Chickens and hens -
a guide to 'talking poultry'.

Ever wanted to know the difference between chickens and hens but been too scared to ask?  

Well, now you don't have to.  We translate the jargon into understandable language so that you too can talk chicken!

When I first began keeping chickens there were a lot of words which everyone else in the chicken world seemed to understand - but for me, it was like speaking a different language.  I didn't like to ask because I thought I'd sound stupid.

I learned the hard way.  So that you don't have to, I've made a list of words and phrases which you'll understand in time but which, if you're just starting out, it may help you to know.

It's by no means comprehensive, but it's a start.

If there are particular words you need to look up, it may help you to skip straight to the appropriate section.  Use the links below.

Chicks, hen and rooster

Roosters, cockerels, chickens and hens - poultry language.


The generic word used for all types of domesticated chickens, turkeys, ducks and geese.

From an old French word, 'pouletrie', from which the word 'pullet' is also derived.


Another word for poultry.


A newly-hatched, baby chicken!


Technically, this is the word for the species; within that species there are then males (cockerels or roosters) and females (pullets or hens).  

In everyday use this is the word people use to describe their 'flock', whether male or female.  


A female chicken less than one year old.


An adult female chicken (over one year old).  Sometimes used to describe the whole flock, whether male or female.

Broody hen

An adult female who has a strong desire to incubate eggs.


The generic American word for a male chicken.  Often shortened to "Roo" - which can confuse Australians, as that's also the shortened name for a Kangaroo!

For those interested in chickens in a more 'formal' way, a rooster can be specifically used to mean males over the age of twelve months.

The word 'rooster' is becoming more widely used in the UK mainly due to the influence of American films, books and websites.


In England, this is the word used most often when talking about any male chicken.  In America, it's sometimes used for a male chicken aged under a year.  


An Australian slang word for a chicken, sometimes also used in the UK.

Nine baby chickens

What chickens and hens look like - body language.


The fleshy crest on a chicken's head.  Often, but not always, red, and can be many and varied shapes.


The fleshy skin hanging down from a chicken's chin.  Often, but not always, red.  Size will depend on age and breed of bird.


A small pouch in a chicken's throat, where food is stored to be ground up for digestion. Impacted or 'sour' crop is a condition where the bird's crop becomes impacted, often by long grass or weeds, and feels squishy to the touch.


A small, sharp spike on the back of a cockerel / rooster's leg.  Used in cock-fighting but often removed in back yard birds.

7 baby chickens

Chickens, hens and babies - brooding and raising chicks.

Broody hen

An adult female who has a strong desire to incubate eggs.


Used to incubate and hatch eggs under controlled conditions when there is no broody hen available.


An intense beam of light used to look at developing eggs.  Can be bought or home- made.


Holding an egg against a bright beam of light to test whether or not it is fertile and developing.


The membrane attaching the yolk of the developing egg to the ends of the shell.

Lock down

The period three days before hatching when the incubator should not be opened and the eggs should not be touched, to allow for a successful hatch.


A place where newly hatched chicks are kept in controlled conditions until they reach the fully feathered stage of life.

Electric hen

A safe method of heating the space for new born chicks, using an infra red light or electric brooding device to simulate the warmth provided by a mother hen.

Five cute chickens

Food and drink in the world of chickens and hens.

Starter feed or chick crumbs

A high protein, commercially produced food for chicks from new born to about eight weeks old.

Grower feed

Still high protein but now with added calcium, this is food for chickens between the ages of eight and eighteen weeks.

Layer feed

Food for adults after eighteen weeks of age.  Comes in different types from small flakes (called 'mash' in the USA) to pellets.


The chicken equivalent of McDonald's - they love it!  This should be fed very sparingly - it is high energy food, mostly corn, but doesn't contain many nutrients.


What chickens need to help digest their food.  Free ranging birds will get this naturally from tiny stones or pieces of gravel they pick up whilst feeding, but all birds should be given access to a bowl of grit which they will take when they instinctively know they need it.

Oyster shell

A supplement to their usual feed for egg-laying hens to ensure their calcium levels are good.


Apple Cider Vinegar : added in small amounts to drinking water to improve health.

Nine baby chickens

Chickens and hens in the coop - living arrangements.

Chicken coop

The place where chickens live!  Also known as a chicken house or hen house.

Chicken tractor

A movable run, with or without a hen house attached, to allow a flock to be moved about whilst kept safe from predators.

Droppings board

A piece of (usually) wood placed under the perches in a coop to catch the droppings, making cleaning easier.

Are there any words or phrases in the world of chickens and hens which are not on this list which you don't understand but don't like to ask about in public?  No problem - contact me, and I'll try to help.  If I don't know, Claudia Chicken will!

Sources : To be clear about meanings of these words, which can sometimes be used loosely to mean different things, they were all checked against the Oxford English dictionary online - the English, World and American versions.

Five baby chicks

What would you like to see now?

If you're just starting out with chickens, or you have adults but you'd like to raise some chicks of your own, have a look at these pages about hatching chicks step by step.

How to incubate chickens first seven days link
How to hatch chicken eggs, days 8 to 13

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Link to Raising Happy Chickens home page.