Although the terminology and concepts commonly used on farms may be easy to understand to you, many have never visited one, to begin with, which makes it difficult to establish the difference between different chicken terms, such as chicken, pullets, roosters, hens, and cockerels. Many people don’t know that these are just different expressions to name chickens of different ages and gender, which may get confusing if you’re looking to open your chicken farm and buy hens and roosters of different ages.
To make things worse, most Americans will only refer to chicken as a piece of white meat closed in a plastic container with a wrap, without realizing that they are living animals that have been domesticized thousands of years ago.
But, it gets much more complex than that. While chicken, hen, and rooster are terms that are being used on regular basis, it’s necessary to know some differences. You don’t have to visit a farm keeper to learn the difference, all you have to do is continue reading this article.
Chicken is a term that is used interchangeably for all types and breeds of chickens in the chicken farm, and as suggested it’s a type of fowl that has been domesticized and used for various needs like eggs and meat production. However, there are some additional terms you should be familiar with.
The two most basic terms are a hen and a rooster. The former refers to female chicken, while a rooster is referring to the male adult chicken. It’s worth mentioning that chickens refer to a group of small chicks that have just been hatched out of eggs and are kept and taken care of while they are growing.
When it comes to adult hens and adult roosters, it can be pretty easy to tell the difference between the two. However, there are many chicken breeds and as such, they have different, distinguishable features that in some situations can be hard to tell the female from the male.
This is especially applicable if some hens have more male features like longer and larger wattles and combs which can make them look quite hard to recognize at first sight.
This information has all the necessary information for you if you’re looking to learn more about chicken as well as the names that are used throughout the different ages for both genders. Continue reading to learn more!
What are Chickens? The Chicken Terminology Explained
The majority of chickens has been domesticated more than 5,000 years ago. However, that’s not to say that wild chickens don’t exist. The closest relative to the domesticated chickens we know about is the junglefowl chicken which can be found in Hawaii, as well as other remote areas in the world.
Those chickens have never been domesticated or tended by humans, but it’s believed that the majority of them are regular chickens who have returned to the wild. Ever since domesticating, chickens were used for their eggs and meat.
Roosters have also been used for cockfighting which is now considered barbaric and there are efforts around the world to ban it. Just like peacocks and turkeys, chickens belong to the Phasianidae bird family.
Below you can also learn about the key chicken terminology before we start comparing roosters and hens one to another to identify the key differences between them.
We know that chick is often used in slang, but in this article, the only chick you’ll find is that which has just hatched from an egg. That’s right, chicks are considered baby chickens and they come to life after hens sit on it every day until the fertilized eggs hatch.
It usually takes 21 days of incubation for baby chicks to hatch. To hatch, they need to be strong enough to peck their way out of the fertilized eggs. They grow pretty fast even though they’re quite helpless at first when they hatch. They are yellow, small, and adorable.
Once a baby chick reaches 3 months old. They’ll become a pullet if they are a female, or a cockerel if they’re a male – more on that later on. Even though they’re called pullets due to them being 3 months old and less than 1 year old, some will still consider their chicks. But if you want to use the correct terminology you should know that only chicks that have just been hatched can be called that way.
The best way to look upon pullets is by calling them teenagers because they are too old to be babies and too young to lay eggs on their own. As they are growing older from 16 to 20 weeks old, they will become moodier, and more nervous and you will see them be more talkative. That can be considered pullet-like puberty as their first time to lay eggs approaches.
You will often see them visit different flocks of chickens and nests looking as if they are in search of something. They have difficulties fitting into flocks and the general hierarchy of chickens because they are at confusing age, but eventually, they’ll be accepted by other chickens.
Hens are not exclusive to chickens, other types of bird species that lay eggs that are used by humans are usually called hens. A pullet becomes a hen on the first day she lays her first eggs. They will lay eggs regularly then, depending on the species every few days until they grow old at age 3 or 4.
It’s important to note that hens can’t control when they will lay eggs, with roosters picking on them through the ritual of courting and mating which will be hard to miss. Despite reaching their old age of four, some hens can reach up to 10 years of life before they pass away.
Same as pullets are young hens, cockerels also refer to roosters who are teenagers and will remain to be so until they reach sexual maturity. All cockerels will reach sexual maturity at about one year old, which is when farmers start to call them roosters.
Even though they reach sexual maturity at 1 year old, they will begin to roost much earlier. Some roosters will start roosting at 15 weeks old, while some species will begin roosting as early as only 12 weeks old.
Their roosting or crowing won’t be as good at first, they will sound gargled or even squeaky at first, but as they grow older and more mature, they will perfect their roosting. The more territorial they are, the louder their crow is.
Cockerels become territorial very early on in age, even male chicks will sometimes try to establish to other chickens that this is their territory and that no one should cross them. As they grow, they’ll tend to become more aggressive towards other cockerels, exhibiting some aggression like chest bumping, play fighting, or aggressive communication.
While cockerels are good at establishing dominance over other cockerels and pullets, the hens won’t let them show off and will brush them off every time they try to establish dominance over them.
Once a cockerel becomes one year old and reaches maturity, it will become a rooster who can now mate with hens. As they’re adults now, their aggression and territorial behavior will also reach their peak, so you will often see them become pushy and aggressive as they search for the hens to mate in and add them as part of their flock.
Farmers usually need to separate roosters one from another. Otherwise, they’ll get into fights and injure other roosters. However, they are very protective of hens in the flock and will work hard to prevent any fights from happening. That way, no one will get hurt.
It’s worth noting that roosters who lead one flock will usually get challenged for the fight by the younger roosters and if they lose, they have to give up their flock leadership to the one that defeated them. Once they lose, they are either permitted to hang around in the area where their original flock resided or will isolate themselves until they die.
What is a Capon?
Capons refer to roosters who have had their testicles castrated. Additionally, some of them have estrogen implants which can lead to lowered aggression. In some cases, capons are also castrated so their meat would be more delicious and flavorful. Multiple studies look into their growth and the effects of castration.
Canonization is no longer favorable practice and many countries have given up on doing it. Some European countries such as France still practice it, as it’s considered a part of the luxurious meal menu in prestigious restaurants and other cuisines in France.
Key Differences Between Hens and Roosters
Once they’re adults, it’s easy to tell the difference between hens and roosters. However, when they’re younger it’s more difficult. Here we’ll discuss all the key and other differences between hens and roosters.
The easiest way to tell the difference between an adult male and a female is by looking at the shape of their feathers and of course the look of the tail.
For one, hens will always host rounded feathers, as opposed to roosters that have longer, larger, and pointed feathers. The easiest way to check if this is true is by going to the coop yourself and picking a rooster and a hen. You can raise their wings gently and take a look at the shape of their feathers.
But, keep in mind, in some breeds, this may vary, so you should always consider this as one of the factors that you check. It’s worth mentioning that roosters will usually boast a more vibrant selection of colors on their wings, while females, especially pullets will have duller colors and fewer color variations.
Editor’s notes: When checking for the feather shape, always take a sturdy piece of cardboard or even an unused credit card to check for the shape differences so you wouldn’t injure the chicks by accident.
Plumages range in color, they can be brown, white, yellow, and sometimes reddish. This mutation allowed them to be protected and camouflaged by their natural predators back in the wild, and now that they are domesticated, this trait has remained.
The reason roosters have more vibrant feathers is that they want the hens to notice them and attract them for mating. Plumages are also large and vibrant because they are used to intimidate the predators that approach the coop. After all, roosters are here to protect the hens in the flock and warn them when a predator is nearby by crowing.
On the other hand, hens don’t have that many feathers because, throughout history, they were protected by the roosters in the coop. Their feathers aren’t iridescent and don’t have as prominent tails compared to roosters.
Editor’s Notes: Checking for iridescent feathers is the safest way to determine if the chicken is a rooster or a hen.
Hens are communicative and friendly and you can constantly hear them “chat about something.” Roosters are also communicative but you will notice that they seem very proud and bold, especially in presence of another rooster.
Both hens and roosters may be aggressive and tend to get into fights. However, roosters are way more territorial and they are ready to get vicious and even kill any rooster that threatens to take over their flock. As they grow older, their boldness fades as they reach old age.
Editor’s Notes: If the eggs were fertilized, you will notice that the hen lays on them. However, a rooster is known to perform a mating dance to attract the hens for mating.
Wattles & Combs
Another easy way to distinguish between a hen and a rooster is by checking their wattles and combs. Most of the time, there’s no mistake with checking these.
Wattles refers to red tissues that are relaxed underneath the beaks and bills. They’re used for heat regulation and may hang prominently depending on the breed. With roosters, the wattles may be more prominent and it may look like a beard. This is an easy way to identify that the chicken you’re looking at is a rooster.
They may be much smaller when the chicken is a baby chick, pullet, or a cockerel, but after weeks 6 and 7, they may be easier to differentiate.
On the other hand, combs are hair-like tissue on top of their head. Rooster’s combs are much bigger and longer compared to those of a hen. They are also part of their cooling system, as chickens can’t sweat in the same way humans do. A lot of blood vessels are located in the combs.
As the chicks turn 3 weeks and older, their combs will become more prominent. If you’re looking at a group of chicks that are 3 weeks old or older, those with the combs that are developing the fastest are males and are soon to become sorted into cockerels.
Editor’s Notes: When the combs on a hen start developing, they’ll likely be much smaller and brighter, almost pink. Recognizing pink combs will help you identify that the chick is female.
Hens have shorter and thin legs, while roosters have thicker and longer legs. Additionally, the legs have sharp spurs that represent bony growths above the toes of a rooster. Although it can sometimes be seen on older hens, it’s uncommon for hens to have leg spurs.
One problem with leg spurs is that they can be used in self-defense, especially if roosters are aggressive and tend to attack other roosters and cockerels. If the rooster is too aggressive, roosters will have their spurs removed so they wouldn’t hurt other cockerels and hens.
In combination with other distinct features of hens and roosters, you will be able to determine the difference between hens and roosters.
Editor’s notes: Leg spurs are a powerful asset used in cockfighting, an illegal sport where two roosters are in a fight to the death.