How feed impacts the creation of an egg
As we mark another World Egg Day, let's take some time to consider what goes into making an egg. There are many important factors involved from adequate lighting, biological demands, feed, and most importantly the hen herself. At Healthier Hens, we strive to understand how dietary interventions may impact hen health and welfare, so let's focus on how feed impacts the creation of an egg.
There are many factors that affect egg quality, but it is well known that calcium plays a high role in the creation of the egg; it's what helps make the shell! Without a good source of calcium within hen feed, there is a potential for thin- or shell-less eggs, and not to mention a host of issues on the hen's health and well-being. Therefore, it is crucial that hens are fed a high quality feed that meets their needs. Let's dig a little deeper into why this is so important.
Importance of feed quality for the egg
Just like us, a hen’s formative years are very important. Pullets, hens who have not yet reached sexual maturity (i.e. are not laying eggs), need sufficient levels of calcium in their pre-lay diet, so they can properly develop robust bones. By building up a healthy calcium reservoir in their medullary bones, once they start laying, the eggshells will be optimally created.
As the hen begins laying, producers must continue to monitor calcium intake so those reserves do not get depleted - that’s when the hens’ structural bones begin degrading, leaving them at high risk of bone fractures. One way producers can do this is by ensuring hens have access to good calcium sources throughout the day. This can be solved by giving hens unlimited access to oyster shells or ensuring that a mix of coarse and fine limestone particles are provided in the feed. Both solutions allow the hen to intake higher levels of calcium, process it through their gizzard, allowing them to retain the key nutrient over a prolonged period of time so that eggshell strength is developed and maintained without compromising the hens skeletal system. And calcium doesn’t do this on its own. It interacts with other key nutrients such as phosphorus and vitamin D3 to guarantee proper absorption and bolster its impact on the hen and her eggs. If any of these nutrients are of low quality or not optimally present in the feed, then the hen will be at risk. Not only will the egg quality suffer, but the hen will suffer as well.
High quality feed also helps the hen
If producers provide high quality feed, absent of any other issues, they can guarantee a healthy hen. If not, this may impact health and welfare metrics such as feather pecking and coverage, socialization, and foraging. Recently, keel bone damage has been at the top of mind for many in the industry as it is impacting hens across all housing systems. One study showed that more than 90% of hens on commercial farms had at least one keel bone fracture. Such injuries are a major cause of acute and chronic pain for egg-laying hens and often take up to 6 to 8 weeks or even longer to heal. With hens now laying 10x the amount of eggs they would in nature, mineral and vitamin deficiencies are prevalent amongst egg-laying hens. Healthier Hens’ mandate is to ensure that hens receive the optimal amount of minerals and vitamins in order to mitigate this pain and suffering incurred by poor bone health. Join us on World Egg day to raise awareness on the need for high quality feed.