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Hens require proper nutrition for high-quality eggs

By Dr. Jennifer Earing, TFC Nutritionist 2/23/2017


Dr. Jennifer Earing, TFC Nutritionist
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Most of us eat eggs, but rarely do we consider what goes into the making of one. On average, a hen will lay one egg per day. The process of making an egg takes approximately 25 hours from start to finish. Proper nutrition is critical for the production of high-quality eggs.

A hen is born with all the eggs she will produce. Up to 4,000 tiny, undeveloped eggs can be found in the hen’s ovary. As the hen reaches maturity, each egg develops into what we know as the yolk. Only one egg is formed at a time.

As the developing egg travels through the hen’s reproductive tract, it becomes surrounded with albumen, commonly called egg white. Albumen is rich in protein, vitamins, and minerals; it protects the yolk and provides additional nutrients for growth (when the egg is fertilized). It takes approximately three hours for the four alternating layers of thick and thin albumen to surround the yolk.

Next, inner and outer shell membranes surround the albumen. These membranes protect the contents of the egg from bacteria. A strand of specialized protein called chalazae anchors the yolk to the membrane at either end, holding the yolk in the center of the egg.

The final and most time-consuming step in the making of the egg is the addition of the egg shell itself. As the egg enters the final portion of the reproductive tract, the shell gland secretes a calcium-rich substance that covers the egg. The calcium attaches to the outer membrane and calcifies (or hardens). This process takes nearly 21 hours to complete, and any stress or disruption to the hen during this time can interfere with proper egg shell formation, resulting in thin shells or shell defects.

Adequate nutrition is essential for eggs to form properly. A hen must consume enough nutrients to meet her own body’s needs, in addition to the added requirements associated with reproduction.

Energy is often the most limiting nutrient in the diet and is often the cause of a hen’s reduced laying performance. While hens will tend to increase feed consumption to meet the increased energy demands, it is important to feed an energy-dense feed so as not to limit egg production.

A diet including quality protein is important as protein is used in the formation of the albumen and shell membranes. Specific amino acids, such as methionine, have been shown to increase overall egg size.

Vitamins and minerals are necessary for good hen health, but they also play a role in proper reproductive performance. Vitamin E supplementation enhances overall egg quality while vitamin D plays an integral role in calcium absorption. High levels of dietary calcium are required for good egg shell quality.

The nutrient content of the hen’s diet has been directly linked to nutritional quality of the final egg, so feeding a well-balanced layer diet can yield eggs of superior nutritional quality. Co-op All Natural Layer Feed (#114) has been formulated with all of these considerations in mind, making this feed an ideal choice for laying birds.

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