Its essential for them to help maintain a healthy digestive system.
But it does a little more than that.
Have you ever picked up an egg only to discover that the shell is quite weak and easily broken?
Do your hens suffer from being eggbound?
Are your hens underweight and struggle to get through their veggie treats?
They NEED shellgrit!
Types of Shellgrit
There are two types of shellgrit grades - coarse and fine.
Both grades have their benefits depending on how you choose to use it.
Shellgrit should always be bought from a fodder or pet store rather than sourcing it directly from the beach. This is because the shop bought shellgrit is thoroughly washed. The salts can damage your poultry's health (overloading the kidneys and liver) which can lead to an early death. The second reason is that we do not want to take from the environment as this is akin to taking plants from a national park.
Which Grade of Shellgrit?
The coarse grade of shellgrit has recognisable pieces of shell or whole shells in its mix.
This is well draining so can be ideal for even using as a coop or run flooring for very wet conditions, and can also be used in the nesting boxes as an alternative nesting material. In the nesting boxes, the hens are more likely to peck at the grit while laying an egg. Convenient time.
Be aware that when it comes to cleaning out the shed, coarse shellgrit is difficult to dispose of and cannot be composted.
The fine grade shellgrit is more dust-like with some small shells visible in the mix.
This is ideal for a bowl for the hens to peck at, at their leisure. Locate it next to their food source. Or mix into their food in the feeders. This grade can also be used in the nesting boxes but may be a little harder to clean out due to its fineness.
There is no disposal problem with this form of shellgrit as the hens are much more likely to eat it. If cleaning out from the nesting boxes, this type of grit composts well and adds valuable calcium to your compost pile.
Using shellgrit in the nesting boxes also reduces the risk of lice and mite infestations as they like warmer and hollow locations like straw to hide and breed in.
What does Shellgrit do?
Shellgrit is a grit, which is what poultry use to grind up food in their gizzard.
Poultry can source out grit in other ways too, such as swallowing small stones and pebbles if shellgrit is not available.
If you dispatch your own birds, you may find their gizzard has a few stones hidden away in there.
Some poultry need different sized pieces of grit to suit them.
Shellgrit also give a much needed calcium boost which helps the egg shells to form strong and evenly. When the shells become too thin or disrupted from being formed normally due to a lack of calcium, the hen is likely to become eggbound. If the hen cannot be freed of her egg, it can result in her premature death.
Soaking the hen in a lukewarm bath with Epsom Salts with a gentle massage may assist her in passing the trapped egg. If this proves unsuccessful within the hour after a bath, please seek urgent veterinary help.
How much shellgrit and how often?
And just in a little side bowl or container next to their food source.
Your hens should have access to shellgrit throughout the day. Their instincts will usually be their guide. If you find that they never touch their shellgrit, mix into their grain food source in their feeders whenever you top up.
Sometimes poultry suffer from malabsorption with taking up calcium.
This can be remedied with Apple Cider Vinegar in their drinking water.
The ratio is 1 Tablespoon of ACV to 4 Litres of Water.
Change this water every day or two.
This can be done just for a few days or as part of your daily routine throughout the year.
Apple Cider Vinegar has so many health benefits that it is worth the time. It also helps to strengthen their immune system.
The vinegar helps the body to dissolve and then absorb that calcium, so nothing goes to waste.
The bag of 'GRIT' found in most suburban pet stores is usually a mix of soluble grit, insoluble grit or a mixture of both.
Shellgrit is soluble grit. In store bought bags, it may also be mixed with limestone. This is absorbable calcium.
Crushed granite is an insoluble form of grit. This can aid the grinding of their food but will pass through their system without any other benefit.
Some mixes may contain other additives for additional health benefits such as charcoal.
Shellgrit is not the only source of calcium that you can add to your poultry's diet.
- Leafy greens such as spinach, silverbeet, broccoli, cabbage and kale also contain calcium.
- Black Strap Molasses contains not only calcium but is also rich in iron. Mix into their grain for a tasty treat once a week when required.
- Plain Greek Yoghurt is also an excellent source, but should be given in moderation (2-3 times per week) as poultry can be slightly lactose intolerant if fed too much or too often. Yoghurt will assist in firming up those egg shells.
Yoghurt is by far one of their favourite types of calcium (and protein) but should never replace the need for shellgrit as they still need the grit.
Getting down to the nitty-gritty. Sorry, couldn't help myself.