By Jennifer Murtoff, Home to Roost LLC
At Cargill we’re working hard to help your hens live their best lives—and lay great eggs! Our new and improved NatureWise feeds now contain more Vitamin D3. What is this vitamin, and why is it important for your birds—and you?
What is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble nutrient that helps the body absorb calcium. It also aids in muscle movement, strengthens the immune system, and improves nerve function. The two main forms of Vitamin D are
- Vitamin D2, which comes mainly from plant sources, and
- Vitamin D3, which is produced by animals (including humans) in response to sunlight.
Although the liver can convert both of these into forms that the body can use, it processes Vitamin D3 more easily. That’s why we’ve chosen Vitamin D3 for our NatureWise feeds.
Human adults should get 800 IUs (20 micrograms) of Vitamin D per day, which is the same amount found in 1 Tbsp of cod liver oil or 3 ounces of farmed trout. Other natural sources of this important vitamin include salmon, red meat, liver, canned tuna, and egg yolks. Because egg yolks are a source of Vitamin D, let’s look at how this vitamin affects your chickens.
How Your Hens Use Calcium and Vitamin D
Just like humans, hens need Vitamin D, too, and their bodies use it in similar ways. In a chicken’s body, Vitamin D does the following:
- Aids absorption and metabolism of calcium
- Improves quality of bones and eggshell
- Helps calcium move quickly through the intestinal wall into the bloodstream
Decreases early embryo death by up to 30%
The blood carries calcium to the shell gland, which secretes the calcium onto the outer membrane of an egg to create the shell. The blood also transports calcium to the rest of the body, where it contributes to bone health and helps power the muscles, including those that expel eggs.
Appropriate levels of Vitamin D can improve the hardness of eggshells, resulting in less breakage and a longer shelf life for your eggs. In addition, your older hens can benefit from Vitamin D. As hens age, they lay eggs with thinner shells. A little boost from Vitamin D can result in thicker, more healthy shells.
Chickens and Vitamin D Deficiency
So what happens if hens don’t get enough Vitamin D in their diet? A deficiency in this nutrient can reduce calcium absorption, which results in the following:
- Brittle bones: Hens without enough calcium pull the mineral from their bones, reducing bone strength.
- Thin-shelled eggs: A Vitamin D deficiency can result in less calcium in the eggshells.
- Higher feed consumption: Lower levels of calcium in feed lead hens to eat more, resulting in higher feed costs overall.
Mineral-deficient embryos: Hens fed a low Vitamin D3 diet produce embryos with low levels of calcium and phosphate.
Because of the close link between Vitamin D and calcium, your birds’ diet should include healthy levels of both of these nutrients.
Find Vitamin D on a Feed Label
You can easily compare the levels of Vitamin D in different feeds. Commercial layer feeds have a Guaranteed Analysis, like the one pictured below, on the back of the bag. Locate the amount of Vitamin D and compare NatureWise to other brands. You’ll find that the new NatureWise has 2500 IUs of Vitamin D3 per pound.
Get More Vitamin D! Feed Your Hens New NatureWise Feeds
If you’re feeding your hens our new NatureWise line, eating their eggs can increase your own levels of Vitamin D. In a recent study conducted by Cargill, eggs from hens fed the improved NatureWise 16% Layer feed contained 37% more Vitamin D than hens fed the standard layer feed as a control.
If you are a backyard poultry owner who values healthy eggs with optimal Vitamin D levels and strong shells, the new and improved NatureWise layer feeds are the best choice for your chickens. Learn more about our feeds with added vitamin D3 at the following links:
New to chickens and wondering what to expect when your hens start to lay? Twain Lockhart, Nutrena Poultry Expert, lays it out in this short video on what to expect when your hens begin to lay.
Let’s bust some myths on laying hens. The internet is filled with lots of information on hens, some are true some are opinions. In this video Twain Lockhart, Nutrena’s Poultry Expert, debunks the top three myths on hens.
Wondering when to switch your chicks to layer feed. Nutrena Poultry Expert Twain Lockhart explains what you need to know in this short video.
If you are new to chickens, or are looking at upgrading your current coop, there’s a few key things to consider when building a home for your flock. Learn from Nutrena poultry expert Twain Lockhart how to keep your girls happy, healthy, and safe from predators in their coop.
- Use hardware cloth instead of chicken wire to keep chickens safe from predators
- Chickens need about 16 hours a day of daylight to get eggs
- It’s very important for chickens to be positioned so they are exposed to natural sunset
- Four chickens per nest box is a good rule of thumb
- Make sure the coop is well ventilated, but not drafty
As more and more suburbanites join the ranks of would-be homesteaders raising flocks of chickens in their backyards, it only makes sense that more and more children are being exposed to chickens. While many folks remember fondly having a little incubator in the corner of a kindergarten classroom, having chickens in the backyard gives children the opportunity to not only experience the joys of raising an animal, but also learn about responsibility, caring for animals, and where their food comes from.
Families with young children have a few more things to take into account when choosing a chicken breed then other chicken owners. As one example, personality becomes much more important when looking for a breed that will bond with children. There are a number of useful tools online to help folks pick the best breed for their level of experience and space, production, and interaction needs. Here, we’ll focus on families with young kids looking for their first flock of hens.
First, it should be noted that there are some things all chicken owners need to take into account, children or no. These are largely logistical considerations, like how much space the flock will need and how many eggs you’ll want each week. Chickens are more energetic than many people assume, and they need their exercise just as much as anyone else; folks planning to keep their birds in the coop all day should plan for a commensurately larger coop to compensate for the lack of outdoor exercise. Those looking to raise chickens for eggs should also plan for a flock that will give them a reasonable number of eggs for their consumption – different breeds can lay anywhere between two and six eggs a week, which obviously makes a huge difference across a typical starter flock of five or six hens.
Chickens for Children
For future chicken keepers raising their own future chicken keepers, there are a couple of other factors to take into account. The big one, as mentioned above, is personality. While chickens, like people, are all individuals with their own quirks and idiosyncrasies, certain breeds tend toward certain personalities – gentle or aggressive, sociable or loners, cuddly or standoffish. There are tradeoffs to getting the most people-friendly chickens, though; they’re mostly breeds like the cochin or the silkie, historically cultivated as pet or ornamental birds – beautiful feathers, docile personalities, but generally poor layers. Both the cochin and the silkie only lay about two eggs per week.
The good news is that even production breeds inclined to be less friendly and cuddly can still be brought up to be gentle and even affectionate with their owners. The key to raising docile hens, more important even than their breed, is to bring them up from chicks, so they learn early on to trust their humans. This is especially good for children, as they get an opportunity not just to observe the undeniable cuteness of baby chicks, but also to form a bond with the animals and learn how to interact with them in a low-stakes environment where the animals are unlikely to hurt or scare them.
Top Tips for Raising Chickens and Children
- Establish ground rules early. Children, even more than most people, like to know what’s going on; they thrive on structure and routine. Giving them a clear picture of what life with the chickens will look like – maybe designating a certain time of day or area of the house for ‘fun chicken time’ and another time/place for the chickens to be ‘working’ – will help the kids adjust to the chickens and build an appropriate relationship with them as animals that are both pets and livestock.
- Practice good hen hygiene. Chickens are carriers for a number of dangerous bacteria, most notably salmonella, and the kinds of behaviors children are most likely to enjoy – petting and cuddling – are also the ones most likely to spread an infection. Washing hands before and after any interaction with the birds, as well as taking care while collecting and preparing eggs, is the best way to prevent transmission of an at best unpleasant and at worst very dangerous illness.
- Keep the kids involved. Kids, especially small children, love to feel important and have the autonomy to make decisions. Keeping them actively involved in the decision-making process around the birds – the littlest ones might get to name the hens, while their older siblings have a voice in the breed selection process – will help them feel emotionally invested in the flock as a collective, family project.
- Supervision is key. Children should never be left alone with the birds, especially when they’re both strangers to each other. Remember that both parties here – the children and the chickens – have the potential to hurt one another. When the kids play with the hens or help with chicken-related chores, there should always be a chicken-literate adult nearby to monitor the kids and watch out for potential accidents.
- Chickens aren’t toys. This is one of the hardest things for children (and some adults) to understand, but just because the chickens are pets doesn’t mean they’re required to meet every whim of their owners. There are times where the birds won’t be interested in interacting, and they have a tendency to express this with their beaks. Helping the kids understand this ahead of time will hopefully keep them from having to learn the hard way.
- Establish emotional boundaries where appropriate. If you have any intention of ever killing one of your birds for meat, draw a clear line between the chickens and pets – especially if you have a dog, cat, or other full pet. Otherwise, it will be easy for small children to get the idea that the family might one day kill and eat Fido. This is another place where establishing expectations and boundaries ahead of time is crucial.
Raising chickens in a family with kids can be hugely rewarding for everyone involved, but it does mean the adults have to take on a few more responsibilities in regard to safeguarding both the kids and the hens from one another. Luckily, a few precautions – like picking a child-friendly breed and establishing expectations with the kids beforehand – will go long way in making sure the backyard flock is a happy, healthy addition to the family.