Protecting your flock and keeping them healthy requires a bit more work than a coop and food. You need methods for dealing with pests and other challenges that arise with keeping chickens. More and more, chicken owners are jumping onboard the all-natural wagon and using diatomaceous earth for their chickens and coops. But what is diatomaceous earth? What about the pros and cons?
Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about diatomaceous earth, including the benefits and risks.
What is Diatomaceous Earth?
Understanding diatomaceous earth (DE) is important if you plan on using it for your chickens and the coop. Diatomaceous earth is made from fossils of diatoms, or aquatic algae. For thousands of years, aquatic algae has grown, died, and become a sediment in streams and rivers throughout the world. Their silica-based skeletons are mined then refined into a powder.
This fact alone is important to know, because silica crystals can cause a form of lung cancer known as silicosis. Amorphous silica, which the skeletons are made from, is much safer.
In the US, products cannot contain more than 2% crystallized silica. Otherwise, it will not be considered safe. However, that percentage is higher than many other countries.
How Does Diatomaceous Earth Work?
Under a microscope, diatomaceous earth is extremely fine and sharp. It is also extremely silty and dry. Because of that, diatomaceous earth can be used to keep insects and parasites away.
It is believed DE draws out the moisture, oils, and fats from an insect’s exoskeleton. Plus, since the edges of diatomaceous earth are sharp, it can cut through an insect’s protective outer shell. In other words, fleas, mites, spiders, roaches, ants and other pests are desiccated when they come into contact with diatomaceous earth.
For this reason, many chicken keepers use DE around the yard and coop to protect their chickens from parasites.
Does Diatomaceous Earth For Chickens Have Any Benefits?
You may not want to use chemicals to remove parasites from your chickens, which means that natural alternatives, like diatomaceous earth, are your best bet. Diatomaceous earth is a wonderful preventative that will keep the coop and your chickens clean. However, it cannot be considered a response to infestation, since it takes a while to work (between 1-5 days).
Here are all the benefits of using DE:
Control Parasites Externally
Studies have found that diatomaceous earth does an excellent job at killing insects and parasites (northern fowl mites, fleas, lice, red mites, etc.) that are found around the chicken coop. For example, if you want to control the red mite population in a coop, all you need is 50g of diatomaceous earth per square meter to do that. Since diatomaceous earth does not have an odor and is non-toxic to chickens, the only organism it threatens is the parasitic kind.
Control Internal Parasites
Although diatomaceous earth is not as effective at controlling internal parasites as external ones, it does help. Worms often find their way into your flock. Keeping your chickens healthy when the enemy is invisible can be difficult. That said, adding DE to your chicken’s food or grit can help ward off worms. Keep in mind that diatomaceous earth will not affect unhatched larvae, so you cannot use it as a dewormer.
Chickens Use DE For Grit & Dust Bathing
There is also benefit to free range chickens pecking at diatomaceous earth alongside regular chicken grit. One study even found that when DE is added to chicken feed, the birds are heavier and healthier. Their eggs also have more albumen and yolk. As a chicken keeper, the prospect of healthier chickens and eggs is too good to ignore.
Plus, if you are looking for a great medium for dust bathing, diatomaceous earth is a viable option for mixing with soil. Dust bathing is a chicken’s way of getting clean and counteracting parasites. When you use DE, any parasites affecting your chickens won’t stand a chance. You can provide a tub of diatomaceous earth for your flock to enjoy, or you can add it to the ground where your birds already dust bathe.
Just remember not to give your birds a whole tub of DE. Mix it in with soil or potting compost or sand from your garden.
What About The Risks of Diatomaceous Earth?
Now that you know about the benefits of using diatomaceous earth for your chickens, let’s discuss some of the downsides.
- You must purchase DE with high amorphous silica content and low crystalline silica content. Breathing in crystalline dust is known to negatively impact your health, including lung cancer.
- You must apply diatomaceous earth in such a way that there is not too much dust. Even if amorphous silica is safe, your chickens are still breathing in a fine dust.
- You must wear safety gear when using DE around the coop.
- Diatomaceous earth also kills beneficial insects that you may want in your garden.
- Not as effective on internal parasites as it is the external kind.
How to Use Diatomaceous Earth For Chickens
As mentioned above, you will need to use safety gear when working with diatomaceous earth. Aside from purchasing a bag or two of DE, you will also need a bulb puffer or shaker bottle for application, a funnel, dust mask, and paintbrush. From there, you have to choose how you would like to use diatomaceous earth — in the coop or on your chickens.
Dusting Your Coop
With this method, you are controlling the insect and parasite population within the coop. Make sure the coop is dried out and well ventilated before continuing on. Fill the shaker bottle — such as a baby powder bottle — with some diatomaceous earth. You can also use a bulb puffer to get into the nooks the bottle won’t reach. Work around the coop, covering the floor, nesting boxes, roosting area, and windows. Apply the DE as liberally as possible.
You can also mix in diatomaceous earth when painting your coop. That ensures that there is a thin layer of protection for your chickens for many years to come.
What about broody hens, you ask? Do not fret about moving your egg-laying ladies from the coop while spreading DE. Take a teaspoon of DE and sprinkle it around the nesting material. If you can pick the broody chicken up off the eggs a little, you can also get under her. This results in far less stress for your flock, too.
Using DE With Chicken Feed
Do you want to nix some internal parasites? You can sprinkle a little diatomaceous earth on the seed or mix it in. Use no more than 5% diatomaceous earth in the mixture of food. That said, since percentages can be hard to visualize, go with how many cups of feed you give your chickens each day. For instance, if you use about 4-5 cups of feed, then you only need about ¼ of diatomaceous earth.
Remember that diatomaceous earth is not a dewormer. It cannot help with unhatched eggs inside your chickens. If you want to control the parasites, keep sprinkling DE around wherever your chickens poop.
Applying DE To Chickens Directly
Should your chickens have a bad infestation, a general bust bath won’t be enough to tackle the pests. Since parasites gather around a chicken’s vent or along the shaft of the feathers, an infestation can be hard to tackle. You will need to get at the mites directly. Applying diatomaceous earth to your chicken’s skin can help. You will need a special applicator or a small toothbrush dipped in DE.
Put the DE wherever you see lice, fleas, or other parasites crawling about.
However, this method can be a little dangerous, since it puts your flock at risk of breathing in the silica dust. Therefore, take some extra precautions, such as:
- Dusting your chickens outside, where there is plenty of airflow. When possible, avoid manually applying DE to your chickens inside the coop.
- Cover the top half of the chicken loosely with a towel or shirt. That should stop some of the bigger particles from getting inhaled. Also, your chicken will feel a bit more calm while you work.
- Use diatomaceous earth when there is no breeze. You will have more control over where the dust goes.
How to Choose The Best Diatomaceous Earth
Looking to buy some diatomaceous earth for chickens? Generally, you can find DE online, home improvement stores, and farming supply or feed stores. Wherever you purchase diatomaceous earth from, you should be on the lookout for a certain kind. There are some versions of diatomaceous earth that are not safe for chickens or people. Therefore, make sure the DE that you are buying meets the following conditions:
- Packaged in an airtight, resealable bag
- Must be food-grade diatomaceous earth, so it is safe for your chickens to peck
- Contains less than 2% crystalline silica (the less there is, the better for you and your flock)
- Locally mined, when possible
Is diatomaceous earth safe for chickens? Yes, when used appropriately. Hopefully, by reading about DE with this article, you can decide if you would like to try it on your chickens. Diatomaceous earth can keep parasites under control and may help your chickens stay healthier. However, you must handle DE with care, because of the dust.
Valerie has been content writing since 2016 for websites and companies all around the world. A traveler, dancer, martial artist, Valerie loves gathering experiences and wisdom. Her travels have taken her to over 20 countries, and she hopes to see more of the world soon.