When Should I Start my Hens on Oyster Shell?

Oyster shell is a type of calcium supplement that can be fed to laying hens to help them produce strong, healthy eggs. Hens need a consistent source of calcium in their diet to lay eggs with hard shells. Without sufficient calcium, their eggshells may be thin, brittle, or even absent, which can affect the overall quality of their eggs.

It is generally recommended to start feeding oyster shell to laying hens when they reach about 18-20 weeks of age, as this is when they typically start laying eggs. Some hens may start laying eggs earlier or later depending on various factors such as breed, nutrition, and environment.

Only hens in production should be provided a calcium supplement such as oyster shell, and even then there is some debate on how much. Oyster shell should never be given to young hens before egg production since calcium overdose may cause kidney damage. If you feel small ‘bumps’ on the surface of your hens’ eggs, then they are probably getting too much.

If they free-range, they probably don’t need it since they’ll pick up what they need naturally. However, if they are pen or cage raised, then providing a pinch of oyster shell once a week would be advised. Too little calcium in a producing hen’s diet will cause her to steal calcium from her own bones to make up for the deficiency. Free-feed oyster shell should be fine for adult hens under any circumstances, provided that you don’t have a ‘guzzler’.

To determine if your hens need oyster shell, you can check the quality of their eggs. If the eggshells are thin, brittle, or have small, uneven bumps on them, this could indicate a calcium deficiency. You can also consult with a veterinarian or a poultry specialist to determine if your hens are getting enough calcium in their diet.

It is important to note that oyster shell should not be the only source of calcium in a laying hen’s diet. A complete and balanced layer feed should also provide sufficient calcium to support egg production. Some commercial feeds are formulated with added calcium, while others may require the addition of a separate calcium supplement such as oyster shell or crushed eggshells.

When feeding oyster shell to laying hens, it is important to provide it in a separate feeder or dish. This will allow the hens to consume the oyster shell at their own pace and prevent waste. It is also a good idea to offer oyster shell free-choice, which means that it is available to the hens at all times. This allows them to consume the calcium they need as they need it, rather than trying to consume all of their calcium at once.

It is also important to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for feeding oyster shell to your hens. Overconsumption of calcium can lead to health issues such as kidney damage and eggbinding, so it is important to provide the right amount of calcium for your hens’ needs.

In summary, it is generally recommended to start feeding oyster shell to laying hens when they reach 18-20 weeks of age. Oyster shell should be offered free-choice in a separate feeder or dish, and the manufacturer’s recommendations should be followed to ensure that your hens are getting the right amount of calcium for their needs. By providing a consistent source of calcium, you can help your hens produce strong, healthy eggs with hard shells.

For more information, view my Poultry Health Article on Toxins.