Which is it? How to tell hens from pullets and more!

Tell me if this sounds familiar…

You decide to jump in and buy your first backyard  chickens. You get on Gumtree or pop down to the poultry shed at your local farmers market. You’re excited! Then you’re confused. What the *beep* is a pullet and what on earth am I supposed to do with a clutch of eggs? We haven’t even got to choosing between breeds yet and my head is already spinning. Why is this so hard? I just want a chicken that will lay my breakfast, man!

Your first foray into the world of chicken keeping can be a little tricky if you’re not down with the lingo. Here’s a few chicken terms everyone should know before they hand over their cash.

Just for fun, let’s kick of with…

Gallus Domesticus:  for the lovers of Latin, this is the technical term for the modern, domesticated chicken. Bet you always wanted to know that one 😉

And now here we go…

Hen, Pullet or Rooster?

Hen, Pullet or Rooster?

The girls Broody Hen

Hen: a female chicken. Some reserve this term to mean a female chicken over 1 year old

Pullet: a female chicken under 1 year old

Biddy: what you call the hens you like 🙂 This is just an affectionate term for a hen, but is often reserved for the old gals.

Spent hen: a chicken who no longer lays due to age. It’s ‘the change’ for chickens.

The boys

Rooster: a male chicken

Roo: a shortened version of the word ‘rooster’

Cockerel: a male chicken under 1 year old (a young rooster)

Cock: a male chicken over 1 year old (an old rooster)


What's that chicken used for?

Dual purpose: chickens who are good egg layers but also happen to be heavy-set so that they make for a decent meal as well.

Boiler: a chicken of 6-9 months, used for eating. By this age they are a little tougher so you would want to boil slowly rather than roast. Hence the name 😉

Broiler: a chicken, usually a rooster, of 2-3 months, used for eating. At this age you can roast, grill, fry or otherwise broil and not be chewing cardboard 😀

POL/Point of Lay: a chicken of 16-20 weeks (depending on the breed) who is around the right age to start laying for the first time. This is what most people go for when they are wanting to get a couple of chooks for eggs.

Layers: chickens we say thank you to every day at breakfast time. These are the girls who are currently the right age to be laying your eggs.


Let's talk babies!

Chicks Broody: a hen who wants to sit on a clutch of eggs and raise chicks. Watch out! Some broody hens can become quite nasty if you try to get your hand in there to nick the eggs. You’ve been warned.

Clutch of eggs: a batch of eggs all hatched together. In other words, that pile of eggs the mama is sitting on.

Brood: a group of chicks born together

Chick: a baby chicken. If you want to get specific, they are called chicks only up until the end of brooding i.e. when they are suddenly, magically, pullets.

Dam: the mama

Sire: the papa

Dam Family: chicks born from the same hen (dam) and rooster (sire)

Sire Family: chicks born from the same rooster (sire) but may have a different mama (dam). They are therefor all siblings or half-siblings.

Sexed Chicks: baby chickens separated into pullets or cockerels

Straight Run Chicks: unsexed chicks. It’s anyone’s guess if you are getting a pullet or a rooster so don’t get too attached just yet.


Chicken Breed Terminology

Breed: a group of chickens breed to be all alike

Bantam: a small-sized version of a breed of chicken. These birds are usually a quarter to a half of the size of their standard sized counterparts.

Heritage Breed: these are the traditional breeds of chickens. They tend to be hardy and are often dual purpose birds. If you’re after a technical definition, they are birds which are born of parents and grandparents of recognised stock breeds, capable of mating all by themselves (no artificial insemination happening here), have the ability to live long and healthy lives outdoors (we are talking a minimum of 5 productive years for the hens, 3 years for the roosters) and grow at a slow rate (must not reach maturity before 16 weeks).

Crossbreed: a bird with parents of two or more breeds or varieties.

Ornamental Breed: chickens kept for their appearance, rather than their egg laying ability.

Utility Breed: a chicken kept primarily for either its egg laying or meat production viability. As opposed to the stunning good looks of us ornamentals 😉

Hybrid: a chicken who had a dam and sire of different breeds. The hen and rooster may themselves have been crossbred.

Variety: a distinguishable group within a breed. Chickens can be the same breed but different varieties because they are bred to have a certain colouring or comb type.

Names for Chickens

Chicken terminology explained

Chicken: despite some confusion this is just a general term for the type of bird, much like we would say duck or horse. It in no way implies a hen rather than rooster as many believe. I blame those children’s books for this mix-up!

Chook: a charming, Australian term for chicken 😉

Flock: a group of chickens living together

Fowl: any domesticated bird kept for meat or eggs

Poultry: any domesticated bird kept for meat or eggs. Usually referring to chickens, duck, turkeys and geese


And there you have it. Are you still confused or do you know what you are buying now?

Hopefully this has straightened things out for you 🙂

Now all that’s left to do is choose which breed you want…







About Kirstee @ This Whole Home

Wife, mama, intentional homemaker. I blog about suburban homesteading, homeschooling and homemaking at www.thiswholehome.com

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