Should You Feed Eggshells to Chickens?

Feeding eggshells back to your chickens might seem a bit odd, but it’s one of the best old-timey ways to reduce costs, repurpose waste, and support your flock’s calcium needs simultaneously. I’m all about finding ways to opt out of needing to buy yet another thing! Heck yes!

We’ve been feeding eggshells to our chickens for years with great success, but this practice isn’t necessarily a great fit for every flock and situation. There’s also an art to preparing the eggshells properly and how to feed them back to your chooks. Plus, you may be wondering if you should still supplement with oyster shell or not. 

Let’s dive in to find out!

A sheet pan full of eggshells for chickens

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Should You Feed Eggshells to Chickens?

I’m so glad that you’re asking about this! This is one of the most underrated hacks in the chicken keeping. The short answer is yes, you should feed eggshells to your chickens! However, like with most things, there are exceptions which we’ll cover below so you can be sure that this practice is a great fit for your flock.

Calcium needs of your flock

The main reason you’d consider feeding eggshells to your chickens is to replete the calcium that is lost during egg laying. Eggshells are made primarily of calcium carbonate (98.2% to be exact!), the same material as oyster shells.

Hens will obtain some calcium while out foraging for hard-shelled bugs. However, they likely won’t get enough, especially in the winter months when bugs are scarce, or if they’re confined to a run. Layer feed contains also some calcium, but it’s often insufficient to support the high demands of your best layers. 

A mix of hens and roosters out foraging at sunset

Gender differences

If you have a flock of only hens, then that makes it easy! As long as they are all laying, then all of them will need extra calcium to support egg laying. However, if you have a rooster (or a few!), things get a bit more complicated. Since roosters don’t lay eggs, they don’t need extra calcium. 

So, how do you manage that? Thankfully, it’s easier than it sounds. By providing dried egg shells as free-choice in a separate hopper (we’ll talk more about this in detail later!), your flock can pick and choose what they need.

I’ve never caught my roosters dipping into the eggshell bucket. They instinctively know that they don’t need it, which is pretty neat! If you happen to only have roosters, then just leave the eggshells (or calcium supplements) out of their coop entirely.

Age differences

Age makes a difference, too! Chicks, young pullets that aren’t laying yet, and old hens that aren’t laying much anymore all have pretty low calcium needs compared to your best layers that are cranking out an egg nearly every day. 

  • If you only have chicks or young pullets, don’t provide eggshells (or calcium supplements) until they start laying.
  • If you have an old flock, the calcium in their layer rations is likely sufficient, and additional calcium isn’t needed.
  • If you have a flock with mixed ages, provide eggshells as free-choice in a separate hopper

A large flock of chickens of all ages out foraging

Type of eggshell

Okay, so you’ve determined whether feeding eggshells to your flock is appropriate or not based on your situation, but not all eggshells are safe to use! So, which ones are okay? Let’s break them down!

  • Eggshells from your own flock – Yes, this is the best option and absolutely safe to use!
  • Eggshells from a friend or storebought – Maybe. I personally wouldn’t want to risk exposing my flock to outside bacteria and/or pathogens from another flock. If you want to go this route, I recommend baking the shells first to sterilize them (160F to kill E. coli or 150F for Salmonella for a minimum of 15 minutes). 
  • Poopy or dirty eggs – Yes, if washed first.
  • Water glassed eggs – No, the shells have been saturated with pickling lime. Plus, the eggshells get quite weak and brittle anyway after water glassing. 
  • Incubated eggs after hatching – No, these eggs can be loaded with bacteria, blood, and who knows what else. I don’t even compost these – they’re one of the few things that I do throw away.

A close up view of dried eggshells that have been crushed and stored in a ziplock bag

How to Feed Eggshells to Your Chickens

You may have heard people claim that feeding eggshells to chickens results in egg-eating, and that can be true! It’s important that you prepare them properly so that the risk is minimal. Plus, you definitely don’t want to just dump the eggshells straight into their feed, either. This can result in calcium overload, which isn’t good!

Step 1: Washing and rinsing (optional)

This step is completely optional. I’m mostly in the no-washing camp when it comes to eating fresh eggs from my own flock – you can learn more about my stance in my article How to Store Farm Fresh Eggs! However, if you have some extra poopy ones, I’d recommend giving them a wash first.

What about the inside of the egg? Some people pull the membrane out and rinse the inside of the egg out, but I don’t have time for that. It’s not necessary at all. The little extra egg white will provide a boost in protein and the membrane is harmless as long as they are dried properly. 

I simply crack the unwashed egg (if already fairly clean) to cook whatever I’m making, make a pile of shells, and then move on to step 2! 

Step 2: Dry thoroughly

There are several reasons why we want to dry the shells. First, it allows the shell to be easily crushed into small, unidentifiable pieces (this will reduce the risk of egg eating in your flock!). Second, creating a dry product will reduce the risk of any bacterial growth.

One time, I had a well-meaning friend save eggshells for me (bless her heart!), and when she handed me the ziplock bag full of week-old fresh shells… I almost puked. The smell was horrendous! They went right into the trash!

I like to collect my eggshells for a week or so on a baking sheet and then dry them all together. I have a dedicated baking sheet for this and I store it in my oven so it’s out of the way. Just don’t forget that they are in there when you preheat your oven!

A baking sheet full of eggshells on top of a wood stove

Several ways to dry eggshells:

  • Air dry – This is the simplest method, but it highly depends on the humidity of your environment. It could take 1 day or several days. Also, be sure that the eggshells are all laid out in a single layer (not stacked). 
  • Bake – This is the fastest method and will also sterilize the shells. Bake on a baking sheet at 200F for 40 minutes. The shells can be in a pile with this method. If I plan to bake something that day, I’ll simply toss the sheet pan of eggshells into the oven as it cools down after I’m done baking. No wasted heat!
  • Wood stove – My favorite method in the winter! Set the baking sheet on top of the stove for a few hours. The shells can be in a pile with this method.
  • Dehydrator – I’ve never personally tried this method since the above methods work super well for me, but this would be an option as well!

Step 3: Crush

Once the eggshells are fully dried (touch the inside shell membrane to be sure), then it’s time to crush them into small pieces. This step is important because you don’t want them to look like eggshells to your flock. Otherwise, you could be teaching them that their own eggs are a tasty treat.

Once your hens become egg-eaters, it becomes a BIG problem that’s almost impossible to stop. So, definitely don’t skip this step!

I simply collect the dried eggshells, toss them into my dedicated gallon ziplock bag (I’ve been using the same one for YEARS), and give them a smash with my hands. It’s oddly satisfying! Then, I keep that ziplock bag in my pantry until it’s full and ready to go out to the coop.

Crushed eggshells inside a ziplock bag

Step 4: Free choice feeding

Never, never, never mix crushed eggshells directly into their chicken feed. Not only is it hard to dose properly, but if you have a mixed flock (read the section “calcium needs of your flock” above if you missed it!), they each need different amounts of calcium.

Provide the crushed eggshells in a separate dish so they can choose if and when they need an extra dose of calcium. Chickens are amazing in that they know when they need more and will (usually) self-regulate. The hens that are laying a lot will snack on the eggshells frequently, whereas the old hens that aren’t laying much and the roosters that aren’t laying at all will avoid them.

2 coop cups clipped on hardware mesh - one with crushed eggshells and the other with grit

Step 5: Grit and oyster shell

If you’re feeding a whole grain feed, high-protein treats, blackberries, grapes, or allowing your flock to free-range, hopefully, you’re already providing grit, but it’s important to mention it here anyway.

Crushed eggshells are hard and chickens need grit in order to “chew” them up properly and utilize it. Keep grit in another dish so they can grab it free-choice as they need it. 

The Homesteading RD's Product Picks:

This is the same one that I use in my coop and I love that they are easy to clip onto hardware mesh and move around, if needed. I have 1 for grit and 1 for crushed eggshells/oyster shell.

Can you avoid oyster shell completely now that you’re feeding eggshells to your chickens? Likely, but it doesn’t hurt to still provide a little bit. I like to mix half eggshells and half oyster shell in their dish just to cover all of my bases. Plus, in the summer, I’m water glassing A LOT of their eggs, so I don’t have many spare eggshells during their heaviest months of laying.

FAQ About Feeding Eggshells to Chickens

Will they learn to eat their own eggs?

This depends on your flock, of course, but as long as you are following my instructions above to crush them into unidentifiable pieces, they shouldn’t develop any egg-eating tendencies. In fact, I find that providing crushed eggshells halts any egg-eating.

One of the reasons that hens can start eating their own eggs is that they sense that they need a boost in either calcium or protein. If I notice an egg eaten in the nest, it’s often because their cup of eggshells (or oyster shell) has gone empty and they’re searching elsewhere for it. As long as I keep their cup full, there are no issues!

Can I mix eggshells into their feed?

Please don’t do this! While this seems like a simple method, it’s not safe. Not only is it hard to dose properly, but if you have a mixed flock, they each need different amounts of calcium. Provide the crushed eggshells in a separate dish so they can choose if and when they need an extra dose of calcium.

Do I still need to provide oyster shell?

There’s no straight answer on this one. I personally like to mix some oyster shell in with the crushed eggshells just to cover all of the bases. Plus, I end up water glassing A LOT of their spring and summer eggs to enjoy during the winter, so I often don’t have enough egg shells on hand to meet their demands. 

What are the signs of too much or too little calcium?

Great question! The first sign that a hen that isn’t getting enough calcium is thin-shelled eggs. I often notice this when my flock is on layer feed alone. It’s not sufficient in terms of calcium, so that’s where adding crushed eggshells is a great supplement!

If the calcium deficiency is prolonged, the hen will slow down her egg production and end up pulling calcium out of her bones in order to make the eggs. The end result is weak and brittle bones, that could lead to fractures.

Too much calcium is also an issue. I’ve had a few hens in the past that were TOO eager to chow down in the eggshell dish and they often laid eggs with calcifications on them. Too much calcium can also be stressful to the kidneys. Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do if it’s just one or two hens that are doing this, unless you want to raise them separately. 

Other Chicken Articles You’ll Love:

*Information in this article was referenced from personal experience and/or from my favorite chicken books Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens unless otherwise noted.

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