Supplementary Chickens

(Broadcast 4/5/2013)

Are you taking any vitamin supplements? I worry about you, dear listener, and want to be sure that you’re getting all the nutrition you need. Sometimes we don’t get all the necessary nutrients through our food. Even chickens can use a little help every now and then. The days were getting longer, but egg production seemed to be tapering off. Some of the eggs that were getting produced were kind of pale, and the shells felt a little thin when I cracked them. Something wasn’t right, and I had a feeling I knew what it was.

It wasn't quite this bad.

It wasn’t quite this bad.

Even though I feed them a complete layer feed, I suspected the chickens needed a little extra calcium. This is fairly common. They can get it a couple of different ways. You can give them a supplement, usually made from ground-up oyster shells, or you can grind up their own egg shells and, wait for it, feed them back to the chickens. So you can feed them back the whole egg, if you are so inclined. I was somewhat tempted to try this, but I had to go to the feed store anyway, so buying the calcium seemed easier. To prepare the egg shells to go back into the chickens, you need to bake them, and our stove is broken. Even if it wasn’t, I was a little unsure of what sort of smell this might produce. Who knows, maybe it smells nice. But at the time, it was too cold to open any windows if it stank, and since I couldn’t open any windows I was pretty sure it was going to stink. I’ll try it when we have a new stove and the weather is nice, and report any olfactory disturbances. But for the immediate problem I bought some oyster shell fragments.

Gnaw on this, chickens!

Gnaw on this, chickens!

The way I’d read to administer these fragments was to leave them out where the chickens can pick at them as they see fit. This sounded to me like you needed a dedicated container to put them in. What should I use? A regular feeder seemed too big, a chick feeder could get knocked over by full-grown birds, and I had no idea what it should look like, so DIY seemed out. I asked the guy at the store, “How do I give these to the chickens?” He looked at me for a minute, and then said, “You throw them on the ground.” So while perhaps a little embarrassed, I left there with more money in my pocket than expected.

The problem I ran into with throwing them on the ground is that if I open the run and throw something in, it’s usually a treat, so they went nuts and started fighting over the shells when I first threw them in. But then the next day they all laid eggs, after several days of only getting 3 eggs, so maybe they all needed calcium? To try to keep them from eating it if they didn’t need to, I would dump a pile of the chips on the ground before I let them out. That cut out the thrill of eating gifts from the master. They continued to eat them all, but egg production was back at capacity, so I stopped worrying.

Or I did until I came home and saw only two chickens walking around in the run. There were others in there, but they weren’t standing up. Why not? Had I given them calcium poisoning? Is there such a thing as calcium poisoning? Did something get in there and eat their legs? What had I done? I hustled over to the run and they all stood up and ran to the door and clucked to be let out. Oh right. Sometimes chickens just like to sit in the dirt.

I got a small bag of calcium chips, which had no seal, so I dumped it all into a plastic bag and left it on the table with some of my other chicken devices. Now, I’ve never seen an enormous bag of crack before, but if I had, I have a feeling it would look exactly like this Ziploc bag of oyster shell chunks. I should probably move it away from the window, but I suppose if I leave it there and the cops show up, I’ll know the pizza guy ratted me out.

I hope I don't dump the wrong one in the coop.

I hope I don’t dump the wrong one in the coop.

The last thing about these chips is that they get kind of dusty. They’re sort of made of chalk, so that makes sense. One morning I had forgotten to put any in the run, so I grabbed my bag and a cup of chips, and thought, “I’ll put my bag in the car, and then give the chickens the calcium.” This was my fatal mistake. I put down my bag, and in doing so put my hand with the cup down enough that half the chips fell out onto the seat. My car is three months old, and has black upholstery. Now my car is three months old and has a gray passenger seat. Oh well. That makes it unique, right? Sure it does. Chicken customizing! I’ll be sure to work that angle when it’s time to trade it in.


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One Response to “Supplementary Chickens”

  1. Jenny says:

    We bake off our egg shells and it doesn’t seem to produce any smell at all. In fact its not unusual for us to forget we’ve put them in the oven at all. I’d recommend it once your stove is fixed 🙂

    Love the blog.

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