Using Diatomaceous Earth with Poultry
Diatomaceous earth is quickly becoming an essential material for raising poultry. This naturally occurring substance was formed millions of years ago from microscopic, hard-shelled algae called diatoms that became fossilized. For modern use, diatomaceous earth is a natural pesticide and organic food additive that can keep mites off chickens, cleanse their digestive tracts of internal parasites, and provide essential minerals to help chickens lay bigger, healthier, more nutritious eggs.
A Natural Pesticide
Diatomaceous earth’s micro-composition makes it uniquely suited for combatting common poultry pests. The fossilized remains of diatomic algae come with incredibly sharp (but microscopic) edges. These edges attack mites, lice, fleas, ticks, slugs, snails, and even digestive-tract worms by working their way through and cutting the outer shell or layer of the insects’ bodies. This process causes the insects to lose their moisture - killing them from dehydration in a matter of hours. Diatomaceous earth is also extremely porous and is very effective at drying wet surfaces where pests may lay their eggs. Diatomaceous earth is so good at drying things out, in fact, it is sometimes used to soak up industrial-sized toxic spills.
At the same time, it’s completely harmless to humans, chickens, and other animals.
Applying Diatomaceous Earth in Your Coop
Diatomaceous earth is an inexpensive, natural alternative to chemical pesticides. Diatomaceous earth is easy to physically apply to your chickens’ home. First, clean your coop, scrub out all the cracks, door frames, and window sills, and remove old, dirty litter. Spread diatomaceous earth in your flock’s nesting boxes, rub it along the roosts, sprinkle it across your coop’s floors, and pay special attention to your coop’s nooks and crannies. There’s really no wrong way to spread diatomaceous earth - many simply use a plastic scoop as a light sprinkler.
The important point to remember is that diatomaceous earth must come in contact with the insects to kill them, so make sure you spread diatomaceous earth wherever the pests might concentrate. After you’ve spread diatomaceous earth across your coop, replace the old litter with new, clean litter.
Additionally, you can spread diatomaceous earth in your chicken’s favorite dust bathing areas as another protective measure. Chickens love rolling around in dry dust as a way to maintain their feathers and scrub their skin. Adding diatomaceous earth to their favorite dust bathing spots, allows the chickens to thoroughly coat themselves in a protective coat of a natural pesticide. The coat acts as something like armor against fleas and lice.
There are some concerns about the inhalation of diatomaceous earth (or any sand for that matter) both by you and your chickens. This concern comes from the high-silica content of sands, pool grade DE and calcined versions of the product which should NEVER be used. These contain high quantities of Crystalline silica that are known to can cause silicosis. However you should only be purchasing good quality amorphous silica and it should contain less than 2% crystalline silica and is a food grade. It is however always sensible work in potentially dusty situations, like applying diatomaceous earth, it is recommended you wear a mask.
However, this isn’t a serious problem for chickens silicosis often takes years to develop and many chickens live out their natural lives before silicosis development is possible. It’s not an issue that any of our buyers have faced before. By simply waiting until the dust settles before allowing your chickens back into their hen house, you can minimize their risk.
Diatomaceous Earth as Nutritional Supplement for Chickens
Food-grade diatomaceous earth has long been added to agricultural feed both to keep the feed from caking and free from unwanted worms. Just as diatomaceous earth works against larger external pests like ticks, mites, and fleas, adding a 10 to 15% volume of diatomaceous earth to your chickens’ diet works against microscopic parasites as well. Diatomaceous earth particles are small enough, and yet hard enough, to pass through chickens’ intestinal walls cleansing their digestive tracts of parasites like worms.
Diatomaceous earth is a good nutritional supplement in the daily diets of chickens. It’s largely composed of silica, an essential dietary mineral. It also contains other trace minerals like aluminum and iron oxide. Hens who eat a diet containing a daily amount of diatomaceous earth are significantly heavier, eat more feed, and lay more eggs than hens who do not. Eggs produced by hens regularly consuming diatomaceous earth have also been found to contain more yolk and more albumen than eggs laid by hens who do not.