Recent research has suggested that people will be healthier and have fewer heart
problems if they increase their consumption of omega-3 fatty acids. Traditionally,
most of the omega-3 fatty acids in the diet have come from fish and fish oil but
many people eat only limited amounts of these foods. Eggs fortified with omega-3
fatty acids offer an alternative method to increase the amount of these fatty
acids in your diet.
You can increase the level of omega-3 fatty acids in the eggs that your hens lay
by including flaxseed in their feed. The flaxseed contains a type of omega-3 fatty
acid called a -linolenic acid and the hen will deposit a significant amount of
this dietary fatty acid into the egg yolk. The hen will also convert some of the
a -linolenic acid into smaller amounts of other forms of omega-3 fatty acids and
deposit them into the egg yolk.
If you include some canola oil or other vegetable oil in the hen's ration, the
eggs from your flock will be fortified with omega-6 fatty acids such as linoleic
acid. Omega-6 fatty acids have long been associated with improved human health.
Canola oil is an excellent source of the omega-6 fatty acids and a modest source
of omega-3 fatty acids. Adding some canola oil is also helpful because it helps
counter the tendency of the hen to reduce the level of omega-6 fatty acids in
the egg when she is fed a high level of flaxseed.
A suggested laying hen ration that will increase the omega-3 fatty acids in the
eggs from your hens:
Consult your feed supplier for the exact proportion of grain, supplement and limestone
(or oyster shell). You must feed this diet for three weeks before omega-3 fatty
acids will increase substantially in the eggs.
The grain portion of the hen ration can be made up of wheat, barley or oats. At
least half of the grain should be wheat to help counteract some of the sticky
compounds in the other grains and flaxseed. Some oats is suggested because it
contains more linoleic acid than the other grains. Feeding a quarter of the grain
as whole kernels will help the hen to develop a strong, muscular gizzard that
can grind the flaxseed for improved release of the oil.
Overfeeding flaxseed can cause problems for your hens because flaxseed contains
sticky compounds that stop the hen from digesting some of the nutrients in her
diet. Flaxseed also contains a compound called linoline that may increase the
birds' vitamin requirements. Feeding too much flaxseed can cause production drops,
small egg size, reduced body weight gain and thin egg shells. Including 10% flaxseed
will increase the omega-3 fatty acids in your eggs and not cause problems for
Feeding an excess of flaxseed may produce an undesirable egg for you and your
family. Too much flaxseed can darken the yolks and leave a fishy taste in the
yolk. An excess of flaxseed may increase the omega-3 fatty acids in the egg yolk
at the expense of omega-6 fatty acids which are also beneficial in your diet.
It is recommended that you feed the flaxseed to your hens as whole seeds instead
of grinding it up. The fat in flaxseed tends to become rancid quickly once the
seed has been ground. Rancid fat can give off flavours in the egg, increase the
hens' need for vitamins such as Vitamin E, cause egg production to fall, and most
importantly will not increase the omega-3 fatty acid levels in the eggs. Grinding
the seed will also produce an oily ration, which tends to stick to your feeders.
Use a commercially prepared supplement, in the correct proportions, to supply
the vitamins needed by your hens. Feeding fresh "greens" is not an adequate
replacement for a layer supplement.
Do not make health claims for your eggs. The total level of
omega-3 fatty acids in the eggs will depend on many factors including how efficiently
the hens grind the flaxseed, rancidity in the diet, size of the eggs, health status
of the hens and level of egg production. Without proper testing, you cannot guarantee
a particular level of omega-3 fatty acids in your eggs. Also, your eggs will contain
mostly a -linolenic acid and much smaller amounts of the other omega-3 fatty acids.
The eggs from your hens will still contain the normal level
of cholesterol. A dietician or doctor should be consulted by anyone with a heart
condition prior to increasing his or her consumption of eggs.
Prepared by Manitoba Agriculture and Food, Animal Industry Branch, May, 1999