Calcium... (ENG).

Now, at the end of January, we all start thinking about a new breeding season with lots of hopes, and start thinking in what way we will prepare our birds for proper breeding results.

One of the factors often discussed about is if we need to supplement our birds with extra calcium prior to the breeding season, and if so, what is the best way to do so.


Some of us start giving liquid calcium one month before pairing up, others say they don't need this as “their water contains enough calcium”.

What is the reality?


It is correct our birds need more calcium in the breeding season in order to get good strong eggschells and for proper growth of the younsters. On the other hand our birds are not chikens laying an egg every day for a whole season, so there are differences. Our birds lay eggs, lets say three clutches a year, and thats it. In chickens it is known they do retain an enormous amount of calcium in their bones before the onset of laying. But, our birds, apart from a very small fraction of calcium coming from the bones, need a more immediate source of calcium right at the time of eggshell formation. This why, on good observation, one can see hens picking in oyster shells in the evening, just before night falls. In this way calcium is available in the guts at the right time for proper eggshell formation. In the poultry industry some do this even in a way that, during the night, lights go on for one hour and drinkers are filled with water with added calcium.


A second remark is there is a balance between vit. D, calcium and phosphorus. The absorption of calcium is connected with the absorption of phosphorus, tuned by the presence of vit. D.

Even stronger, although phosphorus is abundant in seeds, it is bound to phytates in the seeds, in a way it is not available for absorption in the gut. Phytates are substances from the plant world which protect seeds from loosing minerals before the onset of sprouting. In this way all minerals are kept in the seed, and these minerals are not lost during winter in nature, when the seeds are in a dormant state.


As a matter of fact we have to realise dried seeds are not the natural food source for our birds, half dried seeds and insects are. It has even been proven by scientists half ripe grass seeds do have the same composition as hard boiled eggs, as to protein and amino acid composition.


Back to the seeds in which minerals are bound to phytates, even in a way 80% of all phosphorus is in a bound position, so not biologically available. Also think about the fact our birds are not capable of breaking down these phytates, only a small fraction in the crop, and almost totally absent in very young birds. Chickens on the other hand do have an intestinal flora in which these phytates can be broken down, but this flora is almost non existent in our birds.


Now, what can we do for our birds to get the needed phosphorus?


We could give half ripe seeds, in which the minerals are not yet bound, but at the time we start breeding we don't find them yet in nature.


We also can soak the seeds for 24 hours at room temperature in a slightly acid solution. Good way to break down the phytates, but beware for bacterial contamination!


We can cook seeds. In this way almost all anti nutrients are broken down, except for the phytates!

Nevertheless cooking seeds is a good way to increase digestibility.


To me, the only way left to go is sprouting, in which phytates are destroyed because the sprouting seed releases its minerals for proper sprouting. In my opnion still the best way to go, and sprouting has stood the test of time.


Back to reality as to the calcium.


Giving liquid calcium supplements in the drinking water. Not my thing as you don't give the birds any choice. Also it can give problems with the stools, renal function, kidney stones, and a blockage in the absorption of zinc ( fertility mineral!).


Added calcium through the softfood seems a better way to go, if proper levels of vit. D, calcium, and phosphorus are present. Supplements of this quality are rare! If you're using a supplement look at whats in it and look for calcium and phosphorus content. It should be there in a way the calcium to phosphorus balance is 2/1.

If you use sprouted seeds and a back up of some oyster shells you are on the right track.


Dr Jan Vanderborght



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