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An interesting article on DE (DIATOMACEOUS EARTH)

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by Guinea Goonie, Dec 28, 2008.

  1. Was doing some research on chicken diseases. It takes such a long time these days that I use my Sunday down time now. Anyhow, I ran across this article. So many of you all like DE.

    DIATOMACEOUS EARTH (DE) is not ‘dirt’. In plain English it is naturally occurring crystalline silica, found in the earth. Another understandable description would be razor sharp microscopic diatoms (the crystalline silica skeletons of prehistoric aquatic plants) with intricate geometric forms - think microscopic snowflakes. The breakdown properties of diatoms in our environment are similar to that of glass. No type of acid will break it down - so it is not broken down in the digestive tract. (Hydrofluoric acid will break it down but that is extremely poisonous.)

    Although there is some discussion as to whether DE is largely noncrystalline, samples can be found to contain varying amounts of crystalline quartz, so for the purpose of this article, I’ll assume we cannot guarantee that all DE purchased for the purpose of using as a natural parasite control agent, isn’t crystalline in nature – and therein lies a certain risk.

    The use of DE has become quite common among both fanciers and backyard flock owners for a variety of things, such as a natural insecticide, a natural wormer, and to control odors. I’ve seen suggested uses from mixing it right into poultry feed for ingestion to sprinkling it down on the floor prior to adding new bedding. There is more than one form of DE. ‘Food grade’ is usually the only version recommended for use with poultry. Other grades are for use in things such as swimming pool filters.

    DE works as an insecticide by making microscopic cuts in the flesh of a worm, which in turn, makes the worm dehydrate and die. By using it in the feed, fanciers believe that the DE becomes a natural wormer by killing the worms in the gut by the same method. However, I have heard this disputed by some Veterinarians. In theory, if the microscopic cuts on the worms, and the subsequent dehydration were the reason for the parasite’s death, then it would stand to reason that DE would not be effective in the gut. Since the gut is a moist environment, the worms would not dehydrate.

    Fanciers also believe that DE controls odors in the pen when sprinkling it about prior to laying down new bedding. And it is often added as one of the ingredients in a homemade dust bath for chickens.

    I have some concerns about the use of DE that I would like to share with you. The further research and decision to use it or not is strictly up to you. I personally do not use it, but I know many fanciers who swear by it. My concern is that there seems to be a general consensus out there that would indicate that most people believe this to be a ‘natural’ product with no health risks. My desire is to give you some things to consider on the down side – since all I have seen has been on the up side.

    First, by its very nature and structure, once ingested or inhaled, I don’t believe that the bird can expel this material easily, if at all. It is considered a serious human health risk if inhaled, and exposure to it occupationally has been the subject of much controversy with OSHA and NIOSH. It is believed to cause diseases such as lung cancer (silicosis), and carries some of the same risks as exposure to asbestos. You should never breath the dust created by DE if you work with it around your birds – wear a mask if you do.

    DE absorbs 1.5 to 4 times its weight of water and also has an extremely high absorption rate of oils. Food grade DE is commonly used to keep things dry and from ‘clumping’, as in pancake and cake flour, etc. Industrial grade DE has been used to control or absorb large spills. Mixed into the poultry feed for ingestion, I would imagine that DE could have the same affect. I am concerned that it could rob your bird of needed hydration, and oil based vitamin supplements, etc. A loss of hydration can be a serious event for any bird, but especially a hen in production. An accumulation of DE in the crop or the gut has the potential of causing a blockage.

    I am not sure how effective DE can be to control internal parasites, but I am concerned about its use on an otherwise fragile bird that may be suffering from a mild case of coccidiosis or bacterial enteritis, in which cases the intestinal lining would already be raw and fragile. I would imagine that the DE could become a further irritant under those circumstances. A gloriously healthy bird with a great gut may be in no danger whatsoever, but I know from poultry health studies that many gut infections go largely undetected by the fancier.

    For the same reason that it is recommended by OSHA that a dust mask or respirator be worn when working with DE, I do not recommend its use for a bird’s dust bath. They would be breathing in the silica at an alarming rate, and I don’t believe they can absorb or expel the vast majority of what they’ve brought in. This may explain some of the cases of asthma-like breathing that can occur in poultry with no apparent illness or treatment success.

    It may be very true that the use of DE in the pen under bedding is a great odor control agent, but again, one must consider the fact that chickens scratch and create ‘dust’ – which both you and your birds breathe – perhaps without even knowing that it is floating in the air.

    I realize that this subject will bring some debate by those who believe in DE religiously. I understand your commitment to the product. The purpose of this article is simply to make sure that those who have made a conscious decision to use DE, have done so after considering the risks. In many cases, it may in fact prove to be very effective in the short term. However, I receive more and more email from fanciers who would like not only good health for their birds, but also long life – and I believe that the use of DE is counterproductive to that goal.

  2. Wildsky

    Wildsky Wild Egg!

    Oct 13, 2007
    Hmmmmmmmmm I wonder if the DE absorbing oils could be a problem. I had a duck get wet (odd [​IMG]) and the water stayed long enough to freeze. I was thinking there could be an issue with oil production.... I havenj't sprinkled de for a while, but there is some in the coop.
  3. Mahonri

    Mahonri Urban Desert Chicken Enthusiast Premium Member

    May 14, 2008
    North Phoenix
    My Coop
    Well, I could be in trouble but..

    It makes cleaning the coop a breeze.

    My chickens don't have worms.

    It's good for my garden... DE has lots of great nutrients for my soil.. so mixed with chicken poop it should be great for my tomatoes...


    I wear a mask whenever I'm in the coop.... I make my kids wear a mask when they clean it out each week.
  4. grandads

    grandads Songster

    Nov 1, 2008
    SO TRUE!!!!
  5. birdbrain2

    birdbrain2 Songster

    Dec 25, 2008
    belleville, IL.
    i am a newbie and was just trying to find out where to get this miracle stuff. i think i will now pass. i did come across some articles on the same subject about inhaling DE. what would be the next best thing to use instead?
  6. spatcher

    spatcher Songster

    Apr 13, 2008
    Virginia - Southside
    All DE has crystallin silica in it. Food grade CANNOT have more than 3% to be considerd "food grade". DE for swimming pool filters has 85% crystallin silica in it and is LETHAL!
  7. hoosier

    hoosier Songster

    Thank-you for taking the time to post your research.

  8. aiwetir

    aiwetir Songster

    Oct 28, 2008
    portland, or
    i don't use the stuff yet, but as i see it this article brings nothing new to the discussion really, the only thing i learned from it that i haven't been able to discover myself is that it is used in cake and pancake mixes.

    i'm not 100% convinced that it is safe myself, but there is a whole lot of FUD going around about it. there are apparently grades out there that are less than 1/2 of 1% crystalline silica and i would guess that those are as safe as nearly any dusty substance you can expose yourself to, you know wood dust, dirt dust, highway dust, dust dust and all that, almost all dust has potential health hazards, really.

    you would be well advised to wear a noish / osha approved respirator cleaning out your coop anyway (histoplasmosis - mostly regional).

    i want to know why it's ok to put it in cake and pancakes but not chickens who have free access to water ?
  9. TexasVet

    TexasVet Songster

    Nov 12, 2008
    Willis TX
    The article didn't make it clear that there are two types of DE... only the food-grade (consumption safe) should be used around your or your birds. As another poster indicated, non-food grade DE can be lethal.

    Kathy in Texas

    PS: I've used it in my nest boxes and on my hens with no problems at all. You can buy it online through Amazon.

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