Natural parasite control year round

Apr 04 2012 0 Comments Tags: cattle, chemicals, chickens, diatomaceous earth, natural cattle care, parasites

When we got our dairy cow Bella we decided to only use natural methods of parasite control because we wanted the milk to be as healthful as possible.  Before that, we had been using Ivermectin and Cydectin products to control both internal parasites and buffalo fly on the cattle. We had used Malthison on the chickens when they got invested with mites, and the dogs had regular flea and worm treatments.

Fortunately I got some good advice from Bel at Home Grown to get me started.  She said to read Natural Cattle Care by Pat Coleby, and from there I also found Natural Pet Care, which helped me with the dogs (I wrote more about not using chemicals on the the dogs here).  For the chickens, I've used the ideas in Backyard Poultry - Naturally by Alanna Moore, and more recently The Small-Scale Poultry Flock, by Harvey Ussery.  Now that we have nearly had a full year without using chemicals on the cattle, I wanted to write a summary of the methods that have worked for us and the problems we've faced.

We phased on chemicals after we got Bella
Soil Test
The first advice in Pat Coleby's book is to get the soil tested for mineral deficiencies.  We did that first and found out that we were lacking calcium and copper.  This gave us some clues about what we would need to feed the cattle to keep them healthy.

Internal Parasites
We take a few approaches to preventing infestations of internal parasites in our animals.  Firstly we ensure that they move regularly to fresh pasture.  The cattle never spend more than 6 weeks in a paddock, and as we have 4 paddocks, that gives plenty of time to rest paddocks and for worm larvae to die before the cattle are returned.  Secondly, because we keep the chickens with the cattle, especially in the paddocks near the house that are used more frequently, the chickens scratch through, and spread out, the cow poo and pick out anything good to eat, which helps to clean up the paddock even further.

In addition to the physical management of the paddocks, we feed the cattle small amounts (about half a teaspoon each per day) of copper sulphate.  This maintains the copper in their bodies to a point where internal parasites are repelled.  Finally, as per Bel's suggestion, we feed diatomaceous earth (DE) around the full moon, about quarter of a cup each animal.

It hasn't been easy to find DE in our area, although at the moment we aren't using huge amounts, so its ok.  The found out that DE is mined at Mt Sylvia Diatomite in the Lockyer Valley, at Maidenwell Diatomite in the South Burnett (but currently closed due to flood damage) and at Herbeton in the Atherton Tablelands/North QLD.  None of our local produce stores stock DE (or had even heard of it!), and we were just lucky that a friend spotted a bag of the Mt Slyvia DE and bought it for us.  We will keep using it if we can keep finding it!  Smaller amounts can also be ordered from Green Harvest or from Green Pet, but of course its much cheaper to purchase bulk amounts if possible.  If you know of any bulk sources in your area, please note them in the comments as they may help others to find DE.

So far we haven't had any problems with internal parasites, however we haven't done a worm test (looking at the cow poo under a microscope and counting the worms).  We just haven't had any sick animals, so I think its been a success.

External Parasites
For the cows the main problem is Buffalo Fly in the summer and for the dogs its fleas.  Again we have a combination approach.  Both animals get extra sulphur in their food to help to repel insects.  During summer when the insects are particularly bad, we also apply a product called Cattle Coat, which is an organic oil containing various essential oils that repel flies.  It works very well.  For Bella, Molly and Rocket, as they are all very tame, I just wipe it on their coat using an old rag and watch the flies fly away.  For the two wild steers we mix it in a spray pack with water, corner them in a pen and spray them.  Both methods are very effective.  We also own, but have yet to hang, an AC Backrub, which is supposed to be used by the cattle to self-administer the cattle coat, which will be used at our new property. This will save time, although we've only have to use it about once a month this summer.

Considering that the chemicals used to cost us several hundred dollars per year, and this year we have only had to buy a little sulphur and copper sulphate, and the 20L of Cattle Coat was a $100 or so, but not even half has been used, going chemical free has been cheap and effective so far.

The dogs are chemical free too now
Our only failure is the chickens.  Despite our best efforts with feeding sulphur and dusting the nest boxes with diatomaceous earth, we still ended up with chickens with a bad lice infestation.  It was so bad that the chickens were clearly not feeling well and the normally flighty birds allowed me to pick them up, which is when I found they were crawling with lice.  At this stage we felt that it was too late to try organic methods and we decided to use chemicals to make sure that they didn't all die (it has happened to us before, that one chook died of lice, and then we realised that they all had them).  Anyway, we dunked them all in Maldison, which they hated, and the lice went away.  The chickens stunk for ages and I worried about eating their eggs (but felt like a hypocrite if I didn't eat them, after all it was our fault that they had to be treated).

The chickens have been more of a challenge
What natural methods to you use with pets and livestock for parasite control?

See my post on neem oil for more ideas, this works for chicken lice.

By the way, my chicken eBook is now available if you want to know more about backyard chickens and using chicken tractors.  More information over at the chicken tractor ebook blog.  Or you can get it directly from my shop on Etsy (.pdf format), or Amazon Kindle or just send me an email eight.acres.liz {at}

What's the eBook about?
Chickens in a confined coop can end up living in an unpleasant dust-bowl, but allowing chickens to free-range can result in chickens getting into gardens and expose them to predators.

 A movable cage or “chicken tractor” is the best of both options – the chickens are safe, have access to clean grass, fresh air and bugs. Feed costs are reduced, chickens are happier, and egg production increases. 

 But how do you build a chicken tractor? What aspects should be considered in designing and using a chicken tractor effectively? In this eBook I aim to explain how to make a chicken tractor work for you in your environment to meet your goals for keeping chickens. 

I also list what I have learnt over 10 years of keeping chickens in tractors of various designs and sizes, from hatching chicks, through to butchering roosters.

Reviews of the Design and Use a Chicken Tractor

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