Chicken grit can be made from a number of substances. Generally speaking, commercially produced chicken grit is made from insoluble stone - typically flint or granite. However, there are some health benefits to providing your chicks grit made from oyster shells and eggshells.
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What Is Chicken Grit?
Essentially, the term ‘chicken grit’ can cover a wide range of substances and materials. In the wild, chickens will pick up all kinds of small stones and bits of gravel and use this as grit.
When raised in the backyard, however, unless your chickens are able to free-range and find tiny stones to use as grit, you’ll need to supply them with some.
Because grit comprises of tiny stones and other similar materials, it’s very inexpensive. You can pick up a 5 lb bag like this one from Manna Pro on Amazon and it should last a medium-sized flock several weeks easily.
Why Do Chickens Need to Eat Grit?
The reason why chickens need grit in their diet is due to the fact that they do not have teeth to chew up their food.
Instead of being able to chew food as we do, they have an organ called a ‘gizzard’. The gizzard, which many animals and birds have, is basically like a large muscle that contracts to chew up food.
This process requires course materials to break up the food though, and that’s where grit plays a role.
Grit enables the gizzard to break up food matter into a softer, paste-like substance. Once this has happened, the food can then pass through the digestive tract.
If a chicken didn’t have access to any grit as part of their diet, they risk something called ‘impaction’. This means their crop, the area where they store food, has become full, blocked, and impacted as a result.
An impacted crop is potentially very dangerous to their health. Not being able to break down and digest their food is a serious issue - as I’m sure you can imagine.
For this reason, you should always make grit available when raising backyard chickens.
So, in short, chickens need grit to chew up their food because they do not have teeth. Pretty interesting stuff!
What Can Be Used for Chicken Grit?
I’ve seen grit made from various types of insoluble substances. Generally speaking, however, grit for chickens comes down to two main types:
Granite or Flint (Insoluble)
Granite and flint are two of the most common substances used for insoluble grit. The main reasons for this being; granite and flint are coarse, small enough to be digested, and readily available.
This is no different from chickens picking up little stones while foraging and scratching around. They will use this grit to help break up and digest their food.
Eggshell or Oyster Shell (Soluble)
A lot of chicken owners use grit as a way to boost their chicken’s intake of calcium and other key minerals.
If your hens are laying, crushing up some oyster shells or eggshells and adding that to their grit is going to give them a nice (and maybe a much-needed) calcium boost.
This type of grit isn’t to be used as a substitute for insoluble grit, but it’s a great addition. Also, it’s worth remembering that if your chickens are eating only commercial feed, they will likely need very little additional grit if any.
How Do You Make Chicken Grit?
If you want to ‘make’ your own chicken grit, there are two directions you can go in. The first is to make some insoluble grit, as discussed above.
The only way you can really do this for your hens is to find tiny stones or sand that isn’t too fine and offer it to them. Chickens are pretty smart - in fact, I think they’re very smart - and they will usually only take what they need.
If they aren’t touching the grit you’ve provided, you really should buy a bag of readymade grit.
The other type of grit you might want to make is the soluble calcium-boosting grit made from oyster shells or eggshells.
For oyster shells, simply grind up the oyster shells into finely crushed pieces and make them available to your hens. They should peck away at it as and when they want to.
If you want to feed your chickens eggshells, as a lot of owners do, then simply clean out some shells and leave them to dry until they are brittle and easy to break into small pieces.
You don’t need to stress about breaking the shells into really tiny pieces. Your chickens will break up the larger bits to a size they’re comfortable with.
Do Chickens Get Grit Naturally?
If chickens have plenty of space to free-range and you have varying terrains there is a good chance they will find all the bits of grit they need to digest their food.
After all, it’s not a problem for wild chickens.
If you keep your chooks enclosed in a run, however, they will likely need some grit. Sometimes it’s not needed if they’re only eating a commercial feed, you can check by reading the packaging on your feed.
Either way, it doesn’t harm to make some grit available. You should keep it in a separate feeder from their feed, and keep an eye on how quickly it’s going down to gauge how much your flock is craving grit.
There you have it, the grit chickens need is made from nothing more than tiny stones, sand, and other bits of hard dirt, basically.
You have the option to boost their calcium intake, which is important for laying hens. But that’s more of a bonus, not a necessity.
Grit is a necessity and plays an essential role in chickens’ digestive systems, don’t forget about it when caring for your backyard flock!
Image credits - Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash