Diatomaceous Earth for Chickens: Benefits & How to Use

Small pile of diatomaceous earth for chickens

Diatomaceous earth for chickens is a topic that’s catching the attention of many chicken owners these days. You might have heard about this natural, powdery substance and wondered what all the fuss is about.

This fine powder has a bunch of uses that can really help in taking care of your chickens. But what makes it truly stand out is its simplicity – it’s easy to use and gentle on both chickens and the environment.

In this article, we’ll explore the many ways in which diatomaceous earth can benefit your chickens and why it’s worth considering as a valuable addition to your chicken-keeping toolkit.

What Is Diatomaceous Earth and How Does It Work?

A bag of diatomaceous earth

Diatomaceous earth (DE) is a naturally occurring substance that has various uses, including applications for chickens. It’s made from the fossilized remains of tiny aquatic organisms known as diatoms.

These diatoms’ skeletons are made of a natural substance called silica. Over time, they accumulate in the sediment of rivers, streams, lakes, and oceans, turning into diatomaceous earth.

DE works in a fascinating way. It’s a fine powder that feels soft to humans but is incredibly sharp and abrasive at a microscopic level.

This quality makes it effective against insects and internal parasites that might affect chickens.

When these bugs come into contact with DE, it essentially scratches away their exoskeletons or outer coatings, which causes them to dehydrate and die.

Is Diatomaceous Earth Safe for Your Chickens?

When it comes to the safety of diatomaceous earth for chickens, the consensus is that it’s generally safe, especially when used correctly.

What’s great about DE is that it’s not a chemical but a mechanical killer, which makes it a safer alternative to traditional pesticides.

The key to its safety lies in using the right type of DE. There are different grades of diatomaceous earth, but for chickens, it’s crucial to use food-grade DE.

This type is safe for chickens to ingest, which is important because chickens might peck at anything in their environment, including DE.

Benefits of Diatomaceous Earth for Chickens

Chicken standing in sand mixed with diatomaceous earth

Diatomaceous earth is a versatile, natural product that offers several benefits for chicken keepers. From pest management to improving coop conditions, DE is a valuable addition to any poultry keeper’s toolkit.

Below are some key advantages of using diatomaceous earth with chickens.

1. Pest Control

One of the most significant benefits of diatomaceous earth is its ability to control external parasites like mites, lice, flies, and fleas.

In fact, a study showed that DE is very good at controlling poultry red mite populations, which is a big problem for chickens. The study found that DE works just as well, if not better, than other methods that use chemicals.

It kills these mites by damaging their outer layer, causing them to dry out. However, the study also mentioned that DE might not work as well if it gets too humid.

In another study, researchers found that diatomaceous earth can also affect the reproduction of houseflies. This means that DE doesn’t just kill the bugs; it can also reduce the number of new bugs that are born.

Hence, by sprinkling DE in the coop and dust-bathing areas, chicken keepers can maintain a pest-free environment for their flock.

2. Natural Wormer

DE is also known for its potential as a natural wormer. A study involving two breeds of commercial egg layers found that when DE was mixed into their feed at a concentration of 2%, there was a marked decrease in worm issues.

But that’s not all. The chickens eating DE didn’t just have fewer worms; they were also healthier in other ways. They gained more weight, laid more eggs, and even had fewer mites.

This suggests that diatomaceous earth not only helps in controlling worms but also contributes to the overall health and productivity of the chickens.

However, it’s important to approach the use of DE with realistic expectations. While it offers benefits, especially for mild to moderate parasite problems, it may not be as effective for severe worm infestations or against all worm types.

3. Odor Control

Another benefit of using diatomaceous earth in chicken coops is its ability to absorb moisture and reduce odors. Chicken coops can sometimes develop strong, unpleasant smells.

DE helps keep the environment cleaner and more pleasant by absorbing excess moisture and neutralizing odors. This not only makes the coop more comfortable for the chickens but also for the people taking care of them.

How to Use Diatomaceous Earth for Chickens

Diatomaceous earth powder in jar

Using diatomaceous earth for chickens is a simple and effective way to enhance their health and living conditions. Here’s how to use it under different scenarios:

1. In the Chicken Coop

When it comes to the chicken coop, spreading food-grade DE in key areas is crucial. Focus on the nooks and crannies, especially around nest boxes, perches, and any cracks or crevices where pests like mites might hide. 

Regular application is important for maintaining its effectiveness, especially during warmer months when pests are more active.

However, while applying DE, it’s essential to minimize the dust in the air to avoid respiratory issues for both you and the chickens. A light, even distribution is best, and wearing a mask during application can be a good precaution.

Pro Tip: Make a ‘DE Puff Ball’ by filling a small, breathable fabric bag, like an old sock, with food-grade diatomaceous earth. Gently tap it around the coop for a mess-free, even distribution.

It’s a mess-free method that allows for even distribution. Plus, it’s a reusable tool that makes regular DE applications a breeze.

2. In Chicken Feed

Mixing diatomaceous earth into the chickens’ feed is another way to use this natural product. A general guideline is to maintain a ratio of about 2% of DE to the total feed.

This method is not just beneficial for controlling internal parasites but also adds essential minerals to the chickens’ diet.

It’s important to monitor the chickens’ consumption of the DE-mixed feed and adjust the amount as necessary, ensuring it’s evenly distributed throughout the feed.

If you’d like to know more about how to incorporate diatomaceous earth into your chicken feed, be sure to check out this video:

Showing how to mix diatomaceous earth with chicken feed

3. For Dust Bathing

Chickens naturally take dust baths to maintain their feather health and control external parasites. By adding diatomaceous earth to their dust bathing areas, you can enhance the effectiveness of this natural behavior.

Incorporating DE into the dust bathing mix for chickens has been a game-changer in my experience.

I create a blend with about 60% sand and soil for a natural base, then add 20% DE for parasite control and 20% wood ash for minerals.

This mix has proven perfect for my chickens. They thoroughly enjoy it, and I’ve noticed they’re healthier and happier, with their feathers looking better than ever.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

When using diatomaceous earth for chickens, it’s important to avoid these common mistakes to ensure the safety and health of your flock:

  • Using the wrong kind: Always use food-grade DE for chickens. Some people mistakenly use industrial-grade DE, which is not safe for poultry. Food-grade DE is the only type that’s safe for chickens to ingest and be around.
  • Overapplication: A little diatomaceous earth goes a long way. Too much can create a dusty environment, which isn’t good for breathing.
  • Ignoring protective gear: When applying DE, it’s a good idea to wear a mask to avoid inhaling the dust. Even food-grade DE can be irritating to the lungs when inhaled in large amounts.
  • Not reapplying as needed: Diatomaceous earth isn’t a one-time solution. It needs to be reapplied regularly, especially after rain or cleaning the coop, to maintain its effectiveness.
  • Applying directly to chickens: While some people apply DE directly to their chickens, this can be too drying for their skin and feathers. It’s generally safer to add DE to their dust bathing areas instead of applying it directly to their bodies.
  • Disregarding proper mixing: When adding diatomaceous earth to feed as a supplement, make sure to mix it well. Failing to do so can result in chickens avoiding their food, as DE may form clumps or create an unpalatable texture.

By avoiding these common errors, you can use diatomaceous earth effectively and safely to benefit your chickens.

Remember, DE is a helpful tool in your chicken care toolkit, but it should be used correctly and as part of a broader strategy for maintaining the health of your flock.

Choosing the Right Diatomaceous Earth

Food grade diatomaceous earth for chickens
Editorial credit: Kristi Blokhin / Shutterstock.com

When choosing diatomaceous earth for your chickens, it’s essential to pick the right kind to ensure safety and effectiveness. Always go for food-grade DE. This type is safe for your chickens to be around and even eat.

You don’t want to use the industrial-grade DE that’s used for things like swimming pools; that stuff can be bad for your chickens.

Food-grade DE should be pure, without any added chemicals or fragrances, to avoid any potential harm to the chickens.

It’s also important to check that the DE contains less than 2% crystalline silica, as higher levels can be harmful when inhaled.

The particle size of DE matters as well; a fine powder is ideal for easy mixing into feed or spreading in the coop. Also, remember to keep the DE in a dry, cool place so it stays effective.

Where to Buy Diatomaceous Earth for Your Flock

Finding diatomaceous earth for your chickens is quite easy, as it’s available in several places. You can buy food-grade DE from various sources:

  • Online Retailers: Websites like Amazon offer a wide range of DE products suitable for chickens. You can find different brands and sizes, making it easy to choose one that fits your needs. Shopping online also allows you to read customer reviews, which can be helpful in selecting a quality product.
  • Local Feed Stores: Many feed stores carry DE as it’s a common product used for livestock and poultry care. Buying from a local feed store gives you the advantage of getting advice from the store staff, who can provide useful tips on how to use the product effectively.
  • Garden Centers and Hardware Stores: Some garden centers and hardware stores stock DE, especially those that have a section for farm or poultry supplies.
  • Specialized Poultry Supply Stores: Stores that specialize in poultry supplies are likely to have DE. These stores often offer a range of products specifically for chicken care, so you might find other useful items there as well.

With these options, you should be able to easily find and purchase diatomaceous earth for your flock.

Alternative to Diatomaceous Earth for Chickens

If you’re looking for something different than diatomaceous earth for your chickens, there are some great alternatives out there. Here are a few:

  • Herbs: Common herbs like lavender, mint, and rosemary can help keep your chicken coop pest-free. Scatter some in their nesting boxes or dust-bathing areas. They not only smell good but also help deter bugs.
  • Neem Oil: Applying neem oil directly to the chickens’ legs or feathers with a brush or spray creates a protective film that helps control parasites. What’s great about neem oil is that insects don’t become immune to it, unlike some other types of pesticides.
  • Wood Ash: Chickens love rolling around in wood ash, and it’s good for them as well. It helps keep mites and lice off, just like DE does.
  • Sulfur Dust: Sulfur dust is another alternative for parasite control in chickens. It’s known for its ability to repel mites and lice. When used in dust baths or applied to areas where chickens roost, sulfur dust can be an effective way to keep parasites at bay.
  • Garden Lime: Garden lime works almost identically to DE. It can help keep your chicken coop clean and reduce odors. It also helps in controlling bacteria and pests.

These natural alternatives are great for keeping your chickens healthy and happy, especially if you’re looking for options other than diatomaceous earth.

Each one has its own benefits and can be chosen based on what works best for your flock.

Frequently Asked Questions

Small pile of diatomaceous earth powder on table

How Often Should I Apply Diatomaceous Earth to My Chickens?

It’s best to apply diatomaceous earth every 2 to 3 months and more frequently if you’re dealing with an active pest problem, like once a week.

Moreover, it’s important to reapply DE after rain or if the coop becomes damp, as moisture can reduce its effectiveness.

Can You Give Chickens Too Much Diatomaceous Earth?

While DE is generally safe for chickens, it’s possible to give them too much. Overuse during application can lead to respiratory issues, both for the chickens and for you.

When adding DE to their feed, it’s important to mix it well and keep it to a small percentage of their overall diet. Excessive amounts in their feed can lead to avoidance due to changes in texture or taste.

Can Chickens Dust Bathe in Diatomaceous Earth?

Sure, chickens can definitely take dust baths in diatomaceous earth. It’s actually good for them because it helps keep away mites and lice.

When using DE for your chicken’s dust bath, just remember to use the food-grade kind and mix it with other materials like regular dirt or sand so it’s not too dusty for them.

Is Garden-Safe Diatomaceous Earth the Same As Food Grade?

Garden-safe diatomaceous earth is not the same as food-grade DE. While both are used for pest control, the main difference lies in their safety for consumption.

Food-grade DE is safe to eat and is often used in animal feed, whereas garden-safe DE is specifically formulated for pest control in gardens and should not be consumed.

Scientific References

CD Martin, BA Mullens Housing and dustbathing effects on northern fowl mites (Ornithonyssus sylviarum) and chicken body lice (Menacanthus stramineus) on hens Med Vet Entomol (2012)

DC Bennett, et al. Effect of diatomaceous earth on parasite load, egg production, and egg quality of free-range organic laying hens. Poult Sci. (2011)

Islam, M. S., Rahman, M. M. Diatomaceous Earth-Induced Alterations in the Reproductive Attributes in the Housefly Musca domestica L. (Diptera: Muscidae). Elixir Applied Zoology (2016)

Maurer, Veronika, and Erika Perler Silicas for control of the poultry red mite Dermanyssus gallinae The Research Institute of Organic Agriculture FiBL (2006)

Robert Alex Isabirye, et al. Efficacy of Diatomaceous Earth on Ascaridia galli, Blood Parameters, and on Ectoparasites in Chicken Journal of Agricultural Science and Food Technology Vol. 5 (2019)

Ulrichs C, et al. Management of the poultry red mite, Dermanyssus gallinae, using silica-based acaricides Exp Appl Acarol. (2020)

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