This week in our basics series, we’ll be discussing chicken grit, a necessary supplement for your chicks as well as your mature chickens.
The need for grit varies depending on your chicken’s diet. To understand when it is necessary, we must first understand the way a chicken digests its food; Chickens do not have teeth and therefore do not chew their food.
Chickens swallow their food whole. The food moves into the crop, a sort of doggy bag for holding. The crop allows birds to consume large amounts of food quickly so as to not be vulnerable to predators.
Upon leaving the crop, the food travels into a glandular stomach where it comes in contact with digestive enzymes. This glandular stomach is the first of the two part stomach possessed by many birds.
The food then travels into an organ called the gizzard. The gizzard is the second stomach.
If you’ve ever eaten chicken gizzards, you know that they are very tough. They have to be tough because the purpose of the gizzard is to grind the food. Within the gizzard, food is broken down, in effect accomplishing what we do when we chew our food. The gizzard is a very muscular structure but muscles alone are not enough to grind many hard seeds and whole grains consumed by birds.
Chickens will instinctively pick up pebbles and small rocks as they scratch at the ground. They know that the addition of these insoluble elements is needed for the strong gizzard to successfully grind hard foods against, to break it up for absorption and digestion.
This is the point where chicken grit comes into play.
Chicken grit is simply small rocks to be used as a supplement to your flock’s diet. These rocks are rough in texture which is much more effective in grinding food than smooth stones would be.
So when do your chickens need a grit supplement?
If your chickens are eating anything other than a commercial feed, supplement with grit, this includes any amount of foraging.
If your chickens are confined to cages and have no ability to eat anything other than the commercial feed you provide, grit is not necessary. Commercial feed is formulated to easily digest. Just my two cents here but I hope none of our readers are raising chickens in a battery house setting.
Sprinkle some grit on top of their feed each day, similar to the way you would salt the food you eat.
Do not give too much because some breeds are more susceptible to impaction. Most chickens love grit and will eat as much as you offer. Remember that in most cases, your flock is getting gravel and such on their own as they scratch at the ground.
Chicken grit is available for purchase at feed stores. The type of rock will vary depending on where you live in the world. If possible, get granite because it is long lasting. Other types of rock are softer and will break down more quickly.
An alternative, if you’re so inclined would be to collect small, rough, little rocks yourself. May I suggest visiting the feed store to see the size of the grit available for purchase to give you an idea of the size you should be collecting.
Speaking of size, grit typically comes in 2 sizes; small for younger birds and regular for mature birds.
For your chicks, sprinkle a bit of sand on top of their food once they are old enough to start scratching. Transition to small grit as they get a little older and finally to regular when they reach full size.
Chicken grit should not be confused with a calcium supplement like oyster shell. Grit is for the purpose of aiding in digestion. Oyster shell is for the purpose of adding calcium to your laying flock’s diet.
Calcium is the main component in egg shells and is an important element to supplement into your hen’s diet. Calcium is also necessary for the production and regeneration of feathers. Oyster shell is the most common calcium supplement but others are available.
A calcium supplement should always be available to your flock.
Provide a free choice dish of the supplement in the same area as their feeders. They will eat from it as necessary.
Some people like to wash, dry and crumble eggs shells to use as the calcium supplement. That’s an option also as long as the shells are thoroughly cleaned and completely dry. Something inside me wonders about the law of diminishing returns using this method. I don’t have any facts to that regard though. I have been told that this does not encourage egg eating as you might expect.
Well, that’s it for this week, next week we’ll discuss a few chick health problems.