The Nitty Gritty on Hen Digestion

Aug 12, 2019


It is important to understand your hen’s digestive system when making proper nutrition choices. Poultry rely on the gizzard to break feeds down for digestion.

When a chicken consumes feed, the feed enters the mouth and mixes with saliva.  As it is swallowed, it travels down the esophagus to the crop.  The crop serves as a storage compartment.

From the crop, the feed moves into the proventriculus.  Digestive enzymes and acid are secreted and begin to digest the feed.  Unfortunately, the acidic environment of the proventriculus is not enough to fully digest large particles of feed like grains, or fibrous materials like grass. 

As a result, the undigested material moves into the gizzard.  The walls of the gizzard are very touch and muscular.  These muscles, with the help of small rocks, or grit, mix and grind the undigested feed into smaller particles that can be digested.  Free-range birds will often pick up small stones from the ground, however, poultry who don’t have a regular way to obtain grit should be offered it to aid in the digestion process. 

Grit comes in small, medium, and large sizes for starting, growing, and finishing poultry, respectively.  Young chicks should be started on grit by sprinkling it on their feed twice a week.  Growing chickens and hens should be provided grit free-choice in a feed pan or trough.  While it is no necessary to supplement grit to birds consuming a mash, crumble, or pelleted feed, it does no harm. 

As compared to grit, limestone is offered to poultry as a source of calcium.  While it can provide some grinding action, it dissolves and is absorbed before the undigested feed is completely ground.  Laying hens have increased calcium requirements due to egg production. Oyster shells are also a good source of supplemental calcium and can be offered free-choice to laying hens. 

The Co-op offers all three supplements: grit, limestone, and oyster shells, in addition to a full line of complete poultry feeds and scratch grains.  For help assessing your bird’s diet, visit with the feed representative at your local Co-op.

Read More News

Mar 04, 2024
We all deal with some sort of change almost every day of our lives — from changes in our surroundings such as the weather, to bigger changes that involve losing a loved one or a good friend that moves away. This may sound cliché, but change is most certainly inevitable. This is especially true in the field of agriculture. 
 
Feb 05, 2024
A cold, January rain begins pattering the hood of his pickup as Lobelville cattleman Tim Byrd pulls up to the metal gate of his pasture. Across the fence, members of his commercial cow/calf herd look on expectantly, gathering near the fence.
 
Jan 08, 2024
With winter conditions upon us, meeting our animals’ nutrient requirements is key to the economic success of our beef herds. For spring-calving cows, winter feeding coincides with the last third of gestation and early lactation. During this cycle, these cows require a higher level of nutrition than do dry cows in early gestation.
Everything starts with forage, both quantity and quality. It’s important to test and evaluate your forage to understand the amount of nutrients needed to meet the animal’s requirement. A basic forage analysis will offer information about the protein, fiber, and energy levels present, allowing producers to rank hay from various fields and cuttings according to their relative feeding value. Highest quality hays can then be reserved for lactating cows, heifers, and thin cows.