You have some chickens – and you’ve heard of grit. Maybe you’ve noticed bags of grit for sale that are for use by birds. But what about chickens. Do they need or will they benefit by consuming it? Are you supposed to feed them it or can it be dangerous?
So, do chickens need grit? Chickens need grit to effectively break down food. Without teeth, grit is essential to the digestive process. Not feeding grit can result in adverse health conditions like impacted gizzard, which may require expensive surgery to resolve. Both soluble and insoluble grit serves a purpose – it can be bought inexpensively and fed directly to your flock.
With the importance of grit firmly in our minds, we would like to explore this topic in much further detail.
Today, we would like to provide you with the information you need regarding grit and chickens – so be sure to read on as we look at: what grit is, why chickens need it, the types of grit available, when chickens need grit and how to feed it!
Chickens And Grit
Wild birds eat very frequently as they tend to burn more calories than birds in captivity.
When wild birds go foraging for food, they are not too fussy what they scoop up into their beaks. Little stones, and sand can easily make its way into their mouths.
Yet while this happens involuntarily, it also happens by design.
These birds are actually doing this on purpose. They need grit in their diet, as they are unable to remove the hard seed husks and other hard to digest materials that often come alongside raw food obtained in the wild.
The purpose of consuming grit supports the bird in breaking down difficult to digest items, and also utilizing the food they do consume better.
As the majority of grit is indigestible; it actually is retained by birds for extended periods of time in organs like the gizzard, sometimes even stretching months and years before it is eventually expelled in feces.
Not every bird requires grit; for some birds, especially those in captivity, it can do more harm than good. Parrots and parakeets, are such examples.
These species of birds primarily consume feed that no longer contains the husks (there is very little indigestible material in their diet). But, most wild birds do need it.
Among the wild birds that require grit to aid digestion include pigeons, doves, pheasants grouse, ostriches, guinea fowl, and turkeys.
What Actually Is Grit?
By now, you may even be wondering what actually is grit? What does it consist of.
Grit is a combination of small grinded minerals, stones and often sand. Some of the substances included are insoluble which means that they cannot be digested. These include silicates and sandstone.
Soluble (digestible) grit is primarily made of limestone, which is essentially calcium carbonate. Soluble grit can also be made up from ground up oyster shells.
While wild birds often consume grit found sporadically in their environment, this does not mean you should look to offer the same to a domesticated bird, such as your chickens.
Grit for domesticated birds is specially formulated. It is not the same as providing regular sand or small ground up pieces of gravel.
When you offer your birds grit, its important to purchase manufactured grit from a reputable company. You need to ensure it has the correct components and consistency for your birds.
Shockingly, there have been incidents of metal contamination from using oyster shell grit from insufficient sources with insufficient manufacturing processes.
However, If you focus on sourcing grit from established and reputable brands, contamination is very unlikely.
Why Do Chickens Need Grit?
Chickens do not have a digestive system like mammals. Your chicken will eat something, and as it moves down their throat, it will enter a sac inside their breastbone called the crop.
When your hen has consumed a large feed, the crop will feel firm to the touch. The crop acts as a holding place for food before it goes into the gizzard, and eventually the stomach.
Chickens are unable to masticate their food (they don’t have teeth), and they don’t have stomach acids. So they will peck at their food, in a feeble attempt to break it up into smaller pieces.
The gizzard acts as preliminary waste disposal for the feed, grinding it before it enters the chicken’s stomach.
The grit helps grinds down hard food like seeds, long blades of grass, or hay in the gizzard.
Without grit, chickens can suffer from conditions such as an impacted gizzard; this is a blockage that occurs when food gets stuck, making it impossible for the food to pass to the proventriculus.
Many owners have had to have their hens undergo expensive and invasive surgery to remove hard clumps of food from their bird’s gizzard. The surgery itself is quite straightforward, and advanced techniques are applied.
However, the operation is very stressful for the bird; grit prevents the need for surgery.
A blocked gizzard can be life-threatening for birds, so you must contact your vet immediately if you notice the symptoms.
Signs of an impacted gizzard include:
- Loss of appetite
- Puffed-up appearance
- Increased thirst
- Stomach ache – you will see your hen leaning forward
- Droppings will be transparent or white with no substantial fecal component
Aside from an impacted gizzard, chickens can suffer from sour crop. This occurs when there is not enough grit in the gizzard. If the food isn’t digested adequately due to a lack of grit; the food will begin to rot, and your bird will develop sour crop.
There are two different types of poultry grit available, and they are 1) soluble and 2) insoluble.
Let’s discuss what they are in better detail:
Soluble Poultry Grit
This type of grit is also known as oyster shell grit; this is because it’s typically made from crushed up oyster shells. But it can also be made from limestone or cockle shells.
Oyster shell grit dissolves very quickly in the chicken’s digestive system, where it provides the bird with enough calcium to build strong bones and strong eggshells.
Laying feeds tend to lack sufficient calcium, so this type of grit is ideal.
The Garden Natural brand is absolutely brilliant and what we feed regularly to our flock. Its a huge bag that lasts a long time. Our chickens love them and their egg shells are considerably stronger and more solid as a result:
- Crushed Oyster Shells Promotes Strong Egg Shell for Layers
- Pure and Scent Free
- Full of calcium
- Works great in poultry feed
- Comes in heat sealed heavy duty bag
Alternatively, if you have the time and patience, you can create your own soluble grit, as an alternative to oyster shells. To do this, you will need to collect all your chickens egg-shells. You need need to bake them in the oven for about ten minutes.
However, consider that if your flock has low calcium levels to begin with, their eggshells may not be very high in calcium either. You need to ensure your birds have enough calcium which is why opting for a product like Garden Naturals is usually a safer option.
Insoluble Poultry Grit
Chickens that can free-range quite frequently tend to find their own insoluble grit. However, not everything that they pick up is suitable.
Insoluble grit is also known as flint grit. This grit must be appropriate for the size and age of your bird. If the grit is too small, it won’t help your bird. It’s better to feed grit that is a little too big than too small.
Some poultry keepers mix chicken feed with grit. However, this can be problematic as chickens can sometimes remove pieces of grit from their feed. If so, this will not help them and will only lead to waste.
It’s better to feed your birds grit through a specialized feeder whereby chickens will naturally ingest grit alongside their regular feed.
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When Do Chickens Need Grit?
It is possible to start feeding grit to your chickens when they are very young, even at a few days old. It’s ideal for acclimatizing them to different feeds, and experiences from early on.
Once you begin feeding your chicks more substantial food than only crumbs, they will require grit in their diet.
Until your chicks are about eight weeks old, they will need ‘chick grit‘. After the eighth week, you can start feeding them regular poultry grit.
It’s best practice to supply the appropriate grit for the age of your bird. As your chickens get older you must make sure that you are not giving them pieces that are too small. This won’t help them to grind their food properly and you then risk running into issues.
If you are wondering how often chickens need grit, they need it every day. You must allow your hens to self-regulate, as they are smart enough to know how much they need.
Typically, grit has no nutritional value of its own. Although without it, your hens may not be able to process their food correctly. They would also not be able to absorb all of the nutrients in their diet by grinding it to a paste.
How To Feed Your Chickens Grit
Grit with oyster shells is an ideal option it also provides calcium. Calcium is what your chickens need to lay eggs with strong shells.
To feed grit, you have two main options:
- You can add a small handful of grit to their regular food/feeder,
- You can provide grit in a separate feeder such as this Grit Feeder on Amazon.
While you can offer grit to them in their regular feeder, be sure not to oversupply it. A lot of the better brands will actually provide clear instructions of how much to give on their packaging. Generally, small handful is appropriate.
Alternatively, you can provide a separate feeder purely for grit that you can place in their coop. This way chickens will only consume grit when absolutely required and they have a ‘thirst’ for it.
Sometimes, you’ll find brands, products they simply do not like and they will refrain from consuming it. This is why mixing it in with their feed can be helpful.
There really is no excuse not to supply grit to your chickens; they need continual access to it.
Grit prevents conditions that could potentially put your bird’s health and life at risk.
Aside from the health benefits of grit, it is relatively inexpensive to buy, and it lasts a long time.
Grit must be available to all chickens; this includes egg-laying, meat, and even free-range hens.
I am a practiced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site I created to share everything I’ve learned about pet ownership over the years and my extensive research along the way.