Tag Archives: Livestock

Diatomaceous Earth and Parasite Control

Diatomaceous Earth and Parasite ControlBoth internal and external parasites can be the bane of a livestock owner’s existence. They make your animals’ lives miserable, increase the risk of disease, reduce performance, and just look nasty.

Unfortunately, drugs are proving to be increasingly ineffective as parasites adapt to modern chemicals. Isn’t there some natural remedy out there that will consistently work to eliminate parasites?

There is! This natural marvel is called diatomaceous earth. It is simply the fossilized remains of diatoms, algae that encase themselves in protective silica shells. Diatomaceous earth (DE) works on both external and internal parasites, and is not a poison. Instead, it is an abrasive substance that lacerates the vulnerable parts of the parasites and kills by dehydrating. Not something that is easy to adapt to!


A Few Words of Warning

Yes, diatomaceous earth is a very safe pesticide…if it is food-grade. Please be aware that pool-grade DE is chemically treated and therefore poisonous to both animals and humans. Only food-grade DE is safe to use for parasite control.

The other caution is to avoid inhaling diatomaceous earth. The fine particles that kill parasites can also damage your lungs.

With this in mind, how do we use diatomaceous earth?


External Parasites

A dusting of diatomaceous earth over the coats of your livestock and pets can kill any ticks and other nasty bugs that may be plaguing them. There’s no need to measure diatomaceous earth used externally. Just sprinkle it onto the animal in question and rub it into the coat.

One thing you should be aware of when applying DE to livestock is that excessive use can dry out and damage the coat. Limit the applications to once a month except in extreme cases. (These cases likely need some extra care to boost their immune systems.)

Chickens suffering from external parasites can be allowed to dust-bathe in DE. If the nesting boxes are harboring unwanted insects, sprinkle some diatomaceous earth there, too.


Internal Parasites

To use diatomaceous earth to kill worms and other internal parasites, sprinkle the appropriate amount over the animal’s food. Various sources (and some personal experience) suggest the following dosages:

  • Cattle: 1 ounce daily.
  • Horses: 5 ounces daily.
  • Hogs: 2% of feed ration.
  • Goats and sheep: 1 teaspoon per 150 pounds of body weight.
  • Llamas and alpacas: 1 teaspoon per 150 pounds of body weight.
  • Chickens: 5% of feed ration.
  • Dogs: 1 teaspoon per 20 pounds of body weight.
  • Cats: 1/2 teaspoon daily for kittens, 1 teaspoon daily for adult cats.

However, it is always a good idea to check the bag before using DE. If the manufacturer offers specific recommended doses, use those.

Many animals will also eat diatomaceous earth free-choice if it is protected from wind and rain.

As you can see, diatomaceous earth is extremely easy to use, and it is both safe and effective. Give it a try!


Helpful Resource

Diatomaceous Earth
A microscope image of diatomaceous earth, just in case you were wondering what it looks like up close.

What is Endophyte-Free Fescue?

What is Endophyte-Free Fescue?
Close-up view of endophytes in tall fescue

Reading up on pasture forages tends to give one the distinct impression that having a field full of endophyte-infected fescue is not a good thing…but what is an endophyte? Why is it bad?

Endophyte-Infected Fescue

Simply put, an endophyte is a fungus that lives inside tall fescue. The fescue itself is in no way harmed by having a fungus between its cells. Quite the contrary. As far as the fescue and the endophyte are concerned, the arrangement is mutually beneficial. The endophyte could not survive in nature outside of a proper grass plant, so the fescue is a much-needed ally, providing the fungus with shelter and seed storage. In return for these services, the fescue receives chemical compounds called alkaloids, which provide the plant with resistance to insects, disease, and drought.

So far so good. Why, then, all the negative press about endophytes?

Another service that the endophyte provides the fescue with is protection from grazing animals. Not only are the alkaloids produced by endophytes something of a deterrent to mammals, they can also be harmful—even lethal—to livestock, most notably cattle and horses. Endophyte alkaloids constrict the blood vessels and reduce the circulation of animals that have ingested them, leading to serious complications. Affected cattle often show rough coats, intolerance to heat, poor weight gains, and reduced pregnancy rates. In winter, they may develop gangrene of the hooves, ears, and tail. Mares can experience life-threatening foaling difficulties, and any foals that do survive after being born may have weakened immune systems.

Endophyte-Free Fescue

Once the effects of fescue on grazing animals were understood, scientists and plant breeders set to work removing the endophyte from the fescue. A number of methods are used to achieve this, including heat, humidity, and various chemicals. Because endophytes are transmitted through seed, a fescue plant that has had its endophytes killed in this manner can be used to produce subsequent generations of endophyte-free fescue. Over the years, different varieties of endophyte-free fescue have found their place in the offerings of companies selling pasture seed. Studies have proven that animals do indeed perform better on endophyte-free fescue pastures.

Unfortunately, removing the endophyte from the fescue has not been without consequences. By removing the fungus, plant breeders have also removed the fescue’s defense against insects and drought. It can be difficult to establish and maintain a good stand of endophyte-free fescue. However, careful pasture management and avoidance of overgrazing can prolong the stand’s lifespan to about nine years.

Novel-Endophyte Fescue

But since many ranchers do not want to deal with the establishment, maintenance, and reseeding of endophyte-free fescue pastures, scientists have since produced several strains of fescue containing only “novel” endophytes, fungi which increase the hardiness of fescue without producing toxic alkaloids. These new fescue strains are produced by inserting novel endophytes into endophyte-free fescue seedlings.

Research on the pros and cons of these varieties is still in the early stages. At this point, it appears that novel-endophyte fescue persists nearly as well as normal fescue while offering the improved animal performance of endophyte-free fescue. However, particular care may be required when storing seeds, as the novel endophyte can easily be killed by heat and humidity prior to planting.

Choosing a Breed of Chicken

Choosing a Breed of ChickenThe number of breeds available to the homesteader or chicken enthusiast can be astounding. Just flip through a hatchery catalog. Who would have thought there were so many different kinds of chickens?

To whittle down the options and select a breed or breeds you are going to be satisfied with, you need to have at least a general idea of what you expect from your flock. Here are some things to consider.


Why are you buying chickens? Do you want eggs, meat, pets, or maybe some of each? If eggs are your goal, you aren’t likely to be satisfied with ornamental breeds such as Cochins. If you are raising chickens primarily for meat, a flock of Leghorns may not be the best choice. If your chickens are mostly pets, appearance and personality are going to be key factors in your selection.

However, some breeds do fit fairly well into more than one category. These are the dual-purpose breeds, and if you’re just looking for an all-around good chicken, they can’t be beat. True, they’ll never become either egg-laying or meat-producing factories like some of the commercial breeds, but there’s a reason why early Americans kept mostly dual-purpose chickens, such as Plymouth Rocks and Rhode Island Reds. They can perform well in either arena. Some dual-purpose breeds will also brood their own eggs, which may be a plus if you’d like to raise your own chicks.

But if you plan to specialize, you’ll need to know precisely what you want and then choose your breed accordingly. Light breeds, such as Leghorns, are generally better layers, and heavy breeds, such as Cornish crosses, are generally better meat birds.


Your chickens will be more likely to meet your expectations if you take climate into consideration. As a general rule, light breeds prefer warm temperatures, and heavy breeds prefer cool temperatures.

Choosing a Breed of Chicken

It can sometimes be difficult to decide how to choose breeds adapted to the climate of Kansas. The summers can be scorching, and the winters can be bitingly cold. How do you select a breed suitable for the climate of a state where variability is the norm?

Bear in mind that just about any breed can adapt to a wide variety of conditions if sheltered from the summer sun and winter winds. You will also need to provide your flock with plenty of cool water in hot weather, and plenty to eat in cold weather.

If these requirements are met, most breeds seem to be able to adapt readily to Kansas conditions, particularly the light breeds. Many heavy breeds will also do well, although some of the larger and more densely feathered chickens may have a hard time in the summer. Breeds with enormous combs will be prone to frostbite in the winter. A few breeds, such as Silkies, cannot tolerate any temperature extremes. Unless you are prepared to provide special housing that will meet their needs, it is best to avoid these altogether.


Temperament is generally more of a concern with roosters than with hens. Unfortunately, there seems to be no hard and fast rule to determine which breeds are docile and which breeds are aggressive when it comes to the males. Any rooster of any breed may attack if provoked, and no rooster can be completely trusted around very small children.

Hens are a little easier to predict. In general, light breeds tend to be flighty. It can be rather difficult to make friends with them, so they may not be the best choice if your hens are also your children’s companions. Heavy breeds are typically calm and docile…unless they go broody. Broody hens are often a little on the grumpy side.

Keep in mind, however, that there is more variation within breeds than between breeds when it comes to temperament. This applies to both roosters and hens. Roosters of docile breeds can be bad-tempered, and light-breed hens can be quite tame. Still, breeds have a way of earning their reputations for being calm, nervous, or aggressive, and you will do well to take this into consideration when making your choice. Just remember that every individual chicken will have its own personality.

A Few Final Thoughts

Choosing a Breed of Chicken
Rhode Island Red

In the end, you must choose a breed that appeals strongly to you. It will have to meet your performance requirements, whatever they may be. If top-notch egg production is your goal, you will want to choose a laying breed, or you will not be satisfied. If meat is your aim, you will need to select a breed designed for that purpose. If you want both meat and eggs, you will probably be happier with a dual-purpose breed. If you just want a family flock for fun and maybe a little food into the bargain, aesthetic appeal is going to be a key factor.

Temperament and adaptation to climate aren’t really things you are going to know for sure until you try the breed. For that reason, be prepared to experiment a little. Buy more than one breed the first time around; a mixed flock is more interesting, anyway. Some hatcheries offer assortments of ornamentals, outstanding layers, crested breeds, dual-purpose hens, or just a little bit of everything. If you can’t decide, this may be the best way to get a feel for which breeds you prefer.

Happy chicken-keeping!

Helpful Resources

Chicken BreedsChicken Breeds
Our own online guide to chickens for all purposes, covering the history, uses, temperament, health, and pros and cons of each breed.

Chick Selector
Handy way to sort through the options from Murray McMurray Hatchery. Choose the right breed for you based on size, egg production, meat production, and more.

Useful and very accurate comparison of key characteristics of a wide range of heritage chicken breeds, including purpose, temperament, recommended experience level, climate preference, and considerably more.

Free eBook: Sheep Production in Kansas

Sheep Production in KansasIf you are looking for a basic guide to purchasing and caring for a flock of sheep, try Sheep Production in Kansas. This 76-page bulletin was originally published by the Kansas State Agricultural College in 1927.

The bulletin covers a variety of topics, including sheep selection, pasturing, feeding, and housing. Want to know:

  • Which breed is right for you?
  • How to prevent internal parasites in your flock?
  • Which forages to plant in your pastures?

Sheep Production in Kansas has the answers, all tailored specifically for use in the Sunflower State.

Old, but by no means outdated, this bulletin is available for free download as a PDF.

Free eBook: How to Direct Market Your Beef

How to Direct Market Your BeefFor those of you who want to sell beef, How to Direct Market Your Beef by Jan Holder is a must-read!

In a friendly, easy-to-understand manner, Holder explains the different aspects of direct marketing entrepreneurs will encounter, such as niches, pricing, distribution, advertising, public relations, and record keeping.  You’ll also find out how to have your beef properly cut, packaged, and labeled.

While this book applies to anyone direct marketing beef, Holder mainly focuses on rural producers taking on the challenge of selling to stores and restaurants.  Profiles of seven beef marketers (including her own family) are included for inspiration and ideas.

Much of Holder’s advice applies not only to meat, but to just about anything a Kansas country family might want to sell.  However, How to Direct Market Your Beef also explains those crucial details producers need to know to succeed in the grassfed industry.

Available for free download as a PDF.

When the Hens Stop Laying

When the Hens Stop LayingOh, no!  The hens have stopped laying!

Few chicken-keeping problems are as bewildering as this one.  So many variables affect egg production.  How do you sort through them all?

The quickest way to solve a laying problem is to keep good records well before the problem arises.  Every day write down:

  • The number of eggs you gathered.
  • The outdoor temperature.
  • The amount of feed, scratch, and kitchen scraps you put out.
  • Any anomalies that you might want to remember later on.

You should also keep track of the age, breed, and number of your hens.  These records may seem tedious or superfluous at first, but they are invaluable when you are trying to solve a laying problem.  The more information you have at hand, the faster you will be able to sort through the possibilities and arrive at a solution.

But now that you have an egg shortage, it’s time to figure out what caused it.



Optimal egg production requires the right balance of nutrients.  Many layer rations have been concocted to try to achieve this balance, but in the end the chickens know best.  Provide them with access to plenty of fresh grass and bugs, and supplement their diet with layer feed, scratch grains, and kitchen scraps.

No formula can precisely calculate how much you should feed your chickens.  The best way to balance the feed and the scratch is to simply watch what the hens are eating.  If they are just picking at their feed or leaving pieces of grain on the ground, give them less.   If they are devouring one or the other, or maybe even both in the winter, give them more.

After you change the hens’ diet, they should gradually lay more eggs starting in three to four days.  If there is no improvement, you’ll have to seek another solution.



Chickens usually don’t lay well in extremes of either heat or cold.  If your laying problem coincides with a summer heat wave, there isn’t much you can do except to provide your flock with shade and cool water, and ride it out.  In the winter, give the hens windproof housing and plenty to eat.  The scratch in particular gives them the energy they need to stay warm.  Periodically give them an additional boost with a high-protein treat like beef liver or a ham bone with meat scraps still attached.



The age of your hens plays a significant role in how many eggs they will lay.  If your whole flock is more than two or three years old, you will probably notice a sharp drop in production.  In that case, consider buying or hatching some new hens.



Be aware that breed can affect the hen’s laying rate drastically.  Heavy breeds typically lay better in cooler weather, while light breeds prefer warmer weather.  Also keep in mind that some of the ornamental breeds will never be stellar layers even under ideal conditions.

To keep egg production reasonably steady all year long, either buy a mix of hot- and cold-weather layers or choose breeds that can tolerate a wide range of conditions, such as Australorps or Plymouth Rocks.


If All Else Fails…

If none of these variables seem to account for your production problem, thoroughly inspect your flock and their living quarters.  Are the chickens in poor health?  Do you see signs of parasites?  Are the hens hiding their eggs in some bizarre, out-of-the-way location?  Is something eating the eggs?

If you see chickens with yolk on their heads, you’ve got a real problem.  The egg-eating habit is difficult to stop, so take pains not to let it start.  Make sure your hens have enough fresh range to keep them entertained and enough feed and scratch to keep them full.  Pad the nesting boxes with plenty of straw to avoid accidental breakages.  Setting out a pan of oyster shell as a calcium supplement will also help to keep eggshells from cracking.

If you break an egg in the chicken pen, don’t let the hens clean it up.  Bury it with dirt or hay before they can eat it and get any not-so-funny ideas.  Sometimes a hen will acquire a taste for fresh egg and become an inveterate offender.  When this happens, your only choice is to remove it from the flock.

Again, the best way to solve an egg production problem is to keep good records well before the problem starts.  That way if laying rates suddenly start on a downward spiral, you’ll have a much better chance of identifying the difficulty and solving it quickly.