It’s possible that chickens will eat too much grit given the chance, yes. This isn’t often the case, but if a chicken does eat too much grit they risk suffering an impacted crop. You should leave out an excess of grit, but it’s your responsibility to monitor how much your flock is eating.
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Will Chickens Eat Too Much Grit if It’s Available?
The answer to this is similar to a lot of questions about chickens and eating; it’s possible that some chickens will eat too much, but most won’t.
Chickens have their own individual personalities, as anyone raising chickens reading this will be very aware of.
Some will only do things that are within their best interests. While some chickens just seem to be risk-takers and prone to making bad decisions.
Not the most helpful answer, I know. But that’s the truth.
There are also some other reasons that chickens might overindulge on grit, and they may be within your control.
The first is that a chicken might be eating too much grit because they’re hungry. If a chicken does not have enough food available, it’s not long before they start eating anything and everything around them.
The other reason may be due to a nutritional issue. I’ve heard of chickens having a nutritional imbalance and turning to more grit as a result.
Either way, as you can tell, it’s a sign that something is wrong. Chickens are very adept at surviving, if they’re doing something that has serious health implications it means something is wrong.
Can Baby Chicks Eat Too Much Grit?
Baby chicks are also at risk of eating too much grit. In fact, due to chicks being more vulnerable, there is a greater risk of health issues related to eating too much grit.
The debate of whether or not you should even be giving chicks is an interesting one in itself. If you’re only feeding your chicks a starter feed, they often don’t need grit. It’s worth reading the label of your feed carefully to see what it says.
However, if you’re giving them any form of ‘treat’ foods at all, then they will need grit to help digest that food. Usually, using fine sand when they’re just a few weeks old is ideal, as that’s sufficient for their tiny gizzards.
It is potentially very dangerous for chicks to digest too much grit, so do keep an eye on how much they’re getting through if it’s available.
How Much Grit Does a Chicken Need?
As a rule of thumb, if you ask any chicken farmer or backyard chicken owner, they’ll likely tell you they make grit readily available at all times.
You should have a separate feeder filled with grit near their main feeder. Then chickens will take as much, or as little as they need.
If your chickens are free-range, you’ll notice they eat a lot less grit. This is because free-range chickens spend most of their day foraging and scratching around and will eat a lot of stones.
However, remember what I said earlier about the possibility of chickens eating more than they should?
That’s a very real risk.
It’s on you as a chicken owner to keep an eye on how much grit is being consumed and whether or not you think one or more of your hens is taking more than their fair share.
Just as keep an eye on how much they’re eating, it’s no different. Obviously, I know it’s almost impossible to tell how much individual chickens are eating, but it’s something to be aware of.
What Happens if a Chicken Eats Too Much Grit?
When a chicken or a chick eats too much grit, the first major health issue it causes is an impacted crop.
The crop is kind of like a storage pouch in front of their breast area where chickens store the food they eat during the day.
Then (typically overnight) the food moves from the crop to the proventriculus where it mixes with digestive enzymes before passing through into the gizzard.
Once in the gizzard, food is chewed and ground up by strong muscular actions. This is only possible with the help of grit as a coarse substance to break the food up.
The grit will eventually be passed through their system and replaced with new.
Now, if a chicken is eating too much grit it poses a serious problem. More often than not, the grit will not pass from the crop into the gizzard - as the chicken’s body knows it’s not needed.
This means the crop continues to fill (because the chicken isn’t going to stop eating!) and a blockage is going to occur.
If caught early, an impacted crop can often be cleared with some lubrication and by massaging the blockage. This is often effective for a simple food blockage, but having a load of hard grit in there causes some further complications.
The most likely solution is a trip to an avian vet near you, where they will likely need to operate. It’s not as major as it sounds, it will most likely be a small incision with a scalpel to remove as much of the blockage as possible.
Related - Should you mix grit in with chicken feed?
The answer to the question about whether or not chickens can eat too much grit was a little ambiguous. A chicken can eat too much, but the good news is that it’s unlikely.
Don’t let this thought stop you from leaving out grit for your flock. As long as you’re providing your flock with a well-balanced diet, your chickens will instinctively know how much grit they need and not overdo it.
Image credits - Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash