Grit. You've probably heard about it and been told that you should be giving it to your chickens. But why? And what is it anyway? And what about oyster shell? Aren't they basically the same thing?
Well, not exactly....
Oyster shell is also know as soluble grit. While it appears to be hard like grit, it actually dissolves in the the chicken's gizzard, providing the hen with calcium for egg production. So yes, oyster shell is also important, but that's a topic for another day. Now, back to grit...
Grit is small pieces of rough stone, usually granite or flint. Since chickens don't have teeth and can't chew their food, they need grit in order to digest what they eat. They swallow the grit, and it's stored in their gizzard. When the gizzard contracts, the grit grinds the food they eat into small digestible flakes.
Commercially produced pellets and crumbles are already softened and do not need grit in order to be digested by the chicken. However, if your chickens are eating ANYTHING besides their pellets or crumbles, including table scraps, scratch or grass, they WILL need grit in their diet. So in other words, unless your chickens are in a cage with no access to the ground or anything besides their feed, (and we hope they're not) they need grit to be available to them.
Our Eden Feeds Layer Mash is minimally processed to better preserve the whole grains and all the nutrients they contain. So in order for chickens to digest a mash like ours, grit is very important. Our feed has some grit added, but it's always wise to have some extra available - the birds will know if they need it or not.
You might think if your chickens are free ranging, that they can find enough rocks and gravel to take the place of grit. That may be true, or it may not. For example, the gravel and pebbles that might be available to chickens could be too smooth to be very effective in the grinding of feed. Also, if you have clay soil, or when the ground is covered in snow, or in grassy pastures, small stones may not be available to chickens.
Grit comes in a variety of sizes - smaller sizes for smaller birds, larger grit for larger birds. It's usually labeled, and picking the right size is pretty self-explanatory.
So in short, the benefits of offering grit:
Increased feed efficiency - chickens get more nutrients out of what they eat, so...
...you save on feed costs and...
...chickens are healthier and more resistant to disease!
There's very little time and work involved - set it out and forget about it (for a while at least)
So many pros, and no cons that we can think of - so if you aren't feeding grit already, pick some up next time you're at the feed store, your chickens will appreciate it!