Charcoal + Chickens = Healthy Backyard Flock

Charcoal + Chickens = Healthy Backyard Flock

I bet you didn’t know that charcoal is healthy for chickens.

 

In this article, I’m going to tell you exactly what I’m talking about.

 

A few years ago, my husband got a wild hair to light a fire – right near our winter hay barn.

 

When the fire department had left, and everything stopped burning a few days later, we noticed something pretty interesting: After the charred cypress and pine beams cooled, our backyard chickens started pecking the burnt wood. 

 

Hmmm……

 

Why charcoal helps backyard chickens

 

Well, after some research, I discovered that wild animals, like deer, will instinctively chew on charcoal after a forest fire as a way settle upset tummies or generally rid their bodies of toxins they might have picked up.

 

Similarly, we’ve been able to use charcoal as a way to help our hens be healthier.

 

After a hen pecks at charcoal and swallows it, the charcoal will bind with toxins. Anything poisonous or potentially troubling can pass through your chickens digestive system easier (although not necessarily 100%).

 

If your chicken has eaten something that’s giving her digestive system a run for its money, you might notice her start pecking charcoal instinctively as a remedy.

 

Did you know giving chickens charcoal can be super healthy for them?

 

What’s the best charcoal for chickens?

Before going further, let’s first talk about what kind of charcoal is appropriate for chickens.

 

Are you thinking of those briquettes you buy when you want to barbeque? Nope, that’s not the right stuff. Never feed charcoal briquettes to chickens –  they’re usually full of lighter fluid. Yuck!

 

The best type of charcoal to offer your flock natural wood charcoal – wood such as oak, pine, ash, etc, that has been burned without sufficient oxygen until it’s covered with black, sooty material.

 

You also need to consider the quality of the natural wood: Has it been treated? Is it painted? Anything except plain, all-natural wood should be avoided since it might contain something toxic (kind of counterproductive, right?)

 

Avoid wood ash

Ash from your wood stove won’t necessarily contain wood charcoal, and if you’ve burnt anything other than timber in your wood stove, it might contain something that can harm your chickens.

 

What woods should you use?

Natural woods, such as oak, maple, etc, are perfect. In studies, there’s no clear indication that one type of wood provides more benefit to chickens than another, so go with what’s readily available to you. 

 

Another option, if you don’t want to make your own charcoal, is to purchase activated charcoal, and mix it into their feed (if they won’t eat it in their feed, then offer separately). In several studies, chickens that ate activated charcoal with their grain were healthier and produced better manure.

Other reasons to give charcoal to your chickens

 

Helps prevent diarrhea and coccidiosis

In the days before things like activated charcoal, commercial feeds, and probiotics, our ancestors used charcoal to prevent or reduce diarrhea in chickens – particularly coccidiosis, a potentially-deadly disease caused by an infestation of parasites naturally-occurring in soil. You can read more about coccidiosis here.

 

Helps prevent thin, brittle shells

Often times, I’m contacted by readers who have hens laying soft shelled eggs, even though they’re provided with a calcium supplement. In these cases, wood charcoal might help.

 

One study performed by researchers showed that chickens offered charcoal mixed with vinegar as part of their diet laid eggs with more collagen in the membranes. Not only that, but the eggshell itself was stronger and healthier.

 

 

Making wood charcoal for your chickens

Yes, you can make charcoal for your chickens right in your backyard.

 

Here’s an excellent video to show you how to do it:

 

 

Offer your flock charcoal once it is no longer hot. You can either scrape flakes of it off the wood and mix with their feed, or offer separately.

 

We’ve given them both the entire piece of burnt wood and mixed flakes with their feed, and have not found one way is better than the other. If you find your flock isn’t interested in a block of charred wood, then mixing it with their feed is a better option.

 

If the charcoal you harvest is powdery, or if you use activated charcoal, then consider mixing it with water or apple cider vinegar. If you don’t, your flock could accidentally inhale the powder, which might negatively effect their delicate respiratory systems.

 

If you’re worried your flock will turn their beaks up at their new treat, rest assured that if your hens can reach it, they will taste test the charcoal. Chickens are naturally curious about their environment, so they will check it out quite readily, and once they’ve realized it’s beneficial, they will return to it.

I’d like to hear from you!

Do you give your chickens charcoal? Leave a comment below!

 

Chickens Laying Soft Eggs? 6 Reasons Why (And What To Do)

Chickens Laying Soft Eggs? 6 Reasons Why (And What To Do)

If you have chickens laying soft eggs and aren’t sure what to do about it, you’re in luck because I have plenty of answers.

Soft eggs, also called shell less eggs, soft shell eggs, partially shelled eggs, or rubber eggs, can be a sign of a few different factors, such as illness, age, and diet.

Some of these factors are out of your control (like age), some aren’t (like diet), and some factors are a bigger cause for concern than others (like illness and stress).

We occasionally get chickens laying soft eggs on our farm, and they’re simultaneously cool and disturbing.

chickens laying soft eggs

Back many years ago, the first time we saw a soft egg, we didn’t know what to make of it. Our latest batch of chickens were young brahma pullets that just started layingOne of the first eggs we got from these layers didn’t have a shell – just the thin membrane, albumen, and yolk. And it had gotten squished and spread everywhere. We were so disappointed – we were looking forward to gathering eggs for the first time!

But the hen’s subsequent eggs were healthy and normal. Whew! So, chickens laying soft shell eggs can happen for a variety of reasons, which we’ll talk about below.

What age is your hen?

One of the first things you should look at if you have chickens laying soft shell eggs is the age of your flock. When pullets first start laying, they’re more likely to lay soft shell, eggs missing their shell, or thin shelled eggs than older laying hens. (And yes, these eggs go bad much quicker than their hard shelled counterparts)

This can be for a couple reasons: your backyard chickens don’t yet have enough calcium in their diet or their bodies are getting used to laying, and haven’t quite caught up yet.

If you’ve been feeding your older pullets a grower ration, and they lay a soft egg, then switch them to a layer ration. The grower feeds don’t have as much calcium as a layer feed, so your chickens might not have enough calcium in their diet to support building an egg shell.

Simply switching to a layer feed or offering her a calcium supplement will likely solve the problem, and your chickens will probably start laying normal healthy eggs. If your chickens already have enough calcium in their diet (if you offer them a supplement already, for example), then it’s possible her body is just getting used to the rigors of laying and didn’t properly apply the calcium to totally encase her egg.

As long as she seems healthy and starts laying normal eggs, it’s probably nothing to worry about. It also might be a breed issue. We’ve had many types of chickens on our farm, including

as well as various heritage chicken breeds, and each of these hens has never laid a shell-less egg.

Calcium deficiency

We’ve touched on calcium deficiency already, but if your chickens are older and laying regularly but suddenly give you soft eggs, then it’s time to look at their calcium intake. 

One of the most frequent causes of laying thin shell or soft eggs is a diet low in calcium. While most quality layer feeds have extra calcium in them, you should still offer a supplement just to make sure your hens get enough.

If your laying chickens aren’t eating enough calcium, soft eggs aren’t your only concern. In order to produce eggs, hens must draw calcium from somewhere. If they can’t get it from their diet, your chickens will start pulling it from their bones, which can lead to another set of health problems and shorten their lifespan.

Oyster shells or toasted egg shells are two supplements that can help provide enough calcium for your flock. Of course, you can always use the shells from eggs that fail the egg float test or use those shells in your garden – they’re too old for humans to eat. You can read more about what chickens eat here.

Can be a sign of stress

Stress can also lead to soft eggs or thin egg shells. Stress can include:

  • Environmental stress
  • Heat stress
  • Predator stress
  • Rooster stress

Environmental stress

Environmental stress can be anything from a coop or chicken run that’s too small and packed with too many chickens to stress from roosters mating too frequently. You can read about what a coop should include right here – there’s certain features you should build a chicken coop with to reduce stress.

If your flock’s diet is calcium-rich, then examine their living situation. Are your chickens cooped in a small area all day? Do they have 10 square feet of space? Are roosters picking on her? It’s possible her environment is causing her stress, and the calcium is being diverted from creating egg shells to supporting your hen’s bodily health. This type of stress can also effect your chicken’s lifespan.

In one memorable experience on our farm, one of our chickens watched a dog kill her flock mate. The surviving hen never laid well after, and laid a couple rubber eggs. Since her diet was good and she was healthy, environmental stress seemed to be the cause.

Heat stress

If you’ve ever wondered “Why did my chicken lay a soft egg” when it’s warm out, then heat stress might be the culprit. I’ve learned that hot weather can be a big factor in thin shelled eggs or shell less eggs. Heat is hard on chickens, much more so than cold weather.

Chickens have a natural body temperature at around 106 degrees, and don’t have the same effective cooling mechanisms that humans have. So, they feel the heat a lot more than we do, and that can temporarily effect their laying ability. There’s not much you can do to control the weather, but you can offer your hens some relief from the heat. Make sure they have enough water, and a cool area to rest in.

If you think heat stress can be effecting your flock’s egg production, then start offering nutritious treats like frozen fruit, mealworms, etc to keep their diet up to snuff. 

It’s also a good time to offer a free-choice calcium supplement to ensure they’re getting enough calcium. Hot weather can lead to dietary deficiencies because chickens start using nutrients to battle stress and less for laying healthy eggs.

 

chickens laying soft eggs

Rooster stress

Sometimes, roosters can over mate with hens, and cause stress. If that’s happening, then you can isolate the hen – she won’t need the rooster to lay eggs.

Sign of Illness

Soft eggs can also be a sick chicken symptom. If your hen’s body isn’t feeling healthy, she will use dietary nutrients to fight off the illness – and not on creating an egg shell. A soft egg can indicate any sort of illness, from a bacterial infection, to bumblefoot, to a virus, to trauma, and more. If you think your hen is sick, then only a vet can diagnose her exact illness and recommend a treatment. In my experience, once the illness is resolved, the hen starts laying healthy shelled eggs again.

Sometimes soft shell eggs just happen

Let’s say your flock’s diet is calcium-rich, you don’t see any environmental factors, heat stress, or signs of illness, but your chickens lay a single soft egg. It’s possible the rubber egg is just one of those things that happen. Chickens are living organisms. Like people, sometimes things just go awry, and there’s no logical explanation.

Perhaps her body just sent the egg through the oviduct faster than normal…as long as the hen seems healthy and it’s only one chicken egg without a shell, I usually don’t worry too much about it. Things happen!

Can you eat a soft shell egg?

A question I’m frequently asked is whether soft eggs can be eaten. Honestly, usually when I come across a egg with just the membrane, if it’s intact, I give it to my pigs. One of the purposes of the shell is to keep bacteria and other pathogens out of the egg. Without it, there’s a chance it’s been invaded by germs I don’t want to eat. So personally, I don’t eat them.

Soft eggs can be disturbing. But there’s a lot of ways to fix the problem, and it’s not necessarily a sign your flock is unhealthy. 

What do you think?

Did you ever deal with chickens laying soft eggs? What did you do about it? Leave a comment below!

Resources:

Johnston SA, Gous RM. “Extent of variation within a laying flock: attainment of sexual maturity, double-yolked and soft-shelled eggs, sequence lengths and consistency of lay.” Accessed August 22, 2016

Gary D. Butcher and Richard Miles, Concepts of Eggshell Quality,” University Of Florida, IFAS Extension. Accessed August 22, 2016