The bravest person out there in Cyberspace, who had the courage to respond to the desperate plea in my last post and visit my Facebook Page, raised a question that reminded me of something we chicken enthusiasts should be sure to share with beginners. She asked about grit, and that question brought to mind the importance of a chicken's digestive system.
A chicken can have a lot of things wrong with it and survive just fine, but if something adversly affects the digestion of food it's often a pretty serious problem. So, for those who aren't aware . . . what is 'grit'? And why do chickens need it?
Grit is crushed limestone or granite and is sold in your local feed store. Chickens don't have any teeth, so the grit, which gets stored in the gizzard (a muscular pouch) is used to help grind up the food eaten. Grit is jagged in shape, rather than round and smooth like the small pebbles chickens often find in a pasture. Some chicken feed, like mash, is easy to digest and if it's all your chicken eats, grit won't be all that necessary. Some experts, though, believe that making grit available to all chickens to eat at will, is the best policy. Each chicken will consume only about one ounce a month.
When the chicken ingests food it's taken into the "gullet", then into the "crop" where it's softened. It gets pre-digested in the stomach before passing into the gizzard. Though the system is quite simple, problems can occur. Sometimes a chicken will become "crop bound", a situation where something (often a non-food item) is preventing the food from passing into the gizzard.
Poor diet, diseases, or wet moldy feed can upset a chicken's digestive system, too. And, though it's perfectly fine to feed leftovers from your table to your chickens, there are some foods that are harmful to them, such as potato peels and sprouts.
There are many quality books available about raising and feeding chickens, and every household should have a couple on hand for reference before beginning the adventure. It's a quick and convenient way to get urgent concerns addressed when time is of the essence.