When it comes to keeping your chickens and eggs healthy, a proper diet is key. In this article we discuss what to feed chickens for strong eggs and a healthier, happier chicken.
Chickens need sufficient protein and calcium to produce strong eggs. Two main solutions for strengthening the egg are oyster shells or feeding crushed egg shells back to the chickens.
You’ll also want to keep your chickens healthy by eliminating any parasites both internally and externally. Mites and worms can be a real problem for your chickens. It can destroy their health and produce fewer eggs for you. Keep reading for some natural solutions to eliminate these pesky problems.
What to Feed Chickens When They Start Laying Eggs
Day old to 6 week chickens are fed a starter crumble with 20% protein. Pullets from 7 to 18 weeks are switched to a grower finisher available in crumble or pellet form. This grower feed will get their bodies ready to produce eggs with 17-18% protein. After 19 weeks, when it’s time to start laying, switch them to a layer feed with 16% protein.
Layer feed is also available in pellet or crumbles. I prefer the pellets because they seem to waste less food. The crumbles are often spread outside of the feeder and are wasted. Some people prefer to feed crumbles in the wintertime because the crumbles give the chickens more time to feed. They are often kept in their coop on those cold days so it gives them something to do. Chickens like to be active. If you can keep them busy then they are less likely to get into trouble by eating their eggs or pecking on each other. For this reason, we also like to make chicken treats in the winter. See our recipe here.
However, if you’re going to throw food on the ground, which I really don’t recommend, you’ll want to use pellets so it’s easier for the chickens to find. You won’t be leaving anything for night predators or for other wild birds to come and feed.
Oyster Shells for Chickens
Oyster shells help build the calcium levels. When a hen produces an egg shell there’s a loss in her calcium level. Oyster shells are readily available at your local feed store. They can be offered separate as a free choice food or mixed in with their feed. Some layer feed brands include this in a pre mixed formula.
Do not make calcium available, however, to younger or developing birds, as it may damage their organs. After they’ve made their first egg, we can go to a layer ration, which has calcium in it. And you can offer calcium also as a supplement on the side in the form of these crushed oyster shells.
Why do Chickens Eat their own Egg Shells?
Generally, this is because they are not getting enough calcium or water. They eat the eggs to try to capture back some of that nutrition. Another reason could be that an egg has been broken in the laying box and they liked the taste of it.
Instead of oyster shells, you can crush up used eggs shells and feed it back to the chickens to boost their calcium. This is my preferred method and it’s a free solution. Just make sure you crush the shells well or you will encourage the hens to eat their eggs. We save our shells in a bowl and let them dry out. Once dry we crush them up and mix them back into their feed.
How to Stop Chickens from Eating Eggs
The first solution is to collect your eggs at least twice a day. You want to remove the eggs as soon as possible to discourage this behavior. Second, try adding a ceramic egg, like this one (Amazon link), to discourage the bad habit. Also make sure you have adequate bedding so the eggs have less of a chance of breaking. Third, make sure they have enough protein and calcium in their diet. Fourth, provide enough nesting boxes (Amazon link). You should have 1 box to every 4 or 5 hens. See our DIY Chicken Coop. And finally, if all else fails, remove the hen from the flock.
Diatomaceous Earth Chickens Dust Bath
Diatomaceous earth controls parasites. It’s a whitish colored powder. It consists of diatoms which are fossilized remains of plankton microscopic algae. They can be found in thousands of products humans have made for a long time. They’re very effective for both inside and outside the house on bedbugs, cockroaches, fleas, ants, and other insects. DE works by drying an insect from the inside out.
But first things first, If you want to offer diatomaceous earth to your chickens, you need to make sure it’s food grade. There’s 2 ways to offer DE to your chickens.
A quick and simple way is offering a dust box loaded with diatomaceous earth, sand, and/or dirt. I go with a one to one ratio. I recommend mixing it with dirt or sand so the chickens get the idea. If you plan to offer your DE dust box outside you’ll need to remove it when it rains, otherwise you’ll be left with the gloppy mess. You’ll want to offer it under a cover, away from the rain. Another option, If you don’t want to make a DE box simply sprinkle the diatomaceous earth in an area where your chickens already habitually roll.
Feeding Chickens Diatomaceous Earth
The second way to offer DE to your chickens is by adding 2% to your chicken feed. It will serve to absorb moisture and prevent that feed from spoiling. It will also help to rid the chicken of internal parasites by drawing the moisture out of their exoskeleton.
According to a study from the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health:
Hens fed a diet of DE laid more eggs, larger eggs and ate more feed. Plus those dusted with DE had less mites.
So not only will DE help eliminate parasites but also results in heavier birds and more eggs.
In conclusion, you’ll want to feed 16% protein, 2% diatomaceous earth and a source of calcium to your chickens for strong eggs.