Can Chickens Eat Their Own Egg Shells? A Shell-Shocking Truth



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The other day on my farm was pure chaos!

I went out to collect the eggs from the coop like usual.

Normally the hens got their eggs all tidy in the nesting boxes waiting.

But this time?

Eggs were smashed and cracked everywhere! Feathers flying, shells all over the place.

At first I thought a fox sneaked in, but all the chickens were accounted for acting normal.

Then I spot old Henrietta pecking away at broken shell pieces in the corner.

This little stinker gone on an egg breaking rampage! Had me wondering, is she just being bad or getting something good eating her own shells? Let me tell ya exactly what’s up with these shell snackin’ chickens.

The Real Deal on Eating Shells

Alright, here’s the deal – chickens really can and will chow down on their own eggshells. Turns out ol’ Henrietta wasn’t just causing trouble.


Eating shells is natural behavior for these birds because the calcium inside the shell helps them make strong eggs of their own.

See, a chicken’s body pulls calcium directly from its food to build each new eggshell. If a hen happens to break an egg while laying or sitting on it, she’ll typically gobble up those shell pieces.

This gives her an easy way to refuel on calcium without leaving the coop. Think about it – after laying 250+ eggs a year, those hens need all the calcium they can get!

Now I know what you’re thinking – eating shells seems pretty gross! But these chickens have been doing it for a long time through evolution.

Out in the wild, they don’t get perfect diets with calcium supplements.

They rely on natural foods like snails, bones, and yes – even their own eggshells! Giving their bodies calcium right where they lay allows them to constantly produce those unbreakable eggs to pass on their genes.

It’s just smart recycling if ya think about it. Next time you go to the store and see eggs with thin shells, take a moment to appreciate what strong shells chickens on my farm produce through shell snacking!

Alright, so chickens sure do love munching on those shells. But does it really benefit them nutritionally or is it just some crazy habit? Let me break down exactly how and why it helps these birds stay healthy:

Shell Snacking is Good For Their Health


First things first, eating eggshells provides an easy source of calcium right where chickens need it most – in their coop.

Calcium is arguably one of the most important minerals for any animal producing eggs. It’s the key component chickens use to build those hard calcified shells. Without enough calcium in their diet, egg shells can develop cracks and thickness issues.

Not only does that make the eggs more fragile and prone to breaking, it also means fewer nutrients are being passed back to growing chicks if they do happen to hatch.

By eating eggshells left over from their own laying process, hens get convenient access to calcium without expending energy searching elsewhere.

Think about it – would you rather scavenge across the farm all day looking for calcium sources or just snack on calcium rich scraps right by your front door? It’s the perfect fast food for these busy ladies!

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The calcium from eggshells also fulfills chickens’ natural foraging behaviors. As ground scratching omnivores, chickens evolved to spend their days searching for scraps of food.

Pecking at eggshells allows them to engage those natural instincts while meeting their nutritional needs. It’s a true win-win that benefits both their physical health and mental stimulation at the same time. No wonder they love it so much!

Additionally, eating shells helps recycle nutrients back into the flock rather than letting them go to waste.

Calcium comes from limited natural sources like oyster shells and doesn’t grow on trees! Allowing chickens to reclaim it from their own shells means less supplemental feed needs to be imported and less nutrient runoff happens from manure.

Talk about being environmentally friendly – these girls understand reduce, reuse, recycle way before it was a popular slogan. They play an important role as natural “cleaners” on any farm.

So in summary, eggshell snacking fulfills chickens’ deep-rooted foraging and egg-laying needs while closing the nutrient cycle. It provides convenient access to key minerals like calcium that these busy birds need in massive amounts.

Far from being a strange habit, shell snacking is actually an optimal strategy hard-wired into chickens through millennia of evolutionary adaptation!

Is It Really Safe Though?


At this point you might still have some doubts about whether shell nibbling could cause digestive issues or other problems.

Fair enough – can’t say I blame ya for being a bit skeptical of these chickens gobbling down their own eggshells! But let me ease any concerns.

First off, as long as the eggshells being eaten are clean and whole, they present zero risks to a chicken’s health.

The shells are composed entirely of calcium carbonate, a completely non-toxic mineral. We humans even supplement our diets with calcium carbonate in the form of antacids and supplements on a regular basis! Eggshells pass through a chicken’s digestive tract unchanged, allowing maximum nutrient absorption before being excreted in the manure.

The gizzards inside chickens are also uniquely adapted for pulverizing hard substances like shells and even small rocks into an easily digestible powder.

Some farmers actually grind whole eggshells into a fine supplement to add back to layer feed rather than letting chickens pick through scraps. This ensures a consistent calcium intake rather than relying on random broken shells.

There’s also no concern of cross contamination when shell snacking within a healthy flock. Eggs from one hen don’t carry infectious agents back to its body through eggshell bits.

Chickens have close-knit social bonds but don’t perform actions that could directly transmit disease like cannibalism might in other species. As long as basic biosecurity practices are followed to prevent outside pathogens, shell snacking presents no health risks.

Any Tips For Keeping Chickens?


Alright friends, hope this answered your question about whether chickens can or should eat eggshells.

If you’ve got chickens of your own, here are some extra tips to put this shell snackin’ knowledge to use:

  • Crumble eggshells into layer feed for a consistent calcium boost.
  • Collect whole eggshells to make a scattered “salad bar” for your girls to peck through daily.
  • Compost eggshells and let chickens forage the finished compost for extra nutrients.
  • Only provide clean, pesticide-free eggshells from your own backyard flock.
  • Inspect shells for cracks before offering – chickens can’t digest large sharp pieces.
  • Supplement other natural minerals like crushed oyster shell as backups.
  • Monitor body condition and egg production – adjust diet if issues arise.
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Importance of Calcium for Strong Egg Shells

Calcium is the single most important mineral for egg production. As you know by now, it’s the key component chickens use to build those hard shells around each new egg.


About 95% of an eggshell is composed of calcium carbonate.

Without enough calcium in their diets, shells will develop thin or soft spots that make eggs more fragile. Hens may also experience issues like cramps or soft shelled/no shelled eggs if calcium levels get too low.

On average, a single hen will lay between 250-300 eggs in her lifetime. Creating that many shells uses up a ton of calcium reserves.

During the peak spring and summer months when they’re laying almost daily, hens need 3-4x more calcium than usual just to keep up with demand. Their bodies have to work overtime pulling it from food sources.

The process of shell formation is also incredibly swift. It takes less than 20 hours for a hen to form each new shell from the moment of ovulation.

Their systems go into overdrive secreting calcium carbonate crystals onto the newly forming egg. Any calcium shortages during this process can create weaknesses like thin places or rough “pimply” surfaces.

A steady calcium supply gives hens the building blocks needed to create beautiful, strong eggs consistently.

Pelleted layer feed is carefully formulated with optimal calcium levels, usually in the form of calcium carbonate from limestone or oyster shell. But supplementing naturally through shell snacking provides that extra boost directly in their coop where it’s needed most during the laying cycle.

Supplying Adequate Calcium Sources

While eggshell snacking fills an important role, it’s not the sole source of calcium chickens rely on. Most small flocks need additional supplementation to avoid deficiencies. Some good natural sources farmers use include:

  • Oyster shell: Crushed oyster shell is highly digestible and provides an excellent boost. Scattering shells on the ground lets chickens forage naturally.
  • Eggshells from home: Crumbled into feed or scatter whole for snacking. But only from your own healthy, unprocessed eggs.
  • Limestone or calcite: Some flocks need more steady sources. Grinding limestone rock into a powder supplements diets without needing whole shells.
  • Cuttlebone: These marine-derived products are often sold as bird toys but provide bioavailable calcium too when cracked into pieces.
  • Alfalfa or legume hay: High-calcium forage keeps circulating nutrients without extra supplementation needs.

A varied diet including multiple calcium-rich sources like these keeps your flock’s reserves topped up between meals of shells. Balance and moderation are key to meeting calcium needs sustainably.

Checking Calcium Levels in Feed

While shell snacking meets calcium needs naturally, store-bought feed remains the primary source for small flocks. It’s important to understand the ideal calcium percentages and how to evaluate your feed choices.

Commercial layer feeds will list total calcium content, usually ranging between 3-4% of the complete diet. This provides adequate daily allowances without supplementation. Feeds formulated for specific stages like pullet starter or laying have tailored mineral balances.

You can also send feed samples to agricultural testing labs for full nutritional breakdowns. They’ll measure exact calcium carbonate levels to verify feed meets minimum NRC requirements. This comes in handy if you switch brands or feed unexpected deficiencies.

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Signs of inadequate calcium like thin shells should prompt checking feed bags for freshness dates and calcium guarantees. Stale feeds can clump and prevent proper mineral absorption over time.

With diligent attention to both dietary intake and shell snacks as backup, your flock’s excellent production and health will speak for itself. Proper calcium is the unsung foundation that makes happy hens!

Supplementing Pullet Diets for Strong Starts

Baby chicks and pullets have even higher calcium needs than adults as their skeletal structures rapidly develop. Their feed is carefully blended to boost calcium carbonate levels up to 1-1.5% above laying hen rations. This supports optimal bone and organ formation critical to future performance.

Chicks absorb dietary calcium more efficiently at young ages. Meeting their demands through feed alone ensures flocks enter lay with ample mineral reserves. Extra supplementation at this stage gives lifelong egg-laying abilities.

Many small farms offer crushed oyster shell free-choice along with pullet crumbles. The additional choice fulfills foraging instincts while preventing boredom pecking issues. Scattering weekly treats helps habituate pullets to shell snacking early on.

Feed transitions pose extra risks if calcium levels abruptly change. Gradually mixing layers and pullets rations over 2 weeks eases the switch without deficiencies. Watching for picky eaters ensures all get critical minerals evenly.

An emphasis on calcium during growing phases leads to flocks entering lay primed for sustained excellence all through their productive years. Prioritizing pullet health prevents future issues before they begin!

Verifying Layer Needs Through the Seasons

While laying an egg consumes a hen’s calcium stores, availability fluctuates with environmental factors too. Cooler months naturally stimulate less frequent egg laying compared to spring and summer peaks. This impacts daily mineral requirements to support shells.

Feed tags specifying calcium percentages target averages but can’t adapt with the seasons. Watching for signs of over-meeting or under-meeting needs helps calibrate feed amounts and shell snacking availability.

In warmer months when laying rates soar, hens benefit from constant access to crushed shells free-choice. Their metabolisms work overtime requiring dense calcium sourcing. Come fall/winter, reducing shell piles prevents waste from decreased intake.

Production records also reveal individual flock variations from stressors like molting or infections. Addressing underlying issues through veterinary care supports natural mineral use versus forcing more food consumption.

Adaptable husbandry aligns nutritional inputs with fluctuating egg production all year. This avoids falls andpeaks from inconsistent availability throughout changing seasonal cycles.

Balancing Mineral Ratios Beyond Calcium Alone

While calcium stands as the most prominently supplemented mineral, optimal health results from balance across the board. No single nutrient works independently in the body.

Excess calcium intake without regard to phosphorus can actually impair strong bone formation. A ratio between 1.5:1 and 2:1 calcium to phosphorus proves most bioavailable.

Likewise, too much calcium depresses absorption of other key players like vitamin D, magnesium and manganese. These all activate calcium utilization in muscles and egg structures.

Feed mill analysis ensures balanced mineral premixes, but shells alone skew heavily toward calcium. Rotating other natural mineral sources week to week staves off deficiencies.

Overall nutrient balance maintains health where it counts – in eggshells, muscles and strong flocks for generations of harvests to come.

Mindfulness pays long-term dividends for caregivers and chickens alike.

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Get Crackin’ on Your Own Egg Empire

Do you crave the rich golden yolks and thick whites that only come from the freshest eggs?

After nearly a decade running my own egg empire and mastering the art of keeping chickens, I’ve stuffed all my insider secrets into the aptly named “How to Raise Chickens for Eggs”.

how to raise chickens for eggs book pdf

Get Crackin’ on Your Own Egg Empire

Do you crave the rich golden yolks and thick whites that only come from the freshest eggs?

Dream of a waddling flock of feathered friends in your own backyard?

Then stop dreaming and start hatching a plan, people!

This ain’t no chicken game. After nearly a decade running my own egg empire and mastering the art of keeping chickens, I’ve stuffed all my insider secrets into the aptly named “How to Raise Chickens for Eggs”.

I’m talking building a palace of a coop guaranteed to impress the neighbors, concocting feed for peak egg production, collecting eggs so perfect you’ll weep tears of joy – plus hilarious stories and accidental mishaps along the way.

So get cluckin’ and grab the key to creating your own morning egg paradise before I sell out!