Table of Contents
Egg Quality - How To Yield Top-Quality Eggs (Weight, Shape, And Shell Quality)
The incredible, edible egg. When most people look at an egg, they don’t even stop to consider how remarkable it is. Nature has chosen the dome-like shape for the eggshell, as it is one of the strongest structures. The eggshell, while appearing solid, contains 7,000 to 17,000 pores that enable gas exchange. Surrounding the calcium-rich eggshell is a thin layer known as the cuticle that acts as a barrier to both water and bacteria. Top-quality eggs have a strong, thick eggshell with about 2 grams of calcium total and a specific gravity measured at 1.09 and above. Let’s take a look at the factors that go into producing excellent quality eggs.
Maximize Egg Weight
Everyone wants the biggest eggs possible and consumers are willing to pay more for eggs that are larger than normal. However, large eggs still have the same amount of calcium as smaller eggs so the overall eggshell is thinner. In other words, the focus shouldn’t be on egg weight so much, but more on egg quality. With that said, maximizing the weight of eggs comes down to both genetics and environmental factors. We will mainly focus on optimizing environmental factors.
More light for larger eggs
Egg-laying hens that receive more light exposure mature slower, but grow heavier and produce larger eggs than their counterparts. As soon as they are mature enough to lay eggs, chickens that receive slightly more calories than they require, as part of an ideal diet that has the appropriate amount of protein, vitamins, and minerals, produce heavier eggs.
Higher than normal protein and specifically the amino acid methionine, at a minimum ratio of 47:100 methionine to lysine, allows hens to produce eggs that are heavier than normal. Additionally, giving egg-laying hens linoleic acid increases egg weight.
At the end of the day, the extra costs of more calories, higher protein levels, methionine, and linoleic acid bring down overall profitability, but small farmers who value heavier than normal eggs, yet thinner eggshells, can experiment with these options.
Ideal Egg Shape
The shape of an eggshell gives it its strength, but it must be weak enough on the sides so a baby chick can crack out of it. The main factor that goes into producing ideal eggs is a relaxed environment that is free of stress. Egg-laying hens that are relaxed, have plenty of room in the coop, and don’t have high adrenaline levels, form stronger, thicker, more symmetrical eggshells. Abnormal egg formation is generally due to anomalies during the production process, but diseases like infectious bronchitis can result in abnormal egg shape as well.
Eggshell quality is generally correlated to diet. However, pullets that have just begun to lay eggs and older hens produce a lower quality eggshell no matter what they eat. Both white eggshell and brown eggshell laying hens produce eggs that are nutritionally equal, however, most small growers usually prefer brown eggs.
Ideal Diet For Quality Eggshell Production
Certain dietary factors like calcium, vitamin D, manganese, vitamin C, zinc, copper, and low phosphorus levels are of the utmost importance for ideal eggshell formation. If you have only egg-laying hens, you can give them layer feed that is intended for ideal eggshell formation. However, layer feed is extremely high in calcium and is harmful to non-laying chickens and roosters.
Regular Feed With A Side Dish Of Calcium
The best way to ensure that pullets and egg-laying hens have enough calcium is to offer them a side dish of ground-up oyster shells or crushed limestone. Consisting mainly of calcium carbonate, oyster shells and limestone provide egg-laying hens with all the calcium they need.
Another option is to sterilize, grind up eggshells, and place them in a side dish just like the ground-up oyster shells. If choosing this method, make sure the eggshells are completely crushed to dust so the chickens don’t know they are consuming eggshells. Once they realize they are consuming eggshells, they may eat their own eggs.
Hens intuitively know how much calcium to eat for optimal egg formation so allow them to decide how much they want to consume.
But our favorite option is using black soldier fly larvae for as feeders. BSFL have an abundant amount of calcium as part of their nutritional composition. In addition to their high fat and protein content, BSFL are a great live feeder option for many chickens. And because BSFL are also great composting worms, many farmers will create a vermicompost pile, with a canal for the BSFL to escape the compost, only to fall prey to the foraging chicken.
What Happens If Egg-Laying Hens Lack Calcium?
Egg-laying hens need calcium to produce quality eggshells and if they don’t get enough in their diet, they will pull excessive calcium directly from their bones. Low dietary calcium results in health maladies and a shorter lifespan so sufficient calcium must be provided for both the health of chickens and excellent egg quality.
Other critical nutrients
Vitamin D3, manganese, zinc, copper, vitamin C, and phosphorus are also important elements that need to be regulated in a hen’s diet for optimal eggshell quality.
Vitamin D3 is especially important in facilitating the transport of calcium within the bloodstream. This means that vitamin D3 assists in transporting calcium where it is needed most, eggshell production. For vitamin D3 to be optimally effective, adequate amounts of vitamin C (250 mg/kg of feed) are required. Both vitamin D3 and vitamin C should be included in any good feed.
Manganese, zinc, and copper are trace minerals that are required for eggshell formation. Most quality chicken feeds should have these minerals included in them.
While necessary for eggshell formation, too much phosphorus results in thin, weak eggshells. For this reason, choose a feed that is low in phosphorus so chickens don’t produce eggs with a soft eggshell.
Sodium Bicarbonate Makes Eggshells Stronger
Sodium bicarbonate, otherwise known as baking soda, makes eggshells stronger when it comprises 1% of their dietary intake. If all the dietary guidelines above have been followed, but eggshells are still soft or thin, consider adding baking soda into an egg-laying hen’s feed.
Stress Or Illness Might Be Responsible If Eggshells Are Thin
If hens are consuming enough calcium in conjunction with adequate vitamins and minerals, stress may be responsible for thin eggshells. Stress comes in many forms including predators in the area, heat or cold stress, less than ideal environmental conditions, and even aggressive roosters or hens. If the chicken coop is too small or too many chickens are packed into it, egg-laying hens may end up producing low-quality eggs.
Sick egg-laying hens will often not lay eggs or produce eggs with a fragile shell. If a hen is sick, separate her from the rest of the flock so she doesn’t infect the other hens in the coop.
How To Yield Top-Quality Eggs
Producing top-quality eggs comes down to genetics, the proper diet, and adequate minerals like calcium, manganese, zinc, and copper. Additionally, vitamin D3 and vitamin C are important for calcium formation and thick eggshells. If egg-laying hens have an adequate diet but are still laying less than ideal eggs, make sure they are not stressed or sick. The healthiest chickens produce the highest quality eggs so tend to your flock regularly and give them everything they need.