can baby chickens eat diatomaceous earth

Diatomaceous Earth & Chicks: Is it Safe to Eat for Baby Chickens?



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It was a sunny Saturday morning last spring when I got the bright idea to try and deal with some pests hassling my hens using a natural method.

I’d heard folks raving about this stuff called diatomaceous earth, saying it could get rid of bugs without any nasty chemicals.

Thinking I was quite the clever chick wrangler, I figured I’d give the chickens a dust bath with a bit of DE sprinkled in to soak up any critters hiding in their feathers.

Boy howdy, I could not have been more wrong with that harebrained scheme.

Within minutes those baby chicks were kicking up more dust than a tumbleweed in a category 5 dust devil.

The powder was flying everywhere till you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face through the thick clouds.

That’s when the panic started to set in that I may have just poisoned my whole flock through my foolish mistake.

I asked myself: “can baby chickens eat diatomaceous earth?” 

The short answer is:

Baby chickens can ingest small amounts of diatomaceous earth without harm, but should it really be directly introduced into their dust baths?

It’s best to avoid direct feeding and keep DE away from areas where they’d be likely to peck and eat it.

Did you know that diatomaceous earth is made from the fossilized remains of a type of hard-shelled algae called diatoms?

I sure didn’t know about their origins before this incident, but I learned diatoms are a very common form of plankton found in bodies of water.

The powder is super abrasive though, and could damage little chicks’ delicate throats and crops if they swallowed too big a mouthful by mistake.

After working myself into quite a tizzy for a good half hour, I busted out my farmer’s almanac trying to find answers.

Much to my relief, it said DE was non-toxic to chickens and other poultry as long as it wasn’t a major part of their diet.

Whew doggie, you could have knocked me over with a feather when I read that!

My flock was just enjoying the dust bath like any normal chick would in their playpen.

From then on I was more careful only to lightly dust areas they wouldn’t be directly eating from to prevent any more dust-nado scares.

How I Learned My Lesson On Proper DE Application

can baby chickens eat diatomaceous earth

Let me tell you, that sure was a wake up call that I needed to be more thoughtful in how I used diatomaceous earth around the chickens.

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Just tossing handfuls into their dust bath like confetti at a parade was clearly not the smart move.

After much research and asking the local feed store gals for advice, here’s what I found to be the safest practices:

First off, only sprinkling a thin, even layer of DE along coop flooring, walls and nesting boxes.

This puts down a barrier without clouds of the stuff floating around for them to accidentally breathe in or eat.

Secondly, keeping it far away from any feed or water sources is key so they don’t track it into their food.

Sweep up excess piles that could blow into areas they like to dust bathe or rest to minimize contact further.

And reapply every 4-6 weeks or as needed if signs of pests reappear is a good standard to keep things under control.

Following these simple steps goes a long way versus my harebrained antics that day for sure!

Alternative Chemical-Free Pest Control Options If You’re Unsure About DE

can baby chickens eat diatomaceous earth

While diatomaceous earth can be very effective, it’s not the only natural way to keep poultry pests at bay either.

Especially if you’re new to raising chickens or just aren’t 100% comfortable with the proper use of DE yet, don’t feel like it’s your only choice.

Food-grade diatomaceous earth is less abrasive and sharp if you do want to stick with it.

Another great organic method is making a neem oil spray using cold-pressed neem extract mixed with water to discourage mites, lice and more.

I’ve also found mixing crushed garlic cloves or dried hot peppers into dust bath substrates and nesting shavings helps deter unwanted crawlies naturally.

Even something as simple as daily spot cleaning up debris they could harbor in and routine coop check-ins works wonders at staying on top of minor infestations too.

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With some trial and error playing around with different methods, you’ll discover what best protects your peeps without the risk of DE disasters like I faced early on.

Understanding The Purpose of Diatomaceous Earth

can baby chickens eat diatomaceous earth

Now that we’ve covered the proper usage and potential issues, let’s dive into what exactly makes DE such a pest deterrent.

The fossilized remains of diatoms form a very fine silica powder full of tiny, sharp cell structures called frustules.

These frustules are what give DE its abrasive texture at a microscopic level.

When insects walk through or directly contact the powder, the frustules act likes thousands of tiny knives cutting into their exoskeletons.

The cuts and abrasions cause the bugs to dehydrate as their waxy protective coatings become damaged and moisture escapes.

This desiccating effect is what kills soft-bodied pests within a day or two after exposure to the powder.

Harder shelled bugs may not die immediately, but the damage prevents them from laying eggs and hinders mobility making reinfestations less likely.

It’s a completely non-toxic mode of action that just exploits the natural properties of diatom cell walls for pest elimination.

Making Your Own Food-Grade Diatomaceous Earth

can baby chickens eat diatomaceous earth

While you can buy pre-processed food-grade DE, harvesting your own can be easier on the wallet if done properly.

Look for places with exposed clay, shale or limestone substrate that has been weathered over time.

Riverbeds, lake shores, and drainage ditches tend to concentrate natural deposits that slough off from surrounding hills.

Use a small shovel or trowel to scrape off the top powder-rich layer into a dust pan or bucket.

Avoid grinding or crushing existing rock formations to source from as that destroys the delicate structures.

Air dry the raw material completely then sift through different mesh sizes to separate finer powder.

The result will have fewer points of abrasion vs commercial grades but still gets the job done naturally.

With some trial and error, you’ll be able to harvest effective homegrown DE for a fraction of retail prices.

Common Pests That Diatomaceous Earth Deters

can baby chickens eat diatomaceous earth

Both crawling and flying insect pests can be controlled using DE as a natural repellent.

Some of the most common bug problems it helps solve for poultry owners include:

Chicken mites, lice and northern fowl mites that feed on feathers and skin.

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Area-dwelling pests like spiders, ants, cockroaches and silverfish in nesting boxes and living quarters.

Flies that can vector parasites and diseases when they congregate are highly susceptible.

Fleas hitching rides on pet animals or wild visitors tracking them inside coops.

Stored grain pests like grain weevils, beetles and moths can infest feed areas.

Outside the coop, DE acts as a deterrent for snails, slugs and sowbugs in gardens or grazing areas.

By understanding which insects it repels, you can strategically apply to help solve specific bothering behaviors.

How Much Diatomaceous Earth To Use In Chicken Coops

Figuring out proper application rates is important to get full benefits without overdoing it.

For average sized flocks of 6-12 birds in a small coop, 1/2 – 1 cup of DE is adequate.

Larger operations housing several dozen chickens may need 2-4 cups total spread out.

As a general rule, aim to lightly dust problem zones like this:

1/4 cup along 50-100 sq ft of floor space and coop walls.

1 tbsp per nesting box and roosting bar area.

1 tsp around each feed and water station.

Reapply every 4-6 weeks or sooner if pests seem to be returning rapidly.

More is not better with DE – using just enough to coat surfaces lightly works wonders long-term.

Tips For Incorporating DE Into Free-Range Pastures

Free-ranging chickens bring many benefits but also pest challenges beyond the coop.

DE can still help provide protection when they venture further afield to forage naturally.

Look for areas they like to dust bathe or take shelter from sun/rain under trees.

Lightly dusting around the parameter of these spots acts as a barrier deterrent.

For larger pastures, use a hand-cranked fertilizer spreader to evenly distribute DE.

Targeting 1/4-1/2 cup per 100-200 sq ft of active grazing zones works well.

Reapply every 2-4 weeks or as weather washes it away keeping pests at bay.

Using smart, limited applications outdoors lets your flock enjoy the range pest-free naturally.

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