What is grit for chickens? And why do they need it? Let's start at the beginning! Grit for chickens is like their version of teeth. Since our littler chicken friends don't have chompers, they need this tiny, rock-solid assistant to help them break down food in their stomachs.
What is grit for chickens, and what role does it play in their digestion?
It comes in two types: insoluble, which acts as a grinding tool in their gizzard, and soluble, which plays a part in the calcium department. Imagine trying to eat corn on the cob without teeth – not pretty, right? Well, chickens face a similar challenge without grit. It keeps their digestive system running smoothly, ensuring they get all the goodness from their meals.
Chickens need grit because they're the original no-teeth gang. Unlike us, they can't chew their food into submission. Grit, in the form of tiny rock particles, hangs out in their gizzard, acting as the chicken's personal food processor. The insoluble kind grinds down grains and tough stuff, while the soluble type, like oyster shell, steps up the calcium game. Without grit, their digestive system and digestive enzymes would be in a bit of a bind, and we all know a happy chicken is a well-fed chicken.
In this post we are going to talk about what chicken grit is, the differenced between insoluble grit and soluble grit, different forms of grit, do chicks need grit, which grit makes stronger egg shells, and much more! Grit is an essential part of a chicken diet, even if the hens are eating quality commercial feed.
What is a gizzard?
The gizzard is a tough, muscular pouch in a chicken's stomach. It works like a grinder, helping them break down food like whole grains since they don't have teeth.
Grit hangs out here to assist in grinding up grains and tough bits, making digestion smoother. The chicken swallows and the gizzard contracts, using tiny pieces of grit to grind the food into a form that can be absorbed. It's the powerhouse in the chicken's belly, doing the heavy lifting in the digestive process.
Without a gizzard and grit, a chicken may develop poor feed conversion and the chickens' digestive system function may not be optimal. No one wants a health issue!
What are the main types of grit?
Each material serves a specific purpose and plays an important part of poultry diets. Insoluble grit aids in food breakdown and soluble grit, especially calcium-rich sources like oyster shell grit or eggshells, supporting crucial health aspects, particularly in laying hens.
Here's a breakdown of different materials of chicken grit and their perks:
- Insoluble Grit:
- Granite or Flint Grit: These hard rocks work like a chicken's teeth, breaking down grains and tough food in the gizzard. The perfect size of crushed granite will depend on the different ages of chickens. A chicken's gizzard is bigger than a chicks, and therefore can handle larger larger types of poultry grit. A young chicks need starter grit, just like they eat chick starter crumbles. Small digestive tract = smaller bites. Just the right size!
- Sand or Small Stones: Acts as a natural grit source, aiding in grinding chicken food and aiding digestion.
- Soluble Grit: These are considered a dietary supplement because they play an important roll in a balanced diet.
- Oyster Shell: Oyster shell supplements are rich in extra calcium, supporting eggshell formation and overall bone health in laying hens. The form of oyster shells will vary depending on the brand and size you buy.
- Crushed Eggshells: Recycling at its best! Crushed eggshells offer calcium and can be a resourceful addition to a chicken's diet.
What happens if the chicken doesn't get enough grit?
Without grit, it's like sending a chicken into a food fight without the right tools. Grit is their digestive sidekick, helping grind down tough foods in the gizzard. If there is a lack of grit, their digestive system struggles. The tough stuff, like grains and seeds, becomes a puzzle they can't solve, leading to inefficient digestion. It's like trying to swallow a watermelon whole – not fun.
DIY: How to make your own grit
DIY grit? Easy. Just bake and crush some eggshells. Tadaa – homemade grit that adds a calcium boost to your chickens' diet. It's like a crunchy bonus from your breakfast leftovers. Simple and effective.
My favorite grit supplement is from Scratch & Peck Feeds. They make different grit for birds of all sizes, from just a few weeks of age through adult birds. It's always a good idea to use the correct size grit for your flock. I use a free access method by placing a saucer in the chicken run that is filled with small rocks and enough grit to allow all of the birds to take what they need. When the bowl runs low, I simply add more. It's a great way to prevent digestive issues in backyard chickens! You can find grit online at places like Scratch & Peck Feeds, or at your local feed store.
FAQ: What is grit for chickens
Yep, baby chicks and young birds need a bit of grit too, but not right out of the egg. Once they start pecking at non-starter foods like grains or bugs, it's grit time. In addition to their chick crumble feed, offer them a small bowl of tiny rocks and chick grit. The little rocks help these tiny beaks grind up their grub in the digestive tract. Just toss some chick-sized grit in their world, and they'll be digesting like pros in no time. It's like introducing them to their own culinary support team. When those fluffy explorers start venturing beyond the starter feed, pour a little chick grit in a shallow bowl and let them free choice eat it when needed.
For sturdy eggshells, you want to bring in a natural calcium supplement in addition to the regular layer feed. Oyster shell grit is your go-to supplement for adult chickens to grow strong eggshells. Oyster is a good source of calcium, it's like a building block for those eggshells, ensuring they're strong and crack-resistant. Think of it as your hens' secret weapon against fragile eggs. Just sprinkle some oyster shell grit in their diet. It's like nature's calcium carbonate supplement! Just offer it as a free-choice supplement for healthy egg production in a small bowl or sprinkle it on the ground in the chicken coop run. (source)
Supplemental grit works best when offered separately from the chicken feed consumption. Chickens are smart grazers, and they'll pick and choose what they need when given the chance. Rather than mixing it in with the flock's feed, just toss the grit in a separate container. I like to use terracotta saucer, and let your flock decide how much grit is needed. It's like having a buffet where they can choose based on their individual needs.
Do free range chickens need grit?
Even free-range flocks or chickens who get kitchen scraps need their grit fix. Sure, they're out there scratching and pecking in the great outdoors, but grit is like their internal handyman, helping to break down the goodies they find. Whether it's seeds, bugs, or bits of nature, grit ensures everything gets properly processed in their stomachs. My free-range chickens love natural quartzite layer grit, oyster shells and baked and crushed egg shells, even though they are finding things in their natural environment.
THANKS FOR READING!
If you want to read more about Best Chickens for Eggs I have the perfect post for you! Or if your goal is raising chickens for meat, also called meat birds or broilers, read my Guide to Raising Meat Chickens. Download my free e-book Free Guide for Raising Chicks if you want to start at the beginning! To learn how to preserve farm fresh eggs, check out my tutorial for How to Preserve Eggs!
Please leave a comment and let me know what your favorite backyard chicken is or ask me any questions you have!
Have a cluckin' good day!