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Old 08-27-2012, 11:30 AM
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Default Grinding oyster shells for chickens



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Has anyone ground their own oyster shells for chickens?

In September my wife and I are making a trip to a local beach for a weekend get away. While we are there, I thought about collecting shells to grind them up for my chickens.

Is there a difference between clam and oyster shells? Would any kind of saltwater shell work?

What about discarded hermit crab shells?

Buying ground oyster shells is expensive. Surely there has to be a better way? With as many clam and oyster shells as you can find on the beach, why not give it a try?
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Old 08-27-2012, 11:36 AM
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I haven't done it yet, but I picked up a bunch of mussels off of the beach at a local river and was going crush them up and see if the chickens would take them. I wanted to sanitize them some how first, maybe a couple hours in the oven at 200 degrees would be hot enough to kill bacteria, but not change or burn the mussels.
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Old 08-27-2012, 12:27 PM
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I would think if you brought them home and just took a long time hammering the heck out of them you'll get results. I sometimes add in egg shells I did the same thing with. Put it between two pieces of a sturdy material or just do it outside on the sidewalk (and I wonder why people drive by my house and look at me like I'm nuts)

I actually just give my girls a sprinkle of sand a couple times a week - I think the oyster shells are for grit too rather than calcium and I'd sooner spend $3 on a bag of sand that will last for generations of chickens (or until my kids find it)
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Old 08-27-2012, 12:36 PM
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I'd be surprised if all shells don't have a high calcium content. Why not bring some home?

I only noticed a few times when my layers needed a boost. The egg shells got thin and it was hard to handle them without breaking them.

I started feeding eggs shells back and that stopped. I also only pick up eggs in the laying bin to make sure I don't get any bad eggs. When I see any out of the laying bin I break them on the ground. The chickens LOVE it. They'll come running from every direction. They eat the high protein egg and the calcium rich shells, as well.

I have a partial bag of oyster shell that is bound to be several years old because the egg shells seem to work very well. I also feed them scraps. Leftover peas and such might add a little extra nutrition.
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Old 08-27-2012, 01:43 PM
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I've got plans on picking up a bag of ground shell at Tractor Supply, but aside from that we also save egg shells form eating.. rinse out teh remaining yolk, pounded with a regular claw hammer and placed in a dish on the dash of the truck in the sun to dry. Not pounding into dust mind you just much smaller pieces to mix into one nights feeding.
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Old 08-27-2012, 01:53 PM
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If your chickens egg shells are strong, there's no need to give them any additional calcium.

If your shells are thin or misshapen, any form of calcium will do. Ground up shells (any kind) or bonemeal mixed in with their food will do fine.

Egg shells are of course a great FREE source of calcium as well. Every gram of calcium your chickens use up to produce eggs, you can give right back to them by feeding them their own egg shells. Smash them up and mix in with feed, or mix in with table scraps.
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Old 08-27-2012, 02:06 PM
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My chickens just eat the eggs shells when they need them and as Mortimer said it's almost a 1:1 thing. Laying pellets give the birds enough calcium almost. Supplements, like shells hey just eat when they need to.
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Old 08-27-2012, 02:42 PM
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If there's a commercial oyster operation nearby get a lifetime supply of dried shells free...
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Old 08-27-2012, 06:37 PM
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I didn't have any calcium supplements to feed my chickens, and didn't have egg shells to feed them, but their shells were still thick. I don't know if they would have thinned out if I had kept them for a second year though. I did notice that they tended to gravitate towards the types of plants that were higher in calcium, and of course, bugs have a lot of calcium too.

I don't think that chickens would typically require a lot of bonus calcium unless unable to forage for it. I'm not chicken pro, but I would suspect that if you can re-feed most of the eggshells, you could get a lot of mileage out of a large bulk bag of pre-ground oyster shell. If you have bones that are not being used for anything else, you could probably sun bake them or dry them in the oven for a while and crush them too.

If you want to grind your own out of seashells, Seashells tend to have a more homogenous texture, while I always thought oyster shells were more of flaky layers, like mica. I suspect that cobbling together a grinder for oyster shells would be more difficult and end up in dull grinding surfaces than some sort of crusher. A crusher would be better suited and easier to build from scrap. Of the types of crusher mechanisms in common use, the jaw crusher would probably be most appropriate, easiest to build, and easiest to run without a motor. Take whatever comes out of it and screen it. Take the big pieces and run them back through. Take the dust and either sprinkle it on the garden, the worm bin, or perhaps mist some feed mash with water and tumble the calcium dust with it until it sticks.

The jaw crusher is often used to take large and irregular items, like blasted rock, and make them a preset size or smaller. The down sides are that it will make some dust (like any grinder or crusher), that it can't make things extremely small without clogging, and the flat shards of shells may slide through. A gyratory or ball crusher may do a better job, but are harder to build. The gyratory crusher may require large quantities of shells, or some good engineering in order to work right, and a ball crusher is usually used to turn small things into powder, on top of being loud.

Collecting shells for reuse sounds like a good idea anyway, but if you had to get calcium to your birds, or couldn't afford to buy the ground shells, you may get satisfactory results if you can find a way to free-range them without predation. This was the problem that led me to take a hiatus from chickens until I came up with a workable strategy, as I was not open to the idea of chicken tractors at the time.

Hermit crabs don't make the shells they live in though. Those are seashells that they simply find and decide to live in. Their chitinous crab shell is made of calcium though, as well as other crabs, crayfish, and shrimp.
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Old 08-27-2012, 07:44 PM
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Remember most leafy greens are high in calcium too. Feed your girls some lettuce, spinach or swiss chard and they'll get calcium too. I have swiss chard planted to feed my hens.
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Old 08-27-2012, 07:45 PM
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Good idea on the chard!
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Old 08-27-2012, 08:27 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ChickPea View Post
I actually just give my girls a sprinkle of sand a couple times a week - I think the oyster shells are for grit too rather than calcium and I'd sooner spend $3 on a bag of sand that will last for generations of chickens (or until my kids find it)
The sand grit and oyster shell grit are two different things, for two different purposes. The oyster shell is to increase calcium and improve the thickness of the egg shells.

The course sand and small rocks stay in the gizzard to aid in grinding their food.
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Old 08-27-2012, 10:17 PM
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Pretty much any broad-leaf or young plant shoots are what mine went for. As far as they were concerned, dandelion leaves and grass shoots were as fine as spinach. When my chickens were confined to the coop, they ate the leaves off of most everything I ripped out of the ground and threw in there, even with all the good feed and clean water they could use. The rest became free straw. When let out of the coop, they were more selective.
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Old 08-27-2012, 10:47 PM
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Most shells and bones are made predominantly of calcium. If you're looking for a cheap calcium supplement alternative that can be stockpiled, I'd go with food grade lime (calcium hydroxide - having the extra properties of being useful for pickling and nixtamalizing corn). Top dress a small amount on their feed, it shouldn't take much.
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Old 08-27-2012, 10:54 PM
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For $7.99 (ish) I bought a 50lb bag of crushed oster shell from Tractor Supply... that has lasted me and my 7 layers a while. I also feed them back any eggshells. I have a little "slop" container in the kitchen that kitchen scraps go into. They seem to like the eggshells. Just make sure you crush them up so they don't realize what it is and start eating their own eggs.
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Old 08-28-2012, 01:27 PM
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I have a bag of ground shells, that stuff is very heavy. I have it just in case we ever need it. So far after 7 years, we have never seen soft egg shells. So we have never given them any.

I think our water has a lot of calcium in it. It is 'hard' water.
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Old 08-28-2012, 01:43 PM
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If you're there and want to grab some, why not...

However, I've never bought nor done that. Typically, we just save our eggshells, let them dry out and then crush them up later for them to chow down on. Every part of a chicken really is recyclable.
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Old 08-29-2012, 10:32 AM
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Boil them off the beach (any kind) until they are brittle and crumble easily. Put them in a pillow case and smash them to bits. That's it.

And if they get some outdoor time with access to dirt they don't need extra grit.

If you think they need a little extra calcium you can boil your used egg shells and do the same as well. Boil, smash to bits and just put them on the ground or in a separate feeder but not with their regular food.

All supplements such as these should be offered separate from their food unless you have reason to believe they are deficient and refuse to eat them.
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Old 08-30-2012, 03:25 PM
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My local feed store quit selling oyster shells. They said that they have been incorporated in the feed so they are not needed anymore. I just feed them egg shells just in case, although I haven't had any problems.
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Old 12-02-2012, 11:36 AM
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I was thinking... maybe you could use a small rock polisher? You know the ones that you load up with a few rocks, maybe it would break up the oyster shells into smaller pieces?
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