Chickens do not have nipples, no. They do have breasts, but they do not have mammary glands and are not able to produce milk as mammals do. This applies to all birds, as birds are of a different order to mammals.
Why Do Chickens Have Breasts but Not Nipples?
The word “breast” has a very different meaning when used to describe the chest of a bird and that of a female mammal.
The difference is that all mammals (such as us, dogs, cats, monkeys, etc) have mammary glands, birds do not. It’s one of the reasons they are called “mammals”.
The reason mammals have mammary glands is because they lactate, produce milk, and nurse their young. Chickens, on the other hand, neither have mammary glands nor nurse their young (as it’s not possible without the glands).
This doesn’t mean mother hens leave their chicks to fend for themselves though, don’t panic. They look after them by bringing them scraps of food and insects and showing them what they can eat.
Mammary glands are situated in front of the chest or pectoral muscles on mammals. In the case of females, they are often referred to as breasts.
Chickens just have pectoral muscles, they do not have glands in front and under the surface of the skin. Being as they are in the same position, this is the reason they are also called breasts.
This means that chickens do not need nipples, as they are not producing milk and do not need to secrete it. Obviously, men also have nipples as they are not needed, but that’s a topic for another day.
To summarize; chickens have breasts as they need those muscles to move parts of their bodies. They do not have mammary glands or produce milk so they do not need or have nipples.
Related – Do chickens produce milk? (I explain crop milk and more)
Do Chickens Have One or Two Breasts?
This is a fun bit of trivia, because believe it or not chickens have one breast, not two. This question comes up more often when someone is working with a cooking recipe, as the answer to using one breast is usually both halves.
When the breast is removed from a chicken, it’s split into the two pieces that we commonly see sitting in packs on the supermarket shelf.
People refer to these as chicken breasts or a pack of breasts. But the correct terminology, according to several reliable sources, is that these are halves of a chicken breast.
What About Crop Milk?
To further complicate or add confusion to this topic, some birds produce something called “crop milk” to feed their young.
Crop milk also referred to as pigeon milk, is a milky substance some birds regurgitate from the lining of their crop to feed to their young.
As far as I can find, it’s pigeons, doves, and a few other birds that are known to do this. Crop milk is very different from mammalian milk, however, both in appearance and nutritional content.
So, if you’ve heard that some birds do in fact nurse their young by producing milk, there is some truth to it.
It’s a very different process from how mammals feed their young milk though. They don’t produce milk, lactate, or use nipples to pass it to their young.
What Are Poultry Nipples?
You may have also heard the term “poultry nipple” being used. I can also explain what these are – and it has nothing to do with actual bodily parts!
Poultry nipples are small devices that fit onto whatever is holding their drinking water and allow chickens to peck and release some water.
Kind of like a drinking bottle as you’d see on a rabbit or rodent cage. But they don’t use the ball bearing, rather they work with something more like a little push button to release drinking water.
They’re a pretty neat invention. It allows you to use much larger buckets of water as you can seal the bucket and chickens will only take what they need when they need a drink.
If you haven’t already, I recommend checking them out. It certainly made my life a lot easier, and my chickens are perfectly happy using them.
I hope you found this article interesting and it helped clear up any confusion you may have had regarding chickens and nipples.
When you look at it from an evolutionary and biological viewpoint, like most bodily functions it makes perfect sense. It’s also a good example of how birds are different from mammals.
Image credits – Photos by Michael Anfang and K Kannan on Unsplash
Crop Milk – bto.org