Anybody who keeps chickens ought to know about diatomaceous earth and why it’s such a marvelous and smart thing to regularly offer to your flock.
I’m going to suggest right here that if you want the healthiest chickens possible (and of course, you do!) you ought to be buying diatomaceous earth as regularly as you buy chicken feed. Hey–look at me, being all decisive and whatnot! (Reubennnnnn! Take note! Write this day on the calendar!)
In fact. I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that–next to fresh water and decent food, plenty of sunshine and dirt to peck in . . . the occasional hug, perhaps–DE could easily be one of the most important things that you can give to your chickens every day.
On my blog, some of the most popular posts that folks pull up to read every day are the posts about eggs. My top-viewed post, most days, is this one where I shared a few easy tricks for how you can tell which of your hens is laying, and which are taking time off. Another very popular post is this one, inwhich I share a few tips on what I do for my chooks so they lay the most eggs possible–through the winter, especially. I’ve been keeping chickens at our place for nearly fifteen years now, without a single day off.
I love my birds, I do. One of my favorite things to do, first thing every morning, is to loiter at the chicken yard gate and watch my flock eat their breakfast for a few minutes, before I return to the house and all the
dustandlaundry marvelous opportunities for service therein. 🙂 *sigh*
Chickens are awesome, folks. There are lots of reasons why I’m happy that it is so trendy to keep a few chickens. I’m happy for you, in fact, if you keep a few at your place. If you don’t, I feel a gentle bit of sorrow for you. And here’s the deal, and pardon me for delving into the *duhhh* realm of the Blatantly Obvious Statements, but here it is: simply put, the healthier your chickens are, the more eggs they will lay.
Seems too simply obvious to be true, doesn’t it? Let’s tweet it, okay? (Doesn’t your twitter feed need a bit of chicken wisdom?) (Yes, I’m pretty sure it does.)
That’s not rocket science, is it? Chickens are designed to lay eggs. If they are in the peak of health, they will do what they are designed to do. If for some reason (or combination of reasons) they are not in the best of health, they won’t lay as many–or they’ll have problems of one sort or another. If they are fat and overfed? They won’t lay as many eggs. If they are underfed, or thirsty for fresh water, or being fed low-grade food, or too crowded or stressed or whatever, well, you get the idea.
I could draw a human parallel here . . . but I think I won’t go there. And you’re welcome. I’ll just pause a minute to let you think about it.
Done? Okay, let’s proceed . . .
This is the realm in chicken keeping, by the way, where Diatomaceous earth comes in. Here’s your science lesson for the day, and *curtsy* you’re welcome, my dear. Diatamaceous earth, or DE, is made from fossilized, microscopic, hard-shelled algae called diatoms. It kills fleas, ticks, mites, and parasites in the most ingenious (and effective!) way you can imagine: it slices into the outer shell of their bodies. Yuck, huh. And cool.
Yuck and cool.
Now here’s your vocabulary lesson for the day, and *deep bow* happy to help, mon cher. Desiccation is what this grisly process is called, and believe me, you wouldn’t want it to happen to you. Abso-positively-not. Most of the bitty critters die within a matter of hours. Which is good for you and/or your chickens, not so good for them (the bugs). Évidemment. (That’s French for “obviously.”)
Science and vocabulary lessons, in one fell swoop. Not to mention French! Think of how much smarter you are now, than when you started reading this! It fairly boggles the mind, doesn’t it?
Now here’s the great part that you can use, especially for your chicken flock. There were studies done a few years ago, where researchers added DE to the feed of chicken flocks. I’ve been reading about the studies here (you can, too, if you wanna) and they are impressive. My PhD hubby would be impressed with me, reading research with control groups and whatnot.
Here’s the gist of it: the effectiveness of DE as a treatment for parasites, and to increase feed efficiency and egg production of organically raised free-range hens was studied in two breeds of commercial egg layers. The two breeds differed in their resistance to parasites, to begin with. The DE given to the more parasite-resistant breed, the Lowmann Brown (or LB) hens, didn’t significantly affect their parasite load. However, the less parasite-resistant breed, the Boven Brown (BB) hens, given the DE, showed much less of a parasite problem than the ones that weren’t given DE.
More excitingly, though, (please don’t go to sleep on me here, this is the cool part that you and your chooks could benefit from!) both flocks, the BB and the LB hens that were fed the diet containing DE were significantly heavier and laid more eggs, and consumed more feed than hens fed the control diet, but feed efficiency did not differ between the 2 dietary treatments. One more thing: the BB hens consuming the DE diet laid larger eggs containing more albumen and yolk than hens consuming the control diet.
So–to make a long study short–if you feed your chooks DE, they will have fewer parasites and will be heavier and lay more and better eggs. Pretty cool, huh?
See why I was so excited when I learned this? And why I’ve been feeling a bit guilty for not sharing it with you, my chicken-loving friends, before now? Oh well. Water under the bridge, eh? Water under the bridge.
Well, there was this, too: both breeds of hens that were dusted with DE had a reduced number of mites. Mites can be a real problem for chickens, as you may or may not know, and one of the reasons that you’ll see your chooks burrow down into the dirt to take fluttering, ecstatic baths in the dust.
Here are a few quick tips for how to add DE to your flock’s feed:
- Only use “Food Grade” DE, as in the link above.
- Try to add about 2% DE to your feed. What I do: I scoop a cup or two of food grade DE and mix it in, every time I dump a bag of crumbles and a bucket full of corn to the feed bin that I keep out by my chicken coop. Don’t let it get wet! DE is not effective if it gets wet, even just a little bit. So my chooks get a bit of beneficial DE every time they eat a meal.
- Adding DE to your chooks’ feed supply boosts the nutrition of your flock, by adding many valuable trace minerals.
- And an added benefit: stirring DE into your chooks’ grain keeps bugs from living in it.
Okay, and the benefits of using DE extend to better conditions of your nesting boxes and perches too, since that’s where mites* like to hang out (well, and on your chickens, too). Here’s how you can take advantage of this.
- Every time you clean out your nesting boxes (I do a quick swipe of my nesting boxes, usually, once a week), sprinkle a bit of DE into them, before you replace with fresh straw or hay or wood chips or whatever you stuff into your nesting boxes. (I use a mixture of hay, straw, and/or dry leaves. FYI.)
- Rub DE along roosts and into nooks and crannies of your coop, where those mites like to hang out. Use work gloves to do this. It can really dry your skin.
- Sprinkling DE in some of your flocks’ favorite dust-bathing spots (they all have them!) is a great way to help your chickens get as much DE as possible into their feathers, down to the skin where the mites live. But remember that once it gets wet, you’ll have to reapply it.
Want to learn more? Here’s the original information that inspired this post.
How safe is DE for you, if you choose to give it to your flock? As long as you use food grade DE, it’s perfectly safe. Of course, if you have respiratory allergies of any kind, I’d use common sense and a face mask when you work with it, like you would if you worked with any dusty substance. And I certainly wouldn’t hang out in the coop after you spread it around, at least until the air clears.
But you already knew that.
There ya go, my dear chicken-loving friends. One more piece of the puzzle to fit together, on how to have the healthiest and most productive flock that you can! (And you’re welcome.)
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