Have you ever wondered about diatomaceous earth uses in poultry? When I first started raising chickens for eggs, I noticed that many poultry people talked about using something that they only referred to as “DE”. Not being one who knows many chicken acronyms, I was clueless about what they were referring to. I read several sites and did some research of my own and quickly found that they were referring to a natural substance called diatomaceous earth. I bought a big jar of food grade Diatomaceous earth and set about using it around our home and chicken coop and I have to admit, the stuff is amazing!
What is Diatomaceous Earth?
Diatomaceous earth is actually the fossilized skeletons of tiny creatures called diatoms. Diatoms can live in fresh or sea water and are a form of algae. They differ in shape and size, but what they have in common is that they are microscopically small. DE is found in deposits all over the world. Depending on the deposit location, the DE is composed of either fresh water or sea water fossilized diatoms. It is mined from open pit mines and then ground in the size needed for various applications. The DE that I use is almost a flour consistency.
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How is Diatomaceous Earth Used?
Diatomaceous earth has a number of uses which include industrial uses like the stabilization of nitroglycerin in dynamite, filtration medium for swimming pools, and as a mild abrasive in some toothpastes. The DE used in dynamite and swimming pools is not food grade and often has been treated with high heat or contains higher levels of heavy metals. The products that contain DE used for human and animal use, is generally fresh water DE and has been tested to contain approved levels of other substances. This form of Diatomaceous Earth is the form that I’ll be discussing today.
Food grade DE is used as an additive to grain to prevent clumping and to encourage free flow of the grain It’s also used in cat litter for absorbency and in fact, is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control as a way to clean up toxic spills. It’s an extremely effective killer of crawling insect pests and has been found to be a natural wormer for poultry. Some people even take a tablespoon of DE to improve their digestive health!
Diatomaceous Earth Uses: How It Works
The fossilized remains of the diatoms have incredibly sharp edges as well as spiny protrusions. They are porous, which is what causes them to be so effective when being used to absorb fluid. When an insect encounters the DE, the sharp edges of the diatoms interrupt the waxy exterior of their exoskeleton by absorbing lipids which causes the insect to dehydrate and die. Similarly, when used for animal or human consumption, the diatoms injure parasites in the digestive tract, causing their death.
Diatomaceous Earth Uses: Is It Safe For My Chickens?
Food grade diatomaceous earth is totally safe and natural. Various writers on the internet have dismissed its use with poultry because they claim that it contains silica which can be harmful. Food grade, fresh water DE contains little to no crystalline silica. Any fine dust or powder can cause lung, eye, or skin irritation, so care should be taken when applying DE over a large space. It is often recommended to wear a mask while spreading DE and to immediately change your clothes and to wash your skin to remove residue. The content of silica in food grade, fresh water Diatomaceous Earth is monitored by OSHA. Diatomaceous earth is safe for poultry and I’ve not experienced any respiratory, eye or skin issues with my birds.
Diatomaceous Earth Uses With Your Flock
Keepers of backyard chickens generally use DE to control pests in their flock and coop. I use food grade, fresh water DE all over the floor of my coop after I’ve cleaned out the litter, and then replace the fresh litter right over the top of the DE. I sprinkle it in all of the cracks and crevices of my coop and across doorways, window sills and in corners where pests may gain access or lurk. I also sprinkle it in my chickens’ dust bath. Periodically, I cover the top of the sand and dirt in the bath and then I let the chickens work it into the sand. They sample a bit with their beaks, which also aids as a natural wormer. Some people add it directly to their chickens’ feed. As the chickens roll, flop and play in the dust bath, they cover themselves with the DE infused sand and it helps to rid them of mites and other crawly things that live on chickens. I have absolutely no mites or other pests in my flock of 14.
Diatomaceous Earth Uses: Other Uses for Diatomaceous Earth
So what else can it be used for? DE works as a great natural pest control for garden and grounds. In your garden, DE can help to control pests when you sprinkle it around the bottoms of your plants. It works great! It can also be used to eliminate bedbugs, fleas, and ticks on household pets, and to control and eliminate cockroaches, earwigs and other pests in your home. It should be cautioned though, to be sure not to sprinkle DE where honey bees congregate since they are crucial to our environment.
So there you have it! Now, where do you find it? Diatomaceous earth is sold widely in farm supply stores and feed stores. It comes in jars and bags and may vary in color from a greyish brown to snowy white, depending on what deposit it was mined from. Be sure to check the label to make certain that you have food grade DE and read the precautions on the label prior to applying it. Your coop, chickens, house, pets, and plants will be happy and pest free … and the best part is … all without chemicals.
Originally published in 2014 and regularly vetted for accuracy.