference book that chickens love strawberries, among other fruits. We had a few past-due strawberries in the fridge and I gave them one.

As soon as I gave the strawberry to the chicks, they started playing keep-away. This is a favorite chick pastime, in addition to scattering food everywhere and pooping in their water dish. What fun.

The chicks loved the strawberry so much, we decided to give them more! And as soon as there were enough strawberries for everyone, they lost their appeal. No one cared about the strawberries, which we left in the container in case they changed their minds and wanted to peck at them.

A few hours later, the strawberries had disintegrated to mush. The chicks scratched them into a messy pulp that mixed with the wood chips in the bottom of their container. And then they pooped on the strawberry mash and continued to mix it in with their scratching and pecking.

As I marveled at the grossness of the mess, Little Jerry threw himself/herself down on the mess and started flailing about, kicking and flapping.

“Little Jerry! Are you having a seizure? What’s wrong?!” I freaked out, grabbing Little Jerry, whose fluff was now matted with strawberry poop jam and garnished with wood chips.

Little Jerry calmly looked at me with an expression of, “What?” and I noticed the other chicks throwing themselves down in the disgusting mush.

Apparently it was time to teach themselves how to take dust baths. In strawberry poop ickiness. In short order, they covered themselves with globs of the foul concoction and it looked like the scene of a massacre.

It was definitely bath time. And let me tell you, bathing a chicken can be complicated. I’m not one of those experienced 4-H kids who raised show chickens and used Borax to make the white feathers brilliantly white. The nuances of chicken grooming were a mystery to me.

After some hasty online research and an unofficial Facebook poll of friends, which yielded some helpful advice (“bathtub, shallow water, add chickens, barricade”) and not-so-helpful but hilarious advice (“take it to the splashpad downtown”), we set up our assembly line.

The first station was the chicken dunk, a shallow tub of warm soapy water. The second station was the chicken rinse, a shallow tub of warm rinse water. And the third station was Hubby with towels to dry the chickens.

I read online that you don’t really want to rub the chickens because you can break their developing feathers, so I just gently held each one and bobbed it up and down in the water, being careful not to splash water in its face because I didn’t want to chance having the chickens breathe it in. Then I quickly bobbed each chicken in the rinse and handed it off to Hubby.

The chicken-washing went smoothly and they were so relaxed that one chick even drifted off to sleep in the towel. A wet chicken is a strange thing to see, kind of like a shaved cat. They have incredibly skinny pencil necks. But they quickly dried in the sun and honestly seemed to enjoy their day at the spa.

After we were done with the baths, Hubby admitted it was kind of fun to give chickens a bath, and that they’re especially adorable when bobbed up and down in soapy water and wrapped in a towel.

It was a reverse-baptism by chicken, if you will.

The chicken skeptic has been converted. Hallelujah.

Erin McIntyre is an advanced master gardener, writer and Grand Valley native. Please email her at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) with story ideas or feedback.


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