The animal kingdom is a great source of amusement to us. The instincts and behaviors of different creatures fascinate us and sometimes shock us, and the chicken is an excellent example of a bird that goes against accepted human norms. Have you ever observed a flock of chickens during mealtime eating their own poop? Yes, although it goes beyond what humans consider normal behavior, chickens do indeed devour their feces.

Chickens are not unique for engaging in coprophagia. Like other fecal eaters, their behavior is part of their genetic makeup, and they have been eating their droppings for thousands of years. If the birds eat a healthy diet consisting of plant material, grain, and nutrients, their feces are beneficial to their digestive system.

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Why Do Chickens Eat Poop?

Chickens peck at their droppings to find grains, seeds, and other nutrients. They consider it as part of their diet, and they’ll double-check their feces for any sides of undigested material. Before chickens lived on farms, they competed with other birds and animals for food. Food was a precious commodity in the wild, and chickens evolved to consume droppings to conserve food and energy.

Some farmers and pet owners have also witnessed their chickens eating other animals’ feces. Although a random snack from a cat or dog pile may not harm the chicken, other animals have different digestive systems that contain bacteria that could be harmful or fatal.

Black Marans chicken in the grass
Image Credit: cynoclub, Shutterstock

Can They Get Sick From Ingesting Fecal Matter?

Although it’s a normal part of their behavior, chickens can get sick from eating their droppings or other animals’ feces. It’s vital for farmers and pet owners to periodically examine their chickens’ droppings to ensure they are safe for consumption. Normal chicken poop is black and yellow with flecks of white, but feces that is runny and lustrously colored is a sign that the chicken is ill. Unhealthy droppings can also contain worms, and any unsafe piles should be removed from the area immediately.

Unfortunately, since chickens eat their poop, one sick chicken can infect the whole flock and possibly wipe them out. Harmful bacteria such as salmonella, Campylobacter, E. Coli, and avian viruses can kill the birds and infect humans consuming undercooked meat.

It’s hard to believe that chickens consider their poop a delicacy, but it may have something to do with their lack of taste buds. Humans have several thousand taste buds, but chickens only have a few hundred receptors for distinguishing different food. Their poop likely tastes no different than their feed or chicken treats.

Is Fecal Matter Present in Processed Chicken?

Each country has different regulations for processing chicken, and the amount of fecal matter in processed chicken can vary depending on your location.

In the United States, commercial chicken farming is a massive industry that treats chickens more like an assembly line product than animals. Although the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) send inspectors to farms to maintain sanitary conditions, the inspectors are more concerned about the visible signs of fecal matter than the microscopic particles. They test a small sample of meat for contaminants, but food safety activists insist they should test more samples and hire more inspectors.

In 2011, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) tested chicken products in grocery stores in ten American cities and discovered that 48% contained fecal matter. Although that shocking statistic may drive some people to adopt a vegetarian diet, the meat is technically safe to consume if it’s cooked to a temperature of at least 165°F. However, some critics of the USDA believe they should modify their food safety system and change their product labels to include the phrase “may contain fecal matter.”

Plymouth rock chicken
Image Credit: Micaries, Shutterstock

Which Animals Frequently Consume Poop?

Like chickens, other animals consider poop eating a way of life. Most animals that engage in the practice are herbivores and omnivores. However, dogs primarily consume a carnivorous diet, and researchers are unsure why some dogs decide to eat poop. Some suggest that it’s a sign that the animal is malnourished and is searching for additional nutrition. If you have a dog that frequently eats feces, it’s best to take it to a veterinarian for a checkup to ensure the animal is healthy.

  • Orangutans
  • Gorillas
  • Rhesus monkeys
  • Hippopotamus calves
  • Baby elephants
  • Mountain beavers
  • Rats
  • Mice
  • Guinea pigs
  • Naked mole rats
  • Hamsters
  • Dogs
  • Hares
  • Pikas
  • Rabbits

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Final Thoughts

To humans, a chicken’s eating habits and choice of delicacies seem unsafe and disgusting, but fecal meals are an ordinary part of the animal’s diet. If you care for chickens, stool inspection is a crucial part of maintaining the flock’s health. Checking for worms and discoloration in the stool allows you to remove the infected material from the area to prevent a bacterial outbreak. If your chickens are healthy and receive the proper diet, they can continue to munch on their gourmet droppings.

Featured Image Credit: Cornelius Krishna Tedjo, Shutterstock