Do Chickens Eat Poop?


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It’s fairly common to see a chicken or two peck on poop. Disgusting, right? Well, what is disgusting to you may just be pleasant to chickens. Why do chickens eat poop? Will chickens get sick if they eat poop? Should you stop them from eating poop? It is time discuss these questions.

Chicken eating

Do chickens eat poop?

Chickens will occasionally eat poop. This is perfectly normal behavior for them and can actually be beneficial. Chickens peck on poop for edible bits like undigested grains, parasitic worms, insects, etc.

While this may seem like a disgusting practice, it might benefit chickens (especially chicks). Of course, if you have sick chickens or animals on your farm, you should prevent your healthy chickens from eating the poop of the sick animals.

How is poop beneficial to chicks? Why should you stop your chickens from eating poop? How can you stop them? Continue on as we go further into the world of poop.

Chickens Eating Poop: The Good, Bad, and Ugly

Before we continue, you should know that the practice of eating poop is known as coprophagia. While eating poop may harm your chickens in some instances, it can also help your chickens in some ways. What is ugly about eating poop?

The only ugly thing about coprophagia is that it is disgusting to you. If poop is disgusting to chickens, they will not eat it in the first place.

Let us discuss the good (i.e. pros) and the bad (i.e. cons) of chickens eating poop.

The Pros of Chickens Eating Poop

Here, we will list some reasons why chickens eat poop and why it may be beneficial to them.

1. Eating Poop Can Boost the Digestive System of Chicks

Even though chickens are not ruminants (i.e. they do not have a rumen like cows and goats), they possess an organ called a crop. The crop temporarily stores food particles until they are ready to be digested.

The crop of chickens, just like the rumen of ruminant animals, has a population of microorganisms.

These microorganisms (though not as effectively as those in the rumen of ruminant animals) can assist in the digestion of some food particles.

When chicks newly hatch from their eggs, their crop is empty and has few (or no) microbes in it. If chicks peck on substances in the poop of older chickens, they will introduce some microorganisms into their crop. In simple terms, the poop of older chickens can serve as a probiotic for chicks.

2. Chickens Can Find Extra Food in Poop

This is true especially if your chickens peck on the poop of other animals on your farm. Depending on the type of animal (i.e. herbivore, carnivore, or omnivore), chickens can find various particles of food that they love.

Examples of food particles that chickens can find in the poop of animals are:

  • Insect eggs
  • Insect larvae
  • Parasitic worms
  • Undigested grains
  • Other undigested food particles that chickens love

Remember that poop is stinky. While you hate the smell of poop, insects such as beetles and flies are attracted to it. When insects perch on poop, they lay eggs on it. Chickens can eat the insects, their eggs, and larvae.

If you have ever seen a swollen neck (in the position of the crop) on a chicken or a bloated stomach of ruminants, It may be a sign that the animal is eating too much.

If an animal eats too much, it may not be able to digest everything. When the animal excretes (poops), chickens will be able to find undigested food particles such as grain in the poop. Yummy, right?

3. Chickens Peck Nematodes, Other Parasitic Worms, and Their Eggs off Poop

If you have horses, you will surely see a lot of intestinal nematodes (parasitic worms) in their poop. These worms can harm horses, but they are a great source of protein for chickens.

Some nematodes spread their eggs when their host (i.e. the animal that they are parasites of) poops. If chickens peck on the poop of such animals, they will find the eggs of the parasitic worms or even the worms themselves.

Note: The scope of parasitism, in this case, is limited to macroparasites like flatworms and nematodes. If your farm animals are infected with harmful bacteria, fungi, or viruses, you should not allow your chickens to eat their poop.

4. Poop is not as Harmful as You Think

Let us examine poop. What really is poop? Poop is the waste product of digestion. The content of poop includes:

  • Undigested particles
  • Indigestible particles
  • Microorganisms in the gut
  • Parasites and their eggs, etc.

Unless your animals are sick, there will be no harmful microorganisms in their poop.

Note: When poop is exposed for long, foreign microbes such as decomposers and others can find their way into the poop (through their spores). You should not allow your chickens to peck on decomposing poop.

Are you convinced enough? Will you allow your chickens to eat poop? Before making your decision, let’s discuss some cons of coprophagia in chickens.

The Cons of Chickens Eating Poop

Group of chickens eating

Everything with advantages also has disadvantages. What are the cons of coprophagia in chickens?

1. Eating Poop Can Spread Poop-Transmitted Bacteria and Viruses

Some chicken diseases are transmitted by poop. If a sick chicken poops around the coop and other chickens peck on the poop, they could get infected. Examples of disease-causing organisms which can be transmitted by poop are:

  • Coccidia
  • Salmonella
  • Campylobacter
  • Avian influenza

Note: You should isolate every sick chicken in your farm because chicken diseases can also be transmitted by other agents besides poop.

2. It is Not Advisable to Feed Poop to Chickens

You can never be too careful when dealing with the health of your chickens. To be safe, you should not purposefully feed your chickens poop.

3. Chickens Learn Quickly

One thing about chickens is that they easily pick up behaviors from other chickens. Chicks learn to scratch from their mother and chickens learn from other chickens. If your chickens see another chicken pecking on poop, they will start pecking on poop.

To prevent all your chickens from pecking on poop, you should stop a chicken from eating poop, or you should isolate any chicken with that behavior.

Preventing Your Chicken from Eating Poop

There might come a time when you have to prevent your chickens from eating poop. When should you stop them? How can you stop them?

When Should You Prevent Your Chickens From Eating Poop?

Here are some instances when you should prevent your chickens from eating poop.

  • If a farm animal is sick
  • If the poop has started to decompose
  • When there are sick chickens in the coop
  • If you do not want your chickens to eat poop

How to Prevent Coprophagia in Chickens

Here are some ways that you can prevent your chickens from eating poop:

  • Scrape off and dispose of poop regularly
  • Give your chickens treats and supplements to keep their hunger satisfied
  • Isolate any chicken that you see eating poop

What Is In Poop?

Since we’re on the topic of poop, let’s find out what is so attractive about the poop of some types of animals.

What is in the Poop of Herbivores?

Herbivorous animals are animals that eat just plant leaves, bark, flowers, and products of plants such as fruits, seeds, and tubers. Below are examples of food particles that chickens can find in the poop of herbivorous animals.

  • Grass cuttings
  • Parasitic worms
  • Undigested grains
  • Insect eggs and larvae
  • Other undigested food particles

What is in the Poop of Carnivores?

Carnivorous animals are animals that eat flesh and other animal parts. Some carnivorous animals are foxes, cats, weasels, etc. Some particles found in the poop of carnivorous animals include:

  • Bones
  • Parasitic worms
  • Insect eggs and larvae
  • Parts of insects (for animals that eat insects)

What is in the Poop of Omnivores?

Omnivorous animals are animals that eats both plants and animals. Examples of omnivorous animals are foxes, dogs, and even humans. The poop of omnivorous animals contains a combination of what can be found in the poop of herbivorous and carnivorous animals.

Conclusion

Chickens scratch through everything in search of food. If you see your chickens eating or scratching through poop, do not be afraid because it is very normal. In fact, it is abnormal if your chickens do not eat poop. You should be cautious, however, when your chickens eat poop because some diseases can be transmitted by consuming poop.

Sources

April

April has owned and worked with domestic fowl including chickens, turkeys, geese, ducks, and guineas since 1998. She has a B.S. in Agriculture from Cal Poly in Pomona, CA where she studied genetics, nutrition and reproduction.

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