Every February the town of Seymour in Victoria hosts the Seymour Alternative Farming Expo (SAFE). I think the original idea for the show was specifically ‘Alternative’, but over the years it has become a lot more mainstream in terms of it’s focus and there is something at the show for everyone from Kitchen Gardeners through to Orchardists. Anyhow, last time I was at the Seymour Alternative Farming Expo, and my stand was located next door to a supplier of organic fertilisers and stock supplements. They were selling Diatomaceous Earth (DE) and I have never been too clear on exactly what DE is and how it works so I did a bit of research.
Diatomacious Earth is an off white talc-like powder that is the fossilized remains of marine phytoplankton. When encountered by an animal that has an exoskeleton (such as bed bugs, ants or fleas) it gets caught between the joins in their exoskeleton. As the bug moves, the DE works its way into the joints in the exoskeleton and effectively cuts them up. But it does not hurt any animal with an endoskeleton such as humans, chickens and all farmyard animals. In fact it is safe to eat and you probably already eat some of it as it is found in a lot of grain based foods which are stored with diatomaceous earth to stop the bugs from eating the grain!
Data about Diatomaceous Earth from the website above –
In recent controlled trials (Endicott-Davies 2010) chickens were fed Diatomaceous Earth (DE) to test the effects on external parasites, live weight and overall health and well-being of meat chickens. When assessed against a control group, chickens fed DE were noticeably larger, healthier and free of parasites. While the pens of the control group had lice in and around the sleeping areas, and lice was present on the chickens, the chickens that were fed DE were parasite free as were their pens. The smell emitted from the droppings was significantly lower than that of the control pens.
The results also showed that the average feed consumption for the pen containing the DE chickens was significantly higher, on a consistent basis, than that of the controlled pen. DE chickens had an increased amount of meat; the legs, breasts and overall size of the DE chickens were significantly higher than that of the controlled pen.
It is recommended that Diatomaceous Earth should comprise 15% of the feed given to chickens for the DE to work efficiently. This amount of DE will in turn reduce the amount of commercial feed used. Consumers will achieve significantly improved production and save on feed costs at the same time. This ratio of DE to feed (15:85) will kill any worms that are present in the stomach of the birds as will reduce the smell emitted by droppings. The absence of any internal parasites as well as the improved overall health and well-being of the birds can lead to measurable weight increases, as the trials demonstrated.