Hendrik-Jan Wittenberg Technical Advisor
Reading time 5 min.

How taste affects poultry water consumption

Chickens have a distinct sense of taste. For example, several studies have shown that chickens are much more sensitive to flavors in water than to flavors in feed. Perhaps because they simply consume twice as much water as food. But the taste experience is much more complex than it seems because people experience taste differently than many other species.

A researcher compared the responses of humans and different animals to a sucrose solution (sugar) and a saccharin solution (artificial sweetener). The main conclusion was that we humans cannot rely on our own taste experience to predict how animals will react, especially because the animals reacted very differently amongst each other.

The results of the investigation:

Taste drinking behavior chickens

A different taste

Chickens have far fewer taste buds than most other animals, but their taste perception is excellently defined. In chickens (unlike humans or most other animals), most of the taste buds are located in the back of the mouth and only two to four percent on the tongue. In fact, they sit so far back that by the time the chicken tastes the water, it's actually too late to change their mind and spit it out again. Yet, the taste experience of a chicken is more than just how food or water feels in the mouth. The taste experience is the feeling they experience after consumption.

In general, the sense of taste guides an animal to what it should eat. For example, chickens on a low-thiamine (vitamin B1) diet, when given a choice, will always choose water with a thiamine solution instead of without. And while seventy percent of people think xylose (sugar) tastes just 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's still a bit more complicated.

Water is wet and tasteless for humans, but it has a distinct taste for chickens. Therefore, water in itself is a strong stimulant for the animals. Flavors tested in water solutions are, in fact, a medley of different flavors for chickens. Other environmental factors hardly play a role for chickens. While the smell also influences the taste experience for many animals, this seems to have little effect on chickens.

Water temperature

However, chickens can be quite critical when it comes to water temperature. When given a choice between water of approx. 20ºC or water of approx. 42ºC, the chickens will rather suffer from thirst than drink the water of 42ºC. However, cold water is not a problem. Chickens have no problem drinking water that is close to freezing. This may have to do with their feathers. They provide excellent insulation and protect them from the cold, but they have little to no effect on 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 animals' health. The cold water can cause diarrhea and severe intestinal problems.

Is there a practical application for all this?

Simply put, yes, but bear with me for a moment. Researchers have tested the acceptance of water with different flavors by placing two separate water bowls in a pen. One bowl was filled with plain water, while the other was filled with flavored water. The researchers compared the amount of water drunk from both bowls to measure the chickens' acceptance or rejection of flavors. Some flavors were immediately rejected, but others were eventually accepted.

The results of the investigation:

Taste drinking behavior chickens

Good to know, of course, but is there a practical application for this information? Absolute! The taste of water can influence drinking behavior thanks to natural or added substances, especially with young 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 water flavors (especially when they are very young), detecting a problem can become much more difficult, and losses can be greater. 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 start of a round. Walk through the house regularly to study the drinking behavior of the chickens. In addition, a water meter gives a clear picture of the water consumption in the house. Measure water consumption around the same time every day.

Tip 2: Draw up charts

Water consumption differs per housing unit. Therefore, prepare charts for average water consumption. Compare the consumption of each round with the determined average. Do this, especially 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 poultry. Keep an eye on whether the chickens are drinking more or less when you try new products. If it is more, it could mean that they like the taste.


The factors that influence the taste experience of poultry are complex and not completely clear. However, it is clear that the taste of water can influence both feed and water consumption. By monitoring water consumption and determining average water usage by day and age, you can identify and correct potential problems before it's too late.

Hendrik-Jan Wittenberg Technical Advisor
+31 (0)342 416 641
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