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Saturday, February 4, 2012

Crushing Eggshells as a Free Calcium Source for your Chickens



Like anything else relating to raising backyard chickens, there seem to be lots of different opinions about feeding eggshells back your chickens. But what everyone does agree on is that laying chickens need a lot of calcium to ensure strong eggshells.  If they do not have enough calcium to create the shell, it will result in very thin-shelled eggs and calcium will start being leached from the hen's bones. You can buy commercially packaged crushed oyster shell, or you can save money by processing your eggshells to feed back to your hens.




Farmers and homesteaders have been feeding eggshells to their chickens for hundreds of years.  It makes sense. Why throw out something that is a free source of such an important nutrient that your chickens need ?  


Don't worry, feeding your chickens eggshell will not lead to egg eating. I have never had any eggs eaten by my girls.  In fact, I think it does the opposite. By providing them as much as calcium as they need, their bodies won't crave any more and they won't be tempted to peck at the shells of the eggs they lay. 


And the law of diminishing returns won't apply as long as you feed the eggshells free-choice, not mixed into their feed, so they can freely eat as much or as little as they need.  I don't recommend mixing the shells into the feed anyway because if you have roosters, drakes or pullets who haven't started laying yet, they don't need the calcium and too much can actually damage pullets' kidneys later in life.


You don't need to bake or microwave the shells.  Air drying is easier and works just as well. However, if you are baking already and have room in the oven, you can bake the shells until they crumble easily instead of air drying them.

One word of caution:  Never feed store bought eggshells, because they can contain bacteria that your hens are not accustomed to.  Only feed your hens their own shells.

Here is the simple method I use to process my eggshells:

Rinse the empty shells under cool water, removing the membrane.



Spread shells out to dry on a paper towel.


Once dry, store the shells on the counter in a canister or other container, crushing them a bit with your fingers to compact them,  until you have a good amount collected.


When your container is full, put the shells in a plastic ziplock bag and use a rolling pin to crush the shells into pieces roughly 1/8" in size.  Don't pulverize them, if the pieces are too small, not enough calcium ends up being absorbed into the chickens' systems but instead passes right through.


I leave a small bowl of eggshells in a container next to my girls' feeder and refill it as needed. They will only eat as much as they need, so don't worry about leaving the bowl out for them all the time.


I have done 'unofficial' side-by-side taste tests and find that my chickens will always eat the crushed eggshell before the oyster shell. They seem to prefer them much better.


Easy and free...doesn't get much better than that. 

So what's your take? Crushed oystershell or crushed eggshell?



35 comments:

  1. We were just discussing egg shells last night. Voila! You post an article. I was going to TSC today and pick up oyster shell. Now, I'll wait for egg shells. About how long does it take for them to dry?

    Mike ~ ourlittlemeadow.blogspot.com

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    1. A few hours on the paper towels and then I leave them at least a few days in the canister, you can crush them wet but they don't crush as well.

      You also CAN put them in the microwave for a minute or two to dry them immediately, or in the oven if you're baking something anyway, to speed up the drying process if you need some right away.

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  2. Thanks so much for sharing this information with us. Much appreciated! :)

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  3. I was adding our crushed, dry shells to the chicken's food, but I decided to put a metal dog dish with the shells out this week. I was amazed that the hens gobbled up the dish full in a couple of days!

    Oh, and we place our shells onto a metal sheet that fitsw into our small toaster oven. When we get done toasting bread and the oven is off (but warm) we slip in the sheet and shells. A few times through and they're dry and ready to crush.

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    1. Yes I think in a separate dish is better. I notice mine empty the bowl in a few days also.

      Good idea to use the toaster oven. I never think to put mine in the oven after I'm done baking or cooking dinner.

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  4. BTW, LOVE your feeder. Think I'm going to have to make us one!

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    1. Thanks Sara. I used a wooden window box from Lowes and just painted it and corked the hole in the bottom. Then screwed in the uprights and made the L-shaped roof out of plywood and nailed on some cedar shakes. The eggshell dish is a plastic Beneful dog food container.

      I love these feeders - they do a good job of keeping the rain and snow out of the feed and the girls can't sit or poop in them.

      I think they all like lining up side by side to eat also - I've seen as many as ten on both sides eating. That's way more than can eat from the traditional
      metal feeders.

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    2. Sorry...five on each side, ten all together !

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  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  6. I have been saving egg shells from work...now I see not to feed them back unless it is their own...looks like I'll be using those shells in the garden or compost instead. Go figure...lol

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  7. Just to be on the safe side. Storebought shells can introduce bacteria you just don't want to have in your run. You can sprinkle them in the garden to deter slugs, compost them or also plant seeds in them and then plant the whole thing in the ground.

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  8. So glad I had read this article awhile back, and glad your blog is so easily searchable....we finally started getting eggs from our girls and saved some shells and will try this out, thanks for all of the great info :D

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    1. Sounds good ! I agree the blog is a great way to organize and categorize. I love facebook because of the interaction, but you can't beat the blog for easy reference.

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  9. its a good thing i read this article because i was just about to go out and feed my hens store bought eggshells

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  10. how important is it to remove the membrane?

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    1. The shells dry faster and crush alot easier if you remove the membrane. If you bake them, toast them in a toaster oven or microwave them you can leave the membrane on but I find to air dry them, taking the membrane off just makes things easier.

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  11. I never knew you could do this...we'll start tomorrow! thanks.

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  12. This is great information. I never thought about doing this but will be starting today after peeling my hard boiled eggs! Thanks so much!

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  13. Can you put the eggs in a dehydrator?

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  14. I am so glad I read your blog. I don't have chickens, but I wanted to save my eggshells for my tomato plants in the spring, but was not sure exactly how to do this. So, thanks for all the great information. We are thinking about getting chickens...maybe one day.
    Smiles
    Maxie

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  15. What about leftover incubated egg shells? we dont eat our chicken eggs. we sell them or hatch them.
    Brice

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  16. Just wondering if eggshells as a sole source of calcium is sufficient, or do I need to be supplementing with an additional source? Thanks!

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    1. Just layer feed and the eggshell should be sufficient. I only use oyster shell when I don't have enough eggshells (ie during molting season)

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  17. Been saving my store-bought eggshells for a couple weeks now, anticipating the day my 6 week old pullets will need the added calcium. Thankful I read this blog so I'll put all these in my composts or around some plants in the garden. At what age will they actually need extra calcium?

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    1. Oh no! They would probably be fine, especially if you microwaved or bake them to kill any germs but instead use them in the garden. As long as they are on layer feed, they should be fine until they lay some eggs and you can start feeding the shells back.

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  18. I've just started doing this as well. Though I cook mine in the oven (when I have it on anyway) then crush them really small. I did a blog post on this at http://www.nzecochick.com/2013/08/chicken-calcium-from-their-own-shells.html Mx

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  19. I love your feeder, but I have a question. Do you have problems with other non-chicken wild birds and mice eating the food out of the feeder? Or do you put it away at night. I'm wondering, because we had problems with leaving the feeder out and having mice come around.

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    1. Oh you need to take the feed up at night. I give whatever is left over to our ducks and they finish it off overnight, they are a bit more nocturnal than chickens are.

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  20. Lisa, Thank you so much for all of the information you provide. I'm just starting out with baby chicks and turkeys this year. So I look forward to reading what you have on your page daily.

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  21. Is ok to feed eggs shells from another flock if you microwave them for a bit? and how long should you microwave say a 12 eggshells? or should I just wait till mine lay their own eggs? which should be in a few weeks. thanks

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  22. Is ok to feed eggs shells from another flock if you microwave them for a bit? and how long should you microwave say a 12 eggshells? or should I just wait till mine lay their own eggs? which should be in a few weeks. thanks

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  23. oops sorry about the double post.

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Lisa of Fresh Eggs Daily
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