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Grit and Oyster Shell: When in Doubt, Put it Out

Discussion in 'Sponsored Content, Contests, and Giveaways' started by JenniO11, Feb 7, 2013.

  1. JenniO11

    JenniO11 Chirping

    Jan 11, 2012
    A note from our sponsor Nutrena

    Grit and Oyster Shell: When in Doubt, Put it Out

    Tiffany Towne, Nutrena Poultry Expert

    It’s hard to make an argument against using grit and oyster shell supplements. They’re fairly inexpensive and a little lasts a long time. But from a nutritional viewpoint, the stakes are much higher. These supplements (yes, they are two different things) are essential for healthy birds and maximum egg production.

    As spring approaches, it’s a good time to review why you should make grit and oyster shell supplements available free choice in separate feeders -- all the time. According to Twain Lockhart, a poultry consultant for Nutrena[​IMG] brands, “It’s better for birds to have continual access to grit and oyster shell and not need them, then to need them and not have them.” Here’s why.

    Grit and the Gizzard

    From beaks to vents, chickens have one of the most efficient digestive systems in the animal kingdom. Very little of what they eat goes to waste, despite the fact they have no teeth. Instead, they swallow tiny rocks that end up in their muscular gizzard. Food that mixes with these pebbles is ground up as the gizzard contracts, breaking food particles into tiny specks the bird can digest. Lack of grit can lead to digestive blockages, poor feed conversion, discomfort, and even death.

    Who Needs Grit?

    Generally, hens exclusively eating commercial feed (think caged production operations) don’t need grit because the feed quickly dissolves in their digestive tract. But as soon as chickens get other types of feed, they need grit to break it down so the gut can absorb it. Grit is essential for any bird consuming large particle- sized feed (grains, grass, weeds, etc.). The same goes for birds that are confined to a coop and given any scratch, grain or kitchen scraps.

    Biggest Grit Myth
    Many people think free-range birds don’t need grit. False. Grit should be available even to free-range birds if there is ANY chance they can’t find natural grit materials in their surroundings (for example, areas with clay soils, lack of small gravel particles, heavy snow cover or grass pastures).

    How Much Grit?
    It’s best to give birds free access to grit. They’ll take what they need for proper digestion. Feed stores sell insoluble grit for this purpose. NatureWise[​IMG] poultry feed now offers seven-pound bags of both oyster shell and grit, which is enough to last a small flock all year. The grit is a mix of two particle sizes, so it works for smaller birds and standard breeds.

    When to Start Grit
    Start chicks on grit once they leave the brooder and are introduced to outside forage and feed sources that are not solely a pellet or crumble (grass, greens, bugs) and/or once you start feeding scratch or any grains.

    Lay on the Calcium

    Laying hens require much more calcium (three to four times) in their diet to support laying and to create eggs with hard shells. Feeding layer feeds will keep laying hens healthy and productive. But extra calcium is essential to help prevent thin eggshells, birds that eat their own eggs, and prolapses.

    Eggshells consist primarily of calcium carbonate, the same material found in oyster shells. Likewise, calcium supplements are typically ground-up oyster shells or natural calcium stones. These dissolve in the hens’ digestive tract and add calcium to their diet.

    Who Needs Oyster Shell and When?
    All laying hens should have access to a separate container full of crushed oyster shells. Begin feeding free choice when pullets come out of the brooder.

    Biggest Oyster Shell Myth
    Like the grit myth, many people think feeding a high quality layer feed means an oyster shell supplement isn’t needed. False. Even the elevated amount of calcium in most layer feeds might not meet the daily requirements for all hens at all times.

    How much Oyster Shell?
    Give birds free access to oyster shell and they’ll take what they need, based on age, diet, breed, stage of production, etc. Older hens, for instance, need more calcium than younger hens. Hens on pasture obtain some amount of calcium naturally, but illness may cause a calcium imbalance. In warm weather, when all chickens eat less, the calcium in a hen's ration may not be enough to meet her needs. On the other hand, a hen that eats extra ration in an attempt to replenish calcium gets fat and becomes a poor layer.

    The solution is simple. Put the ground oyster shell in a small dish or sprinkle it on the coop floor for hens to discover and eat. If you are feeding a layer-specific feed along with oyster shell as a source of supplemental calcium, you should be covered, assuming all birds have access and can get their full requirements of feed and oyster shell.

    One Final Myth Debunked

    Despite all the information available, there’s still some confusion that grit and oyster shell are the same thing, and you don’t need both. Not so! Oyster shell is soluble in the digestive tract. It dissolves after a period of time and the calcium is taken up. Grit is insoluble and will stay in the crop (a pouch in the esophagus used to store food temporarily before moving it to the stomach) and help with digestion without dissolving.

    Remember, when it comes to grit and oyster shell, when it doubt, put BOTH out.

    To find a NutrenaÒ dealer near you, visit www.NutrenaPoultryFeed.com.
    Last edited: Feb 7, 2013
    6 people like this.

  2. Gifa

    Gifa Songster

    Excellent info!!!

    I have a pair of these in my run:
    One for OS and one for grit... Just had to reverse the hanging clips... but they are the right size for my small flock, and they don't get pooped in or walked through...

    I found them on clearance last fall at a petstore (in the Ferret and Rabbit supply aisle) for 4 bucks each... Only have to refill them every 2-3 months. So far they work great. I was going to make ceramic bins for the OS and Grit, but when I saw these for $4, I was all... "pfft! buying them."
    Last edited: Feb 7, 2013
    1 person likes this.
  3. yo burrill

    yo burrill Chirping

    May 20, 2012
    Garland, ME
    Yes both are a must for cooped birds!!! My birds free range year round, so I dont give either to mine. they eat very little commercial grain in the summer and are on layer in the winter. I have never had a thin shelled egg or impaction issues with my birds. Once the bugs come out in the spring their shells become twice as thick as store eggs and some even are very hard to crack.
  4. Cknldy

    Cknldy Songster

    Nov 6, 2012
    Appalachian mtns
    My frugal grit tip: you know that tiny gravel they put on the roads in winter? Yep, passersby see me scooping it up after winter! I wash it with dawn dish soap due to the de-icing chemicals and spread to dry before storing for chicken use. Hey, after the snow season is gone the gravel just clogs up the drainage so why not use it? And when it rains a lot just sprinkle some all over the floor of the run. Voila! Free and helps with road drainage in spring. Thanks department of transportation for the grit:)
  5. Cknldy

    Cknldy Songster

    Nov 6, 2012
    Appalachian mtns
    Also, never underestimate the power of oyster shells. Met a chicken guy I had only talked to once. Said his black giant stock quit laying after eating their eggs. I didn't want to sound like a know-it-all being new to chickens so I didn't say anything. A month later I went to talk chicken and brought him a coffee can of oyster shells. No biggie- he thanked me, we talked chickens and before I left he offered me several chickens!
  6. popsicle

    popsicle Songster

    Another thing to mention--

    Neither is perishable, so even if there are stretches when the birds aren't taking any, it's not going to spoil!

    My birds free-range (when people are home) and they always have access to calcium and grit.
    Last edited: Feb 7, 2013
  7. BigRooNTN

    BigRooNTN Chirping

    May 18, 2012
    East Tennessee area
    Man.........I just keep learning great things on here. [​IMG]

  8. Quote: I must be buying the wrong grit. My 4 chickens would go through that in less than a month easy. My guess is that the feed store grit is not completely made of insoluble grit, but probably has some oyster shells or something else in it.
  9. Catfish267

    Catfish267 Chirping

    Dec 26, 2012
    I Don't Remember
    how big is grit? Are chocolate chip sized rocks to big?
  10. I use 2 large tuna cans nailed to the wall for grit and oyster shells, fill it once a week or so.
    3 people like this.

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