What comes to mind when you think of a chicken’s diet? Probably worms, crickets, grass, seeds, grain, or even pelletized chicken feed. But do you think of grit? Heck, what is grit anyway? Grit is simply crushed granite. That’s right, rocks. Chickens eat a lot of rocks! At Grateful Pastures, our chickens eat approximately 100 lbs of rocks every week.
Why would chickens eat rocks? Chickens don’t have teeth. They “chew” their food after they swallow it in a specialized organ called a gizzard. In order for the gizzard to work properly, it must be full of rocks. The chicken holds rocks in its gizzard and then grinds food against the rocks to “chew” it up. The food is then digested and the rocks stay in the gizzard for grinding up more food. Eventually the rocks wear down from all of the grinding and must be replaced, so the chicken consumes more rocks.
It’s an ingenious system really. They eat very tough foods, so if they had teeth, their teeth would wear down quickly and need to regrow. Instead, they utilize an external resource (rocks) that they don’t have to produce themselves. The only downside to this system is that rocks must be readily available in their environment.
As caretakers of chickens, it is our responsibility to make sure this is the case. Without adequate grit, chickens are susceptible to intestinal blockages and nutrient deficiency. So if you have a backyard flock, let them eat rocks! If you have any questions about how to procure appropriately sized grit for your flock, shoot me an email and I’ll be happy to help.