Grit--When and Why.


RIP 1938-2020
9 Years
Jul 6, 2010
There have been a number of threads from newbies about using grit so I'm adding my 2-cents worth to help. Feel free to add or challenge.

For those who don't know, since chickens do not have teeth to chew, they rely on gravel, stones, etc. in their gizzards to grind up their food. If they don't have this then they can have problems with impacted crops or nutrition since the food will go right through them. Under most situations there is plenty of material around that the birds can use for grit but when they are kept away from this kind of thing it has to be supplied--usually in the form of ground up granite. In my case, since my birds range over a lot of good old fashioned glacial till, they usually don't have a problem. The only time I supply it is for chicks before I allow them anything but starter or to adults during the winter when they can't get at the bare ground. In the winter, I wouldn't feed either BOSS or scratch unless they had access to grit. Fortunately they don't need a lot--a little goes a long way(I have a 50lb bag that I've had for close to 25 yrs). The best way to feed it is either scatter it on the coop floor, in the run or allow them free choice out of a separate container. There is no need to mix it in with their food, they know when they need it. Also, if the bird are on a diet of strictly processed food--starter,grower or layer--grit isn't necessary, the food is broken down enough so further grinding isn't necessary. It is when they are getting "treats" or free ranging that they need the grit.
Thanks, that's a good summary on the subject.

The only thing I'd question is whether not providing grit could lead to crop impaction. Grit isn't used in the crop, it's used in the gizzard (or ventriculus). Actually, I have heard about caged birds (parrots) gorging on grit and impacting their crops with grit, but I've never heard of chickens doing this.

Newbies frequently get confused about the difference between grit and oystershell, too. Oystershell is a calcium supplement for laying hens. Oystershell can be offered free choice in a separate dish alongside a dish of grit so the chickens can consume what they need.
Well written. When you process a hen and remove the gizzard you will find it full of grit and sand. You turn it inside out and rinse the grit away. Just my two cents..............
Since I've never had a bird with impacted crop only seen pics and talked to a few that have, I really can't do much but surmise that it may happen when material is not ground up in the gizzard and causes a back up. Otherwise it would seem like most anything a chicken can pack into their crop would go through into the next step. Could be I'm wrong but it makes some sense to me.
Parrots (hookbills) do not require grit and it will and can kill them. Softbill birds require grit.

Why the difference?

Hookbills have powerful beaks and they break their food up before eating.

Softbills are straight beak birds and cannot break their food up. They swallow the pieces whole, so require grit in the gizzard to grind the food.
Good thread woodmort. I hope alot of new chicken owners read can save alot of headaches with crop issues. All my chickens have been raised as day old chicks. About the 7th day I sprinkled parakeet grit on the floor of their cage and 5 years later I've never had crop problem.
The best I can determine, whether they have grit or not will not cause them to have an impacted crop. The gizzard is further downstream in their digestive track. Lack of grit can cause an impacted gizzard, where the stuff gets balled up in the gizzard and cannot pass from the gizzard on down the digestive track. That can kill them, but I haven't found anything that says it will back up all the way back to the crop for lack of grit. People that I think know what they are talking about have chewed me out on this forum for suggesting grit would help prevent or cure an impacted crop.

When I was trying to research whether grit would help an impacted crop, I ran across some studies where chickens had impacted crops or impacted gizzards filled with grit. It's been a while since I did that and most of the research was on Emus but some chickens were mentioned. I think what happened was that the emus or chickens or ostriches or whatever got hungry and did not have anything they could eat so they filled up on grit and that plugged them up.

What normally causes an impacted crop is long blades of grass or something like that that get balled up in the crop and can't get through to the gizzard where it is ground up. But some studies have reported that gizzards and crops can also get plugged up with too much grit.

I think this relates to grit. I've never seen anything come through a chicken's digestive track and out the other end unless it was totally ground up. No seeds or chunks of anything. And mine have eaten mice too. That's usually a great game of keep-away as they peck it down to size.

To add a bit. Grown chickens will use rocks from the size of a grain of sand up to the size of a pea for grit. Baby chicks cannot handle grit that big. Coarse sand like construction sand works great for young chicks. Some people use parakeet grit for young chicks since it is so small. A word of caution. Some parakeet grit has extra calcium in it. Too much calcium can harm a growing chicks kidneys or cause bone deformation in a growing chick. If you do use parakeet grit, make sure it does not have a lot of calcium it.

Some people think you can use oyster shell as grit. That is not correct. Partly because oyster shell is not hard enough to grind up some of the stuff they eat but mainly because they have some acid in their gizzard and the acid will dissolve the oyster shell. Oyster shell will not last long enough to be of any real use as grit.

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