Diatomaceous Earth For Chickens: Why and How To Use Properly
If you’re looking for natural ways to treat your flock for parasites, you may want to add to your care plan diatomaceous earth for chickens.
More and more chicken owners have jumped on board with natural methods of coop care in recent years. Luckily, more research is conducted every year to use this ancient substance to prevent external parasites on our chickens.
Read on to learn more about how we recommend you safely use diatomaceous earth for chickens.
What is Diatomaceous Earth?
The name, diatomaceous earth, sounds like really intense sand…or a chemical substance.
But according to the National Pesticide Information Centers, Diatomaceous Earth is “made from the fossilized remains of tiny, aquatic organisms called diatoms. Their skeletons are made of a natural substance called silica.
Over a long period, diatoms accumulated in the sediment of rivers, streams, lakes, and oceans. Today, silica deposits are mined from these areas.”
In other words, this silty powder is old. Furthermore, the powder, when examined under a microscope, is actually quite sharp.
Its sharpness, and fineness, make it an extremely drying substance. This is why it works well for killing unwanted external parasites in your chicken coop.
It dries and cuts the parasites, even through the exoskeleton of the parasite.
Why Use Diatomaceous Earth for Chickens?
If you’re not using chemical parasite removal products on your chickens, adding diatomaceous earth (DE) to your routine maintenance plan can help cut down on the need to douse your birds with toxic chemicals.
With that being said, you should use DE mainly as a preventative in your chicken coop rather than a response to a full-fledged infestation.
You can also provide diatomaceous earth for chickens in the form of a mixed dust bath, so your chickens can roll around in it whenever they feel the need to self-manage their external ride-along (more on this soon).
In short, using diatomaceous earth for chickens in place of other external parasite preventatives means you’re cutting down on unnecessary chemical usage and allowing your chickens to care for themselves naturally.
Safety Concerns with Using Diatomaceous Earth for Chickens
While using Diatomaceous Earth for chickens is a natural way of preventing parasites, there are still some safety concerns to be aware of (for both you and your chooks).
Diatomaceous Earth is fine and sharp. If inhaled, it can cause respiratory distress in both you and your chickens. Because of this, it’s wise to remove all of your chickens from the coop before dusting.
And don’t forget to wear a mask to keep your lungs safe from fine DE particles.
You’ll notice that we’re not talking about dusting chickens directly; inhalation risks are the main reason for this.
Avoid Direct Application of Diatomaceous Earth
Some swear by the direct application of DE to their chickens. Still, due to its drying characteristics and ability to cause respiratory issues, we feel it’s safer to use it as an indirect form of prevention in your chicken coop.
Second, it’s imperative to ensure you’ve selected the Food Grade version of diatomaceous earth for chickens when working with them.
There is another version of DE that is often used as a filtration method for swimming pools and water filters.
According to Ingredi.com, “Pool Grade diatomaceous earth is calcined, meaning it has been heat-treated and activated for use in filters. The high temperatures further harden the diatom exoskeletons, creating a better filtering agent.
This process also turns the silicon dioxide within the DE into crystalline silica. Some calcined DE products, including pool grade diatomaceous earth, can contain high concentrations.
Because crystalline silica is dangerous and can be harmful to both human and animal health, Pool/Filter Grade diatomaceous earth should only ever be used for filtration.”
Use Only Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth
In other words, the DE used in filtration systems has been altered. So, always make sure you’re only using the food-grade of diatomaceous earth for chickens.
Lastly, when using DE on the floor of your coop, ensure plenty of bedding on top of the DE. Unfortunately, the drying effect of DE can cause cracking on the bottom of your chickens’ feet if they are in direct contact with it.
This can lead to cracks, and wounds, on their feet and even infections, such as bumblefoot.
So be sure to have a generous layer of bedding between the DE and your chickens.
Should You Use Diatomaceous Earth Internally with Your Chickens?
When it comes to feeding DE to your chickens, the efficacy is currently unproven. Some believe that the sharpness of the DE particles will slice and kill the parasite inside of their birds.
However, others believe that the drying and slicing characteristics of DE are ineffective when introduced to so much moisture (i.e., in the chickens’ digestive system).
Furthermore, there is little research on the safety of using diatomaceous earth for chickens as consumption, so tread lightly if you decide to top dress your chickens’ feed with DE.
How to Use Diatomaceous Earth for Chickens
When planning your yearly care for your flock, I recommend implementing DE at least once every three months.
Here’s how to use DE:
1. Remove your Flock from the Coop
Remember, your chickens cannot inhale the particles of DE without having respiratory distress. So make sure everyone has moved a safe distance from the coop before you go to work on dusting the coop.
2. Clean the Soiled Bedding From the Coop
Remove all the old bedding from the coop and dispose of it far from your chicken’s home. Tagalong parasites can grab onto anything and find their way back to your chicken coop (including barn cat coats).
3. Allow the Coop to Dry
If you can afford to keep your chickens in a temporary space for a day or so, allow the flooring of your coop to dry naturally before adding DE.
This ensures the DE will have the best chances of coming into contact with any existing parasites.
4. Wear a Mask and Eyewear
Remember, you don’t want to inhale DE, as it is very sharp and dry. Additionally, it can be drying and irritating to the eyes…so eyewear is often necessary.
5. Open Windows
When it comes to DE, a little goes a long way, and that little will hang in the air for quite a while if there isn’t proper ventilation.
So, if possible, let some fresh air in before you begin spreading DE in your coop.
6. Spread the Diatomaceous Earth
Use a scoop to spread the food grade Diatomaceous Earth in every nook and cranny of your coop. Focus directly on the floor and any wood in the coop (red poultry mites hang out here).
Don’t forget to clean and dust the roosts in your coop (also a favorite place for mites).
7. Re-bed the Coop
Once the Diatomaceous Earth has settled, and the coop is clean, it’s time to re-bed the coop with your bedding of choice.
8. Check Chooks for Parasites
Before you add your chickens back to the coop, look them over for parasites that may already be hiding out between their feathers.
If needed, you can spray your chickens with an essential oil-based solution to kill existing external parasites before introducing them to their newly cleaned coop.
On the other hand, if the infestation is full-blown, a chemical spray may be the best option to save your flock.
9. Welcome Your Chickens Home
Once you’ve re-bedded the chicken coop with your favorite bedding, you can reintroduce your chickens to their home.
Make a Dust Bath with Diatomaceous Earth for Chickens
Nothing gets overlooked more than a dust bath when it comes to caring for chickens.
In fact, a dust bath is one of the best ways to help your chickens manage external parasites and body oils on their own.
And if you’ve ever let your chickens out of the coop and watched them dash for a sunny silty spot to fluff about in, you’ll know they’ll appreciate an easily accessible dust bath.
But If you’d like to, you can make a dust bath of diatomaceous earth for chickens, we recommend mixing fine dirt from your property with a small amount of DE.
As you know, chickens love to kick up dust when they’re bathing, so it’s important to manage the amount of DE in their baths, so they do not develop respiratory problems from the DE.
Diatomaceous Earth as an External Parasite Prevention Tool
In conclusion, You can use food grade diatomaceous earth to prevent external parasites from getting out of control naturally. Staying ahead of the ball when it comes to any parasite is key to saving your flock.
While we don’t recommend applying DE directly to your chickens, it is a safe tool to use on the surfaces your chickens come in contact with the most.