Why Chickens Eat Grit

Della Barker and Buffy Sentinel are foraging on the stone sidewalk.  Besides nibbling on
chickweed and grass, they will pick up little granules of stone to aid in digesting their food.

A chicken's diet should include plenty of available grit.  Not "grits," the corn-based porridge commonly served in the South, but "grit"--tiny hard granules of stone or sand.  Chickens don't have teeth, so they pick up food with their beaks, swallow it, and store it in their crop.  The crop is a vital organ located just beneath the neck against the breast, just to the right of center. The food is stored in the crop before passing down to the small stomach and gizzard where it is broken down and digested.  When a chicken's crop is full, you'll see a bulge in the chest area.

If your chickens eat only commercially processed feed, the need for grit would not be as great, as this feed is easily digested.  But if they are eating any other foods, such as when they free-range as mine do, or if you feed them greens, veggies, or any other scraps, they will definitely need some grit in their diet.  You can buy grit in farm stores, which usually consists of crushed granite, but if your chickens free-range, they will pick up pieces of crushed stones or tiny pebbles.  When their food passes to the gizzard, this tough muscular organ, with the aid of the grit, grinds the food to make it easier to digest.

The Anatomy of a Chicken

Crop Problems in Chickens

The two most common crop problems are sour crop and impacted crop, also known as being crop bound.  A chicken's crop is supposed to completely empty overnight, but if it doesn't the food ferments and causes a fungal infection.  A sour crop is squishy like a water balloon, and the chicken's breath smells sour.  An impacted crop is also one that does not empty overnight, but instead of being squishy it is compacted and rock hard.  The chicken will become lethargic, may jerk its neck, move slowly or not at all, and will begin losing weight and become ill.

Avoiding Crop Problems

To avoid crop problems, make sure the chicken has plenty of grit available.  Long stringy grass can become compacted in the crop, so if feeding chickens cut grass, make sure it is cut short.  Also avoid feeding chickens starchy foods like bread or pasta, as they can also become compacted.

Adding a little bit of apple cider vinegar (ACV) to the chickens' water supply can aid in digestion.  Look for the raw, organic kind, such as Bragg's. (Add a tablespoon per gallon of water a few times a week.)  In addition to aiding their digestion, the ACV also aids their respiratory and immune systems and kills bacteria. 

(Note: ACV will corrode galvanized feeders.  However, if you live in a cold climate zone and don't heat your feeder, the freezing water can crack a plastic feeder.)   

Treating Crop Problems

If you suspect a crop problem, isolate the chicken in a warm area and give it plenty of water. Monitor it to see if it passes waste. Mix a little bit of olive oil with a little bit of water and use an eyedropper to apply it as a lubricant inside the chicken's beak.   When giving the application, make sure the liquid gets past the small hole at the base of the tongue that leads to the lungs. Gently massage the crop in a downward motion. You can repeat this several times over the course of a couple of days.  Don't give the chicken feed, but give it plenty of water with ACV and continue to keep it isolated and monitored to see if it passes waste.  When the threat is past and the crop is no longer distended, you can start feeding it soft foods.  If the chicken does not respond to your treatment, you may need to call upon a veterinarian's help.

Crop problems are relatively uncommon, but it can happen, so it's good to know how to prevent them, how to recognize when a problem arises, and how to provide the best care you can for your chickens.

For more articles on keeping chickens, visit our Chickens Page.

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  1. Great post, Katie! I shared this with Community Chickens. You've done a great job with this!

    1. Oh, thanks Meredith! I appreciate it so much! ~Katie

  2. Great post! And I love your bookshelf on the left hand side!

  3. Thank you Lisa! And thanks for visiting and sharing! ~Katie

  4. During the depression, my grandparents couldn't afford the oyster shell for grit; my mother & her siblings were put to work with a hammer to make smaller rocks out of small rocks for their chicks. I think of that every time the birds knock over & scatter their oyster shell that they may be getting little rocks someday. Shirley, Joplin, MO

  5. We sure do have it much easier today than the way our grandparents did things. I think about that when I'm canning and use my food strainer and food processor! To think that we can buy a bag of grit in the store, and they would crush stones to make grit for their chickens!

    Chickens need those hard granules of stone to digest their food. They may also need a calcium supplement; crushed oyster shells or egg shells provide a good source. These are both too soft and soluble, however, to be considered as a grit replacement. My chickens free-range and have plenty of sources for finding grit. I place crushed oyster shells in a wall feeder inside the coop for the chicks to eat at will as a calcium supplement. Layer feed usually has calcium added to it.

    Thanks for stopping by and visiting and for sharing your chicken story! ~Katie

  6. Katie - Great post, you did a terrific job letting us know everything we need to about this! Your site is looking great too :)

    1. Thank you Lesa. I appreciate you stopping by and leaving a comment! ~Katie

  7. Great post! Thanks for the information!

  8. Thank you for sharing this important info on The HomeAcre Hop!