Monday, November 11, 2013

No More Poison — Life Without De-Wormers

by Joe Camp

When we began this journey with horses, now a whopping seven years ago, we were told to de-worm our horses regularly. Some said every six weeks. Every horse. “Isn’t that stuff poison?” I would ask.
“Not really,” I would be told. Usually met with silence. And a skeptical look. “I mean, yeah, okay, it is poison. Sort of. But not that kind of poison.”
That last line was always accompanied by a sheepish little smile.
“It kills bugs doesn’t it?”
“Well, yeah. That’s its job.”
“Would you eat de-wormer?”
“I don’t have parasites.”
“Would you eat what you’re forcing your horse to eat?” I asked again.
“No,” he finally said.
“How do you know your horse has parasites,” I asked.
“I know he does not have parasites because we de-worm him every six weeks.”
“Whether he has any or not?”

Like so many other things about horse care, for me, all of this was beginning to gnaw at the edges of logic. So many times folks told me that they de-wormed all their horses on the same schedule, without a clue as to whether the horses needed it or not. With a product they wouldn’t dare put into their own bodies. There had to be a better way.

And there is. It took mere moments on Google with the prompt “How can you tell if your horse has parasites?” Click. An entire page of answers. All pretty much pointing the same way: Take a fecal sample to the vet and ask for a fecal egg count. It’s a simple, usually inexpensive process that tells you very quickly whether your horse has a problem or not. It turns out that it’s actually good for horses to have a few parasites. It’s good for their immune system. And that’s good to know. But we had six horses at that time, now eight. Eight times “usually inexpensive” can become expensive rapidly, especially if done several times a year. So I researched the process. How does one do a fecal check? I discovered it’s really not complicated. A $200 microscope and a slide kit was all it took, and I could do my own fecal checks. My birthday was coming up, so that’s what I asked for. Kathleen balked at first. “A poop tester is not very romantic,” she said. But ultimately she relented, and we were in business. Except for one thing. This process would tell me who had parasites. But not how to get rid of them without poison.

Back to Google. Google is amazing. There are a lot of things I don’t like about the internet, but I’ve grown to love Google. There is virtually no question you can ask these days that cannot be answered on Google.

And lo and behold, there is something called Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth. DE for short. It’s non-toxic, and better yet, non-systemic. It never enters the body’s systems or blood stream. It just passes through the intestines and out again exactly as it came in. Except it takes the parasites with it. And yes, I would feed it to myself. In fact, I do. Two tablespoons a day.

Among other things, I discovered:
“DE is a naturally occurring siliceous sedimentary mineral compound from microscopic skeletal remains of unicellular algae-like plants called diatoms. These plants have been part of the earth’s ecology since prehistoric times. It is believed that 30 million years ago the diatoms built up into deep, chalky deposits of diatomite. The diatoms are mined and ground up to render a powder that looks and feels like talcum powder. DE is approximately 3% magnesium, 33% silicon, 19% calcium, 5% sodium, 2% iron and many other trace minerals such as titanium, boron, manganese, copper and zirconium.

“It is apparent from the research that food grade DE provides multiple health advantages for humans and animals, as well. Diatomaceous earth is not only a remedy for parasites in our bodies. It can alleviate the potentially deadly risks of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and obesity, ameliorate annoying and stressful issues stemming from intestinal bacteria and parasites, bronchia inflammation, kidney and urinary infections, irregular bowels, as well as assist with vertigo, headaches, tinnitus, insomnia, and acts as an anti-inflammatory. Studies show diatomaceous earth can help those suffering with diabetes and with arterial disease, joint pain and may prevent or alleviate Alzheimer’s disease by preventing the absorption of aluminum. Another of the benefits of Silica is that it helps to destroy bad fats. Diatomaceous Earth is Mother Nature’s product with no harm to the environment, pets or people.”

How does it work?

“Many harmful things entering the body have a positive charge. Silica is a semi-conductive mineral which when warmed by body heat becomes negatively charged and gives off electrons. These negatively charged mineral ions and/or individual shells attract bad microbes, free radicals, positively charged waste and other harmful things. Acting as magnets, the negatively charged shells and/or ions attract and absorb positive things that are small enough to go through the holes. In addition, any larger parasites that happen to be in the stomach of digestive tract are ‘cut up’ and killed by the sharp edges of the DE (but DE does NOT kill the beneficial bacteria in the gut). Because of the strong charge, each shell can absorb a large number of positively charged substances, whether they be chemical or in the form of bacteria or viruses. They pass on through the stomach and intestine, taking these harmful substances out of the body.”

There are two links to good articles on DE at the end of this piece, but suffice to say this was the answer I was looking for. No more poison!

Does that mean I would never de-worm a horse with poison? I learned a long time ago to never say never. A couple of years ago, just before we started on our self-checks and DE program, we discovered that Pocket had gotten so infested we had no choice. So she got one big tube-in-the-tummy dose... but has been on the DE program since with no de-wormer, about two and a half years now. When we adopted our pregnant mustang Saffron she had pretty bad round worms, probably picked up in Mississippi at the BLM facility, and they were transferred to the baby, probably via poop (babies eat mom’s poop). So they each received a dose of the appropriate (if there is such a thing) de-wormer, but both have been on the DE program since. About 13 months. Now here’s an important part of the discussion. The worst thing folks do is put ALL horses on the same program (especially when poison is involved). From my very first turn at the microscope, I discovered the fallacy in doing that. At least 4 of ours test regularly at, or near, zero eggs per gram. In other words, very, very low. They get very little DE. A cup and a half a week. Two others get seven cups a week. And the remaining two get 10.5 cups a week. Pretty amazing that there is that much variance, huh?

Generally speaking, I’m told that immune systems get better with age, and our herd more or less follows that observation. Except for Pocket. She would be an exception, as there will always be. She is 16, but is one of the ones receiving 10.5 cups a week.

Our program is as follows: The fearsome foursome, as I call them, are Cash, Noelle, Mariah, and Skeeter. They have been receiving only 1/2 cup a week until recently, when I read about all the other benefits of DE besides parasites. So I upped them to a half cup on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Saffron and Stormy receive seven cups a week. Pocket and Mouse: Ten and a half cups a week.

A 50 pound bag of DE at our feed store is $18 and it lasts forever, even with eight horses.

The program is designed for each horse by trial and error. I studied, which you should do, how fecal checks are done and what to look for. Google it. There are low, moderate, and high eggs per gram conclusions. Low is, of course, the target. Anything in the low range gets no change in dosage. Anything in the moderate range might get a change of program (more diatomaceous earth) depending upon where they are in the moderate range. The new dosage is based upon best judgment. If in the low end of the high range, we’d probably just crank up the dosage of DE... in the high end of high we’d consider doing a one time poison treatment. We haven’t had to do that now since we started the DE program more than two years ago.

What’s the downside? A lot of folks want a strict set of laws to go by every time with every horse under every condition. It just doesn’t work that way. That’s where trouble starts. There is very rarely anything that we do for or with our horses that isn’t judgment-based. That’s why I impress upon you, take what I’ve said as an intro, a loose guide to get you started... but do the homework, the research, to know what you’re doing, so you can apply that “judgment” to each decision. And know that if it seems right after you’ve done all that, it most likely is right.

If you have a bunch of horses, like we do, I would definitely look into getting a microscope and kit. If you only have one or two you might want to three or four months.

Good DE article link:
Link specifically relating to animals, including horses:
Or just Google “Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth.” There’s a ton of stuff out there.

About the author:
Joe Camp has written, produced and directed seven theatrical motion pictures (including all of the Benji movies) and in addition to his national best seller “The Soul of a Horse — Life Lessons from the Herd,” he has written seven other highly acclaimed books about horses, three novels from his own screenplays, the inspirational non-fiction book “Who Needs Hollywood,” and more. Visit Joe and Kathleen at and see their videos about barefoot lifestyle at “The Soul of a Horse Channel” on YouTube.

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