Trying to go Au naturel in providing everything your chickens need for good heath? It's hard to do isn't it? So what about using DE (Diatomaceous Earth) for mite prevention? It's a natural substance so it should be okay to use, right? Well, do you raise your own bees? Do you depend on them in your garden? Then you'll have to give the DE a rest (or take extra special care with it) since it seriously affects the bee population too, sometimes killing them. But don't give up yet, there is a better way.
What's a hen to do?
According to This Old House, a cord of wood can produce up to 50 pounds of ash. They have a cool list of things you can do with it too. But did you know that wood ash (fireplace ash; no BBQ coals, etc) will help keep your chickens mite-free? Yep. Mites are on the list of little buggers that head for the hills when they come near it.
Dust bathing is a natural thing for your chickens to do. It may seem like they've gone insane but they instinctively know that rolling around in dirt will keep them clean and bug-free. My girls love to roll in soil that has no enhancements (completely dead, dry dirt from the field) or my recipe for a chicken-approved beauty bath: Wood ashes and sand.
Best Kept Beauty Secret
We burn a lot of wood during the wintertime and so we always have plenty of ashes hanging around. We store it right out in the field by the compost and mulch. So after I rake the run I grab a couple of heaping shovels of ashes...
...and I add a shovel full of sand to it and mix well. It's about 2 (maybe 2 1/2) parts to 1. The reason for using sand? It weighs the ash down so it won't blow around easily and turn everything into one bit ash pit. It's just enough to keep them comfy.
I dump it in their favorite corner for bathing. Kinda like their "spa" area where they usually leave each other alone so a hen can get herself clean. The White Leghorns-in-charge go in and do the initial inspection. All is good.
All day long they take turns or sometimes double up. And remember, chickens poop everywhere so keep it raked so they'll continue to use it. Replace this as needed and you'll have a flock of happy chickies!
If you don't have a place to store a whole pile of wood ash, then try to store what you can in a bin somewhere. Use it sparingly by simply dusting your chickens with a handful each month. (See video below.) Stick to your cleaning schedule for changing the bedding, cleaning the perch and raking the run, and everything should be okay.
Check out this fantastic video on how to treat your chickens:
Reader question: Isn't it dangerous to use since wood ash makes lye?
Answer: Well, so far we've had no problems. First, lye doesn't just happen. It's a process that takes days to happen by soaking the ashes in water (Read this.) Also, your chickens probably won't bathe in it if it's wet. They prefer it to be very dry which is something you'll have to pay attention to. Use your best judgement and when in doubt... just say no!