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  • Writer's pictureBrowns' Family Farmstead

The Importance of Grit for Chickens: When and How to Provide It

When do chickens need grit? The answer to this question depends on a variety of factors such as diet, if the birds are free ranged, and even their age. We address all these items as well as many other frequently asked questions.

Columbian Wyandotte and Easter Egger Eating

Table of Contents

What is Grit and Why Do Chickens Need It?

Grit is a collection of small hard particles such as pebbles, eggshells, or flint that chickens ingest to increase their calcium intake and aid in digestion.

Chickens utilize grit in place of teeth to breakdown their food. Without grit in their chickens have a hard time breaking down food and can suffer impaction, sour crop, or other digestive issues.

For the health and safety of our hens, we consider grit to be an essential item that all chicken owners should supply to their hens regularly. To learn about other recommended essential supplies read our article.

What is Insoluble (Aka Flint Grit)?

Insoluble (aka Flint Grit) aids chickens' digestion. Flint Grit is often made of flint or granite that has been ground down to very small pieces, but can also include small pebbles chickens find foraging.

The key to insoluble grit is that it does not dissolve in water. Rather it breaks down slowly over time from the repeated grinding as the grit processes the food.

What is Soluble Grit (Aka Oyster Shell Grit)?

Soluble Grit is a calcium supplement that hardens eggshells. As the name implies it comes from oyster shells but can also come from limestone or eggshells.

This is the most common grit supplement homesteaders utilize as it is affordable ($15 to $20 for a 50 pound bag).

The added bonus of oyster shells is that they provide a source of calcium to the chickens. This is especially important for productive egg layers as they can deplete their calcium reserves to the point that it comes from their bones. This leads to health complications and shorter lifespans.

Do I need to Give my Chickens Grit?

It depends on their diet. Chickens that are solely fed commercial feed, and are not given supplemental treats and snacks, or the opportunity to forage likely don't need a grit supplement as the feed is soft enough that chickens can break it down on their own.

On the other hand, if your chickens do get snacks and treats or forage, a grit supplement would be additive.

Additionally, productive egg laying chickens can deplete their calcium while producing eggs. Without a supplement hens can deplete their calcium to the point where their bones become brittle.

For chickens that are strong egg producers or eat table scraps it is recommended to ensure they have access to grit.

Easter Egger and Buff Orpington Eating

Why Do Chickens Need Grit?

Chickens' gizzards grind the grit as they process food until it becomes fine and passes through their digestive system. This process naturally depletes grit overtime. Without grit chickens can develop sour crop where they are unable to digest their food and it begins to rot. Sour crop is a serious condition and can require surgery.

How Much Grit Do Chickens Need?

Many homesteaders utilize "free choice method." This means that grit is consistently available in a feeder to the chickens, and they can eat it freely. The rule of thumb it that is should not consist of more than 1/20th of their diet.

For smaller chickens it is recommended to keep an eye on them. There have been instances where they mistake grit for their regular feed. This overindulgence can lead to an impacted crop.

We follow the free choice method ourselves and have never had an issue with it. We find the chickens do a good job of regulating how much they truly need.

How to Make My Own Soluble Grit?

We utilize the eggshells we have and feed our chickens ground and baked eggshells to supplement. This is done by baking eggshells at 350 for 10 minutes. This ensures that harmful bacteria have been removed and the shells are dried and sanitized.

Once the shells have cooled use your hands or a spoon to crush them into small pieces. It is important to ensure the eggshells are no longer in the shape of an egg as this will encourage chickens to peck and eat their own eggs in the future. The broken shells can be scattered or placed in a feeder for free choice grazing.

Do Chickens Get Grit Naturally?

Chickens have a natural instinct that when they are foraging, they will ingest small pebbles and stones as a form of insoluble grit.

What Age to Start Giving Chickens Grit?

Grit can be provided to chickens as young as 2 weeks (14 days) old. It is important to ensure the grit is small enough that it can be digested for a chicken that size.

What Chicken Breeds Need Grit The Most?

We offer free choice oyster shells to strengthen the shells of eggs. We have noticed if our chickens are deficient in calcium as her eggshells are often brittle.

Not to mention a prolonged calcium deficiency can lead to severe health complications and a shortened lifespan.

Due to this chicken breeds that are strong layers need a consistent supply of grit and calcium. Here are the breeds that need this the most.

Final Thoughts

Providing chickens with free range grit is generally recommended but can be dependent on their diet. Both soluble and insoluble grit helps chickens process their food. In severe case without a grit supplement chickens can get life threatening illnesses.

An easy and affordable method to provide grit is by allowing free range access to baked eggshells which also provide calcium, this is very important for productive egg laying chickens.

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