A while back I provided a post entitled Feeding for Healthy Chickens that described conditions where chickens could eat their own eggs. This post provides you with some good ideas on just what to do to prevent the problem in most cases. However, it seems that the post doesn’t go quite far enough. There are situations where the weather is cool, the chickens are perfectly healthy, and they aren’t eating their eggs when you’ll still see broken eggs in the coop. In this case, you see the whole egg and need to clean it up immediately. However, the defining characteristic of this condition is that the shell will be paper thin.
Chickens need sunlight, just like everyone else, to produce Vitamin D. In addition, chickens need quite a bit of calcium in their diet and it isn’t always easy to get them to eat enough. When you see that the chickens are healthy and that the weather isn’t too hot, but the shells are still thin, it’s a sign that the chickens likely have a Vitamin D or calcium deficiency. In this case, the thin shells came right after winter, so the problem was Vitamin D.
In order to combat this problem, you may need to resort to unusual measures. In order to fix this particular problem, I started feeding the chickens expired yogurt. No, the yogurt hadn’t gone bad yet, but it was far enough past the expiration date that it had started separating quite badly. The chickens won’t care. It turns out that chickens absolutely love yogurt and can’t get enough of it. Just make sure the yogurt you feed them is made with Vitamin D enriched milk or has the vitamin added to it.
After some experimentation, I found that I could get the shells to harden up by feeding our ten chickens 1 cup of yogurt each day for about a week. Given that I have a cheap source for expired yogurt, I’ll keep feeding them yogurt on a regular basis, but not continuously. Part of the problem here is to ensure you get high quality eggs without cutting your profits too much. An egg shell should be relatively thick and smooth. When you start to see the egg shell getting thin and rough, it’s time for more yogurt.
There is a problem that can occur when you feed the chickens too much calcium. I’ve actually managed to get the shells thicker than they should be and that makes the eggs hard to use. If you like your eggs over easy or sunny side up, it’s important to maintain the correct egg shell thickness. Let me know about your egg production problems at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.
It’s essential that you maintain close contact with your animals to ensure they remain healthy. Even if you do all of the right things, It isn’t always easy to maintain good animal health. This seems to be especially true with chickens.
We decided to start raising laying hens this year after building a new chicken coop from recycled materials (see the series of coop-related articles). At first the chickens were quite happy and produced eggs regularly. However, with the excessive summer heat, we noticed that their egg shells (not the inside of the egg) seemed to suffer. The eggs weren’t quite as smooth as normal and the shells were thinner.
We had given the chickens oyster shells to eat and they have access to a wide variety of plants and insects, so we thought we were covered. However, it turns out that the chickens weren’t eating the oyster shells and that the summer heat was severely draining their calcium levels—yet another effect of global warming. Because we were inexperienced, we missed some warning signs and the chickens actually began eating their own eggs.
After a lot of thought, we finally found some solutions to fix the problems with our chickens that may be helpful to anyone else who is encountering this problem. Here are the things we changed in our coop and our chickens seem a lot healthier now than before.
- Place the water feeder where it won’t get dirty (after all, chickens are birds and will fly to the water).
- Mix the oyster shells into the feed at a ratio of 9:1 to ensure the chickens get enough calcium in their diet.
- Collect the eggs several times a day.
- Remove any broken eggs from the coop.
- Add a vitamin D supplement to the chicken’s water during high heat times when the birds are less likely to get the full amount of sun they require (if you don’t want to use the supplement, then give the chickens vitamin D enhanced milk).
- Provide fake eggs in each of the nest boxes (the chickens will peck the fake eggs, find that they won’t break, and be less likely to peck the real eggs as result).
Things could have easily been worse. We didn’t lose any chickens this summer and they do all seem to weigh about as much as they should. All of the chickens have remained active. We also didn’t make a few of the mistakes that novices can make, such as feeding the chickens raw eggs or eggshells (which will encourage the chickens to eat their own eggs). Even so, as with everything else we’ve done so far, this summer has been a learning experience and I expect that we have more to learn as we move forward.
Making sure your chickens have access to a variety of greens and insects is an essential part of raising healthy birds. However, there is more to it than that and unfortunately, chickens don’t come with a manual. You may find that you need to work with individual birds to get the most out of them. Let me know your thoughts about raising chickens at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.