How does taste influence chicken water consumption?
10 June 2020
Chickens have a distinct sense of taste. Several studies have shown that chickens are much more sensitive to flavours in water than to the flavours in feed. Maybe because they simply consume twice as much water as food. However, the sense of taste is much more complex than it seems, because people experience taste differently from many other animal species.
A researcher compared the reactions of humans and various animals on a sucrose solution (sugar) and a saccharin solution (artificial sweetener). The main conclusion was that we humans cannot rely on our own sense of taste to predict how animals will react. Especially since the various animals reacted very differently.
The results of the research:
A different taste
Chickens have much less taste buds than most other animals, but their sense of taste is well defined. In chickens (unlike humans or most other animals), the majority of taste buds are located in the back of the mouth and only two to four percent on the tongue. In fact, they are so far back in the mouth that by the time the chicken tastes the water, it's actually too late to change its mind and spit it out again. Yet, a chicken’s sense of taste is more than just how food or water feels in the mouth. It is the sensation they experience after consumption.
In general, the sense of taste guides an animal to what it should eat. For example, when chickens are on a thiamine-deficient (vitamin B1) diet and given the option to drink water with or without the solution, they will choose the water containing the thiamine solution. And while seventy percent of people experience xylose (sugar) as sweet as sucrose, chickens will drink little of it. These and similar choices suggest that taste is often the basis on which chickens try to meet their nutritional needs. But it is still a bit more complicated.
For humans, water is wet and tasteless, but for chickens, water has a distinct taste. Therefore, water in itself is a strong stimulant for the animals. Flavours tested in water solutions are in fact a mix of different flavours for chickens. Other factors don’t seem to play a role. Where the sense of taste in many animals is also influenced by the smell, this seems to have little effect on chickens.
Still, chickens can be quite critical when it comes to the temperature of the water. When given the choice, room temperature water or water a degree or two warmer than their own body temperature, the chickens are more likely to suffer from thirst than drink the warm water. However, cold water is not a problem. Chickens have no problem drinking water close to freezing. This might be because of the feathers that insulate the chickens perfectly and protect them from the cold, but they have little effect in dissipating excessive body heat. Although chickens don't seem to mind the cold temperature of the water, it does have a negative impact on the health of the animals. The cold water can cause diarrhea and serious intestinal problems.
Is there a practical application?
Researchers tested the acceptance of water with different flavours by placing two different water bowls in a pen. One bowl was filled with untreated water and the other was filled with flavoured water. The researchers compared the amount of water drunk from both bowls to measure the chickens' acceptance or rejection of flavours. Some flavours were immediately rejected, but others were eventually accepted.
The results of the investigation:
Nice to know of course, but is there also a practical application for this information? Absolutely! The taste of water can influence drinking behaviour thanks to natural or added substances. Especially for chicks.
How to avoid problems
If chickens don't eat, they don't gain weight. Since feed and water consumption are closely linked, it is important to monitor water consumption to avoid potential problems. When chickens learn to accept certain flavours in the water (especially when they are still very young), detecting a problem can become much more difficult and the losses higher. To avoid this, it is advisable to consider the following points:
Tip 1: Monitor the water consumption
Keep a close eye on the water consumption, especially at the beginning of a round. Walk around the house regularly to study the drinking behaviour of the chickens. In addition, a water meter gives a clear picture of the water consumption of your birds. Measure the water consumption around the same time every day.
Tip 2: Develop patterns
Water consumption differs per house. Therefore, draw up tables for average water consumption. Compare the consumption of each round with the determined average. Especially do this at the beginning of a round.
Tip 3: Pay attention when using new products
Keep in mind that not all water supplies and additives will appeal to your birds. Keep an eye on whether the chickens drink more or less when you try new products. If it is more, it may imply they like the taste.
The factors that influence the sense of taste of poultry are complex and not entirely clear. However, it is clear that the taste of water can affect both feed and water consumption. By monitoring water usage and determining average water usage by day and age, you can identify and correct potential problems before it's too late.
Source: Avian Advice of Arkansas
Want to know more about drinking water management? Contact one of our specialists!