Chicken Osteoporosis & The Importance of Calcium Help your flock say Osteopor-NO-sis!

It’s true, just like humans, chickens suffer from osteoporosis! Both are conditions that can occur when calcium is deficient but the similarities start to break off from there. All egg laying birds have in their bones what is called the Medullary Cavity. This unique part of egg laying bird’s bones is key for egg product, hormonal regulation and overall health.

Before we get into more about the Medullary part of your chicken's bones let’s start with one of the critical components of a hens diet, Calcium. How can you tell if your chickens are at risk of chicken osteoporosis or other calcium deficiency problems? Your hens main purpose is to produce eggs and issues with egg production frequency and quality are some of the signs of the potentially larger issues related to calcium deficiency. 

Here are some other issues that can be signs of needing more calcium: 

  • Thin and deformed eggshells
  • Feather loss
  • Egg eating
  • Osteoporosis

These issues add up to other problems for chickens such as decreased immunity, heat resistance and can even cause the hen to stop laying eggs.  As hens get older, their ability to absorb nutrients can decline leading to a more rapid decline of overall health if they are not provided the proper amount of calcium. It is important to note, while the amount of calcium in older hens can increase, providing them with a higher bioavailable source of calcium can help with the amount absorbed into their bones. 

Now that we have covered issues that can arise from lack of calcium let’s talk about the other areas calcium is critical for your backyard egg layers.

  • Helps maintain a healthy nervous system
  • Critical for bone health
  • Helps with blood clotting
  • Critical for eggshell development
  • Helps maintain pH level
  • Promotes healthy hormone production for reproductive functions
  • Helps hens control muscle spasms

As you can see the impacts of calcium in a hens diet range from digestive health, the nervous system & reproductive health - Not to mention, overall lifespan. 

What is the Medullary bone’s role in all of this? Well as we mentioned above it’s a unique bone cavity in egg laying birds. It acts like the egg making supply depot. As the chicken digests its food the calcium is sent from its intestines to its Medullary bone cavity, where it is stored until there is enough to produce the egg. Once the signal to produce the egg is released in the chicken’s internal workings, the Medullary bone cavity sends its stored nutrients to produce the egg. When this is done, the process repeats itself. Egg laying hens are able to lay eggs generally year round, where their other bird relatives produce eggs on more of a seasonal basis. 

Here is a general step by step on the process of egg laying:

  1. Nutrients like Calcium are absorbed from the diet and stored in the Medullary cavity (see the diagram above to see what this cavity is)
  2. The calcium is then released into the bloodstream where it travels for egg production
  3. This addition of calcium to the bloodstream tells the kidneys to stop excreting calcium, and instead start to conserve calcium to replace the calcium released by the Medullary bone.
  4. As the chickens continue to feed their ovaries release estrogen into the body which signals it to make more medullary bone.

This is pretty much a never ending cycle that only starts to slow with age, diet deficiencies and living conditions. Weak egg shells or even chickens eating their own eggs can be a sign your flock has been developing a calcium deficiency for a while and if not handled it can lead to longer term issues, like Chicken Osteoporosis.

Check out the diagram below showing the areas of concentration of the Medullary bone cavity.

Differences in composition of medullary and trabecular bones

You can see from this diagram that the distribution of the Medullary bone cavity changes in density based on what bone it is and even varies in density inside the single bone itself. In this diagram the highest concentration of the Medullary bone is close to the knuckle or end of the bone.  

Now look at this surface level chicken bone scan that shows the chickens bones. 

changes in medullary bone after 10, 60, and 95 weeks

In this diagram you can see how as the chicken ages from 10 weeks to 95 weeks the nutrient foramen, showcased by the arrows in the diagram, starts to form. It is this small vascular channel that via this small tunnel forms to become the nutritional highway that supplies the Medullary bone with what it needs to replenish. 

UGA study  link

It’s these two diagrams that can help you understand how and why egg production and nutritional deficiencies can lead to bigger problems for your chickens especially as they age. Bone health is a major catalyst for chicken health and since most of us don’t have the ability to CT scan our chickens to track their bone health, we have to watch out for the other signs. 

After comparing the diagrams above it was clear to us our mission to help keep your chickens in excellent shape via daily plant based minerals was headed in the right direction.    

What is normally given to hens to increase calcium levels? Traditionally it has been crushed oystershells or limestone. But these traditional chicken calcium supplements can be limited in their additional nutritional value and even can be more difficult to digest for your flock. That is why we started LitChicks. A once a day chicken supplement to provide your flock the proper calcium and other macro and micro nutrients they need in a plant based product. 

We hope you enjoyed the read and that you learned more about the importance of calcium in your flocks diet and general awareness about chicken osteoporosis!