How to Feed Eggshells to Chickens

egg shells

It’s been rather egg-y around The Prairie Homestead lately. We’ve talked about whether or not to wash farm fresh eggs and how to go about freezing them for later. 

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.

fresh eggs

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! ;)

The shells after being baked and crushed

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.

UPDATE:

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.

Egg shell feeder in the chicken coop

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:

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Comments

  1. I didn’t know people nor fowl ate eggshells. I love all the info I get from your blog. By the time we are ready to have our own flock, i’ll be very well versed, thank you :)

  2. I’ve always feed the eggshells back to our chickens. Everyone tells me it will teach them to eat their eggs but I’ve never had a problem with it.
    I throw the eggshells into the scrap pail and they get feed daily to the chickens when the scrap pail goes out.

  3. So I’m pretty sure that I’m going to learn something new every day on your blog! :)

    Thanks for your sweet comment in response to mine that I left for you yesterday. The reason for my visit today is to let you know that I did reference you in a post that I wrote (on soup!) and I just wanted to make you aware!

    Looking forward to learning so much more…like why I shouldn’t wash my eggs…we buy our eggs (brown) from the butcher in town…and I’ve often thought they looked a bit “dirty” :) or that I could crush them up and feed them to the chickens…or myself apparently!

    Take care,

    Valerie

  4. Wow, how cool! We are gearing up to start raising chickens, and I had heard that one of the best foods for them is bone meal. But that’s cause it’s made of calcium, which made me think, “Couldn’t you just give them back their egg shells, then?” since they are made of the same thing? Well, I guess you sure can!! Very good to know.

    I was also wondering — can I also make my own bone meal out of used broth bones? Any tips on that process? I’d like to use them up completely if I can, rather than tossing them out!

    • I tried this with my used broth bones. I cooked them long enough that they became crumbly (some of them, anyway), then had my 6-year-old smash them against a rock with a hammer til they were powder. Kind of a lot of work but if you can find some cheap labor it might work. I also read you can bury them deep in your garden for a long-term release of calcium since it takes forever for them to break down. Can’t vouch for it but it seems like it should work. I’d love to hear ideas – I hate to waste anything, even broth bones!

  5. My husband grew up in Central America and they were very poor. My mother-in-law used to bake then grind up the egg shells into a fine powder & put it in food for the kids because she couldn’t afford vitamins. Despite her being barely 5 ft. tall, all the kids ended up quite tall (hubby is 6’2″ & his shortest sister is 5’6″).

  6. I have a flock of laying hens right now and am using the oyster shells. I put them in a bowl and it takes them about a month to eat the little dish. (10 chickens) Awhile ago I had a flock of laying hens and fed them their eggs, for the reasons mentioned above, and they ended up being the egg-eaters. It started with one and then the entire flock was eating their eggs! I never got another egg after that. Since then I have been afraid to use their own eggs.

  7. I was just thinking about feeding my chickens their eggs and wasn’t sure on how to go about it! Thought I would do a search online, but alas I read your blog first. Thanks for a great post Jill :)

  8. I feed my hen their eggshells as well. I toast them lightly and them pulverize them with a mortar and pestle. I’ve found that after they lay the egg, they like to give it a little poke. If they don’t have enough calcium in their diet the egg breaks and they become eggeaters. But if the shell is hard enough they can’t crack it. Because oysters sit int he sediment of rivers and oceans, they absorb lead from the water, this means the lead transfers into their shells. The chickens eat the oyster shells and then they have lead in their diet which transfers to the eggs. For this reason, I prefer giving them their own egg shells even though the worms in the compost bin would love them.

    • Indio,
      I had never heard that about oysters and lead. How interesting. I’ve found that my chickens seem to prefer the eggshells over the oyster shell. They always waste a lot of the oyster shell on the ground. Have you noticed that at all?

      • Yes, Jill, my hens love flipping the food and oyster shells all over the place. There is word for this behavior, but I can’t recall the correct spelling of it. That’s why most of the chicken feeders have a slightly curled under edge that keeps the food from coming out easily. I mix the eggshells into a cup of raw oatmeal, as a treat, and they get their daily fix of calcium at the same time as getting some much needed protein. I’ve found that the 4% calcium level in the Blue Seal organic feed I give them isn’t enough.
        I made some cheese recently and had a gallon of whey leftover. I cooked the oatmeal in the whey and mixed the eggshells into it and they were squawking in delight. Healthy hens lay delicious eggs.

        • Oh yes, mine LOVE leftover whey and botched cheese batches too. Love your idea of using oatmeal with the eggshells.

  9. I feed my chickens eggshells every chance I get. I don’t have enough to have a continuous supply like in your picture. The eggs I get from my chickens are very yellow and very hard. I think they are getting enough calcium. I’ve not had one yet eat an egg that wasn’t given to them. I make sure they are crushed up so they don’t look like eggs.

  10. I’ve tried feeding egg shells to my hens, but they really aren’t interested. Instead of baking them, I just put them on a plate and let them air dry for a few days. maybe baking them makes them taste better?

    • Your hens might just not be needing the calcium right now. They seem to self-regulate pretty well.

    • We simply put ours in a container on top of a hot water radiator next to our stove, it naturally dries them, this summer we will have to try the oven, but our chickens just started laying in December so this has worked for now… we’ve had 2 soft shell eggs, but that’s it, we gave them a bowl of shells when we discovered the 2nd egg like that and haven’t seen any since, I plan to offer them the crushed egg shells periodically to help prevent any issues, I also believe that they’ll know if they need it!

  11. We have always boiled the eggshells and then I use an immersion blender to crush them to tiny little bits. We put this in with the compost. The chickens go about eating little bits of this and that and also eat the eggshell. They seem to enjoy picking out the tiny bits. We boil them and crush them only to discourage egg pecking. They get a taste for egg and its hard to get them to stop. Boiled and mixed with kitchen green waste seems to disguise the taste enough so they don’t get into the egg pecking.

    Of course I don’t really know if chickens can “taste”, but I know there are greens they will eat and some they will not.

  12. When I raised chickens we always fed them the egg shells it would have been a shame to waste such a valuable resource that was free. B

  13. Yes! We feed our shells right back to our chickens. I do not bake mine, I have but it is not my normal routine. I have a pot that sits on the counter that all scraps go into. When we cook eggs (daily) I put the shells crushed down right at that moment into the pot. When I go out in the afternoons for the feeding I just give a stir to what is in the pot and toss it in to the girls. In the course of one day I may not have enough to take out, so it is there under the lid until the next day! Thanks for a great post. (never eaten them.. gonna go read about that now!)

  14. We feed our chickens egg shells too. In the summer i dry them out and make them easy to crush in the hot sun. In the winter (which seems to be 9 months long in Michigan :)
    we throw them in the oven when we are already pre-heating the oven for baking. The pre-heating time seems to be perfect. Then smash and throw them in the coop. Our chickens seem to prefer them thrown out into the grassy meadow. They look like they’re having a lot of fun pecking around trying to find them. Thank you for the post! I love it that I’m not the only one pondering questions like this.

  15. Eating eggshells, not yet, but we ‘drink’ them. Egg shells boiled in water. The calcium rich water is used in cooking, and added to animals water bucket. I throw eggshells in the stock pot too to add more nutrients.

  16. Can you also store the egg shells in the freezer until ready to use? My first flock is not laying yet but I have been saving the shells for this very purpose. The eggs come from a trusted farmer at the farmer’s market. I just don’t want the shells to rot for the next month or two.

    • Hi Amy,
      I’m thinking you could probably freeze the eggshells without any problem.
      However, if you only need them to keep for a month or two, I bet if you made sure they were thoroughly dry, they would keep just fine outside of the freezer, too.

    • I wash them and sun dry. Can keep many months like that

  17. Hi! Thanks for the post. We just tried this for the first time today, so we’ll see how it goes. :)

  18. Hi Jill,
    Just wandered in from squidoo! I know that this is an oldish post but we also feed our chooks leftover shells. I simply roll my big knife over them a few times which makes them really tiny and then mix it in with the leftover food scraps that I top up the chooks rations with.

    I must admit I would love to get a ‘professional’ opinion on how the chickens digestive system deals with crushed shells though, and how much calcium they can ‘recover’ from the shells.

    Be a shame to do it all these years only to find out that they pass it straight through lol!

    Stay well
    Ian

    • I agree Ian- it would be interesting to know. However, my gut instinct says that they probably are able to digest a decent amount, since they are so naturally interested in eating those shells. And since other wild birds also eat shells, I’m betting it definitely serves a purpose. Glad you found me! :)

      • :-) Like they say Jill, look to the past! If the ‘old hands’ were feeding shells to their chooks, there must be some wisdom in it.
        Take care

  19. Oops, sorry Jill wasn’t squidoo, I was googling “homemade chicken disinfectant” and found you that way.

    One of these days I am going to get lost in here and not find my way home ;-)
    Ian

  20. It didn’t cause my chickens to eat their eggs, but it did cause the guineas to peck the chicken eggs. I had to separate the guinea’s for a while.

  21. My mother always put her shells in the oven until brittle, crushed them and fed them to the chickens. I do the same thing.

  22. Hi there have just included a link to this entry in my blog. Glad to see that baking the eggshells is a good thing to do. Will do it on our return to Oz too.

  23. I heat the shells and then grind them in a Vitamix to a fine powder. I find it PREVENTS egg eating rather than causes it.

  24. David Arcangel says:

    Whatever happened to the custom of putting a couple of egg shells in the pot of boiling coffee? Good way for you ladies to get some additional calicum.

  25. I’ve been using oyster shell with my chickens for years. It’s inexpensive and a small amount lasts a long time. I just keep a rabbit feeder full at all times, and still have an occasional shell-less egg. I also save egg shells for use in the garden for site specific calcium supplement. I bake them dry whenever I am next using the oven and store in a old coffee can. When the can is smashed full of shells, I then take a rolling pin to it for a final grind effect, and store in a large zip-loc until growing season.

  26. Michelinda says:

    I had heard that baking them changed how the hens associated with fresh eggs – changed the smell or something. I too feed mine back backed and crackled to bite size pieces, I just toss them in the straw in the chicken house and they scratch around and find the pieces and eat them. As for humans eating, it is easily absorbed (not true of all supplements). Adding Vit C at the same time increases the absorption rate. So here is how we do egg shells at my house: Take a quart jar and place eggs in it carefully (with the shell on). Fill the jar, but leave enough room to put the lid on securely. Now pour lemon juice over the eggs to the top. Close the jar tightly. Put in the fridge for 24 hours, occasionally moving upside down and right side up to shift the eggs and lemon – slow and careful – don’t break the eggs. When the 24 hours are up – GENTLY remove the eggs – some may be very soft. The citric acid in the lemon juice eats off the shell into a powdered egg shell lemon juice. If you only kept it for 24 hours, the eggs are still edible – longer and they tend to break too easy and taste lemony. Now put the jar in the fridge and shake when you need some lemon juice. Add a tablespoon a day to your tea and you have a healthy dosage of calcium and the Vit C from the lemon juice to help absorb it!

    • Great tips Michelinda! thanks so much for sharing!

      • Shweta Shinde says:

        You just put the broken shells in a dehydrator for 1 or 2 hrs. make them dry n little hard. Make the powder in a mixer & make small balls or any shape with little water, let them dry in a dehydrator or in a oven or naturally. Store them and use as ready to eat ,

  27. My Dad always put his egg shells in the oven to bake for a few minutes, crushed the shells and feed the eggshells back to his chickens….He had the best eggs…Healthtly chickens with good strong egg shells…Also made boiled eggs easy and clean peel…DAD always had his chickens around and we always had good fresh eggs! His rosters would let Dad pick them up and he would hold them under one arm and the would fall off to sleep! I can still see those rosters up under his arm….

  28. We have 27 hens & it’s the kids job to collect & sell the eggs. They collect them daily & label each dozen with the date collected. My question is…how long can u keep eggs before they need to be used (or sold)? We store them in egg cartons (unwashed) & on a shelve, until they sell & then wash them off before giving them out. I’ve always heard that if you wash them, you need to store in frig. Is this true? Thank you for your blog…I’m learning allot!

    • Yes, I would agree about storing in the fridge if you are washing them. As far as how long they keep– I don’t have an exact time frame, but I know it’s quite a while! I’ve had cartons in my fridge for months sometimes.

  29. @Stacy
    Shelf life of eggs: my friend runs an organic egg and vegetable farm, he told us one day that even though eggs sold in shops “expire” in 2-3 weeks, eggs have longer shelf life than that! If stored in the fridge (4degC) it can last for 2-3 months with no problem. Do not wash your eggs as the layer of natural “bloom” on the shell surface protects it from external pathogens.

    I read more about this online, Mother Earth News did a little home experiment and their conclusion for best storage is unwashed eggs in sealed container, at 2-4degC.
    http://www.motherearthnews.com/Sustainable-Farming/1977-11-01/Fresh-Eggs.aspx?page=4#axzz2Q2tjoPL6

    Wiki Answers said well-stored eggs keep for 6-7 months. Also suggested to avoid storage in paper cartons over long periods, to prevent eggs from drying out. Sounds sensible to me!
    http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_is_the_shelf_life_of_eggs

  30. Amanda F says:

    Hi,
    I just found your website and I’m really enjoying it!! We live way out in the country in a small town in Arkansas. We recently IMPULSE bought 5 chickens and 4 goats ( a momma two babies and a young male) lol. We have a ton of acres for them to roam, so why not right?! All of our neighbors are my husbands family so if they go to far it wouldn’t be SO bad But we do keep them in a fence a lot too. I was wondering what you’re feeding your chickens? Do you buy any feed or just all scraps. I’m so new to all this I just don’t have a clue!! I read that if you don’t feed them layer feed they will not get what they need you MUST buy a commercial feed!!! But then I think yeah but they also say if you don’t vaccinate your children they will probably GET SICK AND DIE!! Lol well that’s what they imply anyways. Yet I choose to eat healthy and not vaccinate. ;) so I’m wondering is it the same with chickens? Could I feed them majority scraps and give eggshells and maybe just some feed sometimes? Or is there a non gmo organic type of feed I could get? I bought mine at orschelins and its layer feed, in a red bag. Can’t think of the brand. You sound a lot like me! I guess that’s why I’ve enjoyed this website so much. Only you are more experienced!! Please let me know what you’re feeding them!! Also what type of goats do you milk? I think ours are pigmy goats. I was wanting to milk her after the babies are big enough to wean but I don’t know anything about that!!

    • Well, good question! I have also been scared to try anything but commercial laying feed until now (I also came across those scary warnings…) However, I’ve been chatting with local folks and it seems like many of them simply free-range their flock, and then supplement with a little bit of organically grown wheat and kitchen scraps. Their flocks are thriving– so I want to do a bit more research and then I might give it a try. You have to wonder how folks kept chickens for hundreds of years before the fancy feed was invented! ;)

      And we have Nubian goats. :)

  31. So enjoying your website and I reference it in my workshops I present
    Cheers Annie

  32. Jennifer says:

    I love you very imformative blog I was wondering your thoughts on my chickens, I have black austrolops and they have been on layer feed since four months old and are free range. They are now six and half months old and have not started laying. I have tried leaving them in their coop for a few days and still no eggs. I did have one idea this morning that their coop is close to the house and thought maybe the AC unit noise could be distrubing them, or am I am just too anxiuous. Please help!!! Thanks Jennifer

  33. I dry and crush my eggshells and feed them back to the chickens as well. My Mom even brings her shells back to me! It still amazes me, how once you start thinking more logically about how you do things, instead of just assuming you have to always buy what you need, it changes the way you look at EVERYTHING you do.

  34. Fortunate says:

    Hello jill.
    Thanks so much i have really enjoy reading your blog on eggshell.
    Jill. What is the important of eggshell to snail because i have some snail at home that am taking care.

  35. Roger Harkins says:

    While doing an experiment on raising chickens on the cheap I discovered that chickens love crushed clam shells from along the banks of the river and lakes. I fed my chickens on scraps and spilled grain I had salvaged. They can survive on what they can catch and what they find in the yard but do much better with some grain to help.

  36. Shweta Shinde says:

    Just put the broken egg shells in a dehydrator for 1/2 hrs. They will become little hard, then put it in a mixer & make powder of it. Make small balls with a little water, again dry them in a dehydrator or oven or naturally. Store them in a dry place. You can use them as instant food any time.

  37. If you intend on using your chickens eggs to birth more chickens it is best to not feed them their shells. What happens is the shells get too thick and the baby chicks can’t break out. Tried this once, but even in trying to help them along they still died. If you feed you chickens egg shells then be sure you are eating the eggs!

  38. I loved everything I read tonight! Thank you so much for all the info. I really did learn alot and enjoyed reading and learning from you! Keep it up! =)
    ~Andrea

  39. I just randomly found our blog and im super excited to read more of your articles! I have always added eggshells to my tomato plants and have heard about giving them to chickens too, but i never knew the best way to go about it. im so glad I read this i have a few gallon sized zip lock bags full of crushed egg shells, im going give my ladies some shells tomorrow!

  40. I share mine between the chickens and the dogs. With the chooks I just hand crush and throw it into their scraps and with the dogs I bake them and blend them into a powder and add to their other vitamins as a calcium supplement.

  41. Yes, I do. I have a jar of powdered egg shells that i had collected a couple years ago, air dried several days and then powdered in my vitamix. i was planning on sprinkling it on my garden. never got around to that, so now i am adding a couple tablespoons of it to my chickens mashed potatoes – yes i am making mashed potatoes for my chickens in these cold months. it’s easy to add little things to it, like flax seeds, beef tallow, egg shells.

  42. My brother suggested I would possibly like this website. He used to be entirely right. This submit truly made my day. You can not consider just how so much time I had spent for this information! Thanks!

  43. HI, THIS MAY SOUND FUNNY FROM A CITY GIRL BUT—I HAVE FED A FEW CHICKENS IN MY DAY. MOST FARMERS IN THE DAY NEVER WASTED A SHELL. THEY ALWAYS MASHED THEM UP & FED THEM BACK & ALSO ASKED THEIR CUSTOMERS FOR SHELLS TOO WHICH THEY WERE HAPPY TO GIVE THE. NO CHICKENS DO EAT MEAT & LOVE TO EAT OTHER CHICKENS. NOTHING WAS WASTED ON THE FARM BACK IN THE DAY. WHEN THE OLD UNCLES GOT THRU WITH CHICKEN DINNER THE BONES WENT TO THE CHICKEN YARD & THEY LOVED IT. ANYTHING FROM THE BIRD THEY CUT OFF THAT THEY DID NOT COOK WENT BACK TO THE YARD THEY GIRLS LOVED IT. YES THE UNCLE WOULD WASH THE EGGS GENTLY BEFORE HE SOLD THEM. THE BIRDS POOP ON THEM. NO THEY SHOULD NOT EAT ROTTEN FOOD. YES THEY LOVE GREENS. ROTTEN STUFF IS COMPOST!!!!!. WANT TO HAVE FUN ONE DAY. COOK EXTRA PASTA & LEAVE IN THE FRIDGE FOR A DAY SO IT GET ALL RUBBEREY. TAKE IT OUT TO THE CHICKEN YARD & START THROWING IT AROUND IT BOUNCES & THEY CHASE IT. ITS A RIOT. LOL.

  44. Hi Jill,

    I’m just curious…do you rinse the eggshells before you toss them under the sink and before you heat them, or just crack em and toss? I have a bunch I’ve been saving in the refrigerator, unwashed, to break up and put in and on the garden. Getting my baby chicks soon, so in a few months I’ll be wanting to give the shells to them.
    Thanks!
    Margo

  45. OOPs….I had a second question! Re: whey, I usually get 1/2 cup full or more from my homemade yogurt weekly, and am wondering how long it will stay good in the fridge? I recently tossed some out where the compost pile is going to go, but not sure what else I can do with it! Any info or suggestions would be appreciated…I have already learned SO much from you!!

    Margo

  46. Lacy Ferrell says:

    Quick question, I had about a dozen egg shells that I put on the counter for a few days. They were dry and then I ground them up and fed them to the chickens, in powder form. My question is, I didn’t bake them. Should it be ok? They were dry and ground really small. Thanks so much

  47. Marsha McCallum says:

    Has anyone ever had tough yokes? My girls lay some eggs with tough yokes, they don’t want to scramble. Do you know what causes that?

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