How A Hen’s Diet Affects Her Eggs
After carefully raising your layer chicks from arrival at your post office until they are fully feathered and moved outside into their “big girl” coop, the long wait begins until you get that first egg. Many of us put a lot of thought and effort into making sure chicks get the correct nutrition to make sure they grow well, but it seems like most of us are at a loss when it comes to feeding our laying flocks to get the maximum number of high-quality eggs from our hens.
We understand it. Chicken feed prices have skyrocketed in recent months. Let’s face it, adult hens eat much more than tiny, newly hatched chicks, and the temptation to feed the cheapest layer feed on the market is strong. For many, the main goal is to keep chicken ownership costs down. But that may mean you’ll get fewer eggs and may be of lower quality.
Let’s look at what is required nutritionally in a hen’s diet to get high-quality eggs that can be as nutritious as possible.
Laying hens need a completely balanced diet to sustain maximum egg production over time. Inadequate nutrition can cause hens to stop laying. Inadequate levels of carbohydrates, protein, or calcium can cause a drop in egg production. It’s important to supply laying hens with a constant supply of nutritionally balanced layer feed. Feeding single, whole grains, scratch feeds, and table scraps will likely cause an imbalance in the hens’ diet and cause them to slow or cease laying.
Omission Of Key Dietary Ingredients
Every living animal (and human) needs salt (sodium) in their diet. Feeding a salt-deficient diet will lead to increased feather pecking and a decline in egg production. Sodium plays a major role in maintaining body fluid volume, blood pH, and proper osmotic relationships. A continuously low intake of salt can cause a loss of appetite. Sodium deficiencies adversely affect dietary protein and energy utilization and interfere with ovulation, which is what laying an egg is for a hen.
The eggshell is composed primarily of calcium carbonate. A pullet’s requirement for calcium is relatively low during the growing period, only needing 0.8% in their diet. When the first eggs are produced, the need is increased at least four times (3% of their diet); practically all of the increase is used to produce eggshells. Inadequate calcium consumption will decrease egg production and produce a noticeably lower eggshell quality of the eggs that are produced.
Calcium can be supplied in the diet as either ground limestone or oyster shell. Particle size affects calcium availability. Usually, the larger the particle size, the longer the particle will be retained in the upper digestive tract. Even though you may be feeding a layer diet with calcium, offering oyster shell or ground limestone free-choice is wise. Some top-producing hens will likely need more calcium than even a layer diet can supply.
Young birds should not be fed a high calcium layer diet because the calcium/phosphorus ratio will be unbalanced. Young and non-laying chickens fed layer feed often develop kidney diseases due to this imbalance.
Vitamin D is required for normal calcium absorption and utilization. If inadequate vitamin D levels are fed, calcium deficiency quickly results, and egg production decreases.
In poultry diets, vitamin D must be supplied as vitamin D3. Birds are more efficient users of vitamin D3 as opposed to vitamin D2.
Dietary requirements for protein are actually requirements for the amino acids that constitute the protein. There are 22 amino acids in body proteins, and all are essential. Poultry cannot synthesize some of these or cannot synthesize them rapidly enough to meet the metabolic requirement. Therefore, these amino acids must be supplied in the diet. Methionine is the amino acid most often deficient in laying rations.
Linoleic acid is an essential fatty acid supplied by dietary fat in layer feeds. Without dietary fats, fat-soluble vitamins cannot be transported and utilized throughout the body. A diet deficient in fat, specifically linoleic acid, can cause a decrease in egg production and weak, pale egg yolks.
Water is the most important nutrient for any living thing. In an average egg that weighs 63 grams, about 40 grams of that egg will be water. It’s easy to see how letting your laying flock run out of their drinking water can quickly and noticeably affect their egg output. Ensure their water is fresh and periodically scrub the waterers to decrease algae and bacterial growth. Water quality won’t necessarily affect the egg’s nutrition, but a lack of water will cause your hens to stop or slow down their laying ability.
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