Why Baby Chickens Need Grit (and How to Provide It)

If you’ve never owned chickens before, you may not realize that there is more to their diet than just chicken seed. From a young age, baby chickens also require a number of supplements to their diet to remain healthy, including grit. 

Chick grit is a form of ground-up rocks or minerals that chickens use to digest their food. Without grit, chickens of all ages can have digestive issues such as sour or impacted crops, and they won’t be able to get enough nutrients from their food, causing underweight chickens, that lay fewer eggs.

If you’re planning on raising baby chickens at home, you’ll need to get some chick grit and learn how it works. Keep reading to learn more about the role of grit in chicken nutrition and where you can buy it.

What Is the Function of Grit for Chickens? 

Grit is a vital supplement in a chicken’s diet because it facilitates the chicken’s digestion. Chickens glean nutrients from food through their stomach and intestines.

  • The role of the crop.  Unlike mammals, many types of birds, such as chickens, ducks, and other types of poultry, have a pouch made of muscle called a crop that they use to store food while it is being ground down and partially digested. 
  • Chickens don’t have teeth. So, they rely on the grit that they swallow and store in their crop. The food that the chicken eats passes through the crop before entering the stomach and the intestines, and this is the process that allows the food to be ground up to the point that it can be properly digested. 

Without grit in their crop, chickens have no way to break up their food since they can’t chew it with teeth

Eating food whole without having the means to break it down can cause the crop to become stopped up or impacted, with stuck and rotting food. This, in turn, can cause the chicken to become ill, lose weight, or even die in some serious cases. 

In the wild, chickens collect grit naturally through their foraging habits, picking up small stones and pieces of mineral in the soil as they’re scratching around and swallowing these to form the grit in their crop. But domesticated chickens are often kept in runs full of straw or other soft material, and this can prevent them from getting access to the grit they need to digest their food. 

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When Do Baby Chickens Need Grit? 

For the first week of a newborn chicken’s life, it has no real need for grit yet. This is for a few reasons: 

Newborn chickens are still receiving nutrients internally from the yolk sac of their egg

The yolk that was attached to them while they were inside the shell is designed to sustain them. Before the chick is born, this yolk is absorbed into the body and allows the chick to not need food and water for roughly three days after birth.

Not only does this give the mother hen time to hatch all of her eggs out at once before moving them out to forage, but it also allows hatcheries to deliver chicks through the post!

For the first week of a baby chicken’s life, it should be fed chick feed only, like this high-quality Manna Pro Chic feed packed full of minerals & vitamins from Amazon.

This is because the baby chicken’s digestive system is still new and forming, and it will only be able to tolerate very fine or ground foods for the first week of life while it is getting used to being a baby chicken.

Other than some mashed boiled egg yolk, you shouldn’t attempt to feed anything else to a chicken under a week of age such as greens or grains, since the chick doesn’t have the grit to handle it. 

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When Can Grit Be Introduced to a Baby Chicken?

When you first have baby chickens, your main focus will be to make sure that all of the chicks are eating enough of their regular feed to become mobile and strong and that they’re staying warm enough for their digestive systems to function (without adequate heat, a baby chick cannot digest its food).  Get some nutritious baby chick treat that your chickens will love from Amazon here.

After the chicks are a week old and have become stronger and more curious, it’s time to start introducing them to grit and some foods other than feed, such as chopped berries or chopped greens

However, it is very important not to introduce these foods until after grit has been introduced so that the chicks already have some grit in their crops to handle these new foods. (Source: Tractor Supply)

It’s important when choosing grit for baby chickens that you choose “chick grit” that is specifically designed for baby chicks. Baby chickens don’t need adult chicken grit until after they reach around eight weeks of age and can handle a coarser type of grit. 

How to Feed Grit to Baby Chickens

There are a few different ways that you can introduce grit to baby chickens once they’re old enough to have chick grit. Here are some of the methods you can use: 

  • In a dish: Chick grit can be placed in a shallow dish near the main feeding station in the brooder where the chicks are being kept. This is a good way to give chicks access to grit in a way where you can tell that the chicks are actively using the grit, as it will slowly begin to disappear if they start to eat it.
  • Mixing into food: Grit can be mixed directly into the feeding station where the chicks’ feed is dispensed, and this can help make sure that each chick gets at least some of it in the course of feeding themselves.
  • Broadcasting in the brooder: If your baby chickens are to the age where you are feeding them treats along the bottom of the brooder for them to find such as scratch grain or greens, you can also sprinkle the chick grit in amongst the scratch and greens, so the baby chickens swallow both grits and grain at the same time.
  • Broadcasting in the yard: It’s also a good idea to broadcast plenty of chick grit in the chicken run if you have baby chicks that are loose in the yard or pen rather than in the brooder, so chicks can naturally take up grit as they forage. Putting down grit along with scratch grains can help encourage chickens to eat it. 

Regardless of whether you spread grit freely throughout the area where the baby chickens are kept, or you keep it in a dish for them—doing both is a good way to cover your bases—you need to make sure that chicks have access to grit as soon as they eat anything other than chick crumbles. 

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Best Types of Grit for Baby Chickens

There are many different brands of chick grit available on the market, so it’s important that you choose a brand with a good reputation. 

One thing to look for in grit for baby chickens is added probiotics. 

While chick grit with probiotics may be slightly more expensive than chick grit without probiotics, this addition can really help baby chicks get off on the right foot by making sure their digestive systems are strong and healthy right out of the gate. This is an important consideration, as many people who raise chickens end up losing a chick or two due to medical issues or general weakness. 

It’s also extremely important to get grit that is formulated especially for baby chickens rather than adult birds. 

Adult chicken grit is too large for baby chicks to swallow easily and can cause an impacted crop just as easily as not offering any grit at all. Here are some of the best brands of chick grit available that can be used for baby chickens: 

No matter which chick grit you end up going with, it’s important that you make sure to introduce some along with foods other than chick feed. 

Do Free-Range Baby Chickens Need Grit? 

The answer to this question is that it depends really, on the area that the chicks are being allowed to forage, and whether they’re being accompanied by a mother hen. If a mother hen is escorting a group of baby chickens around in the yard, she will usually seek out areas where she can scratch up some grit for the chicks to swallow, and she will essentially help show them how to do it. 

However, if the area where the chickens are being allowed to forage is grassy or muddy and doesn’t have much grit or sand in the soil, it may still be a good idea to supplement the chicken feed with some extra grit just to make sure the chicks are getting enough of it to keep their digestive systems functioning properly. 

Keep in mind that it’s always easier to prevent illnesses and problems in chickens than it is to try and fix them once a chicken becomes sick just like with people so do the smart thing and make sure that baby chickens have all the supplements they need—whether or not they could hypothetically find grit on their own—is a good idea to make sure that everybody has access to it. 

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Do Adult Chickens Need Grit Too?

The answer is yes! Because chickens use their crop for digestion during their entire lives, they will always need access to grit in order to have a functioning digestive system. 

If your adult chickens are allowed to free-range and forage for themselves, chances are they will swallow enough small stones and other minerals while they’re scratching around to get enough grit on their own. However, it’s still a good idea to make sure they have access just in case the soil doesn’t yield very much of it. 

The good thing about grit is that you can just leave a small plate or dish of it in the chicken run or coop, and chickens will naturally help themselves whenever they need it.

The only thing you, as the chicken keeper, have to do is make sure that the grit tray stays full or make sure to add it into their scratch when you feed treats. (Source: Cackle Hatchery)

What Happens if a Chick Doesn’t Get Grit?

If a baby or adult chicken doesn’t get grit, this can cause their crop to become full and swollen, eventually swelling and stopping up when food can’t be broken down enough to pass down into the proventriculus. 

The proventriculus is the part of the crop where the undigested food is stored, and from this point, the food passes into the gizzard, which is the muscular part of the chicken’s crop where food is mashed up into a digestible paste. 

There are a few problems that can occur in baby chicks with their digestive systems if they can’t get enough (or any) grit (Source: Backyard Chicken Coops): 

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Impacted crop

Impacted crop occurs when food is unable to pass through the esophagus into the proventriculus and gizzard so the chicken does not get any nutrition as they cannot ingest food.

Once a crop becomes impacted enough, this prevents food from passing into the stomach and being digested. This can cause the chicken to not be able to get any nutrition since they can’t pass food. Similar to bowel obstruction in humans, symptoms of an impacted crop include a swollen crop, emaciation, lethargy, and vomiting of food and water.

Sour crop:

A sour crop is similar to an impacted crop but occurs when grains cannot pass through the crop due to impaction and start to ferment inside the crop. 

Sour crop is a fungal infection of the crop. Symptoms include lethargy, foul-smelling liquid dribbling from the chicken’s mouth (a sign of an overfull crop), and lethargy. 

How Can You Tell If a Chicken’s Crop Is Impacted? 

Since chickens are prey animals and are pretty stoic creatures, it can be difficult sometimes to tell when one is injured or sick until its problems are moderate to severe. Once chickens get this sick, it is very easy for them to succumb and die, so warding off illness altogether is always the better option over trying to treat them for disease or a medical condition. 

A good way to head off crop issues is to do a weekly or bi-weekly inspection of your chickens from beak to feet, inspecting the crop along with every other part of the bird to detect abnormalities.

Since the crop and any associated emaciation are difficult to see on a chicken without actually touching the bird and feeling for problems, physical inspections are important for detecting a problem. 

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Tips for Using Grit on Baby Chickens

Once you’ve got some grit for your baby chickens, it’s pretty easy to use. Just offering it to them is usually enough to make sure that they have the access they need. But here are a few tips for getting grit and using it on your baby chickens: 

  • Read labels on chick feed and grit carefully! More than one novice chicken keeper has accidentally starved their baby chickens to death by accidentally mistaking chick grit for chick feed. This supplement comes in very similar packaging and can even look similar to chick crumble, so make sure that you have some of both and not grit alone, or your chicks will go hungry trying to eat rocks.
  • Always make sure it’s available. It doesn’t take long for a digestion problem to kill a baby chick up to a few weeks of age—new chicks are very fragile—so make sure that once you introduce any food other than chick crumble, that the chicks have grit too.
  • Make sure that it’s the right size for baby chickens. While adult chickens can eat chick grit without any adverse effects, the same doesn’t go the other way for baby chickens—they can’t use adult chicken grit effectively, so don’t buy it for them. You should also keep in mind that fine grit made for chicks will usually pass right through the digestive system of an adult chicken without performing its job.
  • Observe chicks during feeding to make sure they eat grit, especially if they are very young and hand raised. Baby chickens who are raised with a mother hen often learn how to eat grit and other types of food by imitating their mother, but chicks who are raised without a mother will have to be encouraged to eat grit by you. One good way to do this is to feed grit in a red-colored dish (red is a very attractive color to peck for chickens) or to gently tap the dish with your finger. 

Grit is a pretty easy supplement to give baby chickens, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t crucial to provide it if you want to keep your baby chickens happy and healthy. Forgetting to add grit to their diet can potentially kill your chicks, so be sure to remember it! 

What Other Supplements Do Baby Chickens Need Other Than Chick Grit?

It’s a good idea to introduce chick grit to baby chickens after a week of age, but that isn’t the only supplement that you should add to a chicken’s diet in order to keep it healthy. Here are some of the other supplements that you’ll want to add to your chickens’ diet: 

  • Oyster shell: Oyster shell is used as a supplement similar to grit that is provided to adult laying hens in order to give the hens access to calcium, get high-quality Oyster shells for a bargain on amazon here Crushed eggshells can also be fed back to the adult hens instead of oyster shell to provide supplemental calcium. It’s not generally a good idea to feed raw eggs back to your chickens, though, as this can encourage egg-eating behaviors.
  • Cider vinegar: It is good to add a little cider vinegar to the watering station in your chicken run, as this vinegar not only helps prevent algae from forming in waterers during warm summer months, it also helps bolster the immune system and encourages chickens to drink more since they enjoy the taste of it. Get With the mother Apple Cidre VIngear from a steal on Amazon you should drink it too! (Source: Fresh Eggs Daily)
  • Electrolytes: Electrolytes are also added to the chicken watering station and are a really good idea to help strengthen newborn chicks, which can sometimes be cold or dehydrated and hungry from shipping if you order them through the mail from a hatchery. You owe your baby chicks a 9 pack of Electroyles for around $10 on Amazon here. Electrolytes can also help keep adult chickens happy and healthy during hot months when they are prone to overheating.
  • Leafy greens: Adding chopped leafy greens or berries to your chicken feed as a treat is a good supplement along with grit because, along with providing high doses of important essential vitamins such as A and D, they also provide both additional hydration and fiber.
  • Garlic: Garlic is a great supplement for chickens and can either be chopped up as a fresh vegetable into your chicken’s feed (such as mixed with their greens), or it can be added to their feed in its powdered form. Garlic should not affect the flavor of eggs in laying hens, but it can be a great boost for a chicken’s immune system against respiratory illnesses and can also improve the productivity of laying hens who eat it.
  • Live protein: After baby chickens are a few weeks old and have had grit for a week or so along with their feed, you can try introducing live insects such as mealworms, earthworms, or crickets as a treat for your baby chickens get 1000+ Earthworms for a great price on Amazon. Not only do these treats provide a protein boost, but they are also fun enrichment activities for both the chickens and you! Nothing is funnier than watching a flock of baby chicks play keep-away with an earthworm! 

Chickens may be able to survive without some of these other supplements but providing them can give you a head start on making sure that your chickens are healthy. This can increase their egg production if they are laying hens or can make their meat taste better if they’re being raised as food. So

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What is Chicken Grit Made of? 

Chicken grit is made out of a few different materials, depending on the type of grit. Here are some of the types of grit you can find for your chickens: 

  • Granite grit
  • Cherry stone grit
  • Oyster shell grit
  • Cockle shell grit
  • Limestone grit
  • Eggshell grit

Eggshell grit is what is known as soluble grit, or grit that will eventually dissolve in the crop and pass. Soluble grit can also be made out of limestone or oyster shells if either of those is available. 

Hard rock grit, like granite, is known as insoluble grit. This grit is more difficult to make by hand but can be commonly found as a commercial product for poultry. (Source: Backyard Chicken Coops)

It’s a good idea to make sure that chickens have access to both soluble grit and insoluble grit, as the former is better for supplying calcium and other minerals, while the latter is more useful in breaking down hard or fibrous foods. 

Can You Make Your Own Grit for Chickens? 

It’s possible for chicken keepers to make their own grit if they don’t want to buy it at the store, and the easiest way to do this is to save eggshells and then blend them up in a blender before feeding them back to the chickens as part of their feed.  Get a blender

This is the easiest way to provide homemade grit, as breaking rocks down into fine gravel with a hammer is tedious work. Commercial grit is very inexpensive, and in most cases, it’s just as easy to buy it as it is to make it yourself. 

Where to Get Grit for Chickens

There are many different places where you can buy grit. Here are a few locations where you’re likely to find some for sale: 

  • Tractor Supply stores or farm supply stores: Stores like Tractor Supply and Rural King always have a large variety of chicken care supplies available, and this includes grit in both chick and adult chicken sizes.
  • Farmer’s co-ops and extensions: Farmer’s co-ops often have farm supplies such as poultry feed and supplements available, and this can be an expensive option for acquiring chick feed and grit.
  • Online markets: Online markets are increasingly a useful place to get farm supplies and animal feed, and a major advantage of online markets such as Amazon or Chewy is that you can set purchases of your chicken feed and grit for regular delivery intervals, so you never run out at an inconvenient time and have to go to the store. 

Basically, anywhere you normally get your chicken feed, you can also get commercial grade chicken
grit too.
But crushed eggshells are already a useful byproduct that you get from your own hens, so you may as well recycle them back to your chickens to supply them with the calcium they need to make more eggs. 

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Chick Grit is an Essential Part of Baby Chicken Nutrition

If you’ve never owned chickens before, picking up your first batch of day-old chicks or baby chickens can be both an exciting and nerve-wracking experience. But making sure that your baby chickens have all the nutrition they need—including grit—can give you the great start you need for your new flock.

Dane McManis

Dane started learning about farming while volunteering on a farm. Now he and his wife raise chickens, pigs, and ducks on their small farm with their two little girls.

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