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still having shell problems

 
S Carreg
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Location: De Cymru (West Wales, UK)
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We got our 5 rescue hens (2 year old warrens) about 6 weeks ago. They surprised us by laying right away, we average 4 eggs a day, sometimes 3, sometimes we get 5. We're still having shell problems though. The shells are all thinner than I'd like, and often they are so thin that they get broken in the nest - I don't believe that it's deliberate egg-eating, it looks more like a claw mark, and it's rarely through the membrane. The only ones that have got eaten are if they fell out of the nest and broke on the floor (happened twice). I collect them a few times a day to reduce the temptation for eating them. Then today we got one 'soft' egg, it was brown, but just a rubbery membrane, no hard shell at all.

They are in a large enclosed run (4x10 meters) with a large area of 2' deep woodchip full of bugs and worms, and I throw feed and treats on there to encourage foraging. The rest of the run is on shale slate chips, so plenty of regular grit. I also give them oyster shell grit.

Their diet varies a little day to day but is generally composed of: kitchen scraps (omnivore household), layers pellets, mixed grain ('scratch'), spent brewing malt for a few days a week after we brew, and I through in a couple of armloads of greens every day (garden weeds, they love dandelion, dock, plantain, clover). The yolks are nice and yellow and the chickens appear healthy - though two still have floppy combs. It's just that the eggs are still so weak. Possibly slightly less so the last few weeks, but still not great.

Is there anything that I can do to improve this, beyond the oyster grit?
 
Burra Maluca
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Ex-battery hens are often in pretty bad shape when you first get them, not helped by the fact that they don't have a clue how to eat anything that doesn't look like what they're used to eating. They've been pushed to their limits, and it's going to take them a while to learn how to eat that oyster grit, and metabolise it, and get their reserves built up again. In our experience, when we were in Wales, they usually kept looking pretty awful until after they'd moulted and stopped laying for a while. By the time the new feathers are in and they've had a chance to sort themselves out, they'd start out like new chickens - fit, healthy, and with super-shelled eggs. But don't expect miracles straight away.
 
S Carreg
Posts: 260
Location: De Cymru (West Wales, UK)
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Thanks for your reply. They seem to be doing a pretty good job of scratching around - we also have an austrolorp rooster who's showing them how it's done, I think. They gobble up everything we give them, including the grit, I throw it in the same place so I can see if they're eating it, and they are. They also love the eggshells that I bake and grind up and scatter, and go nuts for slugs and stuff when I throw a bunch in, so they seem pretty good at eating 'natural' food - I don't even put feed in the feeder that we got, as they're happy to scratch and peck for it in the woodchip.

They haven't had a moult though (actually they were in surprisingly good shape for ex-batts, I guess, pretty much fully-feathered if a little grubby looking) - how often do they do that?

I'll just keep doing what I'm doing then and hope things improve. thanks again
 
Craig Dobbelyu
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My guess is that the shells are thin because they are transitioning from a very specific commercial diet that ensured the eggs had good shells, to a more natural diet. By taking them off that diet, their bodies are reacting by giving you thinner shells. I think that once they get used to foraging better and have a better idea of what's' "good food" they might begin to thicken up. Of course, there is a possibility that the reason they were passes on from battery was because of the shell issues. You're doing the right thing by providing a varied diet high in calcium. Hope thing improve.

 
John Polk
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As ex-battery hens, they are probably accustomed to getting their calcium (oyster shells) directly (pre-mixed) in their feed.
Hens seem to know when they need more calcium, and will consume it when they need it.
Since they were battery fed, they may take some time to realize that it is not now included within their feed.
As long as you keep some oyster shell always available for 'free choice', they should begin consuming sufficient.

If you have Stevia plants, feed them some leaves daily.
There is a patented commercial poultry feed here in the U.S. that is used in some commercial egg farms.
Their mixtures contain between 1-3% stevia leaves, which they claim has practically eliminated the broken/cracked shell problems for the egg farms that use the product.


 
S Carreg
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Location: De Cymru (West Wales, UK)
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The thing is, they are eating the oyster grit, I put it in a different area from the feed and I have to put more out every couple of days because they're eating it (I've watched them doing it).

I do have a small stevia plant actually, not enough to give them that much but I'll see what I can do and try to propogate some more of it.

thanks!
 
John Polk
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Perhaps, after a few years of eating commercial feeds, their systems haven't yet adapted to metabolizing the calcium in grit form. What they are used to may have been a fine powder, rather than grit. It may take some time for their bodies to fully be able to use it in a coarser form.

They are probably quite happy now that their "Life Without Parole" sentence has been lifted.
 
Jay Green
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It's just that time of year....happens every year to most every flock that isn't born just that spring. They are getting ready to go into molt and those new feathers are starting to form, though you cannot see them yet...you may be able to see some under the skin, but maybe not. The calcium that is usually diverted to shell formation is now currently being diverted towards new feather development. Soon you will start to see them shed feathers...it will start with just a few and it won't look like much but then you will see more and more.

It's not your nutrition..it was sufficient for egg production and it will be sufficient for feather production, but there is nothing you can give or do that can keep both feather production and shell production at peak. The natural slow down of laying is normal at this time of year and it just has to happen...nothing you can really do but just wait it out and let nature take its course.

All birds past their first year have this happen, all breeds and in all flocks...you aren't doing anything wrong. And your birds won't be "egg eaters" because they have eaten cracked eggs in the nest...this happens to everyone and, no, they don't "get a taste for eggs" and continue this behavior past this time in their lives. You will get eggs again and the shells will firm up once more...you just need time and patience.
 
S Carreg
Posts: 260
Location: De Cymru (West Wales, UK)
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Thanks again.

4 eggs today and none of them broken. Well we'll just keep going with what we're doing!
 
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