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My chicken has fleas

I don’t remember if I’ve mentioned it before, but Mapp has gone broody again this year. Like every year. Right on schedule. Laying season comes, she squeezes out half a dozen, and then locks herself in her room, screams at everybody and won’t come out for three months.

A couple of times a day, I take her out and put her in the grass and make her eat something. I had a neighbor over this afternoon to gawp at the babies. When I pulled Mapp off the nest, neighbor peered into the nest box and said, “it’s crawling with fleas!” And it was.

Chicken fleas. Who knew?

Time for some diatomaceous earth.

Diatoms, for those who have long ago forgotten middle school life sciences class, are microscopic, aquatic algae with beautiful silicate exoskeletons, like tiny crystal paperweights. (Paperweights! Not very poetic, but I’m going with it).

In some places in the world, old busted dead diatom skeletons have settled together to form a soft sedimentary rock that crumbles into a fine floury powder. This is diatomaceous earth, and it has a number of interesting uses.

One of which is insect control. You can sprinkle it around the chicken house, the perch, the run, even the grass and it will kill tiny bugs. It’s perfectly safe for the birds — in fact, it’s recommended to put up to 10% food grade DE into their feeds for intestinal parasite control — but it’s hell on insects. I’ve heard different descriptions of how it works. Some say it abrades the outside of the bug, causing it to dehydrate. Other say they swallow it and it cuts up their little innards.

Which is why I haven’t used any before. It’s one thing to poison a flea, it’s another to feed your local bugs broken glass and razorblades.


Comment from S. Weasel
Time: June 20, 2013, 11:11 pm

Diatoms have such varied shapes, and occur in such stable populations, that in cases of murder by drowning where the scene of the crime isn’t immediately clear, the diatoms in the victim’s lungs are compared to the diatom population of possible drowning places.

Comment from LesterIII
Time: June 20, 2013, 11:51 pm

Just don’t breathe in any clouds of ’em, Stoaty. DE is commonly used in water filtration/treatment, and folks I know have had some mighty uncomfortable health/breathing issues when being careless, albeit short-term issues.

Comment from Mark
Time: June 20, 2013, 11:52 pm

I love it when thrifty, smart people spread good advice. This topic has come up three, four times in the past two weeks. I’m lucky enough not too have pests, but I just got the estimate for both pets’ annual tuneups–£175. I bet a bag of the Diatomacious slicer dirt is a lot cheaper. Wonder if the cat would like it if I chased him around throwing handfuls of cootie-dust at him? The dog would love it.

Comment from Scubafreak
Time: June 21, 2013, 12:00 am

I have no idea why, but that reminds me of a covert British program during WW2, which supplied Tarantula hair to resistance fighters who had infiltrated German Condom factories. They would sprinkle the hairs into the condom lube and ship them out to German troops in the field.

For those who don’t know, the hooks on Tarantula hair made it useful as the first Itching Powder…

Comment from Oceania
Time: June 21, 2013, 12:21 am

God, stay the F away – just like Asbestos!!
I did some studies years ago on diatoms breaking down Pyrex culture dishes.
We tried to isolate the enzyme, as it would be good for silicosis and asbestos – but ran out of money.

Curiously, diatoms have a preference for certain isotopes of silicon … most curious ..

Comment from Stark Dickflüssig
Time: June 21, 2013, 12:42 am

Also one of the original components of Dynamite! (howdy, you fruity NSA cakes of useless whores).

‘Mericans used wood meal instead of kieselguhr, cheapening the process some. But really, it’s just nitroglycerine in a matrix to keep it from ‘splodin’ early.

Comment from Bob Mulroy
Time: June 21, 2013, 12:59 am

I’m still using the one pound can of Permethrin chicken dust I bought about 5 years ago. I put it on all the animal’s bedding once a month. No fleas, no ticks, no nuthin.

The vet is amazed.

There’s still time to do the darkness/starvation treatment. You only need to isolate her for three days. Works wonders.

Comment from Christopher Taylor
Time: June 21, 2013, 1:01 am

Death by horrific agony is better than fleas deserve.

Comment from Stark Dickflüssig
Time: June 21, 2013, 1:30 am

Gah, yeah, I’ve been bit by a flea or two in my time. A thousand years of torment is not enough for fleas.

Comment from mojo
Time: June 21, 2013, 2:49 am

Possibly the tiny little grindstones get into the joints of the exoskeleton, wearing it away and opening up leaks in the bug’s open circulatory system.

Comment from steve
Time: June 21, 2013, 12:10 pm

Back in the Victorian era (before TV) folks would painstakingly construct microscopic art work using diatoms and butterfly scales.

They are real collectible, these days.

My phycology professor brought some in for our viewing pleasure, back in the day. It was real impressive.

You can see some, here:


Comment from mostly cajun
Time: June 21, 2013, 1:51 pm

Back in the early epochs in which I was a child, local feed stores sold sulfur candles. These were inch and a half cubes of pure sulfur with a waxed wick.

The drill was to run all the chickens out, take one or two of these, put them on a non-flammable pan or surface, light the wicks, and then close the door for the day. The sulfur dioxide from the burning sulfur fumigated the building, eliminating fleas, ticks, lice, the occasional slow mouse, spiders, etc.

You can still buy sulfur here in the states in garden supply stores, although it’s powdered, but it would work as well. A quarter pound ought to do it.

Oh, and the odor of burning sulfur? There’s a reason that burning sulfur (brimstone) is associated with Hell. Your neighbors will love you.


Comment from Wolfus Aurelius
Time: June 21, 2013, 2:11 pm

I’ve heard of diatomaceous earth being sprinkled on lawns, to keep roaches from crossing it. Bob, you put it on your pets’ bedding once a month, but my cats nap all over the apartment. Could I sprinkle it on my carpet? Would it harm the cats if they got any on their paws, and licked it off?

Comment from steve
Time: June 21, 2013, 3:13 pm

By the way….trotting Mapp out onto the internet, and then calling her personal hygene into question, while simultaneiously hurling the “fleabag” epithet….

Well, it’s just unseemly. That’s all.

Comment from Mono The Elderish
Time: June 21, 2013, 4:12 pm

Wolfus Aurelius, You can buy food-grade diatomaceous earth. You could eat it directly. Although I don’t recommend doing that, it would probably be safe for cats.

Comment from Deborah
Time: June 21, 2013, 4:27 pm

Soapy water is useful, too. It smothers the holes in the fleas’ bodies (wasps and hornets, too). You can mix it up in a spray bottle to mist/target spray, or a bucket-full, to douse a wasp nest. Or set out little dishes. The animals will taste it—once—but the fleas never learn.

Comment from AliceH
Time: June 21, 2013, 4:42 pm

The animals will taste it—once—but the fleas never learn.

Pretty sure the fleas taste it just once, also. 🙂

Comment from Deborah
Time: June 21, 2013, 4:59 pm

Thanks Alice! Murky writing is my specialty 🙂

Comment from BookGeek
Time: June 21, 2013, 5:16 pm

“It’s one thing to poison a flea, it’s another to feed your local bugs broken glass and razorblades.”

Yep. And both methods result in dead fleas. I fail to see the moral quandary. Am I evil? (shrug) Perhaps … but I will be a flea-free baddy!

Comment from Mija Cat
Time: June 21, 2013, 5:48 pm

Deborah – does that work on red-light cameras too?

S.Weasel – I spread diatom skeletons around the house, serves as a warning for others, and keeps the ants and other creepy-crawlies outdoors!


Comment from twolaneflash
Time: June 21, 2013, 6:46 pm

Democrats are reincarnated as fleas because they didn’t pester and kill enough people, while existing as subhuman blood-sucking parasites, in their former life.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: June 21, 2013, 8:10 pm

Thing is, BookGeek, I sit out in the garden a lot. Reading mostly. Several times a day, one or other species of tiny goofy-looking insects with bobbly antennae lands on my book, staggers around for a minute, and bumbles off. I’ve never been a bug person, but I’ve got quite fond of the insect kingdom in my yard. Won’t stop me going after the fleas, I just hate killing the silly inoffensive bugs.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: June 21, 2013, 8:11 pm

I’m going to end up a Jain, I swear to Dog.

Comment from Stark Dickflüssig
Time: June 21, 2013, 9:15 pm

A Jain?!

Comment from Bob Mulroy
Time: June 21, 2013, 10:06 pm


Pyrethoids are nearly non-toxic to warm blooded critters. Your cats might have a sensitivity to the carrier powder (usually talc or diatomaceous earth,) but that’s mighty rare.

I’ve dusted my cats directly on occasion, it hasn’t hurt them yet.

Comment from Bob Mulroy
Time: June 24, 2013, 1:12 am

When a friend returned from a mission in Zambia, she brought us two collages made of moth and butterfly wings. they are very nice, but kind of creepy.

Comment from Oldcat
Time: June 24, 2013, 3:26 am

Powdered boric acid crystals are also good for killing bugs.

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