Do Chickens Need Oyster Shells and Grit? A Quick Look at What Chickens Require for a Healthy Diet (Incl. Feeding Chicks & Egg-Laying Hens)

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Do Chickens Need Oyster Shells & Grit? (Do They Need Both?)

A lot of people think that grit (Amazon) and oyster shells are the same things, but they’re not.

So in this post, I’ll briefly talk about what grit and oyster shells are, and if your chickens really need one or both of them.

Grit: Do All Chickens Need It?

If anything other than commercial feed is given to your chickens*, it’s essential that chickens have access to grit (Amazon).

Grit is the term for tiny stones. Chickens keep grit in their gizzards to help them grind up the food they forage in the wild. Because they have no teeth, chickens don’t have a way to properly grind their food without grit.

Without having access to 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 can be quite dangerous to the chicken’s health.

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.

Granite and cherry stone are two recommended grits and they’re pretty cheap since they will last a long time. (This is my favorite grit for my chickens from Amazon, and this one is my favorite for chicks).

* Adult chickens who only eat commercial chicken feed (no table scraps or treats) don’t really need grit because commercial feed is soft enough for the chicken to digest.

Do Free-Range Chickens Need 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 (coarse sand and pebbles) in them.

Even though I let my chickens free-range, I like to give them access to store-bought grit. It’s better for chickens to have too much access to grit than having not enough.

Trust me. Grit is worth the money if it can prevent health issues!

Do Chicks & Chickens Need Different Grit Size?

There are different grades of grit depending on the age of the chicken. Baby chicks should have a very fine grit (Amazon). As they get older, the grit should be more coarse (Amazon).

Grit is pooped out as the stones get smaller and smaller inside a chicken. 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 (Amazon). I personally do not feed anything other than chick feed to my chicks, but if you do, put a little chick grit over their feet to motivate them to start eating it.

Crushed Oyster Shells for Extra Calcium

Crushed Oyster shells (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 eggshells and strengthening bones.

Do All Chickens Need Oyster Shells or Just Laying Hens?

You should only start feeding chickens oyster shells if they’re hens that are currently laying eggs. Chicks, older hens (non-laying), roosters, and chicks do not need any oyster shells added to their diet.

Why Do Hens Need Oyster Shells?

Egg-laying hens tend to need more calcium than what high-quality commercial laying feed gives them because it hens use so much calcium to form eggs.

Even though layer feed is often advertised as providing a complete diet for your hens, the feed may not contain enough calcium. Plus, some chicken breeds require more calcium if they’re high egg producers.

When an egg-laying hen’s diet is deficient in calcium, they might lay eggs with thin shells or no shells at all. If this becomes a problem, a supplemental supply of calcium should be provided, such as oyster shells.

Also, if a hen doesn’t get enough calcium, this can lead to the calcium from her bones leaching out in order to create eggshells. That may lead to bones that are fragile, deformed, or broken.

Being deficient in calcium might also cause behavior problems like egg-eating, since the hens are so desperate for calcium.

Feeding Chickens Oyster Shells

Too much calcium can be harmful to a chickens’ health. So the best way to feed oyster shells to chickens is to serve it in a feeder that’s separate from the chicken feed.

Do not mix oyster shells in with the chicken feed!

Laying hens that need extra calcium will eat the oyster shell while the other chickens will just ignore it.

Can’t Find Oyster Shells? Use Crushed Eggshells!

If you can’t find oyster shells from your local store, baked and 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 newly laid eggs).

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Summary: Oyster Shell or Grit for Chickens

  • If anything other than commercial feed is given to your chickens, it’s essential that chickens have access to grit (Amazon).
  • Even though I let my chickens free-range, I like to give them access to store-bought grit. It’s better for chickens to have too much access to grit than having not enough.
  • There are different grades of grit depending on the age of the chicken. Baby chicks should have a very fine grit (Amazon). As they get older, the grit should be more coarse (Amazon).
  • Only laying hens should be fed oyster shells. Chicks, older hens (non-laying), roosters, and chicks do not need any oyster shells 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.
  • If you can’t find oyster shells from your local store, baked and crushed eggshells will do close to the same job because they are mainly made up of calcium.