Right up front I had better point out that this is about baking bread for chickens, not baking bread for human consumption!
When we first had our ISA Browns (rescued from a poultry farm in cages) we noticed that the shells were very poor. They were thin and brittle and sometimes without a shell at all.
I did some research and discovered that the most likely reason for this was that the chickens didn't have enough calcium in their diet.
Meanwhile, we were merrily throwing the egg shells from the eggs that we ate, into the compost heap.
Enriching the humus in our compost with lots of lovely … calcium. Well, enough of that nonsense I thought. More research into calcium deficiency taught me that when chickens don’t have enough readily available calcium in their bloodstream, they strip calcium from their bones. That’s bad.
So, how to fix this problem? My wife and I decided that the best thing for it was to feed the chickens their egg shells. The egg shells need to be cooked so that the calcium is more easily digestible. We could pelletize the egg shells, but that would not be either easy or cheap. It was my wife’s idea to make the chooks their own loaf of bread, cut it into slices and then feed it to them every morning with their feed and table scraps.
- Linseed - 1 cup
- Soy Grits - 1 cup
- Oats - 1 cup
- Plain Flour - 4 cups
- Yeast - 4 tablespoons
- Olive Oil - 1/3 cup
- Vegemite - 2 tablespoons
- Molasses - 2 tablespoons
- Crushed Eggshell - 1/2 cup
Step 1: Mix Ingredients
We collect the egg-shells from the eggs as we use them and usually end up with enough to make the mix with about 1/2 a cup of cooked and crushed eggshell.
The eggshell is laid out on a baking sheet and put into the oven at 120 degrees for about 15 -30 minutes or until the skin and any remaining albumen blackens. When it has cooled off a little, the shell is added into a grinder (we had an old electric spice grinder) and it is crushed to a fine powder.
Cooking the eggshell and crushing it makes it easier to add to the bread-mix and easier for the chicken to digest.
Later we decided to add other “treats” and dietary supplements to the chicken bread:
- Linseed – for Omega-3. Honestly, I can’t prove that the Omega-3 passes through the chickens gut and benefits us via the egg at all, but the chickens like it;
- Soy Grits – vitamin B2. Not a very high dose of B2 (at around .6 mg/100 g) but very high in the products that we have available that are not meat based; and
- Oats – “treat” and good for fattening the chooks.
We are less interested in fattening the chickens because we don’t eat them, we will probably change that policy with excess cocks, but our hens are safe from the oven; With our White Leghorns, we have one hen who has curled toe. Research indicates that this is most likely caused by one of two things:
- Too high a temperature in the incubator in the last week of gestation; or
- Vitamin B2 deficiency in the mother hen.
Absolutely nothing that I can do about either of those for this hen, she does not suffer and is in no pain from the malformed foot. So nothing to do really.
However, when two of our chicks had curled toe as well, it became more of a task for us to improve the chicken’s vitamin B2 intake. Enter the most amazing source of vitamin B complex on the planet … Vegemite.
All of the dry ingredients are added into a large mixing bowl and incorporated.
The olive oil is then mixed through the mix and then warm water mixed with the activated yeast and molasses is added to a well in the center of the mix (about 500 ml of warm water). When this is mixed in, add the Vegemite to 250 ml of warm water to make a vitamin B complex mix. This is then mixed through the bread-mix until well incorporated. The Vegemite will retard the rise somewhat, but don't worry ... the chickens won't mind.
Step 2: Cook
After you have left the dough to rise for about an hour, it goes into the oven. We used a large stainless steel bowl for both mixing and cooking the loaf. The oven should be on about 180 degrees for about an hour or until it sounds hollow when tapped.
This makes a large loaf, so be prepared for that :)
After the loaf comes out of the oven it is cooled and then cut into 1" cubes and frozen.
Each day, give the chickens about 5-10 cubes per chicken in the morning.
Our chickens free-range and so they get lots of insects and browse. The addition of the chicken bread eliminated thin shells and we never had another chick with toe-curl again.
Good luck and happy chickens!