Why Do Chickens Dig Holes?


It’s always impressed me just how good chickens are at digging holes. Most animals that are known for digging have feet that are good for scooping. A chicken’s skinny clawed toes are anything but effective at scooping. Yet despite this physical limitation, those little feathered cluckers can really move the dirt.

So why do they do this?

The primary reason that a chicken will dig holes is because it’s instinct. Yes, there are benefits for your bird to dig holes – take a dust bath, keeping cool, a snug place to lay eggs, ect. But it’s their instinct that drives them to do this.

And the instinct to scratch at the ground is completely innate. This is pretty impressive considering that they have to be shown as chicks, ‘this is water, this is food’. But somehow, when it comes to scratching, there is no instruction needed. Even with no mama hen around to show them how, you will find chicks barely two days old, scratching at the bedding.

Why Do Chickens Bury Themselves In Dirt?

The first time I saw a chicken flopping around in the dirt, I freaked! Watching them kick and flop around on their sides is certainly a sight to behold. You’ll think that their having a horrible seizure or something. But the reality is, they’re just taking a bath – a dirt bath.

And these dirt baths are very important. You have to remember, a chicken spends its entire day very close to the ground. In this area, bugs are abundant and not just the juicy crickets that make good snacks. A whole variety of lice and mites hang out here and could cause your birds a lot of discomfort if not for the dirt baths they take.

Also, the dirt they cover themselves in will find its way down to skin, where it will absorb any excess oil and give them something of a protective covering against the many different parasites that would love to make a chicken home.

Advantages Of Digging Holes: Chickens

While it might seem counterproductive for your lawn, there are several reasons why holes in the ground are good for your chicken.

  • Keeping cool – Sitting low in some nice cool dirt is a great way for your chicken to cool off. And by digging a hole, your bird is allowing more of its body to come in contact with this natural cooling.
  • A snug place to lay eggsLaying an egg, is quite a process for your chicken. It’s something that takes time, effort and a place that provides peace. Sitting in a cozy hole can make this strenuous process a little more bearable.
  • Yummy roots and bugs – There is a hole world of delicious chicken morsels right under your bird’s feet. And they know it! From tender roots to wriggly worms, with just a little bit of digging, it’s all there for the taking.

Disadvantages Of Digging Holes: Chickens

For chickens, digging holes is just a natural way of life. For anyone who likes professional looking landscaping (or even just a flat lawn), chickens digging holes can be the bane of your existence. Here are a few of the unpleasant side affects from a chicken’s busy feet.

  • Woodchips – Kicking woodchips for a chicken is like trick-or-treating for a child. They never get tired of it! There is always something uber delicious at the next spot. And if your landscaping has weed barrier for the woodchips to lay on, then that’s even better! One good kick and those woodchips are five feet out in the yard.
  • Gardens – A few springs back, I made the mistake of not fencing in a patch of potatoes I had planted. I didn’t think a whole lot about it as the potatoes with their small sprouts were completely buried: nothing visible from the surface. Fast forward 30 minutes and I look out to find my birds digging with fervor. By the time I got out there, two of my girls had sprouts in their beaks and were running around with my potato stock dangling from their mouths. I don’t know which one of my feathered fiends found the potatoes first, but they must have made the ‘I’ve got something good’ call and because the entire flock was there and digging like crazy.
  • Mowing the yard – For anyone who has done a lot of mowing, it’s easy to relate to the occasional scalp of the grass. Uneven ground can cause the blade on your lawn mower to drop down below where you want it. Mole hills and tree roots are notorious for this. But as aggravating as moles can be, they pale in comparison to plowing your mower into a chicken hole. If you’re lucky, you’ll hit one without driving the push-bar/steering wheel into your gut and trying to tumble over the front of your mower.

How Do I Stop My Chickens From Digging?

As mentioned above, a chicken’s drive to scratch at the ground is completely innate. Trying to get a chicken to stop this behavior is like asking a dog to not howl at the moon. Your efforts would probably be better rewarded by focusing on where they are digging rather than trying to stop them from digging at all.

There are multiple ways to encourage digging where you want it. Probably the easiest way is a simple child’s sandbox. Three or four inches of sand is more than enough for your bird to take a good bath. Place this somewhere close to the birds’ coop and it’s sure to get used.

Of course a sandbox is no guarantee that you won’t end up with a hole somewhere else. Remember, a chicken’s drive to dig is completely innate. So if you have someplace that you really don’t want dug up – such as the landscaping at the front of your house – then find ways to limit your birds access to it.

Why Do Chickens Scratch The Ground?

There’s a distinction to be made between a chicken digging a hole and a chicken scratching at the ground. When focused on digging a hole, the bird will stay in one spot and work fervently towards its goal. However, that’s not the only place you will see them scratch. Chickens scratch everywhere – basically wherever they’re at whenever the mood hits them. And when it comes to chickens, that’s a lot!

Chickens know instinctively that there is food hiding under foot and with a quick one-two kick, they can uncover it.

I love to watch my birds do their little chicken dance. They step up, do a quick one-two-kick and then step back and bend over to look at what they’ve done. Sometimes they get lucky and find something immediately. Other times, they’ll step back up again to the same spot and do another one-two kick, backup and do a look-see, as if to satisfy a hunch.

Why Do Chickens Peck The Ground?

Chickens peck at the ground constantly. Honestly, it’s a wonder they don’t wear their beaks off. But for all their effort, there is basically two reasons why they peck at the ground; to test if something is worth eating and then to eat it.

  • Test to see if it’s edible. Bugs can be very good at disguising themselves. All a bug needs to do is to hold still and blend in and most animals will never even notice that they’re there. But it’s difficult to hold still with someone pecking at you. One quick tap of the beak and the bugs are scurrying for a new hiding spot. But they’d better be quick! Chickens rarely miss even the smallest movement.
  • To eat. Without hands, chickens have got to be really good with their beaks if they want fill their hunger. And catching food isn’t always an easy process. Once they’ve discovered something with their scratching/pecking then they have to catch it. And if the morsel is big enough, say like a mouse, then they have to kill it before they can work on gobbling it down. And of course, they have to do all of this before someone else uses their beak to steal the tasty snack away.