Sunday, May 13, 2012

How to Make an Easy Dust Box for Chickens

There were two things that kept me away from keeping poultry for years: poop and parasites. I've had at least one child in diapers since the early '00s so I really didn't want to add yet more poop management to my daily duties. Thankfully, I found out about using deep litter in my chicken coop and it really minimizes the amount of work with manure.

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. 



All done

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.  


References: 

1.The Small-Scale Poultry Flock: An All-Natural Approach to Raising Chickens and Other Fowl for Home and Market Growers by Harvey Ussery
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?

16 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing this. I'm wondering if my chickens will use this rather than tearing up the ground around our cedar tree for their dust baths!
    Blessings,
    Kelly

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    1. I bet they would still tear up the ground around your tree, but it is certainly worth trying! Glad you found it helpful.

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  2. I want to make one but I am concerned about keeping it dry. Do you cover yours when it rains or bring it inside the coop? Wouldn't it be too heavy to bring in and out all the time?

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    1. Good question! I ended up bringing it inside my coop for that very reason. I'm also considering moving it to the sheltered area under my coop. If you think you will bring it in and out of your coop depending on the weather, I would suggest using a smaller dust box. Mine is heavy. Technically, I can carry it, but it is awkward and the plastic feels wobbly.

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    2. We use an "under the bed" storage bin that fits all four of our chickens at once. Comes with a cover so when rain is predicted, we just cover it up. It's gotten wet a few times from forgetting or not being home, but we just dump it and start over then! Our girls love it. We use dry dirt from under our home's extension and add fine grit and sand. DE just for infestations is our plan.

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    3. Why can't you just dry it out and break it up with a hand tiller? Why wouldn't this work? I use a kiddy pool with holes drilled in the bottom. I try to remember to cover it, but often forget. It'll dry out and I'll break it up. I also have a hole in the ground and fill it up with dusting materials. Just wondering what I'm missing.

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    4. An article you may find interesting. The risks/benefits of using DE. http://www.the-chicken-chick.com/2012/05/diatomaceous-earth-de-benefitrisk.html

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  3. I have a large bin that I use...but, they generally find their own places to bathe when I let them out...often it's a spot in a garden pot. I do use DE...I sprinkle some in the nesting boxes every now and them.

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  4. I never knew there was such a thing! Please come linky up at www.littlehouseinthesuburbs.com

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  5. Go to Fleet Farm or local hardware store and by a multi purpose mixing tub. They are like 2 ft x 3 ft by 1 foot deep and are about $10. I use these also for filling with water for the dogs to jump in and out of to cool off in the summer.

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    1. What a good idea. I'm going to go do that. It would be perfect for the dust bath.

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  6. Great idea! I use DE in my chicken feed (2# per 50# of feed or a 2% ratio is recommended) and in 8 years of keeping chickens I have never, and I mean never ever, seen one single teeny tiny mite or louse on my birds. I also scatter it on the floor when I clean the coop and sprinkle it in the nest boxes when I change out the bedding. I haven't had any problems with small amounts of DE and my birds are happy and healthy. I think people still fear what they don't understand even if it works.

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    1. I think you may be lucky. I have read many blogs that say DE doesn't work. I would think you would need to apply it quite a few times. You also may not have wild birds in your yard. I always have a 50 lb bag of DE and my birds get it in their food and have put it in the coop and areas where they dust bathe. One of mine got mites after 2 years. Im guessing it's from doves that insist on hanging around. I am also a Purple Martin Landlord and put a little DE in the gourds. Never has worked. I have to change the nest boxes and dust the babes with Sevin Dust and don't need to reapply. I no longer put DE in their dusting areas, too many say it can harm their respiratory systems. I wouldn't want to breath in that stuff, just sayin!

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  7. I use this method for my chicks to dust in too, but I use an old sand box turtle that little kids play in. It has a lid when it rains and looks cute out in the yard too.

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    1. That is such a cute idea!

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  8. I might use a baby bath! thanks for the post.

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