A lot of people think that grit and oyster shell are the same things (they’re not). So in this post, I’ll briefly talk about what grit and oyster shells are, and if your chickens really need them.
Grit (Also Known As Insoluble Grit)
If anything other than commercial feed is given to your chickens, it’s essential that chickens have access to grit.
Grit is the term for tiny stones. They keep it in their gizzards to help them grind up the wild foods they forage.
Because they have no teeth, chickens don’t have a way to grind their food. In order to decrease the size of the food particles to a manageable size, they need grit in their gizzard.
Food would not be made usable for the bird without grit.
Without the appropriate grit, food can sit without progressing in the chicken’s digestive tract and can start fermenting or rotting. This is a condition called “sour crop” and it’s quite severe.
Sometimes a deficiency of grit can even trigger a digestive tract obstruction. Usually, this is called “bound crop” and shuts your chicken’s digestion down.
Getting Enough Grit
Many people make the mistake of thinking that their chickens will get all the grit they need if they’re free-ranging. But some dirt doesn’t have much grit in them.
Even though I let my chickens free-range, I like to give them access to store-bought grit. It’s better to have too much grit than not enough.
Chickens that are confined, chicks in brooders, and flocks kept over winter will absolutely need additional grit to aid their digestion if you feed them anything else other than chicken feed.
Always have a feeder with grit available for them to use if they want it.
There are different grades of grit depending on the age of the chicken. Baby chicks should have a very fine grit. As they get older, it should be more coarse.
Grit is pooped out as the stones get smaller and smaller. Then, new grit needs to be eaten. If the grit you give them is too small, the pieces will pass right through the chicken’s digestive system. So offering the correct size for chicks, pullets or adult hens is important.
Chicks will not initially need any grit until you start feeding them things other than chick feed. I personally do not feed anything other than feed to my chicks, but if you do, put a little chick grit over their feet.
Oyster Shells (Also Known As Soluble Grit)
Oyster shell (my favorite is this one from Amazon) is known as soluble grit. This is because the calcium from the oyster shell dissolves in the hens’ stomach and is used in making shells and strengthening bones.
Only laying hens require oyster shell. Chicks, the older chickens, and roosters do not need any oyster shell added to their diet.
Too much calcium can be harmful to a chickens’ health, so oyster shells should be given on the side and not mixed with their feed. Laying hens that need extra calcium will eat the oyster shell while the others will just ignore it.
Why Do Egg-Laying Chickens Need Oyster Shells?
Even though we are told that a layer feed is complete and that egg-laying hens don’t need anything else, it may not contain enough calcium for your hens.
When the laying hen’s diet is deficient in calcium, they might lay eggs with thin shells or no shell at all. If this becomes a problem, a supplemental supply of calcium should be provided.
Also, if a chicken doesn’t get enough calcium, she will start to leach the calcium from her bones in order to create eggshells. That may lead to bones that are fragile, deformed, or broken.
Calcium deficiencies can also slow down egg production. It may also cause behavior problems like egg-eating since the hens are so desperate for calcium.
Some chicken breeds require more calcium if they’re high egg producers. And some chickens may have a deficiency in the shell gland requiring more calcium than normal.
If you can’t find Oystershell grit from your local store, baked, crushed eggshells will do close to the same job because they are mainly made up of calcium.
If you choose to offer eggshells to your hens, be sure to bake them first (350 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 minutes or so) to kill any bacteria on the shells, and make sure they are crushed finely enough so they don’t look like eggs (you don’t want to teach your hens to eat their own fresh eggs).
Chicken Grit Feeders
Grit feeders come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The priority is really to make sure it doesn’t get tipped over or filled up with water. (My favorite grit and oyster feeder is this one from Amazon).
That’s it! I hope this post about whether backyard chickens need grit and oyster shells helped you out!