If you are new to keeping chickens, you’ve at this point probably heard a little bit of buzz about using something called diatomaceous earth that can help keep your birds healthy.
Lots of seasoned chicken keepers on farms and in backyards across the nation didn’t tell you wrong in this case.
Diatomaceous earth is one of the best natural resources for helping to keep your birds and their living spaces parasite free. No crazy chemicals, no medicines, no joke. Sound too good to be true? It’s not, I promise.
If you keep chickens you need to know about the benefits of diatomaceous earth, and this article will get you going and tell you everything you need to know.
What Is Diatomaceous Earth (DE)?
To those who don’t know any better, diatomaceous earth looks like an off-white or light gray powder or fine sand with a slightly abrasive feel.
It usually comes in large plastic bags or sturdy plastic tubs and it’s sold under a variety of brand names.
But here’s the first interesting thing you’re going to learn about diatomaceous earth: this isn’t some synthetic powder cranked out at a factory but is instead the ground-up fossilized remains of small marine creatures called diatoms, hence the name.
Over ages and many, many generations the outer shells of these small, dead creatures accumulated at the bottom of the ocean or lakes where they lived and fossilized.
These same fossilized shells are now mined, collected, and subsequently ground into this abrasive powder we know as diatomaceous earth.
It is an interesting origin story for what is a common and truly indispensable staple for keeping your flock healthy.
What are the Benefits of DE for Chickens?
DE has several benefits for chickens, but its best properties are in the realm of dealing with parasites and other pests that can harm or even, eventually, kill your birds.
It can work on worms, fleas, and especially mites (which are quite vulnerable to it) but it is also used as a nutritional supplement- it also contains important minerals that all chickens need.
But back to using it as a pest preventative and control solution, DE works by lacerating the exoskeletons of these nasty bugs, causing them to dehydrate, and in some cases the particles actually begin to penetrate the bugs themselves, inflicting injuries that will eventually kill them.
Compared to poisons and other specialized chemical treatments, it does not kill as quickly, but it definitely kills, and has the benefit of being all-natural and time-tested for safety.
In this regard, it functions wonderfully as a component in a dust bath, as a dedicated treatment for external parasites and as an area control method in and around the chicken coop, and also as a component of bedding.
This versatility is what makes DE so beloved by chicken keepers in the know. Chickens, unfortunately, routinely fall victim to all sorts of parasites and pests that can infest their feathers, the run, and the coop, and DE can deal with most of them.
Can Diatomaceous Earth Hurt Chickens?
Diatomaceous earth is generally highly safe for chickens, but it is abrasive and since it comes in the form of a fine dust it can present some hazards if inhaled, and it can also irritate the eyes of chickens or any open wounds.
This is usually only a concern if it is employed carelessly or you use way too much since dust is almost always a routine hazard for chickens anyway, particularly when they are scratching around in the coop through their bedding or getting busy with a dust bath.
Applied correctly with care for proper procedure and the right amount, DE has proven to be very safe for chickens.
Is Diatomaceous Earth Safe for You?
Diatomaceous earth is also generally safe for people, just like it is for chickens, but you do need to take care when handling it and applying it.
As mentioned above, this stuff is abrasive and is a hazard if it is inhaled. Inhaling any dust is bad, but DE also contains silica which can cause significant damage to lung tissue if inhaled in large quantities.
Also, just like chickens, it can cause profound irritation to your eyes if you get a large amount of it in or around them and will also irritate open wounds or broken skin.
These hazards are easy to manage by doing nothing more than managing airborne dust in application and always wearing a simple but appropriately rated dust mask when applying it to chicken coops or to chickens themselves.
As DE settles or mixes in with other substrates it will float around less and less, and the dust hazard subsides somewhat in short order.
Make Sure You Get Food Grade, NOT Filter Grade DE!
One thing you’ll want to be careful of when buying DE for your chickens is to make sure you’re buying food-grade DE and not filter-grade DE.
Although largely similar in composition, they are used for two different things and food grade DE, which is the one you want, has one major and important difference.
It contains mostly amorphous silica with very little if any crystalline silica. Filter grade DE usually has far more crystalline silica.
Crystalline silica is highly problematic because it is a special hazard when inhaled, perforating and harming lung tissue to eventually lead to a respiratory dysfunction called silicosis which can eventually be fatal.
This is why you always want to use food-grade DE on your chickens and around the chicken coop!
You don’t need to worry about this too much so long as you are paying attention when purchasing…
Food grade DE is invariably marked accordingly, but you can always check the label on the package for the presence of crystalline silica, and any product you’re going to use for our purposes should contain less than 1% of crystalline silica.
How Can You Use DE to Help Your Chickens?
Getting down to business, what exactly can you use DE for to help your flock? it turns out, this stuff has several excellent uses that many keepers swear by:
As an External Pest Treatment
Straight DE works wonderfully as a treatment for external pests that often plague chickens, things like mites, chiggers, fleas, ticks, and more.
You can apply a dusting of it once or twice a day to infested birds as needed for as long as required to eliminate the infestation.
Once the infestation is under control or eliminated, you can cease using the DE.
As a Dust Bath Ingredient
Diatomaceous earth works great as an ingredient in a dust bath, both for low-level but ongoing prevention of parasite infestation and also for overall health and appearance.
DE helps chickens clean their feathers and absorbs moisture, eliminating excess oil and water that can cause problems.
It is easy to incorporate by adding it to your usual dust bath when you mix it up, and refreshing it anytime you mix up a new batch.
In the Coop for Insect Control
Mixed in with bedding or ground cover it can provide continual protection, and also works as a dedicated insecticide by working it into cracks and crevices or even washing down surfaces with a solution of DE and water after a deep cleaning.
DE only functions when dry, but it will reactivate once the water evaporates!
Treating your coop with DE every 2 to 4 months is a good idea for continuous protection…
As a Dietary Supplement and Dewormer
Believe it or not, food-grade DE can be added to your chicken’s food or grit where it can provide them with much-needed minerals.
It also shows some efficacy in eliminating certain internal parasites, namely intestinal roundworms and flatworms.
This can be done on an intermittent basis as a food supplement or used sparingly as a regular component of grit.
If you suspect one of your chickens might be suffering from internal parasites, it is worth giving them a course of DE in this way before switching to other, more aggressive treatments.
How Much DE Should You Use for Your Chickens?
How much diatomaceous earth you need for your chickens is dependent on what you are using it for.
This concerns both the quantity of a treatment option and also the frequency of treatment over time, so knowing this will help you plan your purchase accordingly.
For External Pests
When treating chickens for external pests, you’ll want to use a small handful, approximately three heaping tablespoons, that you manually work into their feathers and against their skin where needed, taking care to avoid getting it in their eyes.
If you are able, secure the chicken and cover their head while treating it.
In the Dust Bath
Depending on the size of the dust bath you are mixing up and the quantity of other components, you’ll want to add anywhere from half a cup to 1 cup of DE to the mix.
DE should never be the primary component, and a little bit goes a long way when your chickens will be using it repeatedly over time.
You generally don’t need to refresh the existing dust bath mix with DE until it is time to start over with it completely.
In the Coop
Treating the chicken coop with DE will vary depending on the severity of the infestation and the method of application.
If you are treating cracks, crevices and other usual hidey holes for bugs and other critters use as much DE as necessary to pack and work it in.
If mixing in with clean bedding after replacement, a half cup to a cup is usually sufficient for a typical medium to large chicken coop.
If you’re going to be using the DE as a preventative wash post-deep cleaning, consult the package because most will have instructions for mixing it with a given quantity of water.
As a Supplement / Dewormer
When using diatomaceous earth as a mineral supplement or as a treatment for internal parasites just add a pinch, a literal pinch, to the food or grit that you give your chickens.
This will add up over time, and keep in mind that DE takes time to work compared to harsh chemical treatments and other medicines.
Alternatives to Diatomaceous Earth for Chickens
When it comes to all-natural solutions to all the above problems, DE isn’t the only way to go. Some keepers prefer using lime for the same purposes, even though lime should not be given as a nutritional supplement.
Lime can absorb odor and moisture and it also has pest-repellent and insecticidal properties, particularly against larger insects like ants and termites.
However, lime is generally riskier than de overall because it can cause chemical burns on contact, and there are many different kinds of lime with only one or two being safe for use around animals.
the only line you should use around your chicken coop, property, and chickens is agricultural lime, sometimes called barn lime or coop lime.
You should never, ever use common hardware store lime, hydrated lime, or mason’s lime because this will cause severe injuries to your chickens.
Treating the chicken coop with DE every 2 to 4 months is generally adequate depending on the frequency of clean-out or the severity of infestation.
Food grade de suitable for use on and around your chickens is regularly available at livestock supply and farm supply stores, sometimes at pet stores, and occasionally at garden centers. Always remember to check that crystalline silica content!
Generally not. So long as it is used in moderation and property, food grade de does not present significantly more dust hazard than any other material.
Again, always make sure you wear proper protective equipment when using it.
No. Unlike lime and other products, diatomaceous earth is chemically non-reactive with pretty much all common cleansers and other chemicals in use around your home or farm yard.
Tom has lived and worked on farms and homesteads from the Carolinas to Kentucky and beyond. He is passionate about helping people prepare for tough times by embracing lifestyles of self-sufficiency.