Have you ever wondered what a laying hen eats? I’m sure when this first comes to mind you picture a hen in a long ago farm yard foraging for insects in the grass or picking up grain that an old farmer has scattered in the dust. But as nutrition and technology has improved for people, it has when it comes to an animal’s diet as well.
In order to keep our hens happy and healthy and laying eggs we want to make sure that they get all the nutrients that they need. To ensure this happens, they have a specially formulated diet which they have access to at all times. This diet is put together by poultry nutritionists at the feed mill where we buy our feed and can be in the form of a mash or in pellets. On my farm, as well as most Ontario poultry farms the diets will be mostly corn and soy based, with many trace minerals and vitamins within the feed, catering to all the nutritional needs that the hen has. Laying hens also use a lot of calcium for egg shell production and so need a good calcium source in their feed. This typically is provided through limestone, but if a flock is having trouble with shell quality, the feed can be topped up with oyster shell to ensure that they are getting enough.
In the grocery store you may have noticed that there are several different kinds of eggs such as Omega-3 or Omega-Pro. On my farm we produce Omega-3 eggs and this is all to do with the diet that the hen consumes. Our feed has flax seed in it which allows the hen to put Omega-3 into the eggs she lays. For Omega-Pro eggs, the feed has fish oils in it as well so that the hen deposits even more Omega-3 into the eggs.
A fun things you may have noticed in traveling, is that eggs in different parts of the country can sometimes have different coloured yolks. In the Prairies they are typically paler than eggs in Ontario because of the availability of the crops for the feed. In western Canada, wheat is a much more available energy source and so the yolks are pale. In Ontario, where corn is a much more common crop, it is used as the energy source and so the eggs have darker yolks. And, if you want a fancy word to impress your friends with, the darker yolk is because corn has high levels of the pigment xanthophyll.
So, the next time you are eating eggs, you can not only be sure that you are getting proper nutrition, but also that the hen who laid that egg is as well.