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Have you ever sat and watched your chickens walking through the grass eating as they go and wondered how do chickens eat without teeth?
When chickens eat, they use their beaks to break up their food by pecking it or beating it against the ground to break off smaller pieces. The food is then swallowed whole, without chewing and is stored in the crop before moving to the gizzard.
Chickens are omnivores this means they eat meat like worms, insects, frogs, and even snakes. But they also eat grass, leaves, herbs, and vegetables. All without having teeth to chew their food.
Although to say that chickens don’t have teeth wouldn’t be fully accurate.
When chickens start hatching out of their eggs the chicks have a tiny egg tooth on the tip of their beak. This helps them to chip away at the shell so they can hatch out. But not long after hatching the egg tooth falls off.
Their only tooth isn’t used to eat but only for hatching from the egg.
How Do Chickens Eat Without Teeth?
When you feed your chickens you know just how fast they come running when the sound of the grain hits the feeder. It’s just the same when you toss greens into the run for them to enjoy.
It’s amazing that the birds can eat so fast and not choke or need to chew their food first.
Chickens have a natural system for eating a lot of food quickly and then being able to digest it overnight while they sleep.
Small bits of food such as tiny bugs are swallowed whole by the hen. But if they are eating something too large to swallow they will peck, shake, or smash it against the ground until smaller parts break off.
What Is A Chickens Crop?
A chickens crop is the small sack that at the base of the esophagus in the chicken throat. You can feel the crop on the right side of the center of your chickens breast.
In the morning before the hen has eaten the crop will feel soft and squishy but as they eat throughout the day it fills up and starts to bulge out. The first time you see this you might think your chicken has a tumor.
But if it’s shrinking down overnight when the bird isn’t eating then it’s normal crop behavior. Of course, if you ever have any health worries about your flock always consult with your vet.
The purpose of the crop is to store food items that have been swallowed. The food mixes with water and saliva that contains digestive enzymes in the crop. This helps to start the breakdown process of the food.
When chickens eat food can be stored for up to 12 hours in their crop and slowly starts to move into the gizzard (stomach).
What Is A Gizzard?
A chicken gizzard is a part of the digestive system that processes food for the chicken. Along with the proventriculus, it forms the chickens stomach.
The proventriculus Is a small holding area that contains food moving from the crop to the gizzard.
The gizzard contains small stones or grit, which help break down food as it moves through the system. It uses muscle contractions to grind the food against the grit to break it down into easily digested pieces before it moves into the intestines.
This is why chickens don’t need teeth the process is done in the gizzard instead of being chewed in the mouth before swallowing.
Why Do Chickens Need Grit?
Chickens love and need grit, it aids in digestive health and calcium and mineral absorption. Many people think that if you are free-ranging your chickens you don’t need to provide grit.
Unfortunately, this can cause problems because if your chickens don’t get enough grit they can’t digest their food properly. Always make sure you have grit available to your chickens to encourage good health.
You can buy grit from your feed store and it comes in two types. Ground oyster shell is often called grit and while it’s helpful for providing calcium so your hens lay eggs with strong shells it’s not the type of grit your birds need for digestion.
Instead, look for flint grit that is made from ground granite this insoluble grit will stay in the birds gizzard to help with grinding up food.
Then you can sprinkle some in the chicken pen and in the dust bath area but it’s always a good idea to also have a tray filled with grit in the chicken coop or yard at all times. This makes it easy for you to see when it needs to be refilled.
Chickens know when they need to eat grit and will feed on pebbles and other tiny stones as needed.
It’s true that chickens don’t have any teeth to chew their food, but they do have a crop and a gizzard that work together to break down their food into little pieces before it moves to their intestines. These work together to allow chickens to eat throughout the day filling their crops while giving their stomach time to slowly process the food later.
Kim Mills is a homeschooling mom of 6 and lives on an urban homestead in Ontario, Canada. Blogging at Homestead Acres she enjoys sharing tips to help you save money, grow and preserve your own food.