Many new chicken keepers often forget to think about grit for their chickens. But is grit necessary for a healthy flock? How do you provide grit for chickens? Do you know what type of grit to provide? Let’s explore these topics so you can feel confident in your choice of grit.
What Is Grit? And Why Do Your Chickens Need It?
Grit is defined as any small stones or pebbles that your chickens will pick up while they are pecking around.
To understand why chickens need grit, you must first understand a bit about a chicken’s digestive system. Chickens don’t have teeth. They swallow foods whole.
For digestion, a chicken has a gizzard. A gizzard is a thick, muscular wall of a chicken’s stomach that’s function is to grind up the food a chicken eats to turn the nutrients from the food into a useable form the chicken can use. The gizzard acts like teeth.
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For more information on how a chicken’s digestive system works, check out this article from Nutrena.
The grit remains in the chicken’s gizzard to grind up their food. However, over time, the grit eventually gets ground up too. So chickens need access to more grit quite frequently.
If a chicken doesn’t get the grit it needs, its food may not get ground up properly. Therefore the chicken may not get the necessary nutrients it needs.
Do My Chickens Need Grit?
If you only feed your chickens layer feed, your chickens don’t necessarily need grit. They should be able to digest layer pellets or crumbles just fine without it.
But the majority of backyard chicken keepers like to spoil their flock a bit. If you provide your chickens with kitchen scraps or scratch, (anything other than layer feed) then you will need to provide supplemental grit.
Do Free Range Chickens Need Grit?
Many chicken keepers who free range their flock do not provide additional grit. They feel that their chickens will naturally pick up enough small stones while foraging in the yard.
However, if your flock doesn’t have a large area to free-range in, they may need supplemental grit to ensure they can find enough.
I personally think it is a good idea to provide a source of grit anyway. If you provide it free-choice, your flock will generally take what they need without consuming too much.
A bag of grit in inexpensive and will last quite a while. I would much rather provide my chickens with a source of grit than worry they aren’t finding enough.
2 Types of Grit
There are two types of grit – soluble and insoluble. Your chickens need both!
Insoluble grit is often called flint grit. It is made from granite or flint and needs to be the right size for your chickens. Any grit that is too small, will pass through the chicken’s digestive system without staying in the gizzard.
This is the type of grit that will grind up whatever your chickens eat to breakdown the food and provide the nutrients your flock needs.
Soluble grit is grit that will dissolve in the chicken’s digestive system. It is often referred to as mineral grit.
The most common type of soluble grit is oyster shell. This provides your hens with additional calcium in the form of calcium carbonate.
Soluble grit can serve double duty. It provides your hens with additional calcium to keep their eggshells strong but can also help with grinding up the food. However, it doesn’t remain in a chicken’s digestive system as long as insoluble grit, so I prefer to offer both to my flock.
Roosters don’t need soluble grit at all and older hens who aren’t laying typically don’t need additional oyster shell either.
Best Practices for Offering Grit to Your Chickens
The best way to offer grit to your flock is to offer it free-choice. This means having a bowl or feeder of grit available at all times. We keep a bowl of both out for the chickens to access whenever they need it.
Offering it free-choice allows your flock to take what they need, without getting too much. It is a good idea to offer both types in separate containers.
Don’t mix grit in with your chicken feed. When mixed into the food, your chickens might take in more than they need. Too much soluble grit can lead to kidney damage.
If offered free-choice, your roosters won’t bother the soluble grit, but the hens that need the additional calcium can take what they need.
Grit for Chicks
If you have baby chicks, be sure to purchase grit specifically for them. If they are only eating chick starter, (no food scraps and no free-ranging) you don’t need to provide additional grit.
And for baby chicks, only provide insoluble grit. Baby chicks don’t need oyster shell with the additional calcium until they start laying. Providing too much calcium is as bad, if not worse, than not providing enough calcium.
One study found that adequate grit can increase egg production and decrease food consumption. While providing grit will probably not make a noticeable difference in either of these, we always want what’s best for our flock so they will be healthy and happy.
While many backyard chicken keepers have never heard of grit, it is a good idea to provide supplemental grit to most chickens. It isn’t expensive and will help ensure the health and well being of your flock.