Approved by Dr. Luqman Javed

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 end of the esophagus 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 passes through the proventriculus (their equivalent of a glandular stomach) and then it enters 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 and send it either back to the proventriculus or further down the digestive tract (towards the intestines).

Grit Is Super Important

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

You generally do not 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.

Though grit, pebbles, and stones offer your chicken no nutritional value, they are important, and this is why they tend to eat them alongside their usual food. It is somewhat assumed that the grit, stones, and pebbles found in the gizzard are similar to teeth because they help grind up the food a chicken has consumed into smaller pieces. Interestingly, the gizzard of some insects and molluscs has chitinous plates or teeth!

The gizzard itself is protected from any grit your bird eats because the organ has a multi-layered membrane called the gastric cuticle, a carbohydrate-protein complex. The gastric cuticle is used to protect the gizzard from any grit, pebbles, or stones within it.

chickens eating grit
Image Credit: AngelaQuinn, Pixabay

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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!

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Featured Image Credit: Pixabay