Is chicken grit necessary?
In short – yes, it is! We are often asked why we advise giving hens grit on a regular basis and the answer is simple: grit is a vital element in your hens’ digestive process. This is because hens do not have teeth. Instead, they have a gizzard – a muscular part of the stomach that grinds grains and fibre into more digestible particles using – you guessed it – grit.
The nitty gritty
Chicken grit is a material that is eaten by all types of birds, to aid digestion. Hens need grit to breakdown other types of feed so that it can be properly absorbed. Without grit, chickens are unable to digest larger food items, which can lead to blockages, illness and, in severe cases even death. However, it is important to remember that there are different grades of grit and they perform two different functions in your hens.
Types of chicken grit
Fine or soluble grit is the sort that dissolves in the hens’ digestive system. Its primary function is to provide the birds with a much-needed calcium boost. Without enough calcium in their diet, hens aren’t able to produce eggs with healthy, strong shells. Soluble grit is mostly calcium based and can be in the form of limestone (calcium carbonate) either as small chips or ground flour in commercial poultry feeds or as crushed oyster or mussel shells. These different forms of the ‘grit’ are essential for healthy eggshell formation.
Insoluble grit is comprised of things like small pea-sized gravel chips or small stones which birds pick up if they are allowed to forage around outside. These stones do not dissolve, nor do they provide calcium, but they do provide a mechanical aid to break down food. Once ‘swallowed’ this type of grit is retained in the chickens’ gizzard to aid digestion.
How does grit work?
When your hen tucks into her pellets or corn, the food passes into her crop (imagine that this is the hen’s shopping basket). Feed is stored for up to six hours where it softens and swells and starts the process of digestion. During the course of the day, the food leaves the crops and enters the proventriculus. This is the narrow, glandular first region of a bird’s stomach – sometimes known as the ‘true stomach’ – situated between the crop and the gizzard. Here, the feed is mixed with hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes such as pepsin, which break down protein and peptides and assist with absorption.
Having left the proventriculus the feed enters a tough muscular structure called the gizzard. This is the grinding mill of the gut. Here the insoluble grit helps to grind up the fibres in vegetation and breaks down the hard husks of grains and seeds that your hen might eat. This grinding processes the food into a form that allows the nutrients to be worked on by digestive enzymes and absorbed into the bloodstream.
Ideally, your hen should be fed a mixture of soluble and insoluble grit to maintain good health. You can find a variety of different grits on our online shop!