Chicken Definitions


If you’re new to keeping backyard chickens, the nuances of language most fowl may be starting to ruffle your feathers. If talking about booted chickens conjures images of animal abuse, a straight run means traffic was great, and the term ‘autosexing’ gives you funny ideas, we’re here to educate you on the language with these chicken definitions. You will soon be crowing with pride about your newfound knowledge.




Albumen: The protective layer around the yolk also known as the ‘white,’ which is made up of 40 different proteins and water.


Axial Feathers: The short wing feathers which lie between the primary and secondary wing feathers.


Autosexing: The ability to be able to tell the sex of a chicken soon after it has hatched by its colouring.




Barring: Refers to the pattern of light and dark alternating across a feather. Chickens which possess this type of patterning are referred to as ‘barred.” The Barred Plymouth Rock is a well-known example.


Broiler: Refers to breeds of chicken raised primarily for their quality of meat.


Broody: Chickens which prefer to sit on egss in an attempt to get them to hatch.


Booted: Feathers around the shanks and toes.




Candling: A technique for examining the development of an egg by holding it up to an intense light.


Coop: A safe place for chickens to live.


Comb: The fleshy top of a chicken’s head, most often red.


Crest: The tuft of feathers on the top of the head of some breeds of chicken.


Crop: The pouch on the base of a chicken’s neck where food passes through and is softened before moving on to the gizzard.




Dam: An alternative term for a mother hen.


Debeak: A process whereby a portion of the top part of a beak is removed to prevent birds from damaging each other with excessive pecking.


Down: The soft fluffy feathers found on chicks and young birds.


Dual-Purpose: A description of a breed that is good for both eggs and meat.


Dust Bath: A chicken’s version of a bath where they can thrash around in a small pit which has been filled with sawdust, earth, or dry sand. The act of frolicking helps to shed external parasites.




Egg Binding: A blocked oviduct (usually an oversized egg, or an internal egg which has broken) which prevents the chicken from laying.


Egg Tooth: Chicks have this on their upper beak and use it to break through the shell during hatching.




Feather Pecking: A troublesome habit whereby a chicken will peck at the feathers of other hens.


Feathering Out: Chicks reaching maturity will lose their fuzzy coat as the first feathers come through.


Frizzled: Curly feathers which don’t lie flat.




Gizzard: The organ in a chicken responsible for breaking down food before it enters the intestines.


Grit: Small pebbles and sand the chicken eats which helps to grind down the food in the gizzard.


Ground Colour: Patterned birds have a dominant background colour to their plumage.




Harden Off: The process whereby young birds are weaned off a heat source so they can prepare for life outside.


Heavy Breed: Chickens which weigh more than 2.5Kg when fully grown, and possess higher meat to bone ratio.


Horn Comb: Refers to a comb which is two-pronged.


Hybrid: A chicken which is a result of breeding between two or more different breeds of chicken to create breeds that are multipurpose (such as for eggs and meat).




In-Breeding: The breeding of stock which is closely related.


Intensity of Lay: How many eggs a chicken can lay in a given time frame.




Keel Bone: The sternum or breastbone.




Layer: A hen which is laying eggs.


Light Breed: Lightweight breeds that are quick to feather and usually flighty, the opposite of a heavy breed.


Litter: Refers to the material covering the floor of the pen. Can be shredded paper, wood shavings, straw, etc.




Mandibles: Lower and upper parts of the beak.


Meat Spot: A small reddish blob sometimes found in an egg because of pieces of tissue separating from the oviduct and making their way into the egg.


Moult: Shedding of feathers to make way for new ones. Usually occurs annually due to seasonal changes.


Muff: Refers to the feathers which stick out of the sides of the beak and face in certain breeds of chicken.




Nest or Nesting Box: A safe place for chickens where they will feel comfortable laying and leaving their eggs.


Nest Egg: A ‘dummy’ egg used to inspire chickens to start laying. Usually made out of wood or plastic.




Oviduct: The egg travels through this part of the chicken on its way to being laid.




Pecking Order: Social ranking of the flock.


Perch: A horizontal pole in the coop used by chickens to rest and sleep.


Pipping: Chicks creating a hole in the eggshell during the hatching process.


Plumage: Refers to all of the feathers covering a chicken.


Pullet: A young female chicken under 12 months of age and not yet a ‘layer.’




Quill: The hollow stem linking a feather to the chicken’s body.




Roche Scale; The system used to measure colour depth in the egg’s yolk.


Roost: A place where chickens sleep. Same as a perch.




Scales: The tiny overlapping plates covering a chicken’s shanks and toes.


Scratch: Either refers to the act of scratching in the dirt as a chicken searches for food, or the grain which is fed to chickens.


Settling: Eggs which have been placed in an incubator or under a hen to get them to hatch. Sometimes referred to as sitting.


Sexed: A chick of which the gender is known (pullets or cockerels).


Stag: A cockerel which has not quite reached sexual maturity (basically a teenager of chicken kind). Combs and spurs are just starting to develop.


Standard: An example of a species which is considered a perfect specimen.


Straight Run: Chickens which have hatched recently but have not yet been sexed.


Strain: Chickens which have been carefully matched up and bred over many generations to create uniform characteristics.




Tertiaries: Wing feathers found close to the bird’s body.


Treading: The act of sexual mating.


Type: Size, shape, and characteristics of a chicken which tell you the breed.




Utility: The ability of a breed to provide eggs or meat.




Variety: A subdivision within a breed determined by comb style, beard, leg feathering, and colour.



Wattles: The two hanging flaps found under the chicken’s chin, usually red or purplish.


Whiskers: Feathers which grow out from the sides of the face.




Yolk: The yellow sac of an egg which provides all the nutrients for a growing embryo in a fertilised egg.

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