Eggs come in many shapes and sizes from the tiny quail eggs to the huge ostrich egg. Although the shape is generally oval, sometimes things go awry and you end up with an odd looking egg.
While you can’t fix everything, here are some ways in which your hens’ eggs will be better made and look more attractive.
When pullets start to lay, it can be erratic with some strange misshapen eggs at times. This is perfectly normal.
It takes some time to get the machinery well oiled and running smoothly.
Today we are going to talk you through how to give your hens the best chance of regularly laying beautiful eggs.
Starting with Nutrition
The secret to egg laying starts with good nutrition.
Chicken feed has been studied and improved for years and livestock feed manufacturers have come up with the best possible feed for your chicken.
While you may be tempted to make your own feed, until you are confident that you know what you are doing, stick with commercial.
There is organic feed out there for your flock as well as regular feed.
Starting with the chick you need to give a quality, high protein feed to them until they reach laying age. At this point, you can change over slowly to layer feed, which is sixteen percent protein.
If you have older hens and chicks mixed together as I do, use an ‘all flock’ feed for everyone until all the chicks are around twenty weeks or so.
Why is this so important? In order to fully develop, a chick must be given high protein quality feed. Chicks can suffer from several nutritional deficiencies which will ultimately affect the way they develop.
They are fed chick starter/grower (twenty percent protein) for the first sixteen to twenty weeks. When they start to lay, change to the sixteen percent layer feed. This ensures they get the right amount of protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals to make them strong and healthy.
The Importance of Calcium
As they begin their routine life of laying an egg a day, they will often have ‘false starts’- you will get an egg one day then nothing for a couple of days.
This is perfectly normal and nothing to worry about- it will sort itself out.
When they have got settled into the routine, you will need to start to offer calcium to them. Pale combs, wattles and legs can indicate a low calcium level among other things.
Eggshells are made out of 97% calcium carbonate, if the hen does not receive enough calcium on a daily basis, the calcium in the hens’ bones will be leached out and used to produce eggs. This ‘leaching’ can only go on for a short time before she starts laying misshaped, soft-shell or no shell eggs. She will also start to suffer from brittle bones due to lack of calcium.
Calcium can be bought in the feed store as oyster shell. It’s pretty inexpensive since it usually lasts for ages.
A hen will only take what she needs. It is important to offer it separately from the feed as too much calcium brings its’ own problems.
Another great way to give your ladies calcium is by feeding them eggshells.
The best way to do this is to bake the shells in an oven for about ten to fifteen minutes. I put the eggshells in when I turn the oven off from baking- leave them in for about fifteen minutes.
Baking the shells will ensure the destruction of any bacteria.
Once they are cool enough, smash them into very small pieces, (unrecognizable as an egg) and feed them to the girls. Interestingly, my girls prefer recycled shells to oyster shell.
Keeping Their Stress Low
For your chickens and you!
Stress in chickens can lead to interruption of laying cycles and other maladies.
What causes stress in a chicken? The short answer is many things can- heat stress for one.
The current air temperature here is around ninety degrees Fahrenheit and the ladies are not laying well.
Changing coops, changing feeds, being picked on, broodiness can all induce stress in a hen. It really is best if you can avoid any changes in their routine otherwise they may stop laying for a while.
The mating season is a huge stressor for the hens, especially if you have an enthusiastic rooster!
The amount of stress a bird can tolerate will depend upon the breed. The general ‘backyard chicken’ is fairly stress tolerant, while some of her flighty Mediterranean sisters might have a fit over the smallest changes.
Obviously you need to try and limit the possible stressors that your ladies are exposed to, for instance small children running around or the family pet such as dog or cat.
We may not think of these things as stressors, but chickens do. They are a prey species and are constantly alert for danger.
Keep Them Disease Free
A hen that is unwell may shut down production for a while- this will likely be your first indication that all is not well with that particular hen.
Keep a close eye on her and isolate if she seems to be ‘under the weather’.
A heavy infestation of parasites can cause a hen to stop laying.
Regular health checks should be the order of the day to ensure all your ladies are healthy.
If you think they may have a worm load, collect a poop sample and take it to your local veterinarian for analysis.
Don’t forget to check for lice, fleas and mites– all of these can take a toll on a bird’s wellbeing.
Clean Nesting Boxes
Keeping the nest boxes clean is very important if you want clean eggs to start with.
Nesting materials can be shavings, straw, shredded newspaper or washable nest ‘liners’. Ensure the material is deep enough to allow the egg a soft landing after being laid.
Change the materials frequently so that they remain clean and attractive to nest in, you can put a sprig of aromatic herbs in the box too if you wish.
Although hens don’t have a great sense of smell, it will help to deter flies or vermin from the nest and give the coop a delightful aroma.
If you have hens that like to sleep in the nest boxes it’s time to stop them! They will poop all night and you will have to change the materials daily.
At roosting time just put a piece of cardboard over the box entrance- you will no doubt have a crabby hen, but clean nest boxes!
Also, ensure your nesting boxes are up to your hens’ standards. This means they should be bedded well and constructed in a way that makes them feel safe.
If you’ve ever seen a free-range hen look for a place to lay her eggs, you’d have noticed that she goes for the best hiding spaces. Much to your dismay as you’re on the hunt for her fresh eggs.
Nesting boxes should be fairly dark and a bit enclosed. If the ladies don’t have access to a comfortable nesting box they will lay their eggs in other places…or stop altogether.
Hens that are unhappy with their nesting boxes may also “hold” their eggs, which can cause egg binding, cessation of laying, and even death.
Beautiful Egg Yolks
How do the yolks get so orange- ever had anyone ask you? I have several times. In order to get those yolks a sunny, healthy color, it’s important to give your girls the right stuff.
Pastured hens will have deep yellow to orange yolks, depending on how much they forage.
Another way to get the color in the yolk is to feed marigold or calendula flower heads to the girls, or buy a feed with marigold extract already added.
Even if you can’t pasture your girls it’s possible to ‘color up’ those yolks!
Backyard hens that are well cared for have a much higher omega three levels in their eggs than caged birds.
Keeping the Eggs Clean
As long as the nesting boxes are clean and poop free, you shouldn’t need to scrub the shell vigorously, a light brushing with paper towels should be enough.
If however it looks like everyone has pooped on the egg, you are going to have to clean that egg!
Here’s my method:
- I use a mildly abrasive washcloth with very hot water.
- First pass- really wet down those poopy areas.
- On the second pass- the washcloth should be damp but not water logged, start working at those mucky spots. They usually disappear after one or two thorough damping down.
- Once they are clean I rub them very gently with a hot vinegar/water solution, box them and refrigerate.
It’s important to note: do not soak your eggs as it can cause bacteria to enter into the egg.
Unwashed eggs can be stored at room temperature for several days, but if you clean your eggs you need to refrigerate right away to prevent any bacteria from invading the egg.
If you don’t wash your eggs, it preserves the natural ‘bloom’ of the egg which inhibits bacterial growth.
We hope that you have enjoyed this piece on beautiful eggs.
We know a lot goes into the production of the oval masterpiece, from choosing the right feed, maintaining good health for your flock and avoiding stressing them too much while they are in production mode.
The last stage is in your hands, cleaning the eggs and storing them safely.
When you care for your birds’ they are happier and they reward you will better tasting eggs!
We’d love to hear how you keep your hens laying eggs- let us know in the comments section below…
Read The Basics of Raising Healthy Hens