Why Your Hens Need Oyster Shell
Hens need calcium to lay and have strong egg shells.
If your laying hens don’t get enough calcium their bodies will pull calcium from their bones and this is obviously bad for their health.
So … should you purchase oyster shell or make your own from crushed egg shells from your flock?
Many people feed the cleaned, dried egg shells back to their laying flock instead of providing oyster shells.
There are some studies that indicate the calcium of a re-cycled shell doesn’t stay in the hen’s digestive system long enough to be as good a source as a larger particle of oyster shell would. In other words, offering egg shells back to them does not provide the same benefits to health and shell strength.
Let’s look at why…
Egg shells consist primarily of calcium. For a hen to make an egg, she needs a consistent supply of calcium.
For a hen to be healthy and make strong eggshells, she needs specific amounts of nutrients, like calcium … but also in specific forms and at the right time of day and night throughout the 24-26 hour egg creation process.
Eggshells are approximately 95% calcium carbonate. To produce an eggshell, a laying hen needs to consume about 4 grams of calcium each day to get the 2 grams of calcium needed to make one egg shell. That’s three times more dietary calcium than required by non-laying hens.
The hen’s digestive system breaks down the calcium into its components before being absorbed into the bloodstream. The bloodstream delivers the calcium directly to the shell-making gland (the uterus) and any extra calcium is stored in the hen’s specialized bones called medullary bones.
If a laying hen doesn’t have enough calcium running through her bloodstream while making an eggshell, she will steal it from the calcium stash inside her bones. During the day, the calcium in her blood will be renewed every 12 minutes.
Calcium theft can cause brittle bones that fracture easily (just like osteoporosis in humans), and in the most severe cases, the inability to stand… known as caged-layer fatigue.
Eggshells offered with oyster shell are fine but aren’t a sufficient source of supplemental calcium by themselves.
It takes about 90 minutes for most foods to pass through a chicken’s digestive tract. During the day while a hen is eating feed, crushed calcium is also moving into her bloodstream to go to her reproductive system and bones. As mentioned earlier, it takes 24-26 hours to form an egg. The majority of that time, 18-20 hours, is egg shell production … and most of that happens at night while she’s sleeping.
While she sleeps, she isn’t eating and doesn’t have access to fresh calcium to use for building the shell. Shell building can use and replace the calcium she carries in her bloodstream as many as 100 times! So she needs slow-release calcium to take her reproductive system through the night.
The large particles of oyster shells are slow-release calcium sitting in her gizzard, where they are ground up gradually throughout the night for the hen’s system to use as needed.
An egg shell has 7,000 to 17,000 pores. That’s why it’s so important for the egg shell to be strong … a critical defense against threats to the survival of a developing embryo and food safety for us as consumers.
Remember … Be The Organic U – Feed Your Soul
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