Are Excessive Calcium Levels Cutting Short the Lives of Your Poultry
Are Excessive Calcium Levels Cutting Short the Lives of Your Poultry

Are Excessive Calcium Levels Cutting Short the Lives of Your Poultry?

by Darold R.J. Stenson of Walla Walla, WA

Calcium is a soft, silvery-white, metallic element found most widely in rocks such as chalk, limestone, and marble. It is one of our most abundant metals and makes up about three and one-half percent of the earth’s crust. It is essential to all living things, especially human beings, animal, and birds. Even reptiles need calcium! It is vital for their growth and the maintenance of their bones and teeth. It also helps the blood to clot and the muscles to contract.

A balanced daily diet that includes green vegetables, milk and other dairy or soy products usually provides enough calcium for all human and animal’s normal needs, but laying avians will need a supplement of it for them to ingest as much as they need for the laying season or to produce a greater amount of eggs for today’s market.

Calcium was first discovered by the English chemist, Sir Humphrey Davy, in 1808. But the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans knew about calcium compounds long before Sir Humphrey’s time.

Many poultry nutrition experts now report that feeding excessive amounts of calcium can lead to basically, “loving your birds to death,” giving them too much of a good thing. Excessive calcium can lead to their premature death from kidney failure. If a necropsy was performed, it would indicate that the bird perished from gout, which is an excessive build up in the kidneys, indicating either too much protein or calcium in their diet.

What makes this so dangerous is that it is a slow killer of these birds. The high levels of calcium are only put in commercial breeder feeds, not in their maintenance feeds. So you should definitely feed the breeder formulated feed only during the few months of each year that your birds are breeding and laying. This over-calciumated feed can take up to four or five years before it can cause a sudden illness and then the death of your birds.

The first signs of calcium toxicity in a fairly young bird would be the laying of fewer eggs or producing less or even no fertile eggs compared to the year before. Your hens will seem to be less active and have a droopy or sluggish look about them. The bird could also develop a pronounced limp. Usually by the time that these symptoms appear, the damage to the kidneys is irreversible and your bird will probably die within a few weeks or even days.

For years you have probably heard horror stories about what would happen to your hens and their eggs if you did not feed them enough calcium for egg production during the breeding season. We have been told to supply our birds with a supplement of crushed oyster shell that will add this needed calcium to their diet and this is very true, but many of us have started to feed this crushed oyster shell all year round. Our birds have been using this oyster shell in place of grit to aid in their digestion. Stone grit should be used during the entirety of all seasons, with the crushed oyster shell added only about a month before the laying season commences and then it should be discontinued at the laying season’s end.

In commercial feeds, calcium carbonate is used as an additive and has a 100% absorption rate. The bottom line is that if your breeder feed has 2.5% to 3.5% calcium carbonate, and your hens are laying thirty or more eggs per year and they are kept in pens less than 250 square feet in size, you could be slowly killing your birds; especially your males.

Check with your feed manufacturers and find a feed with 1% to 1.5% calcium carbonate content, which is what most nutritionists now recommend. This percentage is usually found in turkey maintenance feed. The dilemma of proper protein levels should also be considered during breeding season. It should be no lower than 18%, but preferably in the 20% to 21% range.

A few words of caution. The breeder feeds of today aid your birds to lay more eggs than they normally would, and if that high egg production has always been your goal, you may need to rethink your goals somewhat if you drop to a 1% to 1.5% calcium level. A feed with lower calcium content may cause a reduction in egg production because your birds will be eating more like they would in the wild and thus laying fewer eggs.