Whether you’re raising a flock for the first time or you’re a kitchen enthusiast curious to learn about chicken anatomy, one pressing question you might have asked yourself is “Do chickens have knees?” Now, if you observe a human walking, you’ll notice that one foot will bend at the knee to bring the other foot forward.
In humans, the knee bends forward. But, if you look at a chicken, the knee seems to bend backward when they’re walking. This anatomy leaves most people wondering whether chicken knees bend forward or backward.
To answer this question, let me begin by stating that a chicken’s leg is not a single unit as it contains normal parts such as toes, ankles, knees, and feet. Secondly, chickens have knees just as humans do. The only difference is that their knees are covered in feathers making them difficult to see. So, in this short guide, we’re going to discuss the chicken’s knee in terms of its purpose, the direction it bends, and the broader structure of a chicken’s leg.
Where Are Chicken Knees Located?
As we have mentioned in the introductory section, most people assume chickens don’t have knees because what they see is literally the feet with everything else covered in feathers. The reason why you don’t see the knee is because it’s located higher up the chicken’s body. What is visible is the lower leg and one joint, which is the ankle.
Since the ankle bends backward naturally, most people confuse it with the knee. That’s the main reason why most people end up asking whether chickens have knees or not.
Now, it’s usually easy to detect the knee. If you’re a poultry farmer with a flock of chickens, you can try picking one and moving your fingers across its thigh to feel the knee. If you don’t have chickens available, perhaps you can get a chicken leg or a “leg quarter” from the supermarket to use as a sample.
Here, you’ll see the whole leg including the thigh and the drumstick. You’ll also see the knee as it’s the joint connecting the thigh to the leg.
Do Chickens Have Kneecaps?
Generally speaking, this is one of the toughest questions that have created a debate over the years. While some people swear that birds don’t have kneecaps, others argue that chickens indeed do have them. From my own point of view, any creature that has a knee has a kneecap. However, before we can jump to any conclusions, let’s dig deeper into a chicken’s bone anatomy.
Now, if you inspect a leg quarter, you’ll see a thigh and a drumstick. If you remove the meaty part to expose the bones, you’ll remain with a hipbone, a single large bone called a femur, and a pair of long bones consisting of the tibia and fibula. The femur is the thigh while the tibia and fibula bones are the long leg.
If you look closely, you’ll notice that the femur and fibula/tibia are joined together in the knee by a cartilaginous covering. This covering resembles a kneecap. What makes it a kneecap is the fact that it has vertical ligaments and tendons that crisscross to resemble collateral and cruciate ligaments found in a human knee.
It’s because of the kneecap that chickens get increased power and boost to extend their legs when jumping. Although chickens may not have actual kneecaps as humans do, I must mention that one bird that has actual kneecaps is the ostrich. In fact, the ostrich has two kneecaps on each knee making them four in total.
Do Chickens Have Ankles?
Yes. Chickens have ankles. This usually applies to all birds. However, most people confuse the ankle with the knee as knees are hard to see since they’re hidden by feathers. The ankle is the first joint you see which is high up in the leg.
Another name for the ankle is the hock joint. Now, humans have ankles. However, the design is hugely different from that of birds due to the different needs and demands. One of these needs is scratching the ground when foraging while the other is perching on roosting bars to sleep.
Some of these demands are the main reason why a chicken’s ankle bends backward. At this position, your chicken can form a tight grip when perching on a roosting bar or when scavenging for food. It allows them to walk comfortably with three toes at the front and one at the back.
Do Chicken Knees Bend Backward?
No, they don’t. Chicken knees bend forward just as human knees do. However, there’s always a little confusion about which part of the chicken is the knee and which one is the ankle. The ankle is the joint that points backward. It’s also the one that joints the lower leg with the drumstick and is essential in keeping your chicken balanced since chickens and all other birds walk on their toes.
Next, is the knee. The knee is located higher up the chicken’s body and is usually covered with feathers. The knee faces forward just like humans’ knees and it serves as the joint that holds the drumstick (fibula and tibia) and the thigh (femur) together.
Is a Chicken’s Knee the Same as a Human Knee?
Yea. A chicken’s knee is surprisingly similar to a human knee with a few minor differences. After all, chickens are birds and have a different anatomy from ours. For that reason, the minor differences you’ll notice are caused by the extra features each species has to allow stability and freedom of movement.
- Bone Size: The knee in both humans and chickens is tasked to join the thigh bone (femur) and the lower leg (fibula and tibia) together. However, in chickens, the femur is much shorter than in humans to maintain stability when jumping and roosting.
- The Lower Foot: In birds, the lower foot consists of the fibula and tibia. In chickens, the fibula, which is the secondary helper bone, is meager and too thin like a needle. It doesn’t even stick down to the ankle end. This is different from humans where the fibula is strong and sticks firmly to the tibia in the entire lower leg.
- Stabilizing Muscle: Since humans walk upright, they have a stabilizing muscle called a popliteus muscle. This muscle crosses the knee and is responsible for the various movements humans make while walking.
What’s the Structure of a Chicken’s Leg?
To begin, chickens walk on their toes. This is different from humans who walk on their feet. The toes of a chicken are lightweight and are usually four with three pointing forward and one pointing backward. However, the four-toe anatomy doesn’t apply to all chickens. Breeds such as the Silkie, Sultan, Dorking, and Houdan have five toes in each leg.
Next, you have the feet, which are also called the shanks. The ankle comes next, which is a joint that separates the feet from the drumstick. From there, you have the drumstick, which disappears on the feathers and thigh.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1. Can A Chicken Survive With One Leg?
Now, chickens can lose their legs due to various reasons such as accidents, disease, and predator attacks. However, the question of whether a chicken can survive with one leg is variable as it depends on factors such as gender, age, and individual care from the caretaker.
For instance, hens can survive for a longer time than roosters due to their weight. Remember, roosters tend to get heavier than hens. Regarding age, younger chickens have a better chance of survival than aged chickens.
Q2. What Causes Lameness in Chickens?
Chickens are delicate species that require a lot of care to stay healthy. Since we’ve discussed the chicken’s knee and the entire leg anatomy, it doesn’t pain to point out some of the causes of lameness in chickens.
One of the major causes of lameness is viral infections such as viral arthritis and Marek’s disease. Another one is bacterial infections such as Staphylococcus and Pasteurella. We also have nutritional conditions such as rickets and mycoplasmal infections such as mycoplasma synoviae. Most of these conditions cause chickens’ joints to swell thus limiting their mobility.
As you can see, the anatomy of the chicken’s leg is quite similar to that of humans and other animals at large. However, there are a few differences here and there as chickens are generally different from humans. From our discussion, it’s clear that chickens have knees. The only difference is that their knees are higher up their legs and are covered with feathers. This makes it hard to see them clearly.
However, if you observe a chicken’s movement, you’ll clearly see the knees moving forward and not backward. If you don’t have a chicken, then you can inspect a leg quarter just before you cook it.
Hello, I am John Reid. I have been raising chickens for the last 15 years. I have got my experience from my father. My father is the owner of a large chicken farm. This is our family business that has been continuing for over 35 years. I am very interested in backyard chickens and I know how to take care of them. You can learn more About Us here. Happy Reading!!