The Role Of Grit In A Chicken’s Digestive System

Chicken grit and two chickens -

Can you imagine eating a hamburger, chasing it with a handful of pebbles, and going about your business without giving it a thought? Me neither! Chickens do! Chickens don’t have ready access to hamburgers, but if they eat hard grains like corn or cracked corn, then they need grit.

if you feed your chickens straight layer feed or starter-grower to your chicks, you don’t have to be concerned with grit, but if you feed them hard grains regularly, then your chickens need grit. Without it, chickens would struggle immensely to break down their food.

Think of grit as a natural grinder. Since chickens don’t have teeth, this mix of tiny rocks and pebbles works in place of teeth.

When your flock pecks at their feed, they swallow the grit provided. The grit accumulates in the gizzard, an incredibly strong muscular stomach, where it pulverizes the food into digestible pieces.

While you might think all chickens require the same type of grit, that’s not the case. Grit needs vary depending on a chicken’s diet and where it lives. For instance, free-range birds might pick up adequate natural grit as they forage, compared to those in a coop who rely on what you provide.

A chicken showing signs of grit deficiency may eat more, seem malnourished, or exhibit reduced egg production. If not addressed, this can lead to serious health issues. A keen eye and quick action can keep these problems at bay.

Let’s examine the specific types and sizes of grit your chickens might need.

Size Matters and Viable Substitutes

A chicken wide-eyed next to a boulder about to topple over  -

Chickens have different needs regarding the size of the grit they consume. The size of grit required is generally based on the age and size of the chicken.

Younger and smaller chickens, such as chicks, require a finer, smaller grit to help them digest their starter feed. Chick grit is readily available at many farm stores and online.

As chickens grow, their digestive systems can handle larger grit, which is necessary to break down tougher and larger food particles.

Why does it matter if the grit is small or large? Well, if the grit is too large, young chickens might be unable to swallow it, which could lead to digestive issues or choking. On the other hand, if the grit is too small for adult chickens, it won’t be as effective in grinding the feed, which could lead to poor digestion and nutritional uptake.

Are there alternatives to store-bought grit? Indeed, there are. For free-range chickens that have access to a natural environment, finding their own grit often isn’t an issue. In the open, chickens will make their own dustbaths and, in the process, find plenty of grit.

These birds naturally forage for tiny stones and pebbles that can serve the same purpose as commercial grit. However, chickens that are confined or lack access to varied ground materials will need a human-supplied source of grit depending on the hardness of their feed and snacks.

Some of the substitutes include crushed eggshells, though it’s crucial to bake them first to remove any residual egg matter and crush them thoroughly to avoid recognition. Recognized eggshells might encourage egg-eating behavior.

Crushed oyster shells can also serve as a dual-purpose grit, providing both the grinding mechanism for digestion and a source of calcium for eggshell production.

Where does this leave us? Awareness of a chicken’s specific needs is essential. Providing the appropriate size grit is a small but critical aspect of chicken care. Equally important is understanding when to offer natural substitutes and ensuring they are safe and suitable for your flock.

Feeding Grit to Your Flock the Right Way

Commercially available grit usually offers a balanced composition tailored to your chickens’ digestive needs. If you opt to purchase, you’re paying for the convenience and peace of mind that comes from knowing your chickens are getting exactly what they need.

However, there are certainly cost-saving measures you can take without compromising their health.

For those who prefer a hands-on approach or seek to cut down expenses, you can mix your own grit substitute. Crushed eggshells or coarse sand, often readily available on a farm, can serve as an effective grit.

Just be sure that whatever substitute you choose is free from harmful contaminants and is the right size for your chickens, although chickens are quite capable of choosing the sizes they want if a good mix is provided.

When it comes to feeding grit, simplicity is key. Sprinkle a layer of grit over their regular feed or offer it in a separate feeder. This allows the chickens to self-regulate and consume grit as their bodies require. Always be mindful of the availability, ensuring there’s a constant supply.

To wrap things up, while feeding grit might seem like a small aspect of poultry care, it can have a profound impact on the well-being of your chickens, and it is a necessary supplement if your chickens don’t free-range.

By understanding your flock’s specific needs, you can make informed decisions about whether to buy grit or use an alternative and how best to incorporate it into their diet.

Do you use a grit substitute? Let us know what it is below.


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