That still leaves the parasite part, though. Chickens are prone to getting several varieties of lice and mites, as well as intestinal worms.
I don't do bugs. At all. To give you a sense of the depth of my phobia, my parents tease me about the time when I was a little girl and I cried when a butterfly came too near me. I still don't like butterflies.
I didn't make the jump into chicken keeping until I was able to resign myself to the fact that a) I would probably see bugs on them and b) I would have to do something about it.
Chickens naturally take dust baths as a way to get rid of external parasites. They throw themselves down in a dusty spot and roll around until they get dirt in all their nooks and crannies. Dust baths are very effective but even so, chickens can suffer from lice and mites. But then I learned a way to soup up my chickens' dust baths by providing them with a box filled with pest repellent materials. Here's how I did it.
I sent Hubby Dear to a big box pet store to buy the biggest litter box he could find. He certainly delivered.
|A king-sized litter box fit for a 39 lb cat|
This "jumbo" litter box is 34.5" x 19.5" x 10". Two chickens could bathe in here at the same time. The depth is the most critical dimension. You want all your bathing materials to stay in the box when the chickens do their thing. (Ever watched a chicken dust bathe? They can go kinda crazy.)
|Adding the first layer of peat moss|
You can fill your dust box with any number of materials. Harvey Ussery recommends peat moss, dried and sifted clay, and/or small amounts of wood ash. I used peat moss (I always have some handy) plus some sand I had left over from another project.
|Food-grade DE. Do NOT use any other type of DE with your poultry.|
Now for the good stuff. You can add garden lime, food-grade diatomaceous earth (DE), or elemental sulfur powder to really sock it to those parasites. Remember to wear a good dust mask whenever you work with DE. It is really fine and you'll breathe it in and irritate your lungs.
I should mention that Gail Damerow, author of Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens, doesn't think you should use DE in dust boxes for parasite prevention. Chickens can be prone to respiratory problems and breathing in DE is not a good thing for anyone. Damerow thinks you should only use DE and other heavy-hitting anti-parasite products when there is an obvious infestation. Harvey Ussery, on the other hand, routinely uses a small amount of DE in his dust box. I decided to go Ussery's route and use DE as part of my dust box mix.
I also mix a little DE in with my chickens' feed. Some people claim that feeding DE to poultry will serve as a natural dewormer. Gale Damerow has a negative opinion of that as well. She says that DE only works to kill worms, etc. when it is dry. Once it has made its way through the chicken's digestive tract, it is not dry and no longer has any of the microscopic cutting edges that serve to kill the bad guys. I still do it on the off chance that it will work!
|Peat, sand, and DE, ready to be mixed|
After I mixed it all together, the dust box had about 5 inches of material inside it. I laboriously dragged the heavy and awkward box outside and placed it in a sunny part of the chickens' run.
After my chickens began spending more of their time outdoors instead of "cooped up", I went ahead and moved the dust box up into their coop. The behemoth does take up quite a bit of floor space, but that's not as much of a big deal now they are outside from dawn until dusk. The important thing is that the dust bath will remain dry so the chickens can bathe to their hearts' content no matter the weather.
2. Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens, 3rd Edition by Gail Damerow
Calling all poultry owners! Do you provide a dust box for your chickens? Do you use DE on a routine basis?