This pictorial of the dustbox construction project appeared as a sidebar to my article on deep litter in the December 2006/January 2007 issue of Backyard Poultry Magazine.
Chickens can take care of the problem of external parasites for themselves, so long as they have good conditions for dust bathing. Since weather conditions sometimes interfere with dust bathing, I provide a dustbox as an always-available alternative.
As with any homestead project, the scrap material we have on hand usually determines the exact design. If what you have dictates a different design for a dustbox, go for it. I would just advise, on the basis of having tried several different designs, that you not make it too small (20×20 inches at a minimum), nor too shallow. If the box is too shallow, the chickens kick out a lot of the dust as they bathe, requiring more frequent filling with dusting materials. I now make dustboxes 16 inches deep, and add a “lip” around the top edges to help keep the flying dust inside the box.
If starting from scratch, you can make two fine dustboxes 24 inches on a side from a single sheet of plywood. For this project, I chose to use 5/8-inch CDX, since I could not find a thinner plywood that was 5-ply, and I preferred to save time and effort by edge-nailing. If 5/8-inch plywood seems like overkill to you, go with whatever thickness you are confident you can edge-nail securely (or install nailing cleats to use quite thin plywood).
Please note that in the instructions I am not allowing for the saw kerf. If you want to be really exacting, you should do so. However, I want to keep the instructions simple. (And ignoring the kerf would be no great problem—we’re not working on a kitchen cabinet here.) Note also that I used a table saw (except for the initial cut), but you could certainly use a hand-held power saw for the entire project.
1: Cut sheet of plywood across the 48-inch dimension into four equal pieces (each 24×48 inches).
2: Cut one of the 24×48-inch pieces in half, to yield 24×24-inch pieces for the two bottoms.
3: Cut the remaing three 24×48-inch pieces 16 inches wide, across the 24-inch dimension, to yield nine pieces each 16×24 inches. (Eight of these pieces will be sides for the two dustboxes, while the last one will be cut into “lip” strips for the top edges.)
4: Edge-nail one of the bottom (24×24) pieces onto two of the side (16×24) pieces, aligning them as in the picture. I used 4d 1-3/8 inch coated sinkers.
5: Nail the other two side pieces to “box in” the open ends created by the above step. That is, these side pieces cover the edges of both bottom and first two sides. (See picture. The offset of the top edges is intentional.)
6: Assemble the other dustbox as above.
7: Cut the remaining 16×24-inch piece into eight 2-inch strips along the 24-inch dimension. Leave four of the resulting strips at 2×24 inches. Cut the remaining four strips to a length of 24 inches minus twice the thickness of your plywood. I used 5/8-inch plywood, so I cut mine to 22-¾ inches.
8: Nail the 2-inch strips to make a lip around the insides of the top edges, aligning as in the pictures.
Sift preferred dust materials into the dustbox (being sure to wear an effective dust mask!) and place in the poultry house or elsewhere out of the weather, where the birds have constant access to it. (Sifting is not absolutely necessary, and you may choose to omit it, depending on the nature of your materials.)
Spaghnum peat moss is an excellent base for the dust box contents, though it does have to be purchased, and is a non-renewable resource. Free, more sustainable ingredients are wood ashes and fine clay soil (dried and sifted), or even drier portions of the deep litter, finely sifted. I wouldn’t use wood ash at more than maybe two parts out of six or seven. You can also add small amounts of diatomaceous earth or elemental sulfur (pure sulfur as a fine yellow powder). You only need the mix to be a few inches deep, and should add more material from time to time as needed. The ideal mix is loose, fine, and easily fluffed by the birds up under their feathers.