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Calcium: The Key to Beautiful Eggs and Healthy Hens

Calcium: The Key to Beautiful Eggs and Healthy Hens

Spring is finally on the way and many people are already seeing a welcome increase in eggs from their hens.  When the eggs start coming, calcium levels are important.  Do you know how to make sure your hens have what it takes to make strong, unbreakable egg shells?

Calcium, like many other vital nutrients, is dependent on other minerals and vitamins in order to be available to the body.  In the case of calcium, the two nutrients that affect it most are phosphorus and vitamin D3.  Calcium, Vitamin D3, and phosphorus form a sort of 3-legged stool; if any of these nutrients are out of balance, the whole stool topples and problems begin.


Calcium and phosphorus
Phosphorus is a nutrient that is highly available in the cereals or grains that make up the majority of any chicken diet.  Phosphorus deficiencies are rare with poultry given the availability and low price of grains.  However, if your birds’ diets are too high in grains, the phosphorus levels can cause an imbalance.

Adding scratch and other grains to the diet on top of a balanced and complete pelleted ration can cause an imbalance of the so-called “Cal-Phos” ratio.  When phosphorus levels are too high, the body will pull calcium not only from egg shell production but also from the beak, bones, and other vital areas where calcium is required.  Make sure that any added feeds and treats do not exceed 10% of the total weight of the diet.


Calcium and Vitamin D3
Vitamin D3 is also a vital partner in the absorption of calcium.  While D3 is readily available in correct amounts in a balanced chicken feed ration, its production within the body depends on sunshine which converts a D3 precursor into the form that chickens need.  Making sure your flock has access to at least some sunshine all year long is important to keeping D3 levels high enough to keep calcium absorbed.  Adding a supplement such as Calf Manna to your flock’s diet at least occasionally helps reduce chances of vitamin D deficiencies without offsetting the overall balance.
Keeping your flock on a complete balanced ration designed for laying hens is one way to keep the balance between calcium and its two partners correct.  Free-choice calcium supplementation also helps correct calcium levels and ensure beautiful, sturdy eggs.


Calcium supplements: insurance against calcium issues
While every laying flock should be on a completely balanced and fortified diet designed for laying hens, one should keep in mind that every laying feed is designed for a scientifically average hen. While many hens work well within the average range of calcium needed, plenty of hens will need more or less than the calcium provided.  So that all hens get what they need, your flock should be provided a good bio-available source of calcium supplement.
Ideally, calcium supplements should be provided free-choice and separate of the actual feed so that hens who instinctively know they need more calcium can pick it up on their own.  Hens have a remarkable way of regulating their own calcium levels.  A free-choice supplement allows hens that have access to pasture and forage the chance to take in calcium to balance whatever they pick up in their daily wandering.


Not just any calcium will do
A wise veterinarian once said “An old leather shoe contains a wide range of minerals; however, if you eat it you won’t absorb any of them.”  Calcium supplements should always be evaluated for how bio-available or readily absorbed and used they are to the chicken.  While there are plenty of ways that people think they can supplement calcium, not all of them work – no matter if your best friend’s grandma Betty did it “and never lost a chicken in her 100 years of owning them”.

One of the best sources for calcium for hens is ground oyster shell.  This type of calcium is very readily available to the body and palatable to hens.  Ground oyster shell does not spoil if kept outside, dissolves easily in the gizzard once ingested, and is inexpensive.  Oyster shell can be bought in 50 pound bags or even in convenient 5 pound bags for smaller flocks.  Putting a dish of this near your feeders allows hens to help themselves when they need more calcium.


Supplement now; avoid issues later
Many people ask “If my hens have good shells now, why supplement at all?”  The problem with egg shells and calcium is that when you start to notice problems, there could already underlying issues which can be dangerous or even life-threatening to your hens.  Waiting until seeing a soft shell just means gambling with some of your best laying hens. Why gamble?
Eggs with even a slightly soft exterior are more likely to hang up in the system, causing the dreaded egg binding or peritonitis that causes the death of many a treasured hen.  Providing a means by which the hens can regulate their own calcium helps avoid these tragedies.


Understanding the relationship of calcium to other nutrients and how to provide calcium are the two keys to keeping your hens happy and productive.  Given these keys, any flock can lay exceptional and consistently beautiful eggs with the right nutrition and supplementation.


Nathalie (Ross) Norris is a writer, animal lover, and native Texan. Her love of keeping chickens started at a young age. Many years later, she find that her favorite part of keeping chickens is helping others to enjoy it as well.

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  1. by rmccombs77
    Comment made on: November 21 2013

    Linking this to my blog. Excellent information. Thank you!

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