6 commentslast update:6 Aug 2012

Diatoms in animal feeds

With the global tendency to promote “green” products and ban antibiotics as well as other non-friendly chemical substances, the world is continuously looking at organic alternatives that may be equally effective to prevent increased costs and maintain similar livestock production.

What are diatoms?
One such a mysterious and not commonly known organic substance, Diatoms, coming from Diatomaceous earth, is mined in many parts of the world. In South Africa it is mined from seven different fresh water sources.
Diatoms have been recognized long time ago as an organic product for animal health and nutrition. It is a naturally occurring, silicon rich sedimentary rock made up of fossilized remains of millions of diatoms, a type of hard-shelled plant algae originally deposited millions of years ago in the earth from dried up seas and lakes. Once Diatomaceous earth is mined, it can be milled or processed into a myriad of types for an even greater variety of uses.
Important for livestock production is to use food grade Diatomaceous earth of sufficient purity and free from clays and that is produced from natural freshwater sources.
Diatoms used in livestock and poultry are primarily amorphous silica (>86% silicon), and is not a health hazard. The Nobel Prize winner for chemistry, Professor Adolf Butenant proved that life cannot exist without Silica. At the same time Dr. Barbara Hendel stated that "Silica is the most important trace mineral for human health!"
Diatoms in livestock and poultry production
Food grade Diatom users until now have reported four distinct uses in livestock and poultry production, namely insect and parasite control, mineralization, deodorization/absorption, and grain protection.
At this stage one must admit that each use for Diatoms has its own folklore, facts and fiction associated with it. Many uses are strictly reports of what people have done with the food grade Diatoms.
More proper scientific work is therefore required to confirm the many positive testimonies and some peer reviewed work that already exists to give this product its rightful place in more effective and competitive “green” livestock food production practises.
Dose response studies are required with the focus on animal performance and health improvement, rumen buffering capacity, digestive improvement, and parasite and fly control.
At the same time it must also be determined whether Diatoms can either replace, or works in synergism, with growth promoting antimicrobials and antibiotics in livestock and poultry.
Parasite and insect control
It is true, that when used under the correct conditions, almost any chemical substance is 'safe', but when used under the wrong conditions many insecticides can be a threat to health and/or the environment. The biggest driving force in the development of new insecticides has been the desire to replace toxic insecticides with “green products” to minimize the negative effects on the ecology in wilderness areas.
Diatoms have been used for at least two decades as a natural de-wormer for animals to get rid of unwanted parasites, worms, etc. Regardless of the method of operation not fully defined yet, farmers report definite control. More scientific evidence is required though to prove the different theories that exist in how it operates.
Feeding Diatoms to even healthy poultry or livestock often shows gains in production. This gain could probably be attributed to any single or combination of factors. However, the properties it contains in improving the absorption of other minerals and trace minerals, in particular the effect of silicon on improved overall mineralization (e.g. bone) as scientific studies have clearly proven, could be a good reason for some of the enhanced performance.
Since deodorizing and absorption are natural functions of Diatoms they can be added as another major farm use benefit. Two functions will continue to happen as undigested Diatoms pass through with manure.
Reduced fly hatching is usually observed in manure from livestock fed Diatoms. There is no reason why it will not be very effective in the bedding of broiler and free range layer chickens.
Evidence also shows that it binds NH3 very effectively, which will have beneficial health effects and is a reason for the product being such a good odour reducer in most intensive farming operations.
Each individual Diatom shell also has a strong negative charge. Because of the strong charge it acts as a magnet. Each shell can absorb a large number of positively charged and other unwanted substances, irrespective of whether they may be chemical or in the form of bacteria or viruses.
Diatoms therefore may perhaps be an effective replacer for antibiotic and antimicrobial products commonly used to perform these functions. Recent work also indicated that Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa were inactivated by Diatoms 86.8%, 46.7% and 94.5% respectively after only 20 minutes.
The absorption characteristics may probably be one of the most important traits Diatoms could have. Too little peer reviewed work unfortunately still exists, which makes this specific trait one of the key areas that must be researched.


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    Dr Helen Edwards

    Natural Feeds & Fertilisers Ltd has been awarded FEMAS assurance to supply, distribute and repackage a specific ADAS trialled diatomaceous Earth(DE) for addition to animal feed since July 2010 Results of feeding this brand of DE were encouraging for animal production as statistically signifcant weight gains were seen in ewes, and the single lambs they reared, over a 10 week period when the ewes were supplemented with the brand of DE daily. Lambs weight gains were solely due to their mother's milk (also noted were reduced faecal egg counts resulting in lower worm burdens on the pasture). No stock required a chemical wormer, an enormous saving on cost to the farmer.The brand chosen already had proven greater efficacy against grain storage insects due to its high surface area, compared to some other brands. It appears that the predominant species of diatom is important in the choice of DE product. The DE has been used by several farms for the last 3 years as they are very pleased with the results for stock condition and time to market, as well as the reduction in wormers required. scouring was definitely reduced and milk yields in a dairy herd study were increased whilst their cell counts and bactscan readings were reduced. This would be a study worthy of further research.The DE may help reduce build up of resisitance to chemical wormers, if animals were allowed a break from the conventional worming regime and be introduced to the natural properties of the amorphous silicon rich DE. Its cation exchange properties are also known to mobilise other trace minerals useful for cell growth and metabolism, and the negative charge of DE may trap positively charged toxins as it passes through the gut.

    For more information on animal feed uses, crop growing uses and grain storage protection please contact Dr Helen Edwards (Director)Natural Feeds & Fertilisers Ltd Tel:01970 820149
    Sole Distributor (UK)for CelTix DE.
    Email address:

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    What scientific evidence is there that bone mineralisation is being limited by lack of silicon? Could we perhaps back some of these claims up with peer reviewed citations?

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    Hossan Md. Salim

    Now a days everything is concentrate on organic feeds and feeding as it is friendly to environment as well as good for animal and human health. In this regards, Diatom will be a good organic feed sources for animals but as it is a mine sources, we have to ensure; whether it is accumulate heavy metals to the environment. If it is free of heavey metals then it will be an alternative to antibiotics and trace mineral supplements in the livestock feeds.

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    Hinner Koster


    Maybe some of these articles below could answer your question. I do however agree that it is still difficult in practise to prove how much silicon per se can affect specifically inorganic trace elment uptake in livestock and that my comment that specific research does indicate the role of silicon is based primarily on human and rat work. Therefore, one speculates on performance enhancement typically observed with DE (hope it did not come across differently), but lots of intensive work will still be required to understand some of the overall performance observations seen. Hope this answers your question in someway. The misteries of responses we observe is what we are now trying to study, but yes, one needs to be careful in what you want to claim on DE at this stage.


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    Carlisle EM. Silicon: an essential element for the chick.Science. 1972; 178:619-621.
    Schwartz K and Milne DB. Growth-promoting effects of silicon in rats. Nature. 1972; 6(239):333-334.
    Seaborn CD and Nielsen FH. Dietary silicon affects acid and alkaline phosphatase and calcium uptake in long bone of rats. J Trace Elem Exp Med. 1994; 7:11-18.
    Seaborn CD and Nielsen FH. Effects of germanium and silicon on bone mineralization. Biol Trace Elem Res. 1994;42(2):151-164.
    Najda J, Gminski J, Drozdz M, and Danch A. The action of excessive, inorganic silicon (Si) on the mineral metabolism
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    Seaborn CD and Nielsen FH. Dietary silicon and arginine affect mineral element composition of rat femur and vertebra.Biol Trace Elem Res. 2002; 89(3):239-250.
    Seabrn DC and Nielsen FH. Silicon deprivation decreases collagen formation in wounds and bone, and ornithine transaminase enzyme activity in liver. Biol Trace Elem Res.
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    38Hing KA, Saeed S, Annaz B, Buckland T and Revell PA.
    Silicate substitution alters the progression of bone apposition
    within porous hydroxyapatite bone graft substitutes.
    Trans. 50th A. Meeting Orthopaedic Research Society, San
    Francisco, CA. 2004a; vol. 29, poster 1041. Rosemont,
    IL:Orthopaedic Research Society.
    39 Hing KA, Saeed S, Annaz B, Buckland T and Revell PA.
    Variation in the rate of bone apposition within porous
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    Jared F. Brandoff, M.D.
    Department of Orthopaedic Surgery
    Long Island Jewish Medical Center, New Hyde Park, NY
    Jeff S. Silber, M.D.
    Assistant Professor, Albert Einstein School of Medicine
    Department of Orthopaedic Surgery
    North Shore/Long Island Jewish Health System, New Hyde Park, NY
    Alexander R. Vaccaro, M.D.*
    Professor, Department of Neurosurgery and Orthopaedic Surgery
    Thomas Jefferson University, The Rothman Institute, Philadelphia, PA

  • Aj Mans

    Hi Dr Koster i am looking for contact information of diatomaceous earth food grade companies. You siad that they are mining from 7 sites. Thanks Andrew.

  • Rudi

    Hi Dr Koster
    Please supply me with relevant contact information where to obtain living fresh water diotoms in South Africa
    Is it possible to contact you directly?
    My contact details are as follows
    cell 076 560 4555
    Thank you
    Rudi Van Wyk
    Diotomic Diesel

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