Monday, August 17, 2009

Calcium for the Chickens

Laying hens need calcium so their eggs will have nice, hard shells. If they do not get enough calcium, they will lay eggs with soft or very thin shells. We feed our chickens an organic poultry feed that may supply a little calcium, but we only feed them this once daily, and we only give them about 2 cups for all three of them.

The rest of their diet is foraged from the acre of our land on which they free range from dawn till dusk, and from the kitchen scraps we provide. In order to insure they get enough calcium, one can supplement with limestone or ground oyster shell calcium. I don't have limestone readily available, and I am not a fan of ingesting shellfish in any way, so I don't want my chickens eating shells.

So, we have chosen the route that seemed somewhat cannibalistic at first, but is really not so. We give the chickens their own shells back. Many with small flocks do this, and it is an accepted method of supplying calcium to chickens. Also, it does not cost anything. How is it done?
  • We wash and save the used shells until we have about 8 or more, then we wash them again and then boil them in a saucepan for about 10 minutes.
  • We dump the boiling water, then thoroughly rinse the newly sanitized shells and set them out to dry
  • Once dry, we place them into a blender or spice grinder (they will rough up the inner surface of the Bella Cucina blender, so I will now be using my Shortie mini grinder designated for the sole purpose of egg shell grinding)
  • Grind them until they are unrecognizable (we take them to an almost powdered stage)
  • Then mix with their grit, their feed, or place alone in a feeder as a free choice supplement
  • The reason behind grinding this so fine is that it keeps the chickens from recognizing it as egg shells. If they realize they are eating egg shells, they are likely to start pecking at their freshly laid eggs, and that would be a DISASTER! Once a hen starts pecking its own eggs, I have read that they will always continue to do so.
So far, this method is working for us, and we have seen no evidence of impending calamity. Our chickens have been laying for just over a month, and we are getting three eggs a day, almost every day now. Occasionally there are only two. Once we got four in one day (from three chickens) - Wow!

I don't remember where I first came across this tip about using egg shells as calcium, but my Google search term was "calcium for chickens" and I found a wealth of information. I also have some print resource books about raising chickens that I consult when necessary.

How do you feel about this method?
How do you supplement calcium for your chickens?


Splendid Little Stars said...

fascinating! I don't have chickens, so can't comment. What color are the eggs, I'm wondering?

Midwest Midwife said...

I have to wonder if the water from boiling the shells would also contain calcium. If so, could this be mixed in small amounts to their regular water supply? Just an idea.

Argentum Vulgaris said...

Great post, i stumbled it.