chicken management
water, shell grit & gravel
photo of automatic waterer
The automatic waterer that I use to supply water to my chickens.  If you wouldn't drink the water then your chickens should not have to drink it.
photo of dirty water in open bowl
Supplying water to chickens in an open bowl invites contamination with faeces and dirt.

Photo of medium shell grit
Medium shell grit.

It is important that your chickens have easy access to plenty of clean water.  If your are not prepared to drink the water than your chickens should not be forced  to drink it.

As well as coming from a clean source water should be supplied in a way that minimises dust settling on top of the water and excludes any possibility of chicken or wild bird faeces contaminating it.  For this reason water should be supplied either from a semi enclosed waterer or via water nipples.

Chickens are messy birds, so if their water is in a large open container they will inevitably stand in it, defecate in it or fling dirt into it as they scratch nearby, usually a combination of all three.

Ideally the water should be supplied from more than one source, especially if the water is coming from an automated system that is not checked on a daily basis.  By having two water sources you minimise the risk of contamination or blockage depriving your chickens of access to water.

shell grit
Hens need plenty of calcium to make the shells of the eggs they lay, thin eggshells that easily break are a sign that your hens are not getting enough calcium in their diet.

Layers pellets have calcium embedded in it in the form of fine shell grit and some mixed grain formulas have shell grit added.  However this shell grit can only meet the full calcium requirements if the layers pellets or mixed grain with added shell grit is all you are feeding them.  Chickens will and should be fed other food such as good scraps and grains that will not contain shell grit, so there will always be a need to provide extra calcium in the form of pure shell grit in order to make up for this shortfall.

Shell grit (at least in Australia) is sold in three grade sizes: fine, medium and coarse.  The ideal size for chickens is medium.  Shell grit is fairly cheap and the chickens don't actually need much of it, so the overall cost of supplying shell grit to your chickens is minimal.

While shell grit can simply be spread on the ground in the chicken run this can be wasteful as chickens will inevitably bury some of it as they scratch the ground.

The best way to supply shell grit to chickens is in a feed hopper, the only difference being that you won't have to suspend the hopper above the ground as shell grit will not attract rodents.

eggshell grit
Photo of ground eggshells
Ground eggshells.  I make this by first squashing my saved eggshells then running them through a vitamiser.  However I rarely feed it to my chickens, preferring to spread it around young seedlings as a deterrence to snails and slugs.

Photo of Ercildoune sand.
Ercildoune sand.  It is in fact a fine gravel which comes from a quarry in the Ballarat area.  As well as to provide grit for my chickens I use it to make potting mix and  on the vegetable beds.
Another way you can supply calcium to your hens is by grounding up their eggshells and feeding it back to them.

I make it by first squashing my saved eggshells then running them through a vitamiser.  However I rarely feed it to my chickens, preferring to spread it around young seedlings as a deterrence to snails and slugs.

As chickens have no teeth they are unable to chew the hard grains that they swallow.  Instead they break up these grains in their gizzard.  The gizzard is a specialised stomach that is constructed of thick muscular walls used to grind up food.  It is aided by particles of stone or grit.  These particles will themselves be ground into nothing or pass through in the faeces, so chickens regularly eat such particles to replenish these losses.

Shell grit will supply much of the grit that chickens need however other forms of grit should also be made available to them. An ideal alternative is gravel.

If your chicken run is large or on stony ground then supplying extra gravel won't be necessary,  however if your run is small then it is a good idea to provide them with gravel as well as shell grit.

I use Ercildoune sand which is readily available in the Ballarat area.  But any number of sources of gravel should be available in your local area.  You won't need much for a standard backyard flock, half a bucket a year should be plenty.