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Do Chickens Have Teeth? How Do They Eat?

hen up close

When you’re thinking of keeping backyard chickens and don’t have any experience, you probably have lots of questions. If you’re wondering if chickens have teeth they use to eat, the answer is no. Chickens do not have teeth, nor do they need them to eat their favorite seeds, grains, insects, and grasses.

You may be surprised to learn that baby chicks grow a single horn-like projection called an egg tooth to help them break out of the hatched shell. However, this sharp projection falls off the upper beak within a few days of hatching. So technically, it’s a non-tooth for all intents and purposes.

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How Chickens Eat Without Teeth

When a chicken is foraging, it uses its beak to repeatedly peck at large pieces of food while banging it on the ground to break it up into small edible pieces. When the food is swallowed, it travels to a pouch located at the base of the neck called the crop. As more food enters the crop, the fuller and rounder it becomes.

The food stored in the crop eventually makes its way through the digestive tract where it ends up in the gizzard. This is where the real magic happens. All the grit (small pebbles and stones) the chicken has picked up while foraging has been swallowed along with the food and stored in the gizzard where it’s used to grind the food.

The gizzard is a muscle that contracts and churns, grinding the food against the pebbles unit it’s small enough to bypass through the small intestine where the nutrients are absorbed by the chicken’s body.

chicken eating grains
Image Credit: AndreasGoellner, Pixabay

Grit Is Super Important

Grit is essential to helping a chicken eat and process food and it must be provided to backyard chickens if they cannot find their own. Thankfully, you can buy manmade grit at farm supply stores and online that consists of crushed rock like granite.

You never have to worry about giving chickens too much grit because instinct tells them when they need it. In other words, chickens only gobble up grit when they need it so there’s no concern that they’ll overdo it if you place a big bowl in their enclosure or spread it out on the ground.

While grit has no nutritional value, it’s a necessary part of a chicken’s diet because it’s used to process food. Without the grit, the food inside a chicken’s crop will rot and cause something called sour crop. This is a fungal infection that can cause many symptoms including:

  • A full and squishy crop
  • A foul odor
  • Lethargy
  • Appetite loss
  • Diarrhea
  • Weight loss

Sour crop can be treated by frequently massaging the crop several times a day to encourage movement. At the same time, provide a water-only diet for a maximum of 48 hours.

In most cases, sour crop clears up quickly, plus it’s not contagious so you don’t have to worry about your whole flock getting it. The best course of action is to always make sure your chickens have 24/7 access to grit so sour crop can’t develop. And of course, keep an eye on your chickens to watch for any symptoms that may indicate they’re sick.

chickens eating grit
Image Credit: AngelaQuinn, Pixabay

Related Read: Do Chickens Have Tongues? Can They Taste Food?

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The next time you watch chickens walking around eating as they go, you’ll know that they can eat perfectly well without any teeth. Considering that we count on our teeth several times a day to process the foods we eat, it’s remarkable that chickens can thrive without any teeth at all, and they’ve been doing it this way for millions of years!

Featured Image Credit: Pixabay

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