Dirt! Of Sand, Ag Lime, and Diatomaceous Earth (and adding dirt to fodder mats!)

Sandy Dry lot, hay feeders with hay top dressed with Diatomaceous Earth

Moving sand around the loafing shedAlpacas are native to the Altiplano region of South America.  That’s a high desert region with sparse vegetation. In fact they are most adapted to such conditions.  So, when we were planning our homestead permaculture to incorporate them as our livestock, such an awareness actually figured in strategically. Our herd is never left out on a field or pasture area to sleep there; pastures are where they go to “work” or “dine”.  Instead, its around the barn that we make their bedroom spaces. After a couple years experimenting, we’ve come to find that a layer of washed, screen sand is in fact the best option for their bedroom loafing shed Alpacas sunning themselves on the sandy dry lotareas.  Every couple of years, we’ve been bringing in a dumptruck load of sand and building up a raised dais area for them to loaf.  Their hay feeders and their sources of water are all located nearby.  As it turns out, this dry lot approach really has a lot of practical benefits.Building up sand in the loafing sheds

For one, as the UV rays of the sun hit the sand, bacteria is killed. For another, Alpacas are communal dung pilers, preferring a select few spots to poop. The sand provides a great drainage for the urine to work its way down and allow the poop to be easily scooped up.  A bit of sand actually benefits our compost, making it truly a sandy loam that’s great for the garden.   Good drainage mean no muddy areas even on the rainiest of PacNorWest days.  The sandy surface, along with our gravel service alley out to the pastures, also contributes to keeping our toenail trimming tasks to a minimum, usually at shearing time, once a year.

Alpacas act as a predator 'moat' around the chicken coopWe like to keep the elements of a permaculture down to its simplest components. That means using our resources wisely and not turning to toxic or environmentally hazardous materials to solve our problems.  Currently, our chicken coop lives within the alpaca dry lot. We have 22+ egg layers living in a raised coop, with a floor made of fencing material that allows all their poop to drop down into catch trays. Having the coop within the dry lot, means we’ve got an “Alpaca Moat” of protection from all 4-legged predators and we no longer close our coop at night. Our free ranging chickens roam everywhere on the homestead and return to roost at night. Having catch trays allows us to avoid constant maintenance of cleaning a coop with a floor. Instead the chicken poop falls through and starts to compost.  We empty these trays about every 2-3 months into our alpaca poop compost bins. Here’s where our next magical mineral comes into play: Ag Lime!  Also known as Garden Lime, this is a ground up form of limestone that you can touch (as opposed to builder’s lime or hydrated lime, which would burn your skin).  Every once in a while we’ll take several scoopfuls of it and toss it into the chicken coop where it coats roosting poles and surfaces as well as fall onto the composting chicken poop in the catch trays.  The lime is very effective at neutralizing the smells and acting as a sanitizer.  It also impacts the amount of flies laying their eggs in the composting poop.   We can also make a solution of Ag Lime and water and spray it onto surfaces or paint it like a white-wash. Ag Lime is quite effective at sanitizing the surfaces this way.  But, we don’t stop our use of it at the chicken coop.  The hay feeders within the loafing shed areas have the bottoms coated with a good layer of Ag Lime as well.  Our hay feeders are always bug free and clean smelling. We’ll use Ag Lime in conjunction with some baking soda if we have a need to re-locate a poorly chosen poop pile that the herd suddenly starts somewhere. In combination with the baking soda, all the olfactory and visual cues are interrupted causing the herd to think twice about using that spot to poop.

But the real star player when it comes to talking dirty here at the ranch, is Diatomaceous Earth, and if you have not heard about it yet or used it, I’m about to change your life for the better! It truly is the miracle of miracles, naturally occurring substances that every farm and home should be using!

Want to completely eliminate the need for deworming and parasite control?  Drastically reduce flies? Eliminate mites and fleas? Increase your animals health?  Eliminate algae coated water buckets? Add trace minerals to their diets? Even reduce your own cholesterol and detox your gut? How about treating E.coli?

Do I have your attention yet? All the above are possible, along with hundreds of other uses which allow you to go pesticide and chemical free on your homestead.

Mucho gets ready to roll in Diatomaceous Earth in the winter corral spaceDiatomaceous Earth is basically, well, dirt!  Actually, it’s the fossilized remains of diatoms, a form of algae, that lived thousands upon thousands of years ago, which died and then sank to the bottom of the ocean and lake beds to accumulate.  It is the most abundant form of organic amorphous Silica in the world. As it turns out, our bodies actually need more silica than even iron. So, yes, this dirt is good for you, and it also contains an abundance of trace minerals too:  Calcium, Magnesium, Titanium Dioxide, Gallium, Vanadium, Strontium, Sodium, Boron, Potassium, Copper, Zirconium, iron, all existing in Mucho the llama rolls in Diatomaceous Earthmineral oxide forms making them bio available.  In addition, the not-so-trace element which it most contains is Silicon Dioxide, essential for good bone growth and nutritionally important for preventing some forms of chronic diseases associated with aging. Basically, humans, animals, and plants have an essential need for the mineral, Silicon, in order to maintain life, and unfortunately, in today’s world, our diets can easily become Silicon deficient.

So, how do we use it? So many ways!  Let me highlight a few for you:

- Added to water sources to prevent algae accumulation and to allow animals to drink it when they drink water

- Acts as a natural dewormer and parasite control when ingested.The corral during wintertime becomes the herd and flock's dusting space wth Diatomaceous Earth

- Spread on corral floors to allow alpacas and llamas to “dust” in preventing skin problems and cleans their coats. Eliminates all mites and fleas!  (Dust your dog or cat with it!)

-Spread in chicken nest boxes to eliminate fleas and mites.

-Scooped into the chicken’s free-choice feeder to eliminate weevils, moths and all bugs in the feeder. (and the chickens will eat it too!)

-Added to chicken waterer to keep the water clean and for chickens to drink as well.

- Tossed into chicken coop, onto roost poles, and over the poop catch trays to control flies and maggots in the composting manure.

-Top Dressed on Fodder mats, as needed, to add trace minerals, and control parasites, bacterias, and other “baddies” in the guts of alpacas, including Nemotodirus. Strongyles, and Coccidia. (not only working inside the animal, but you’ll notice a big difference in flies at the poop piles as well: they won’t lay eggs in poop that contains diatomaceous earth from feeding! DE continues to work even after it’s pooped out!)

- A scoopful is added to every 50lb bag of dog food we open in the pantry. Our dogs eat it too! (can also be added to their water bowl)

-Added to our garden harvest of grains and seeds for storage to help absorb moisture and prevent bugs.

-Used in the garden to control bugs and as a soil supplement.

-and even the human takes a teaspoon full a day mixed with a bit of water, on an empty stomach, 10 days on and 10 days off, as a natural detox, a source of silica and trace minerals, to reduce cholesterol, and for the health of his gut and immune system.

Phew! That’s a lot to take in! You can learn more by checking out the book “Going Green Using Diatomaceous Earth How-To Tips” by Tui Rose, R.N.  You can also check out the numerous evidence on human use at www.earthworkshealth.com (also a source to purchase).  Most feed and supply stores sell 50lb bags of the “Food Grade” DE.  This is the most economical to buy, and actually, its relatively cheap. Be sure that you pay close attention to the label and only buy DE that is rated “Food Grade”.

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16 Responses to Dirt! Of Sand, Ag Lime, and Diatomaceous Earth (and adding dirt to fodder mats!)

  1. Leticia Fines Hanford says:

    Hello Paca Pride Ranch: I am from California, and I started raising goats — meat goats and a couple of alpine goats – milk goats. I am always concern about hay or feed because it is getting more and more expensive. I am so fortunate that I ran into your webb site. About this barley fodder feed, I will definitely start growing my own feed. I have contacted a seed company in Stockton. California and he deals with barley fodder feed. I will do my trial this spring as soon as the weather permits. I was thinking about using rain gutter at first and see what happens. Thank you so much for all of the infos. very educational !

    • David says:

      Good Luck Leticia! If you ever come up north this way, I offer a “Fodder Primer” workshop here at Paca Pride, where you can come see our Fodder room and step through the chores. We cover all the nuances and operating parameters too. It’s a great opportunity for those considering this approach. (Also for those not living in the area, but wish to come visit…guess what, we’re a guest ranch too! We not only have animal pastures, but we have people pastures too! lol Our guest room with private bath sees many out-of-town guests stay here.)

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  6. Hi,
    I work for a company that sales diatomaceous earth. I was wondering if you’d be willing to post a link to our products on your blog so that your readers could too benefit from DE like you have. You can find us at: diatomaceousearth.net

    If I don’t hear from you before I’ll contact you again next week.

    Thanks,
    Stephanie

  7. I’ve been following Paca Pride for many months now, and always found them forthcoming with great information helping me with my fodder growing. The diatomacious earth is amazing stuff, and I’ve been using it on my horses and chickens for months now. We are set to do a poop sample on all three horses next week. I’ve read so much about it, I use it as well with my protein drinks or smoothies. Everything he says about what you can use it for a true. I’ve been using fly predators on our farm for the last three years, but this year I’m using the DE in their stalls, on the corral floor and the manure piles. just remember, it can kill good bugs too, so keep that in mind. We have just about the same setup in our corral Paca Pride has with the sand, and I truly think it has played a huge part in the horses’ health, because the corral surrounds their stalls which are always open, so they can sleep inside or outside in the corral. In the morning they are fed and turned out to the pasture. I use the DE on black oil sunflower seeds, mix it all together, and when I make up their grain trays at night they get a scoop of the seeds as well. About a cup of DE to a gallon of seeds. Since feeding them fodder for the last many months, I’ve never seen their coats shine so much. People really comment on how good they look. They have had all supplements removed except for Glucosamine for my older horse. DE is screaming high in vitamin A which is amazing for hooves, skin and hair. You can’t help but notice it when you trim their feet. Thanks to Paca Pride for all the help. You guys rock. I want to take a fodder class from you too, to see what I can improve in my system. I hand flood and drain 14 trays, but I’m retired, so it’s not an issue, but I am pondering upgrading to an automated system this summer.

    • David says:

      Thanks for the comment, you are most certainly welcome! Indeed, no need to wait the announcement of a formal fodder class from us. We offer fodder consultations right here at Paca Pride on a regular basis for a fee per farm. Feel freee to contact us if you’d like to come out for a primer and tour.

  8. Larry Bailey says:

    Caveat emptor…I have seen the effects of using food grade DE (not the swimming pool DE) to control mites and when sprinkled dry onto manure it lowered the number of flies. Last year I attended a workshop on small ruminant parasites conducted by Dr. Susan Kerr (DVM, PhD from WSU extension). She cited several studies that feeding DE (so that ruminants ingest it internally) does not control parasites in small ruminants Although there was one study that showed a very high level had a slight effect (5% DE in the diet by weight which is a huge amount to feed), . She speculated that DE may help fecal pellets dry out faster which could reduce the success of eggs developing into infective L3 larvae. According to Dr. Kerr, research conducted on this aspect hasn’t been conclusive. She suggested that sustainable producers raise parasite resistant breeds (Katahdin hair sheep are one example) and then follow good management practices (e.g. get a light microscope and specialized supplies to regularly monitor/count parasite eggs in fecal pellets http://cal.vet.upenn.edu/projects/parasit06/website/mcmaster.htm, practice MIG pasture rotation, never graze your pasture below 3 inches ever (research shows that 1/2″ to 2.5″ is where most of the parasite eggs live–set grazing where ruminants chew down below 3″ regularly is a bad management practice–also letting 3″ of grass/forbes remain builds root mass and allows pasture to rebound more quickly), rest pasture for 3 days after ruminants move on and follow ruminants with aggressive grazing poultry (like laying hens [at least 150-200 birds per acre are needed if they are mobbed up with electro netting and moved every 3-4 days] the laying hens will aggressively graze and forage for bugs and grass –hens do not share the same parasites as small ruminants, the hens eat some of the grass ingesting many parasite eggs which are killed in their gizzard.(Don’t be confused with poultry gizzard worms which are a different topic) These practices can significantly reduce parasite loads in ruminants here in wet Western Washington. We are doing many of these now and are continuing to implement all these best practices over time. Good luck to all.

    • David says:

      Thanks for the information, Larry, I can attest to the effectiveness of DE with the 3 bugs we worry about with alpacas in the Northwest: Strongyles, Coccidia, and Nemotodirus. While we employ all good farm practices, including many you mention above, we had a group fecal sample come back in December that had small amounts of each (Strongyles 45epg, Coccidia 25epg & Nematodirus 10epg). While those numbers alone are nothing to worry about (we worry when we see numbers in the several hundreds, but the mere presence of Nemotodirus had my Vet suggesting treatment with oral Fenbendazole for the entire herd for 3 days), we did start top dressing our fodder mats with DE at that point for 30 days. Our recheck just recently received back showed: Strongyles 5epg, Coccidia 0epg & Nematodirus 0epg. In my experience, DE needs to be a regular part of an animal’s diet, in small amounts to impact overall health, just another tool in the toolbox. I’m not really surprised that there are studies that discount this effectiveness, as there are studies also in support of effectiveness as well. Sometimes delivery methods of DE (like top dressing dry hay or dry pellets) can inhibit regular uptake.

      You are spot on in mentioning that it takes a combination of well-thought and applied farm practices, tuned to each individual farm, that really makes the difference. In adopting any and all new practices for a farm, “Caveat emptor” (“Buyer Beware”) certainly should be a barometer, another favorite Latin phrase of mine is “Est modo in rebus.” I lean towards the Buddhist sounding translation of “there is a middle ground in things, there is a middle way”. One should always strive for the middle path and not lean toward the extreme in relying on any singular practice.

  9. As my horses will be tested next week, I’ll report back on my parasitic readings, David.

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