Very often we are asked if we use the product Diatomaceous Earth in our flocks. The answer is, YES. But, while we have found great use for this product over the years, we understand it is a very personal decision for everyone. There are so many sites, bloggers and FB chat discussions with both pros and cons. So this is a long opinion piece but I hope you will find some information in it useful.
We have been feeding DE to our livestock for over a decade. That is, we feed it to horses, alpacas, goats, sheep and chickens. We don’t personally add it to our diets, but when you read more of this post you will be amazed how we are already ingesting it and applying it topically!
Diatomaceous earth is a rich source of calcium, magnesium, and other minerals, but most of its beneficial properties can be attributed to its abundant silica content. Silica is the most important trace mineral for human health and is necessary for the proper functioning of every cell and gland in our bodies as well as our cardiovascular and nervous systems.
Unfortunately, Diatomaceous earth has not been used enough for there to be a large number of scientific studies. However, the studies that are available show that Diatomaceous earth can strengthen bones, nails, and teeth, improve blood cholesterol levels, and improve digestion. www.livestrong.com. I'm going to reference a few studies out there that I found interesting.
It has been studied and reported that when chickens were fed a diet that contained less silicon dioxide than normal, their bone formation was harmed. This does suggests that silicon dioxide plays an important role in bone formation. http://npic.orst.edu/factsheets/degen.html
The Journal of Applied and Environmental Microbiology found that DE helps kill viruses, reducing the risk of getting a viral infection from drinking water. In another study, researchers created a filter that used DE. They ran tap water contaminated with heavy metals and viral strains through that filter. Researchers found that DE absorbed “up to 80%” of the viruses present. That’s pretty cool!
One study published in the Journal of Nutrition Health and Aging in 2007 showed that dietary silicon (like the silicon found in DE) boosts the health of your bone and connective tissue, helping to reduce your risk of low bone mass (osteoporosis). Wachter H, Lechleitner M, Artner-Dworzak E, Hausen A, Jarosch E, Widner B, Patsch J, Pfeiffer K, Fuchs D. Diatomaceous earth lowers blood cholesterol concentrations. European Journal of Medical Research. 1998 April 8;3(4):211-5.
In another study, reported at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21673156, the effectiveness of diatomaceous earth (DE) as a treatment against parasites and to increase feed efficiency and egg production of organically raised free-range layer hens was evaluated in 2 breeds of commercial egg layers [Bovan Brown (BB) and Lowmann Brown (LB)] that differ in their resistance to internal parasitic infections. Half the hens of each breed were fed diets supplemented with DE (2%). Their internal parasite loads were assessed by biweekly fecal egg counts (FEC) and by postmortem examination of the gastrointestinal tract. Supplementing DE in diets of LB hens, the more parasite-resistant breed, did not significantly affect their FEC and adult parasite load. However, BB hens treated with dietary DE had significantly lower Capillaria FEC, slightly lower Eimeria FEC, fewer birds infected with Heterakis, and significantly lower Heterakis worm burden than control BB hens. Both BB and LB hens fed the diet containing DE were significantly heavier, laid more eggs, and consumed more feed than hens fed the control diet, but feed efficiency did not differ between the 2 dietary treatments. Additionally, BB hens consuming the DE diet laid larger eggs containing more albumen and yolk than hens consuming the control diet. In a subsequent experiment, the effectiveness of DE to treat a Northern fowl mite (Ornithonyssus sylviarum) infestation was tested. Relative to controls, both breeds of hens that were dusted with DE had reduced number of mites. The results of this study indicate the DE has the potential to be an effective treatment to help control parasites and improve production of organically raised, free-range layer hens. This reports a win win for our chickens!
In a rat study, researchers fed rats high doses of Diatomaceous earth for six months. They found no reproductive or developmental effects. In another rat study, the only effect was more rapid weight gain. That study involved 90 days of feeding rats with a diet made of 5% Diatomaceous Earth. Bertke, E. M. The effect of ingestion of Diatomaceous earth in white rats: A subacute toxicity test. Toxicol. Appl. Pharmacol. 1964, 6 (3), 284-291.
The most common thing you hear about is how breathing DE is terrible for your lungs and respiratory health. Crystalline silica forms when Diatomaceous Earth is heated to very high temperatures, and this form of silica may cause lung disease. However, exposure is considered an occupational hazard only. This means that workers exposed to crystalline silica on a daily basis for many years may be at risk, but casual contact is not likely to be hazardous. Www.Livestrong.com There is a study where guinea pigs were forced to breathe air containing Diatomaceous Earth for 2 years, there was slightly more connective tissue in their lungs. When researchers checked before the 2-year mark, no effects were found. http://npic.orst.edu/factsheets/degen.html. The majority of what is noted as a lung irritant will be the pool grade DE, not food grade.
I also read that Diatomaceous earth is practically non-toxic to fish and aquatic invertebrates. It is commonly encountered by birds and other wildlife, and it's not known to be harmful. However, no toxicity evaluations for wildlife were found. Agencies have stated that Diatomaceous Earth is unlikely to affect birds, fish, or other wildlife in a harmful way. http://npic.orst.edu/factsheets/degen.html
So there are some studies. Years ago when DE first became a hot topic I did my own control study. We did fecal testing on our alpacas. We process our own fecals so it was an easy test to do right on the farm. After 30 days of feeding DE to the alpaca herd we saw most of the animals cleaned out of their previous FEC. The remaining animals had showed a major reduction in FEC. With alpacas being so parasite sensitive, I was sold. I remember having the vet at Tufts University do a fecal test on an alpaca who was losing weight. He asked if we had just de-wormed her because she had no FEC. We told him what we were doing on the farm! We run routine fecals on most of the farm animals and rarely have a parasite issue and attribute it to the DE in our feed. Our dusting areas have DE in them for the chickens even.
So we have always had good luck with DE, but I was curious to learn more so I did some checking on what products I already use that might contain DE. Diatomaceous Earth is widely used industrially as a filtering agent. More than 170,000 tons of Diatomaceous earth are used in the filtration of food products annually! So we often her how it is not safe to feed it to our poultry, yet it is in our own food and drink. As a matter of fact, it is FDA approved for human use as well as in animal feeds.
Do you drink beer or wine? Brew masters have turned to DE for years to clarify beer. When beer is brewed, all kinds of particles are left over. It needs to be filtered, or clarified, resulting in a more aesthetically pleasing beverage. The same principle holds true of wines and even cooking or infusing oils.
It is amazing how many products have DE in them. Do you use skin care? DE is regularly used as an anti-caking agent in cosmetics such as facial powder, foundation, and eye shadow. And when used as a bulking agent, DE makes powder-based makeup more slippery, and therefore easier to apply. Most of our natural products, mineral powders, natural toothpaste and even whitening polish all contain significance amounts of DE. Almost every recipe I found for natural toothpaste heavily formulated around Diatomaceous earth!
Now, I have shared with you my opinions on DE and what we practice here on our farm. What you do and do with your farm animals is up to you! Enjoy!
Bunch, T. R.; Bond, C.; Buhl, K.; Stone, D. 2013.
Diatomaceous Earth General Fact Sheet; National Pesticide Information Center
Oregon State University Extension Services. http://npic.orst.edu/factsheets/degen.html