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.
One of the most obvious benefits of raising backyard chickens is the eggs you get. But how does the laying cycle work? And how many eggs will a chicken lay in her lifetime? Learn answers to these and other questions from Nutrena poultry expert Twain Lockhart in this video!
- Chickens will start laying at around 20 – 24 weeks of age, depending on the breed
- Most hens will lay their best in the first three seasons of life
- Most standard laying breeds will lay around 250 – 300 eggs per year
- Providing artificial light enables you to get eggs from hens year-round
- Stress and dehydration can cause hens to stop laying
It can be quite alarming when a poultry owner gets a consistent five eggs, daily, from five hens, only to find just one egg for a few days. This sudden drop in egg laying takes us all into detective mode – are they hiding the eggs? Are they sick?
Below you’ll find some of the most common reasons for decreased egg production to put your mind at ease and hopefully get your girls laying consistently again.
Why do hens stop laying eggs?
- Molt. At 15-18 months of age, and every year thereafter, chickens will replace their feathers. Feathers will fall out to make room for new feather growth. During this time, hens will stop laying eggs.
- Lighting. Chickens need about 15-16 hours of light per day to produce eggs. The first year, most laying breeds will lay through the winter without artificial lighting.
- Too many goodies. Think of kids, if you unleashed your kids at a buffet, and told them they could get whatever they want, most would load up at the dessert table. Your girls will do the same thing, filling up on bread, table scraps etc. they may not be getting what they need to produce eggs. This is usually a slowdown, more than a stoppage.
- Too much lovin’. One rooster can easily handle 12-18 hens. If this ratio is too low, he will over mount the girls and bare patches will appear on their backs and the backs of their heads. This stress can drop them out of production.
- Dehydration. It doesn’t take much water deprivation, especially in hot weather, to take your hens right out of production. Many times alpha hens will not allow submissive hens (bottom of the pecking order) to drink. They are attempting to “vote them off the island”, but the first thing that will happen is an egg stoppage. We recommend adding water stations during warm weather.
- Any undue stress. Maybe the coop is secure, but they are still being harassed by raccoons, neighbor’s dogs, or other predators.
- Egg eating by the hens, or theft by 2 or 4 legged scoundrels! They may be laying, but the wrong critter is getting the eggs. Believe it or not, human egg stealing is more common than people think – I’ve even seen it on a game camera.
- Change in the pecking order. Adding new hens, a new rooster or removing a hen can cause a power void and/or drama. Drama=stress=egg production drop
- Illnesses/parasites. The reasons above may likely be the cause but parasites or illness can also cause stress on a hen.
We’ve got a whole section on our blog dedicated to diseases and disorders of chickens.