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What is Chicken Grit?

Owning chickens teaches you a lot of things, like how unique chickens are as animals. For instance, you may have learned already that chickens don’t have teeth, and because of this, they needed to develop a digestive system that is similar to earthworms, crocodiles, and alligators. Since chickens don’t have a means of mechanically breaking down their food, they need some help, which comes in the form of chicken grit.

What is chicken grit and what does it do? You’re about to find out. It’s time we discuss the nitty-gritty of chicken grit, so let’s begin.

chicken grit
Photo credit: Flickr

Grit, by definition, is hard but loose particles, such as sand, stone, or gravel. Chicken grit is much the same. Chickens will peck at sand and grit for a couple of reasons, but the main one is this:

Chickens need grit to digest their food.

Being that chickens are omnivores, they will eat just about anything they find. Yet, most of those foods cannot be broken down by their digestive system alone. They need help, and that is where grit comes into play.

What Does Grit Do For Chickens?

If you want to know the answer to what is chicken grit?, you need to understand a little bit about chicken anatomy.

chicken anatomy
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Crop

Chickens have a unique organ in the front of their chest called the crop, which functions much like the stretchy cheeks of a hamster. Since chickens are a prey species, they evolved to have extra food stored in their bodies for energy. Once the crop has been filled, some of the food moves onward to the gizzard.

The Gizzard

As mentioned earlier, chickens don’t have teeth, so they can’t masticate—chew—up their food like humans. Instead, the feed they pluck from the ground mixes with saliva and becomes a hardened stone. As the food moves from the crop to the stomach, it first passes through the gizzard.

The gizzard is a powerful organ that crushes up food into smaller particles, but only if the chicken has consumed grit. Otherwise, the muscles aren’t strong enough to break down food. Grit remains stored in the gizzard then is moved along with the other food and digested for nutritional content.

Two Types of Chicken Grit

Grit is needed in unlimited supply, because the stores in the gizzard are eventually depleted. There are two kinds of grit that chickens seek out: grit for digestion and for egg production. Digestive grit is the most important.

The two types of grit also have different properties:

Insoluble Grit for Digestion

You now know that the gizzard uses grit to grind up food. In the wild, chickens forage for food and grit. This comes in the form of tiny stones and shells, all things that are insoluble. In stores, you will see insoluble grit often called “flint grit.” This could contain granite, flint, or even washed rose quartz.

Free-range chickens do the same thing, and they generally don’t need any additional grit. However, it’s always a nice gesture to scatter around some grit for your chickens, since they will only take as much as they instinctively need and leave the rest for later.

Oyster Shell Grit for Calcium

Another kind of grit that you should provide for your egg-producing hens is called soluble grit, often sold as oyster shell grit.

Egg-laying hens need a calcium-rich diet in order to produce quality eggs. Most formulated chicken feed will have enough calcium, but supplementing with soluble grit is always a good idea.

Here is a video that explains in practice the need for grit for chickens:

What Happens When Chickens Don’t Have Grit?

Since the food that chickens consume becomes a rock in their bellies, they need grit to break it down. Without grit, that hardened wad of food won’t be digested. Instead, it will sit and sit and sit in the gizzard until the food begins to rot. Chickens with rotten food in their gizzard develop a dangerous condition called “sour crop.” Another possible health condition is digestive tract obstruction.

Both issues require immediate veterinary care and possible surgery.

How Do You Feed Chickens Grit?

It doesn’t matter how you choose to give chickens grit. All that matters is that they have it. You don’t have to worry about chickens overeating grit, since they pick it up based on instinctive need.

All you have to do is provide grit in either a feeder or scatter it around once in a while. Keep the levels topped off.

When Do I Feed My Chickens Grit?

Chickens need grit more often in the summer, when they eat less and take in less calcium. During the summer, increase the amount of soluble grit to prevent thin-shelled eggs.

Free-range chickens may also need more soluble grit. Bugs and worms do not meet their calcium needs for egg-laying. If you notice a chicken pecking at its own eggshells, this is a sure sign that your chickens need more grit.

Do Baby Chicks Need Grit?

Yes, baby chicks should be given grit. The sooner you introduce grit to your baby chicks, the healthier they will be. Ideally, you want to start giving grit to your chicks around the time they begin eating their chick starter food, which happens around 2 weeks old.

You should be able to find “baby grit” or “chick grit” at the local feed store or online. This kind of grit is smaller than regular grit—an appropriate size for babies. As mentioned earlier, grit also stimulates the development of a gizzard, which you definitely want for your growing chickens.

If you are giving your chicks commercial starter food, they may not need additional grit. A lot of starter feed contains a small amount of grit in it. When in doubt, read the ingredient list.

Can Sand Be Used as Chicken Grit?

chick on sand
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Sand can be a substitute for insoluble flint grit. Sand is gritty and hard enough to assist with digestion in the gizzard. The only problem is that sand granules may be smaller than commercial grit and, therefore, not as optimal.

However, if you want to provide a mixture of grit and sand, that will work. Many backyard chicken owners will spread a fine layer of sand on the floor of the coop for the chickens to peck. This is usually enough, but you can provide a supplemental serving of flint or oyster grit, if desired.

Can I Make My Own Chicken Grit?

Making homemade chicken grit is easy, now that you know what is in chicken grit. All you need is eggshells. Regular store-bought eggshells contain the right amount of calcium for your chickens, and it’s a great way to recycle them.

Gather up the eggshells and wash them out. Then, let the shells dry. You can do this by either putting the shells on a paper towel and letting the sun dry them out, or you can heat the eggshells in the oven. If you opt for the oven, heat it to 300F/150C and bake the shells for about 10 minutes.

Afterwards, crush the eggshells up into a coarse dust and scatter the bits around the feeding pen.

Serving Up Grit

What is chicken grit? In basic terms, grit helps chickens digest their food and produce better eggs. There are two kinds of grit—flint grit for digestion and oyster shells for calcium. Be sure to provide both to your flock! The chickens will be happier and healthier that way. Now that we have laid out some facts, it’s time to purchase some grit and a separate chicken feeder.