About the only thing a chicken likes better than tasty food (like a fat grub) is a good bath. Sunbathing and dust bathing are nothing short of chicken ecstasy and my hens indulge any chance they can.
I keep them penned when I’m not home so evenings and weekends are when they’re out scratching and bathing. Sunbathing in the evenings isn’t usually an option, so they enjoy a community dustbath. They like the areas under the eaves, as the soil is dry and, well, dusty. Molehills are another great source of dry, dusty soil, and they neatly spread the hill as they scratch and prepare for bathing. They fluff and roll around, kicking up clouds of dust. One recent molehill became a mole hole, as they repeatedly dusted there and the depression got deeper and deeper. The mole would partially fill it each day, which worked well for the hens. It eventually got too deep for them to dust properly and they moved on to the next favorite spot.
They like to bathe together, and dust baths are a succession of hens all using the same “tub”; one bathing while another scratches around preparing and a third pecks around in the vicinity waiting for a chance to get in.
Sunbathing is usually done in midday, when the sun is high overhead and HOT. One hen will sink to her knees (really heels) and flop to her side. If you didn’t know better, you’d think she was collapsing and ill. A leg will stretch out, then a wing. Seeing their coopmate flopped over brings the hens nearby to her like a siren song, and they practically pig pile in the sun as they all soak up the rays. At first glance it can look like there’d been a terrible accident, or massacre, absent any blood or gore. They will lay there in a group for long minutes as if in a trance, or asleep. Then one will get up and ruffle her feathers, and another and another. Until the next sunbeam moment hits them. It reminds me of when they are babies; little cotton balls with legs and a beak. They run around the brooder under the warm heat lamp, chasing bugs and pecking at food. They’ll stop for a moment and their head will droop, eventually dropping to the ground like a tiny tripod. Then their legs give out and they slowly sink down for a nap.
The bathing all serves a purpose of course, other than the delicious pleasure it gives them. The dusting is a way of keeping mites and lice in check, and the sunbathing is believed to distribute natural oils to keep feathers in tip top shape. All I know is it gives me pleasure to see their pleasure, and when they sunbathe I’m often doing the same as I watch them. So far I’ve resisted the dust baths.