Human beings and other mammals are fortunate to have teeth; we can break down food very quickly and grind it up to pre-digest it. You may have noticed how chickens eat food and the types of food that typically make up their diet. Often it is hard. Naturally, it leads to the question as whether chickens follow a similar process and whether they have teeth or not. Owning a number of chickens myself, I was once curious and decided to conduct a little research.
So, do chickens have teeth? Chickens do not have teeth. Instead, they have a beak in which they use to consume their food. From there, an organ known as the Gizzard helps to grind up or chew food along with the assistance of grit.
Those of us, with teeth, would not manage to eat the hard and dry food that these poultry birds consume. Hard food needs mastication (chewing) for palatability (pleasure from consuming food). This is not the case for chickens.
Let us now discuss, in greater detail, what chickens have and use instead of teeth. We’ll also be looking at the digestive process and some of the considerations you should take into account in the following sections.
What Do Chickens Have Instead Of Teeth?
It’s a wonder for many how chickens manage to break down food with their toothless beaks. The answer is simple, grit.
Grit helps the digestive system of chickens to run smoothly as it grinds up foods like grain, making it easier to digest. The gizzard is an organ that grinds food before reaching the small intestine – this is where the absorption of nutrients occurs. Food that is not broken down in the gizzard does not provide the chicken with nutrients. Because of this fact, you must ensure that your chickens receives grit in their diet.
Chickens need grit in their diet throughout their lifetime. You must make sure that your birds have access to grit from the time they are chicks. This is essential for the healthy growth of their gizzard.
Grit remains in the gizzard until pieces are so finely ground that they can easily pass through the digestive tract. Grit that is too small for your birds will not support the breakdown of food. So, make sure that the grit matches your bird’s age.
For adult hens, the Manna Pro Poultry Grit (available for an excellent price on Amazon) is a well-respected and recommended brand with chicken owners.
How Do Chickens Eat Without Teeth?
For mammals, eating involves more body parts than just the mouth, such as the jaw and teeth. But, this also includes the eyes and the hands.
Mammals rely on their eyes to see their food, hands to lift food to their mouths. The jaw and teeth mechanically break down food before swallowing and before digestion take place. It is a straightforward yet, effective process.
Chickens do not have hands to bring food to their mouths, and they assuredly do not have teeth or jaws. Chickens have a light beak that must serve as hands and a jaw. Chickens will use their feet to trap food and peck at it.
The beak has many applications in the eating process that include killing tiny prey, foraging for food, controlling objects, probing, tearing food, plucking food from the ground, and feeding their chicks. The beak will continue to grow throughout the chicken’s lifetime; you must trim it to prevent damage, a vet can trim your hen’s beak quite easily.
The structure of a chicken’s beak comprises of two cartilaginous projections, these are the upper mandible and lower mandible. The beak is covered in a thin layer of keratinized epidermis called rhamphotheca. Two holes point to the respiratory system. The mandibles serve as prongs and help the hen to pick up food as she forages for bugs in the grass.
You may notice how chickens always bob their heads as they move; this is so that they can obtain a keener sense of their whereabouts. Also, since chickens eat insects (like ants) and small bugs (like worms), it is crucial that they can pick up movement as they walk. They can focus in on their next meal while their beaks act as tongs to grasp food. They tilt their heads back to swallow any tasty morsel that they find.
Chickens have an omnivorous diet, which means that they eat almost anything. Chickens that enjoy the pure pleasure of free-ranging and foraging will often swallow loose stones or pebbles.
It is interesting to watch them pick up pieces of food in their beaks and see how they are continually moving and eating all at once. They move very quickly from one morsel to another.
How Do Chickens Chew Their Food?
How can chickens possibly feast on hard food? Surely it needs moistening before the digestive tract obtains nutrients and surely teeth are required to chew?
Chickens do not have teeth (or need them for that matter). Chickens, like all poultry, have an organ known as a gizzard. The gizzard is positioned between the stomach and intestine of the chicken.
The gizzard is a type of stomach composed of muscular, dense walls and these walls contract, which helps to grind up or chew food. Grit and small pebbles support the gizzard in grinding food particles in between the grit.
Chickens store the food that they swallow in their crop before it passes to the proventriculus – The proventriculus is often called the true stomach. The true stomach performs secretory activity. The food gets given into the gizzard, where it gets ground up before moving back to the proventriculus.
The gizzard does all the chewing of food for birds with the aid of grit or small stones.
Let’s examine the digestive process of food in chickens:
- When chickens eat food, it goes down the throat into the crop
- Food can remain in the crop for 12 hours before moving to the stomach.
- Digestive enzymes work in the stomach before the food moves to the gizzard.
- The gizzard contracts and churns; this action smashes food together, breaking it up into smaller pieces.
- The smaller pieces of food move to the small intestine; this is where nutrients are absorbed.
- The food moves to the ceca, bacteria is added to break the food down even more.
- The food passes to the large intestine before it moves past through the cloaca. There, food is eliminated through the vent.
The system a hen uses to eat her food is quite strategic. Without hands, teeth, and a jaw, these birds have developed their own instinctual way of eating their food and they know how to make do with what they have.
So back to our original question – do chickens have teeth? They don’t, nor are teeth required for the eating methods they use to gain and consume food.
The digestive process of a chicken is complicated and involves many components and organs in which us humans and other mammals do not posses.
Chickens are extraordinary in every way, from how they survive harsh winters to how they eat.
As a chicken owner, it is essential that you provide the likes of grit in their diet. This is not something you should consider offering; it is in many ways essential.
From there, letting them regularly free roam and protecting them from predators along with providing high-quality feed (like the all-natural Small Pet Select), appropriate scraps/leftovers like fruit and wholesome treats (like these meal-worms on Amazon), you’ll be able to raise healthy and happy chickens.
I am a practiced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site I created to share everything I’ve learned about pet ownership over the years and my extensive research along the way.