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Oyster Shell Alternatives: What Would Nature Do?

 
D. Logan
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This is something that has been running through my head for a while that a person familiar chicken history and breeds might have a chance of answering for me. Over the years, I have heard two basic ways to meet the chicken's need for minerals to have strong eggshells. First is by using crushed oyster shell and the other is by crushing spent egg shells into an unrecognizable form. (I am led to understand that if they recognize it as egg shell, they may begin pecking at their own eggs when they have a deficiency. It seems to me that neither of these seems to fit in with what I know about chickens. They originate as a jungle bird I am led to understand, so when in their place of origin, what was it they used to obtain the shell-strengthening minerals they need? Did they peck at limestone? Did they simply eat things like calcium rich plants? I ask, because it seems that there must be a way to apply that knowledge to create a more sustainable method that doesn't require outside inputs and which isn't self-limiting such as the egg shell method.
 
Luke Perkins
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Good question. I'm curious too. However, I doubt that the jungle fowl that chickens descend from laid anywhere near as many eggs. The current ratio of eggs per hen isn't something that I can imagine happening without humans having gotten involved.
 
Alder Burns
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I think part of the answer to this is in ASH. I've often used ordinary wood ash in my poultry feed, mostly as a money-saver and being devoted to sustainability. This, plus recycling eggshells, seems to be enough. One can imagine wild birds fnding ashes on old wildfire sites. And birds on free range find a lot....probably including snail shells, bone bits, and other "wild" sources of calcium....
 
John Polk
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I believe that, in the wild, chickens probably got their calcium from plants, and the exoskeletons of some of the insects they ate. Once mankind figured out he could get more eggs by locking the hens in cages, he needed to supply the calcium that is lacking in caged bird's diets.

 
D. Logan
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Alder, I am curious what the ash is offering aside from carbon and alkaline PH, or is the alkaline nature tied to what is helping them provide stronger eggs? Do you happen to know what the specific beneficial aspect is or is this something you picked up over the years without a specific explanation of how it works?
 
Alder Burns
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Ash contains plenty calcium, the main ingredent in eggshell. Also some potassium and magnesium and other minerals, which is why it's good for gardens, especially in depleted acid soils. It stands to reason.....a tree builds up most of it's bulk from water and CO2 from the air, put together by means of solar energy into things like cellulose and lignin. When you burn the wood, out comes the energy as the water and CO2 crack apart and gas off, and what's left is the little bit of minerals that the tree originally sucked out of the soil.....
 
Ann Torrence
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After reading this article on wild birds in general, I think it comes down to:

1) wild birds lay much fewer eggs and thus need much less dietary intervention
2) insect bodies, certain green leaves are probable sources. Hormonal driven changes in eating preferences are likely.
3) egg laying and brooding add stress. It may be natural, but that doesn't mean it's easy on the hen, and why it is only done as food availability is on the spring upswing.

If you want a hen to give more than a couple dozen eggs a year, she's going to need more help than her ancestors got in the wild.
 
Su Ba
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I've also seen my foraging hens eat the bones from small dead birds that they come upon. They also eat snails and small lizards. Plus plenty of little stones.

My own flock gets free choice coral sand.
 
Meryt Helmer
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A lot of parrots that live in jungles get their minerals from eating clay. Perhaps the wild jungle chickens ate clay as well? They sell clay for parrots and other mineral supplements for parrots as well.
 
Bev Huth
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Location: AR, USA
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I don't use shell, I do pressure cook bones to soften them and, crush those for the chickens and, I parch and give the egg shells back to them in the feed. That seems to be enough.

I do make sure they have access to grit (small gravel and the like) as well.
 
Tony Hill
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My chickens eat mice, when they find a nest. Mice, lizards, moles, any little animal they can catch.

I'm sure wild birds would do the same with any small animals they can catch. Bones have a lot of calcium in them.

-TH
 
I agree. Here's the link: http://richsoil.com/cards
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