Do all chickens need grit? In order for a chicken to digest anything but its regular feed, it needs grit. Chickens do not have teeth and need grit to help “chew” or grind their food in the gizzard(stomach). Without grit, a chicken cannot digest food such as bugs, grass, scratch and other special treats and will not survive.
What is chicken grit? Grit is finely ground stones or other substances that are used in a chickens gizzard to crush and digest its food. There are two different types of chicken grit, insoluble and soluble.
- Insoluble grit is tiny crushed stones, such as flint, granite or sand (quartz). It doesn’t contain any nutrients and stays in a chickens digestive system until it is pooped out.
- Soluble grit for chickens is limestone granules, crushed oyster shell, egg shells, scallop or muscles. This form of grit contains nutrients such as calcium and is absorbed into a chickens bloodstream.
1. What Happens if Chickens Don’t Get Grit?
Not all chickens need to be given supplemental grit. Depending upon how your chicken is housed will determine if they need supplemental grit. A chicken that isn’t provided access to grit that needs it can develop chicken sour crop or crop impaction and die.
A chicken that is only fed its regular feed does not need grit. Layers mash, crumbles and pellets can be digested without having any grit.
Laying hens should be offered oyster shell on the side. This is a soluble form of grit and also helps to digest anything that a chicken may have ingested, such as bugs or grass.
Chicken Sour Crop Due to Lack of Grit
When a chicken swallows its food, it enters the crop. From there, it moves to the gizzard. It is here that the food is ground up with the grit that was consumed.
If a chicken hasn’t been provided with grit and cannot digest its food, the food will not move through its digestive system. Food from the crop will only pass to the gizzard if it is empty.
Food that sits too long in a chickens crop will begin to ferment and become “sour.” Without grit, food cannot digest properly in a chickens digestive system and they cannot survive.
“A chicken crop is a temporary storage pouch for its food. Because chickens are prey animals and are at risk of becoming attacked by predators, they swallow their food whole. This shortens the amount of time out in the field foraging for food. Instead, it is stored in the crop until the chicken can safely break it down as it is pushed along through its digestive system.“
2. Do Baby Chicks Need Grit?
If your baby chicks are confined to a brooder box and only eating chick starter feed, they do not need to be offered grit. Their digestive system is able to digest chick starter feed without supplemental grit.
When should I start giving my chickens grit? As soon as you begin offering your baby chicks “treats” they need to be offered grit in order to digest it. This can be done by placing a bowl of dirt from their future chicken run in with them.
This dirt contains all kinds of tiny crushed rocks and pebbles for them to consume. It also helps them to build up resistance against coccidiosis.
It is important to let your chicks get used to its regular feed first, before offering any “treats.” This way, it will not think the grit is its regular feed and eat too much of it. This can cause crop impaction and digestive problems in your baby chick.
Treats such as mealworms, crickets, ants, etc. have exoskeletons that chickens are not able to digest without grit in their diet.
Another way of providing your baby chicks grit is by allowing them some outdoor, supervised, free-ranging time.
3. Do Free-Ranging Chickens Need Grit?
Can chickens get grit naturally? Free ranging chickens are able to get grit naturally and do not need to be given supplemental grit. Chickens that free-range have access to various crushed rocks, pebbles, flint, and sand(quartz).
Chickens will instinctively peck and scratch the ground in order to find the right tiny rocks to help with their digestion process.
4. Do Chickens Confined to Chicken Coop and Run Need Grit?
If you have your flock confined to the chicken coop and run, the dirt may be sufficient in the beginning to satisfy their grit needs. Over time, the good pieces of grit become less available for them.
This is why I like to toss in fresh dirt periodically. My chickens love it when I do this! No need to spread it out either. Just dump a pile in the middle of the chicken run and they will spread it out for you as they peck and scratch through it.
5. What Kind of Grit is Best for Chickens?
If your chicken eats anything else in addition to their regular feed, it needs access to grit. Each chicken needs access to about 1/2 cup of insoluble grit per year. As long as your chickens have access to this, it does not matter what type you provide for them. It’s more of a personal preference.
I like to give my flock access to both soluble and insoluble chicken grit. I allow my chickens to free-range, so they have access to insoluble grit.
Can egg shells be used as grit for chickens? I also provide soluble grit by offering a side dish of oyster shell or crushed egg shells. Crushed egg shells and oyster shells will help with digestion. It also helps by providing additional calcium in their diet, which is needed for large eggs with thick egg shells.
CONCLUSION: Do All Chickens Need Grit? 5 Important Facts
- Grit is needed in order for chickens to digest their food. Chickens do not have teeth, instead they use “grit” or tiny stones in their gizzard to grind up (digest) their food. Chickens that don’t get enough grit in their diet can develop sour crop due to having difficulty digesting their food.
- Free-ranging chickens have access to natural forms of grit in the land that they scratch and peck at and will get all that they need from this.
- For chickens confined to a chicken coop and run, it’s a good idea to periodically replenish the dirt.
- Chicks only need grit when they begin to eat “treats,” still in their brooder box and don’t have access to dirt.
- As long as your chickens have access to about 1/2 cup of insoluble grit per year it does not matter which name brand or type you give them. Free ranging chickens can get it naturally out of the ground and there are several companies that sell insoluble grit. My favorite is Manna Pro.