Chicken Terminology

A complete list of all the terms you neeed to know to get you started.

More pictures coming soon!

The below list of terms is in alphabetical order.

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After lay call (see also Egg Song)

A series of calls a hen may make before she lays an egg.

Ameraucana

Blue egg-laying breed of chicken recognized by the American Poultry Association, developed in the 1970s from Araucana chickens. Traits include a pea comb, white skin, full tails, muffs and beards (always together) and slate or black legs. They have no ear tufts.

American Poultry Association (APA)

The oldest livestock organization in North America with the mission to promote and protect the standard-bred poultry industry in part by publishing the American Standard of Perfection with breed and variety descriptions of all recognized/APA-approved purebred fowl.

Apron (AKA Hen Saddles)

Pieces of material designed to protect a hen’s skin and feathers from damage (i.e., from mating and feather picking).

Artificial light

Light added to a coop (usually during winter) meant to simulate longer days to stimulate egg laying.

Bantam

Designation for a small breed of chicken.

Banty

Slang for bantam.
 
 
 
 Photo Credit: @fluffyfeetandfeathers 

Barn

A large farm building used for storing feed, bedding and/or for housing livestock.

Bator

Slang for incubator.

Beak

The callous mouthpart of a chicken.

Beard

Short feathers underneath the chin of a chicken’s face. Beards are often confused with ear tufts of Araucanas.

Bedding (AKA Litter)

Absorbent material placed on the floor and within the nesting box of a chicken coop to soak up moisture from droppings and facilitating waste management. Common bedding materials include wood shavings, wood chips, sand, and shredded paper; less common are fake grass or dried leaves.

Before Lay Call (see also Egg Song)

A series of calls a hen may make after she has laid an egg, announcing her egg to the world.

Biddy

Slang for a laying hen older than one year.

Bill Out/Beaking Out

Using the beak to scoop feed out of a feeder onto the floor.

Biosecurity

Measures taken to prevent introduction and/or spread of harmful organisms (viruses, bacteria, bugs, etc.) to your flock. Efforts include washing your hands before and after handling your chickens, washing hands after handling eggs and other chicken items, separate “coop shoes,” raising food and water off the ground, enclosed runs, frequently cleaning and disinfecting the coop and all coop related items, properly introducing pullets/new chickens to your flock and farm (quarantining new flock members for two weeks) and paying attention to local news for outbreaks of avian diseases.

Black Soldier Fly Larvae (BSL)

The larval stage of the black soldier fly given to chickens dried or fresh as a protein-packed snack. Easy to grow at home!

Bloom (AKA Cuticle)

The protective coating on an eggshell meant to prevent bacterial contamination and limit water loss from the egg. A bloom can alter the color of an egg, making an egg appear darker or a different color all together. If left on a fresh egg (aka an unwashed egg), the bloom will allow the egg to sit at room temperature for about two weeks.

Breed

A specific group of chickens with the same or similar appearance, behavior and characteristics that distinguish it from other chickens. Usually controlled by selective breeding.

Breeds True

Offspring have the same qualities as their parents.

Broiler Feed

A feed designed for broiler chickens that is typically denser in protein to encourage rapid growth in chickens

Brooder

A housing unit for raising baby chicks (until about three-four months old) which includes a heat source, water, food, bedding, and excludes drafts.

Brooding

The action of a broody hen sitting and incubating eggs. 

Broody

A hormone-induced behavior of a hen to sit on and incubate eggs. Hens typically do not eat or drink much in this state. This state will typically last for about 21 days if the behavior is not broken.

Broody Breaker

A wire-bottomed cage placed in a well-lit location, away from the chicken coop intended to interrupt a hen’s hormone-induced broody state for the benefit of her health and the welfare of the rest of the flock.

Broody Poop

Hens do not poop as often when broody (only about once a day), so when they go while broody, it is usually large and very stinky. It can be runny also.

Bumblefoot

A bacterial infection in a chicken’s foot, usually in the pad or toes, characterized by swelling and redness, usually identifiable by a black or brown scab (aka corn) on the bottom of the foot. It can appear on toes but is most common to the pad of the foot. The infection is usually caused by Staphylococcus aureus, E. coli and Pseudomonas.

Calcium

A mineral that chickens use to make eggshells. You must source an extra supply of available calcium for hens’ consumption, typically oyster shells or crushed up eggshells.

Capon

A male chicken who has had his reproductive organs surgically removed.

Ceca (Singular Cecum)

Two pouchlike places in a chicken’s small intestine filled with bacteria that help digest particularly woody, fibrous, or tough bits of food ingested by a chicken through fermentation. A great explanation of the ceca can be found here.

Cecal Poop

Soft, brown, usually very runny droppings with a strong odor from when a chicken empties its ceca. This type of poop is normal from a chicken and should occur daily.

Chick

A newly hatched chicken. Chickens are considered to be a “chick” until about 20 weeks old.

Chick Starter

Feed for chickens up to 6 weeks old with a high protein content (between 20-24%) which helps chicks grow strong. It is important to phase out this feed after six weeks to prevent liver damage from excess protein.

Chicken Run

A fenced, outdoor enclosure for chickens, usually attached to the chicken coop. Other common names include “pen,” “run,” and “yard.”

Cloaca

The area inside the vent through which digestive and reproductive tracts empty.

Clutch

A group of eggs in a nest.

Coccidiosis

A highly contagious intestinal disease in chickens caused by several species of microscopic parasites attach themselves to the mucosal lining, destroying it and preventing uptake of nutrients. This is very common, and often deadly. Symptoms include diarrhea, fever, lack of appetite, weight loss and emaciation. Prevention includes keeping coop clean and dry. Can be treated with medication.

Cock

A male chicken that is over a year old.

Cockerel

A male chicken that is under a year old.

Comb

The floppy part on the top of a chicken’s head extending down to its beak. Typically, combs are larger on roosters and can come in a variety of shapes and colors, largely dependent on bread. If a comb is paler than normal, it can indicate dehydration or sickness.

Coop

A chicken house.

Crop

Part of chicken anatomy; a small pouch located on the lower right of the chicken’s breast (you can feel a bulge when full). First stop after the esophagus, food is stored and soaked in the crop before being further digested.

Crow

A call made by a chicken, most commonly by a rooster, but can be made by a hen as well. A crow can announce a laid egg, be a protective signal, or many other reasons.

Cull

To remove a chicken from the flock by rehoming or euthanizing.

Cuticle

See “Bloom.”

Depopulate

To cull an entire flock of chickens to stop the spread of disease.

Diaper

A cloth that hangs over the chicken’s vent to catch droppings. Diapers are good for house chickens but should be changed every 3-4 hours.

Diatomaceous Earth (DE)

Food grade DE is a chalk-like powder made of fossilized diatoms (single-celled alga with a cell wall made of silica, found in freshwater lakes and riverbeds). The powder acts as a mechanical insecticide (when dry) with microscopic razor-sharp edges that slice and dehydrate insects’ bodies. Only use if necessary to treat an illness (such as poultry lice), since regular exposure to DE is a health hazard to chickens (silica particles adhere to and scar lung tissue when inhaled). Safer alternatives to DE exist, such as First Saturday Lime and Sevin powder for treating poultry lice.

Drinker (AKA Waterer)

A container chickens drink water from.

Droppings Board/Catcher/Tarp

A shelf/board/tarp or some other mechanism to catch and collect chicken droppings produced overnight for easy, next-day removal.

Droppings

Chicken poop, typically made of solid digestive waste, water, and liquid waste.

Dust Bath

Chickens do not take water baths commonly, but instead take baths in dust. They coat their feathers and skin in dirt to absorb extra moisture and soil, creating a hostile environment for bugs and parasites. Safe insecticide (such as First Saturday Lime) can be added to dust baths (usually holes in the ground chickens make themselves) to prevent mite, lice, and other bug infections.

Ear Tufts

Feathers that grow from a flap of skin just below the earlobe of some Araucana chickens. Caused by a mutation in the autosomal—not sex-linked—dominate gene. Two copies of this gene are lethal to chickens.

Easter Egger

A hybrid chicken (not APA recognized) that lays brown to blue/green eggs. Common traits include pea combs and waddles and usually have greenish legs, beards with muffs.

Egg Binding/Egg Bound

When an egg is stuck in a hen’s reproductive tract. THIS IS AN EMERGENCY. If your hen has not laid an egg or is having trouble laying, has a decreased appetite, is not drinking water, has a pale comb and is seen with her tail down, try feeling for an egg externally by feeling her lower abdomen (between her legs and up towards the vent) for an egg. Take your chicken to the vet immediately if you think she is eggbound as this can kill a chicken.

Egg Song

A series of calls a hen may make before or after laying an egg.

Egg Tooth

Found at the tip of a chick’s beak; the egg tooth is a hard, tooth-like structure used by a chick to break through its eggshell when hatching.

Electrolytes

A mineral/salt mixture added to water which can help reduce stress, shock, and dehydration.

Farm

A plot of land devoted to raising of animals (even your backyard!).
 
 
 Photo Credit: @westwoodfarmva

Farmstead

A homestead with the focus on growing and selling items popular at market, rather than just feeding the members of the homestead. The farmstead is considered the buildings and adjacent service areas of a farm.

Feather Picking

Behavior of pulling out feathers (either self-inflicted or from another chicken plucking feathers), typically due to stress (constant light, crowded living conditions, lack of nutrition, etc.). Treat with an antiseptic spray or Blu-Kote if needed and isolate chicken to heal if picking persists.

Feed

The food you feed to a chicken; comes in three forms: crumble, pellet, and mash.

Feeder

A container chickens eat food from.

FLOG

Used to describe a chicken (typically a rooster) attack on a person or another person.

Fowl

A bird of the order Galliformes that is kept for its eggs and meat. Can include chickens, ducks, turkeys, pheasants and more.

Free-Range

Ample space to graze without restrictions in a yard or pasture. 

Frizzle

A trait (genetically determined) in multiple breeds where feathers curls backward and away from a chicken’s body.

Gizzard

The muscle in a chicken’s digestive tract responsible for grinding fibrous food with the help of grit (sand, small pebbles, or oyster shells).

Grit

Small, hard materials (sand, small pebbles, or oyster shells are common) ingested by a chicken to help break down food in the gizzard.

Grower/Pullet Feed

Feed for chickens between 6 and 20 weeks old. Has a protein content around 16-18% but has less calcium than a layer feed to try and dissuade early egg laying.

Hen

A female chicken who is one year or older.

Hen House

See “Coop.”

Hock

The point of a chicken’s leg just above the shank.

Homestead

The home and adjoining land occupied by a family.

Homesteading

A vernacular term for a lifestyle of self-sufficiency characterized by growing and preserving your own food, and small-scale crafting to sustain a household.

Hone

The act of filing a chicken’s own beak by wiping it on hard objects to maintain its shape and length.

Impacted Crop

A blockage inside the crop preventing food from traveling from the crop to the gizzard for further digestion. Usually caused by something long and stringy (grass, long strands of lettuce, hay, baling twine, etc.) which caused other food to become trapped. This is a serious condition and must be handled immediately.

Incubation

The process of naturally hatching eggs under a chicken or with an incubator.

Juvenile

A young male or female bird.

Keel

The part of a chicken’s breastbone where the muscles attach. This can be felt by reaching your hand under your chicken (so do not be alarmed when collecting eggs!).

Layer Feed

Feed for chickens 20 weeks and older. Contains a similar protein content to grower feed (16-20%) but a higher calcium and mineral content than chick starter and grower feed to support egg production. Should not be fed to chickens before 20 weeks or before their first egg, since early egg production can lead to health problems.

Layer/Laying Hen

An adult, female chicken producing eggs.

Lice/Poultry Lice

Little six-legged bugs that lay eggs on the feather shafts and infest chickens. These insects do not infest dogs and humans but stick to birds. Chickens may stop laying in their presence. Signs your chickens have poultry lice include pale combs and poop sticking to their feathers below the vent (stuck on egg-sacks). You can see the lice and eggs with your naked eye. Eggs will be attached to the base of the feather.

Litter

See “Bedding.”

Mash

A loose, unprocessed version of chicken feed, normally used for chicks since it is easy to digest.

Mealworms

The larval form of a darkling beetle, fed fresh or dried to chickens as a protein-packed treat.

Molt

The regular shedding and growth of new feathers. Typically happens on a large scale in the fall after a chicken is a year old. Hens may stop laying to devote protein to feather production. It is a good idea to increase protein intake while a chicken is molting.

Muffs

Short feathers on the sides of a chicken’s face. Muffs are often confused with ear tufts of Araucanas.

Nest Box Curtains

Material covering a nest box (like curtains) to give a laying or broody hen privacy. This discourages egg-eating and vent-picking.

Nest/Nest Box

Where chickens lay their eggs.

Nipple Drinker/Waterer

A water delivery system to chickens where instead of drinking from a troth/container, the chickens drink from a metal tube containing a ball bearing which releases water when pecked at. Although it requires a learning curve, the advantage to this kind of waterer is chickens do not contaminate water with droppings or litter.

Oviposition

Expulsion of the egg from the oviduct to the external environment; the moment a hen lays her egg.

Oyster Shell

Crushed up and fed to chickens as supplementary calcium to create eggshells. Chickens will eat this themselves if you just provide access to it.

Oyster Shell

Crushed up and fed to chickens as supplementary calcium to create eggshells. Chickens will eat this themselves if you just provide access to it.

Peduncle

Protruding flap of skin just below a chicken’s ear. Ear tuffs (a group of feathers) are found here on Ameraucana chickens.

Perch

A pole or rod (wooden, metal, etc.) that chickens sleep or rest on.

Poultry

Birds raised commercially or domestically for meat, eggs, and feathers. Includes chickens, ducks, turkeys, guinea fowl, geese, and more.

Preen

A chicken’s way of grooming themselves. This is usually a group activity, so chickens can be seen huddled in groups grooming themselves or each other. They pinch the preening gland, located at the base of their tail, which releases oil they then use to coat their feathers, making them water resistant. Feathers keep chickens insulated and dry when they are upkept, so chickens need to keep their feathers in good shape.

Preening Gland (AKA Uropygial Gland)

A gland located at the base of the chicken’s tail, in front of their tail feathers that secretes a thick, transparent oil when a chicken pinches it with their beak the bird then applies to its feathers through an act called preening.

Pullet

A female chicken under a year old. Usually describes the period between when a female hen has molted into her adult feathers, but before she starts laying, typically between 15 and 22 weeks old.

Ration

A nutritionally complete feed for chickens.

Roo

Slang for rooster.

Roost

The place a bird sleeps, usually a nest or perch.

Rooster

A male chicken of any age (includes cockerel and cock).

Rumpless

A chicken trait that describes the absence of a tail bone and tail. Araucanas are a rumples breed.

Saddle

Feathers in front of the tail

Scratch

Miscellaneous grains and seeds used as a treat for your flock. This is not the same as chicken feed. Scratch can give you flock a burst of energy and keep them warm in winter months as well as lets them utilize their scratching behavior when thrown on the ground in dirt or grass.

Sexed

Chicks that have been sorted by gender by anatomical examination within 24 hours after hatching. This is about 90% accurate within the first day (it is difficult to tell sex until chickens are older).

Sexing

The process of identifying a chicken’s gender. There are many ways to do this but it is extremely difficult to be accurate after the first day after hatch until the chicken matures and shows developmental signs of gender.

Shank

The bottom part of a chicken’s leg, above the foot. 

Sickle

The pair of long, curving feathers on a full-grown rooster’s tail. 

Sour Crop

A yeast infection of the crop caused by Candida albicans.

Spur

A sharp, horn-like protrusion that can grow on the legs of chickens (usually roosters) which is used for fighting and self-defense.

Strut

Generally the way roosters approach a hen with whom they want to mate; a tall, proud gait.

Submissive Squat

The posture a mature hen takes when approached by a rooster or when approached by a person with their hand extended. She crouches down and spreads her wings to balance and lowers her tail for the rooster to “tread” her.

Treading

The way a rooster prepares to mate a hen, which resembles a piggy-back ride. He stands on her back, holds her neck feathers with his beak and steadies himself with his feet.

Vent Pecking

An abnormal behavior in chickens where one chicken will peck at another chicken’s vent, causing damage to the surrounding skin and underlying tissue. If your chicken is being picked on, isolate them, treat with an antibacterial spray or Blue-Kote and let them heal. Typically, with vent injuries you want to interrupt the hen’s egg laying cycle as not to worsen the vent’s condition. To do this, keep your chicken in a dark room for a couple days (bathrooms work great). To prevent vent pecking or other negative pecking behaviors, make sure your chickens are not crowded, have lots of enrichment activities to keep them busy, and remove hens from the flock with irritation or injury to the vent until they have healed.

Vent

The opening to the cloaca form which droppings and eggs emerge. Located under the chicken’s tail.

Waddle

Red flaps of skin located under a chicken’s beak and chin.

Waterer

See “Drinker.”

Zipping

The action of a chick during hatch as it chips away at the shell in a circular manner with its egg tooth.  

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