All About Diatomaceous Earth

Diatomaceous earth is one of the recommended items for when you get chickens.  I kept calling it dichotomous earth (which would be earth that isn’t earth, I guess) until my wife got my pronunciation fixed.

How Do You Use Diatomaceous Earth With Chickens?

For chickens you should only ever use FOOD GRADE diatomaceous earth (DE).  It’s possible to buy DE that’s used to clean swimming pools, but this isn’t safe for use around chickens (or people).

DE is used mostly for pest (insect) control.  It can be added to your chickens’ feed (around 2%), bedding, coop floor, run and dust bath.  You should be careful not to inhale it when spreading it around, wear a mask and make sure the areas you’re applying it to are well ventilated.

It is considered to be an organic pest control.

What *IS* Diatomaceous Earth?

Discovered in 1836, DE is fossilize diatoms – a small, single-celled algae responsible for roughly 1/4 of all photosynthesis on earth.  After they died, the water they were in dried up and were preserved in fossilized form.  These mineral deposits are rough and porous and have been useful in many applications from dynamite to toothpaste to water filters to pest control.

The difference between food and pool grade DE depends on where it is mined and how it is processed.  Part of the processing for pool grade DE includes high heat which converts the silicon dioxide in it to crystalline silica.  Crystalline silica is dangerous to both humans and animals.  There isn’t a significant difference between white and grey DE.

How Does Diatomaceous Earth Kill Insects?

When an insect comes into contact with DE, it works its way under their shell and punctures the insect’s body with microscopic sharp edges.  This absorbs moisture from the insect, causing it to die from dehydration.

Other than some concerns about inhaling DE and causing lung damage, humans and chickens don’t have exoskeletons and aren’t at any risk from the DE.

Additionally, because it’s causing physical damage to the insects, they don’t build resistance to DE the way they do to chemical toxins.  Also, there isn’t a concern about DE moving through the food chain the way toxins would.

You can buy diatomaceous earth at Amazon, Walmart, hardware stores and most home supply stores.

Do you use diatomaceous earth with your chickens?  How do you handle bugs?