Poultry Supplements: Grit and Calcium

Most people who keep chickens already know the basics of necessary supplements. For decades, probably even longer, grit and a calcium source have been at the top of the list for poultry keeping necessities, both dependent upon the poultry’s access to natural supplementation.

It is thought by some that providing a good quality layer pellet will meet all calcium needs and additional calcium supplementation is not needed; however, we feel it’s “better safe than sorry” and provide a crushed oyster shell supplement at all times.

egg shell anatomy
From: http://www.pysanky.info/Other/Egg_Bioscience.html

An average sized egg shell contains approximately 2 grams of calcium, and a hen of laying age needs about double that (4 grams) per day in calcium supplement to properly produce eggs.1 To understand the need for calcium supplementation, it is important to fully understand the calcification process – the creation of the egg shell in the shell gland during egg production. Female birds have evolved a special bone feature called the medullary bone that allows them to store extra calcium for egg shell production. Under normal circumstances, birds carry calcium in their blood plasma to use with common biological functions, but that level of calcium is only available for a short period of time and is not a level high enough for calcification. Through special biological & hormonal functions during breeding season, female birds store extra calcium in the medullary bone and are able to quickly withdraw this calcium for the calcification process. This only occurs during breeding season, except in domestic birds that have been bred to lay year-round, in which this process continues the entire laying life of domestic poultry. While the medullary bone has a special regenerative ability, years of continued year-round laying can lead to calcium deficiency in other skeletal bones. “Medullary bone, unlike structural bone, is capable of undergoing rapid absorption and renewal. Unfortunately, resorption of structural bone also occurs causing the symptoms of osteoporosis (Whitehead, 2004). Osteoporosis is caused by a decrease in the amount of fully mineralised structural bone leading to bone fragility and susceptibility to fracture…”.2

Laying poultry may be able to obtain the needed level of calcium from their laying feed, but the form of calcium used in layer feed passes quickly through the digestive system resulting in a limited absorption time and insufficient levels for proper calcification. In a typical egg production cycle, the calcification process occurs in the early morning hours when chickens are roosted and not consuming feed. Limestone is a common calcium supplement, and many people offer egg shells to their flock, which is a good source of calcium. However, studies have shown that, overall, crushed oyster shell is a superior calcium source resulting in the best quality egg shell production. Crushed oyster shell takes longer than other supplements to pass through the crop & gizzard thus providing a longer period of calcium availability, better stabilization of blood calcium levels throughout the night, as well as helping to properly maintain the medullary bone for long-term laying.3,4

At our farm, some of our birds get to free range everyday, but due to breeding restrictions, some have to make do with large runs. While they do have access to large areas of ground, they may not have enough access to “grit”, and they certainly don’t have access to lots of bugs and other goodies that might provide extra calcium. Due to that limited access, our birds are provided free-choice access to our custom-mixed grit/calcium/charcoal at all times.

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We typically use Manna Pro Poultry Grit (insoluble crushed granite) to mix with a quality oyster shell. Grit is required for all poultry consuming anything besides layer feeds, such as scratch grains, clippings, or food scraps. Commercial feed breaks down quickly in the digestive tract and typically does not require grit to properly digest. However, because poultry do not have teeth, they must have grit in their gizzard to grind what they have consumed. Without grit there is a high risk of developing impacted or sour crop (not just in the crop) due to things getting backed up and not passing through properly. Even pastured poultry should be provided grit to ensure there is proper sized grit particles for their consumption.5 Additionally, grit helps better digest and get the most nutrients out of what the bird has eaten.


As an added perk to our free choice grit/calcium, we also add a small amount of activated charcoal. For centuries, people have utilized charcoal as a detoxifier to bind toxins & harmful chemicals and prevent them from being absorbed in the body. Activated charcoal works through a process called adsorption where its extremely porous surface binds to toxins, chemicals, heavy metals, and more as it moves through the digestive system and is eliminated naturally. Activated charcoal should be used in moderation because, unfortunately, it can also bind to good chemicals and reduce nutrient absorption.6 We offer this in our free choice mix because we believe that our birds naturally know when and how much to consume.


Disclosure: Mo’s Mini Farm offers this information as a guide to poultry care and as an opinion based on the best reputable information available to us. We attempt to reference factual information from reputable books, websites, and scientific publications. We always encourage others to do their own research which is why we provide footnotes and references for you to utilize.


For overall information regarding all things chicken health related, we recommend The Chicken Health Handbook by Gail Damerow (2015, 2nd edition; Story Publishing). The following sections were referenced for the above information: “Medullary Bone”, pg 70; “The Calcium Connection”, pp 116-117; “Grit for the Gizzard”, pg 40; and “Tale of Two Stomachs”, pg 80.


1 “Nutrient requirements of egg laying chickens”,  2018 Poultry Hub: http://www.poultryhub.org/nutrition/nutrient-requirements/nutrient-requirements-of-egg-laying-chickens/


 2 M. M. Bain, Y. Nys, and I.C. Dunn, “Increasing persistency in lay and stabilising egg quality in longer laying cycles. What are the challenges?”, May 3, 2016; published in British Poultry Science, 57(3): 330–338. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4940894/#S0007title (May 23, 2016)


3 T. G. Taylor, “How an Eggshell Is Made”, March 1970; published in Scientific American, 222:88-95. https://accounts.smccd.edu/case/biol215/docs/eggshell.pdf


4 R. Meyer, R. C. Baker, and M. L. Scott – Department of Poultry Science, Cornell University, Ithaca, N. Y. 14850, “Effects of Hen Egg Shell and Other Calcium Sources Upon Egg Shell Strength and Ultrastructure”, August 28, 1972; published in Poultry Science, 52: 949-955, 1973. http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.837.1048&rep=rep1&type=pdf


5 Tiffany Towne, “Grit for Chickens: When in Doubt, Put it Out”, October 18, 2017. https://countrysidenetwork.com/daily/poultry/feed-health/grit-for-chickens-digestive-health-when-in-doubt-put-it-out/


6 Maat van Uitert, “Charcoal For Chickens”, November 7, 2016. https://www.hobbyfarms.com/charcoal-for-chickens/


Additional Resources:


 

Some of the links on Mo’s Mini Farm pages are affiliate links, which means that if you decide to purchase a product through them we will receive a small commission. There is no extra cost to you! This helps us to keep the information on the website free of charge and to support our farm adventure. Because we value our integrity in recommending products, we only recommend products we have purchased and used. We may occasionally provide links to a product we are considering or planning to purchase, but we will always be sure to clearly state this fact. For more information about our affiliate relationships please see our Affiliates Disclosure Document.


Double-Yolk Eggs Could Mean Trouble

Earlier this week, we thought we had a broody hen already occupying our most popular nest box in a largest flock. 20170414_174255Splotchy had set up camp and was sending out her broody sounding warnings anytime another hen came around. She is the only EasterEgger hen in the flock and lays a nice blue egg, and she is also the hen who sneaked hatching three fuzzballs late last summer. She’s relatively young – just coming into lay last spring, so we thought she’s just going to be one of those broody-every-time-you-blink kind of hens. Since we are in no short supply of chickens right now and anything she might hatch would be a real barnyard mix, we were not real interested in letting her continue.

Shortly after the discovery, we could hear a very loud egg song coming from the coop. Mama Mo mentioned to Papa Mo that Splotchy was already broody for this season, to which he inquired if that was her making all the noise (he rarely hears the egg song since he’s typically left for work when the hens get moving for the day). We discussed since she was broody she shouldn’t be laying and went about our work repairing another chicken hutch.

Later in the afternoon, Mama Mo noticed she was out of the nest box and used that opportunity to collect any eggs before Splotchy had the chance to hatch anything. Surprise! There was a gigantic blue egg in the box! No wonder she was camped out in there for so long and making so much noise! Not surprisingly, it was a double-yolk egg that most likely resulted mainly from upset to the coop arrangement for that folk.

This mostly young flock was overwintered in a storage-building-turned-barn, and we are trying to finish it out as a permanent coop. Unfortunately, many of the young pullets have already started laying for the first time, and we are scrambling (no pun intended) to get nest boxes and such prepared for them, resulting in lots of confusion and disruption to regular laying right now.

Now, we tell this story to explain about double-yolk eggs. Many people think they are cool and some even brag that their hen lays double-yolk eggs all the time. We feel that, not only from the hen’s perspective (have you heard them yelling when laying those giant eggs??) but from a healthy chicken perspective, it could possibly not be such a good thing. And here is why: it means the hen’s reproductive tract could be stressed &/or injured.

An egg is produced when ovum/yolk is released into the oviduct to go through the cycle of forming the egg that is laid. About an hour+/- after an egg is laid, another mature yolk is released to start its cycle which takes approximately 25 hours to complete. The entire egg production cycle is a finely tuned process that can occasionally experience a “glitch”. If there is a glitch in the cycle, multiple things can result, such as more than one yolk being released causing a double-yolk egg to develop. This particular glitch in the egg production cycle is typically the result of hormonal change or imbalance as young hens are beginning to lay eggs or as an older hen’s typical egg production cycle slows down. It can also be hereditary, and some cultures in other countries breed for this trait.

The double-yolk phenomenon is typically harmless and produces perfectly edible eggs, but it does usually mean an extra-large egg which increases the risk of egg binding, vent prolapse (part of the oviduct protrudes from the vent) , or peritonitis (infection caused by yolks falling out of the reproductive tract). All of these can lead to death through injury &/or infection.

If your hen consistently produces abnormally large double-yolk eggs, she should be watched closely for any complications that could result from stressing or injuring the reproductive tract. Some hens that produce double-yolk eggs do so with normal size eggs (we suspect these are the hereditary cases) and are at far less risk of developing any complications.

Here are multiple articles discussing double-yolk eggs, egg production, and other associated problems:



 

Some of the links on Mo’s Mini Farm pages are affiliate links, which means that if you decide to purchase a product through them we will receive a small commission. There is no extra cost to you! This helps us to keep the information on the website free of charge and to support our farm adventure. Because we value our integrity in recommending products, we only recommend products we have purchased and used. We may occasionally provide links to a product we are considering or planning to purchase, but we will always be sure to clearly state this fact. For more information about our affiliate relationships please see our Affiliates Disclosure Document.


“Mean” Roosters – Why We Keep Them Anyway

Our experience with aggressive roosters started just two years into our great chicken adventure. We ordered all pullets from a hatchery for our first chickens, but we quickly got the chicken bug and increased our numbers the very next spring with the purchase of our own incubator & fertile eggs. Of course, there is no way to sway the outcome of the sexes that hatch, and we were blessed with multiple roosters. Our Buff Orpington was a sweetheart, and a few FBC Marans were just fine. But, our two splash Ameraucana were feisty boys (aka little feathered turdballs). splash rooster

We began researching how to deal with aggressive roosters. The most common two solutions? (1) show him who’s boss or (2) get rid of him (mostly commonly by eating but rehoming was mentioned). We needed these two boys to breed BBS Ameraucana as we had planned, meaning (2) was not an option. We tried the “show him who’s boss” method which only resulted in making things worse. The dominant rooster drew blood when he flogged Little Mo in the shin, and regularly attacked Papa Mo. He also began to fight with the other rooster, and we ended up having to separate them. At this point, both were misbehaving. Luckily, Mama Mo was usually spared the worst attack attempts – boiling down to mostly just a stand-off with a few block/punts. Finally, we returned to the research of how to handle an aggressive rooster.

After much researching, we found more solid opinions when we began studying rooster behaviors, particularly in relation to a rooster’s position in a flock. A rooster’s job is to steadfastly defend his flock of hens from anything HE perceives as a threat. This can be anything that he thinks will harm him or his flock, but it can also be anything that he feels will challenge his dominance. We also found a wonderful tip from an ole’ timer who pointed out: Act like a rooster (challenging him) and expect to be treated like another rooster. So we set out with a new method…

We began picking him up and carrying him around whenever he challenged us – talking to him gently but firmly and petting him on the back of head to show we meant no harm. This got us to a point where he at least didn’t attack as soon as we opened the gate. We also found that our big clunky rubber boots were a big “No. No.” Even dark-colored pants received a different reaction. Remember, it’s whatever he perceives as a threat. We changed those things, along with always moving slowly and vocally announcing, “It’s just me,” while offering scratch treats. If he seemed to be readying to challenge/flog, Mama Mo always faced him, pointed her finger on his level and said “Behave” in a low, firm voice. Waving things around in the air above them and being loud only serves to agitate and provoke a defense response. It did take a little bit of time, during which time they also matured, but we ended up having two well-behaved roosters in the end.

On the maturing subject, it should also be noted that roosters have hormones just like people, and during their “teen years” as we call it (6 months to 1 year +/-), they are particularly gung-ho to pick a fight. They are young and trying to cement their position in a flock. Keep in mind that, with proper handling, they typically mellow when they feel settled in with their flock and understand your role as caretaker. However, as should be expected, each year when spring gets close and laying & breeding ramps up, we notice even our senior roosters being slightly less laid back toward us. After all, LOVE is in the air. We anticipate this and just give them a little extra room to deal with their short-lived spring fever, but really you should never completely take your eye off a rooster. It is a rooster.

Of course, even though we have not personally had this problem, there are always some that will just never learn to be nice. Those are the ones that you should dispatch to the stock pot (or whatever you prefer). Please don’t sell those types to anyone – even with full disclosure – because they don’t need to be bred, which is sure to happen at least once, even if not planned.

Lastly, our personal opinion on feisty roosters is that, within reason, that is what you want. A rooster’s main job is to protect his flock, and an overly laid-back rooster is not as likely to defend a hen being attacked or even keep his hens in order amongst themselves. We appreciate the role of roosters in our flocks – not only for producing cute little fuzzballs, but also for maintaining a proper balance within the flock. A good rooster will both tidbit (what is “tidbitting”?) and step in to stop hen squabbles and bring harmony to his little flock.

We see posts regularly about what to do with aggressive or mean roosters. We hope sharing our experience will help you learn how to best deal with your roosters productively for a great outcome for all involved.


Some of the links on Mo’s Mini Farm pages are affiliate links, which means that if you decide to purchase a product through them we will receive a small commission. There is no extra cost to you! This helps us to keep the information on the website free of charge and to support our farm adventure. Because we value our integrity in recommending products, we only recommend products we have purchased and used. We may occasionally provide links to a product we are considering or planning to purchase, but we will always be sure to clearly state this fact. For more information about our affiliate relationships please see our Affiliates Disclosure Document.