One thing we can all agree upon is the importance of calcium in the diet of chickens, especially hens of egg laying age. While there are different ways to provide calciums, there have been historical debates as to what works and what does not, and why you should avoid certain methods. Here today I will be sharing what works for us. Even though it may not be a technique embraced by all, we can all learn from one another if we are willing to keep an open mind.
Since calcium is required for the formation of egg shells, it is important that hens have enough in their bodies at all times. A calcium deficiency can result in eggs with thin shells and may even lead to hens becoming egg bound. Worse yet is that a lack of calcium in the diet of a hen can lead to her body leaching calcium from her bones in order to produce eggs. Since none of this is good, having access to adequate amounts of calcium is necessary.
Some will argue that feeding egg shells back to chickens is a bad idea because it encourages them to eat their own eggs. While this is an understandable conclusion to draw, I can say with conviction that we have never had a chicken attempt to eat eggs. It actually seems like the opposite would be true in that hens provided with calcium rich crushed egg shells will consume those rather than going for their own eggs. It could be luck, but egg eating has never been a problem with which we've been faced.
If you wish to feed egg shells yourself, the easiest way is to break them down and offer them separately from food as a free choice option so your chickens can consume what they need. To crush egg shells, rinse them thoroughly in the sink and remove the membrane. It is not necessary to bake them in the oven, but you can do this to make them easier to crush. Otherwise take your dry eggs and place them on a cookie sheet or inside of a plastic bag, then run a rolling pin over them a few times. The goal is to break them into small fragments as opposed to crushing them into a powder. If crushed too finely, calcium benefits are lost as the powder will pass through the chickens without absorbing into their systems.
In the event that you are opposed to feeding egg shells, another option is crushed oyster shells. Available for purchase commercially, oyster shells will offer the same calcium benefits as egg shells but they come at a price whereas egg shells are produced plentifully and free for your own use. Should you live in an area where oystering is popular, such as on the Gulf of Mexico, you can probably pick up oyster shells at harbors or even local restaurants, although crushing them at home will be far more difficult than crushing egg shells. If you are in doubt as to which you prefer, oyster or egg shells, conduct a taste test amongst your chickens. Put out a bowl of each and let them make the choice for you, then replenish whichever option they prefer on an as needed basis.
It all comes down to preference and personal beliefs when it comes to choosing a calcium source. There is no right or wrong answer; you just have to go with your gut on this one. The only thing that should truly be avoided is adding egg shells to food as this can cause roosters and immature birds to experience calcium levels that are too high for their needs; free choice is much better because the bodies of your birds will signal them to consume only what they need. Something else to remember is to never feed the shells of eggs purchased elsewhere to your chickens as those shells might contain foreign bacteria that your chickens are not used to which could lead to illness.
Whether you feed egg shells or crushed oyster shells, feel free to share your experiences below. There are pros and cons to everything and we all stand to learn from the experiences we share.