Baking The Eggs(hells)
I’m running low on the oyster shell chunks I bought a while back, so I thought I’d give making my own calcium supplements from our eggs a shot. I’m happy to report that if you do it right, there isn’t much of a smell. I’m less happy to report that I didn’t do it right on my first attempt, and there most definitely was a smell, and that smell was not good. Our oven is still out of commission, so I thought I’d try baking the eggshells in the toaster oven. Whenever I adapt a recipe to the toaster oven, I usually knock a bunch of time off, since the smaller oven heats up way faster. The eggshell baking recipe I chose said to bake them at 350 for 20 minutes. I figured I’d be safe and set the timer for 10 minutes. That seemed like way more than enough leeway. Until I heard the timer bell go off in the other room, and one second later got hit with a waft of smoking eggshells. They smelled a little like burnt egg, but with a real metallic tang to it. I, of course, had also tried this experiment on the coldest day of the week. I opened the window for a little while, but it was just too cold to air things out. I had also been home sick that week, and was in no mood to deal with any of this. The whole house reeked, even though they weren’t all that burnt. The stench was impervious to both scented candles and incense. Only time was able to bring down the hideous aroma.
I am not one to take defeat lightly, so once I was feeling better, I decided to set out to find the best way of baking shells for my current kitchen set up. I sheepishly returned to the toaster oven for round two. This time I decided to just try toasting them, rather than a full bake, and I set the timer to “medium” to really be safe. The toaster tends to undertoast, so this seemed o.k. I also did this while I was doing other things in the kitchen, so I would notice if things started to go south again. The medium setting did the trick. They were a little bit browned (this is a toaster, after all), but not burnt, and the shells were nice and brittle, so mashing them up was easy. So the toaster oven wasn’t totally evil, I just needed to be careful with the magic it contained.
Like everything involving chickens, there are about 100 different opinions on how to do anything, and preparing eggshells as calcium supplements is no different. I decided to try microwaving next, since that seemed like it would be super convenient, if it worked. I tried microwaving a couple shells on high for 20 seconds. There was a bit of a crackling sound, which made me a little nervous until I remembered I wasn’t nuking a light bulb. (Don’t ask me about how I know what a light bulb in the microwave sounds like.) I think the crackle was just moisture being cooked out. There was a bit of an eggy smell, but nothing too toxic. The quickness of the process couldn’t be beat, but the shells themselves didn’t seem as easy to mash as they had with the toaster. Which is better: quickness, or a mild degree of difference in the ease of crushing? Tough call.
Things that stink up your house come in threes, so I decided to try boiling the shells also. I put them in a pot of water and let it come to a boil, and then took them off the heat. The good news is that there was no smell, save for the general smell our burners give off (which is yet another reason we need to replace the stove). The bad news is that there was a really creepy foam on top of the water, which I didn’t like at all. Also, the whole thing boiled over when I was taking notes. Yes, I was taking notes. This is science we’re dealing with here. The other bad news is that you have to let them dry afterward, which seemed to take a lot longer than I thought it should, and I think that’s just one step too many.
It’s supposedly important to cook the eggshells in some way in order for the chickens to be able to absorb the calcium. Raw ones will not do, though some people claim they just let them air dry over time and then grind them up. That seems like an invitation to fruit flies and mice. It also seems time consuming (though mostly involving waiting). And then on top of it all, it may not even provide nutrients to the chickens, depending on who you ask.
I suppose if you want to go the DIY supplement route, experiment and see what works best for you. We’re not all chained to our toaster oven. (And we actually just bought a new stove, so I may have to break it in with another test.) Of course, the internet being the internet, there are lots of arguments to be read about whether or not feeding the eggshells back to the chickens creates chickens that eat their own eggs fresh from the cloaca. I suppose this leaves me some room for yet more experimentation.