Keeping chickens in your backyard for any purpose can be enjoyable. But the situation can turn less appealing when their hole-digging tendencies ruin the quality of your soil. For individuals who are new to this chicken’s quirky behavior, this article can be a valuable resource.
In this blog, we will explain the reasons why do chickens dig holes, as well as whether or not it is sensible to inhibit this behavior.
Remain with us until the end, and we will find out the proper techniques for managing chickens that indulge in hole-digging activities.
Digging is an innate behavior for chickens
A lot of poultry keepers, especially those that are still new to the field, need clarification about why chickens dig holes. Don’t worry, as this is just a common worry that every concerned poultry farmer goes through.
Actually, chickens dig holes because this is one of their innate behaviors. It is an intrinsic behavior that they can’t control. We can consider this a natural system that their body does.
Digging holes for chickens is like eating for humans. These behaviors are natural; we cannot stop or manipulate them based on our desire.
So, what do chickens get from spending so much time digging holes? Well, even if this is an innate action, they still get lots of benefits from it. Their efforts are not in vain, honestly.
Chickens dig holes to bathe themselves. They also dig to survive and to have fun. Lastly, probably not a good reason, too, is that they excavate to escape the fence.
Keep on reading to read more about these!
Chickens dig for hygienic purposes
Dust bathing or sand bathing is a term that every poultry farmer should know. This is a necessary maintenance behavior for chickens. It is also one of the common reasons why they dig holes!
Basically, dust bathing happens when a chicken rolls into sand or dust in order to clean itself. As we know, parasites and other pests can live in chicken feathers and might cause harm. The dry sand acts as an insecticide and kills these pests.
Chickens do not bathe in water, unlike humans. Nevertheless, even though dust bathing is an uncommon practice, other animals do this as well, but in different mediums. Like how pigs soak their body in mud and elephants cover their skin to avoid insects.
Ideally, the crater should be deeper so that the chicken can properly roll or move around in the hole. Chickens can dig the hole for themselves, but if you find them being challenged, you can help them.
Moreover, do not worry if you catch your chicken dust bathing. This only means that chickens have an awareness of when to clean themselves. Watch this entertaining video of a chicken rolling in the dust bath:
Chickens dig for survival
Besides the hygienic reason for chicken digging holes, they also use this behavior to survive!
One of the factors why chickens dig holes is to forage for food. Usually, they are looking for worms as this is the most available most of the time. However, they could also hunt for seeds, bugs, snails, and grubs.
Free-range chickens commonly do food hunting instead of those that are only in a cage. But, as a reminder, it is not always safe to let them do food hunting as they may eat unwanted objects. If you are free-ranging a chicken, you should also look out for them from time to time.
To identify if the chicken is foraging for food, check if they are digging and pecking the sand at the same time.
Spot to lay eggs
Poultry farmers usually provide egg nests for chickens to lay. But hens are protective of their eggs. Hence, they would dig holes if they could not find a suitable and safe space to lay their eggs on.
However, safety is not always sure in this situation. Hens may choose a spot that is prone to other parasites and predators. But, most of all, if they hide it in a really secluded place, the owner might not be able to find it.
So, if you are a poultry farmer, we suggest you invest in egg-laying nests. After, train your hens to lay there.
Another critical factor for a chicken to survive is the temperature. Indeed, chickens are warm-blooded animals, but they cannot quickly control their temperature. In this case, they will need alternatives to speed up the process. For example, chicks have heat lamps in their cages to keep them warm.
However, if they are already grown free-range chickens, that alternative is not applicable anymore. So, what they do is dig holes in the soil at which temperature suits their needs. Chickens dig holes in cold or wet soils if they need cool temperatures. If it is another way around, they dig holes in dry and warm dust.
Chickens dig to escape the fence
Once a chicken sees something they want behind the walls you put up, it will usually dig its way out! They will continuously excavate until they fit into the hole.
Although this may sound entertaining, this can have profound implications for the chicken who dug the hole and the whole coop. Predators like snakes, dogs, bears, and raccoons might enter the cage and kill the chickens. While the chicken that escaped the pen might get lost or robbed.
Among all the reasons why chickens dig holes, this is the one that you should be very mindful of. Do not be complacent when you see your chicken digging or scratching near the fence!
Chickens dig for fun
Like humans, chickens get bored too! They also find a way to entertain themselves inside the coop. But, they cannot do any more silly things than digging sand and dirt.
Digging is the best and most harmless way to keep the fun inside the coop. In fact, chickens can do it for an extended period.
You can let your chickens dig for fun since you can cover the holes and crater again. Just don’t let them do it regularly. Maybe, you can also teach them some survival and fun tricks to keep them occupied.
Should I stop chickens from digging holes?
Unfortunately, preventing chickens from excavating holes is not possible, hence questioning whether or not to restrain them is meaningless.
As previously mentioned, chickens possess an innate inclination to dig, and the complete removal of this behavior is impossible without providing them with the essentials required for their well-being, such as the following:
- Facilities and tools to control chicken’s body temperature
- Enough food
- Enough egg-laying nests
- Deeply founded fence
In reality, it is impossible to provide all of these requisites to chickens, and even if they are provided, the birds will continue to dig holes due to this behavior being an innate part of them. The only feasible option is to reduce the frequency and intensity of this action.
With that in mind, the final portion of this blog will discuss effective strategies to decrease chickens’ hole-digging habits!
4 ways to reduce hole digging of chickens
These ways will just be the opposite of what your chickens get from digging holes. Remember, the key to minimizing the digging of chickens is to meet their needs!
1. Make a dust bath
Make a dust bath so that your chickens won’t need to dig holes where they can clean themselves. You can make a leisurely DIY dust bath with the help of this video:
Basically, all you need is an old tire, wood ash, and diatomaceous earth. Both wood ash and diatomaceous earth help kill pests.
Although this technique won’t ensure that all your chickens will use this improvised dust bath, it is still best to give it a go! Moreover, make sure to make an ample dust bath, so your chickens won’t huddle in one spot.
2. Always satisfy their hunger
If your chickens are full, then they won’t need to forage for food anymore. This method is effective but time-consuming since you will need to monitor them from time to time.
3. Place egg-laying nests inside the coop
This is a strategic way to minimize the hole-digging habit of your chicken. It will be ideal if you put the nests inside the coop. However, you must place it in a safe space where other chickens won’t peck on it. You will also need to train them on how to lay eggs in a nest.
4. Cover the coop
You can cover the coop using a used tarp to make their vision a bit blurry. This way, they won’t be tempted by the view outside their enclosure. You can also use wool blankets (for warmth) or straw and glass. The chicken wire might also be helpful to prevent them from going outside the coop.
Again, this is just like another layer of covering. Do not use too thick covers if the weather is already hot. The chickens should still see sunlight and be able to breathe properly.
Newcomers to the poultry industry should keep in mind the reasons why do chickens dig holes, as this knowledge will prove useful in the future. For those who are already seasoned experts, incorporating the techniques we outlined in the previous section into their poultry farming endeavors is highly recommended.
Regardless of one’s experience level, safeguarding the chickens should always be the utmost priority. If hole-digging poses a threat to their safety, steps must be taken to lessen the risk!
Joseph Hudson has been raising chickens for over 15 years. In 2018, he completed the Agriculture & Natural Resources program at Mt. San Antonio College. He currently raises over 1400 chickens on his 7.5-hectare farm. He keeps sharing his experience on raising healthy and happy chickens on Chicken Scratch The Foundry.