Another egg-related question that has recently come up is: What to do with with leftover eggshells?
Composting them is definitely one option, but did you know you can feed them back to your chicken flock?
Like anything else, there seems to be lots of different opinions about feeding eggshells back to the chickens who laid them. However, one thing that everyone agrees on is that laying hens need a lot of calcium. Every single egg that is laid contains an enormous amount of calcium. If the hen is not being provided with an extra source of it, then the rest of her body will suffer.
Being calcium deficient is not only extremely hard on the hen, but it also results in less-than-desirable eggs. While I have yet to personally have a shell-less egg, there have been plenty of times where I’ve poked a finger through a paper-thin shell while gathering the day’s eggs… A sure fire sign of low calcium.
Your local feedstore probably carries oyster shell or limestone as a calcium supplement for your flock. Buuuuut, if you are weird like me (and I know many of you are…), then you prefer to figure a more sustainable (did I mention frugal?) source of calcium for your girls.
Homesteading folk have been feeding eggshells to their chickens for hundreds of years. It makes sense. Why throw away such an easily accessible source of the very nutrient that your chickens need most?
If you are feeding your chickens a pre-mixed ration, then there is a chance that there is enough calcium already in the feed. However, why not offer them an additional free-choice option as well? And if you are more of the free-ranging, kitchen-scrap feeding, whatever-is-available type of chicken feeder, then I would highly recommend having calcium available for your hens.
But will it teach them to eat their eggs?
It could, but it’s unlikely. (Follow the tips below if you are really worried about this.) I have had a couple of egg eaters in the past, but in my experience, feeding them eggshells didn’t cause the problem. If anything, I think providing the shells has helped to decrease it. Sometimes chickens will eat their eggs because their body is craving calcium. Of course, every flock is different, so I’m sure you could have that crazy hen who has her first taste of egg shells and then becomes a rabid egg-eater for the rest of her days… It’s highly unlikely, but that’s my disclaimer!
How to Feed Eggshells
This can be as simple or as complicated as you would like. If you want, you can just toss the used shells into your scraps bucket and head out the door. I choose to be a little more in-depth with my method as you’ll see, but that’s what works for me. It’s not rocket science.
A few tips:
- As I use my eggs, I collect the shells in a bucket that I keep underneath my sink. I smash the shells down a little as I go to make room for more, but that’s it.
- Spread your collection of half crushed shells on a baking sheet and bake until the shells become brittle. (Any temp and any time period can work. If you need a baseline, try 350 degrees for 5 to 10 minutes). Some people say you should bake the shells to kill bacteria. I’m not so worried about that. Instead, I toast the shells to dry out the membrane and make them easier to crush into small pieces. (Try it once with fresh, unbaked shells. You’ll see what I mean.)
- Crush the toasted shells into “bite-sized” pieces. No need to whip out the ruler and measure them, just eye-ball it. ;). Some people use their blender or food processor to grind the shells into a fine powder. I find that plain ol’ crushing works just fine for me.
- The reason I crush the shells is to make them unrecognizable as eggs. In the past, I’ve seen my chickens make a beeline for “egg shaped objects” (ESO’s). I think that crushing the shells prevents them from thinking that whole eggs are a part of their every-day-diet. Again, this might not be necessary with your flock. Experiment a little.
- You can either mix your eggshell supplement with your chicken’s regular feed, or you can provide it free-choice in a separate feeder. I prefer the free-choice method. In the past when I’ve mixed it with their feed, they seem to ignore the shells and throw them out on the floor. I think they can tell when they need it. Let them choose.
I no longer bake the eggshells before crushing them. I just smash them a bit before tossing them into my chicken scrap bucket and feed them that way. It saves a step, and I haven’t noticed any problems from this change of method.
If I happen to have any storebought egg shells, I try to avoid feeding them to my chickens. It’s not a huge deal– more of a peace-of-mind thing for me since I have no idea of the health status of the flock where the store eggs came from. I would hate to transfer some kind of unwanted bacteria to my healthy home-grown girls. You can always toss the store-bought shells into your compost pile if you like.
And here’s a fun little fact: did you know that many people eat egg shells themselves as a calcium supplement?
I had never heard of this until recently when Donna this comment on the Washing Eggs post sharing how she prepares her eggshells. I’ve since done some searching around on the topic and found out that it’s far more popular than I thought. Neat idea, huh? I just might have to try that someday. Thanks Donna!
Do you feed eggshells to your chickens? Have you ever eaten eggshells yourself?
A few more posts from the coop:
- Eggs: To Wash or Not to Wash?
- How to Freeze Eggs
- Naturally Disinfecting the Chicken Coop
- How to Make a Homemade Chick Waterer