how does a chicken breathe. chicken facing head on look serious

How Does a Chicken Breathe?

You may be thinking, “what do you mean, how do they breathe?” Because surely, chickens breathe like any other animal? Well, it’s actually very different. The truth is that chickens have a specialised system for getting oxygen into their body and removing carbon dioxide. They use an efficient combination of two methods to obtain oxygen, allowing them to indulge in highly energetic activities such as flying and running all day long.

As you might expect, air enters through the nostrils, and passes through the pharynx and trachea. Chickens have long necks because they need to preen those hard to reach feathers, therefore they have a longer trachea to allow a relatively large amount of air to enter in one breath. The typical breathing rate for a hen is
12-37 breaths per minute. That’s compared to cockerels with a breathing rate of 18-20 breaths per minute and a human adult of 12–20 breaths per minute.

The trachea is protected by the larynx which makes sure food does not enter the airway when the chicken is swallowing.

The trachea branches into smaller bronchi, which enter the lungs and then branch into secondary bronchi and hundreds of small loops called Parabronchi. This results in a large surface area within a relatively small space and more efficient transfer of oxygen.

The lungs are attached to the ribs and only expand a little when air is breathed in. The lungs don’t expand like a balloon as happens when humans breathe. The rib cage in chickens is far more rigid than in mammals and provides a strong anchor point for the large flight-enabling muscles.

Now here’s the interesting bit… chickens also use their bones to help them breathe!

In addition to the trachea and lung system, the avian secondary bronchi lead into separate air sacs, and from there into the pneumatic bones.

Pneumatic bones contain a light honeycomb structure of air-filled cavities. These bones provide a secondary route by which air exchange can occur. The air sacs that connect the lungs to the pneumatic bones have very thin walls; they act like bellows to pull air into the relatively rigid lungs.

And that’s how chickens breathe!

If you’d like advice on your hen’s health, why not visit our Hen Health page, where we discuss important things to look for in your hen’s health, whether its personality or physical symptoms. Or, head to our Hen Examination Guidelines where we can show you where to find things like the crop or the wattle.

If you need to seek medical advice, click here to find your nearest Hen Friendly Vet.
You can also call Hen Central on 01884 860084 to speak to one of our rehoming assistants.

Giving a gift today helps fund our Hen Helpline. It helps support hen keepers, giving them the best advice on how to care for their hens. If you have found our advice helpful, please consider giving a gift towards the hen helpline here.

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