Chicken Terms/Definitions/Phrases

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

– A –

Addled
A rotten or otherwise inedible egg. Or an egg in which the embryo died during early incubation.

Age of lay
The age at which a pullet starts laying eggs. For instance, age of lay for lightweight breeds is generally 18 to 22 weeks; heavier begin laying around 24 to 26 weeks of age.

Air cell
The air space that develops at the rounded end of an egg, inside the shell between the inner and outer membranes.

Albumen
Egg white.

Ammonia
A colorless gas that develops in a coop where the litter retains too much moisture. A high level of ammonia increases the flock’s susceptibility to respiratory disease.

Anthelmintic
A deworming preparation.

As hatched
Chicks that remain unsorted by gender at the time of hatch.

Autosexing
Sex-link characteristics within a pure breed, as compared to a sex-link hybrid.

– B –
Bantam
A small chicken that’s about one-fourth to one-fifth as heavy as a large-size chicken and that generally weighs 2 pounds or less.

Beak trimming
Adjusting the length of mismatched halves of a chicken’s beak so the chicken can properly eat and preen.

Beard
A dense clump of small feathers attached under a chicken’s beak and always associated with a muff, a feature typical of Belgian Bearded D’Anvers, among other breeds.

Beetle brow
A prominent forehead projecting out over the eyes, a feature is typical of Brahmas, among others.

Billing out
The bad habit of a chicken or duck that wastes feed by using its beak or bill to scoop feed from a feeder onto the ground.

Biosecurity
A collection of management precautions that keep a flock safe from disease.

Blood feather
Alternative name for a pinfeather, so called because pin feathers are filled with blood.

Blood spot
A harmless small, dark spot of blood that appears inside the shell of less than 1% of eggs laid.

Bloom
The thin, moist protective coating on a freshly laid egg that prevents bacteria from entering the egg and minimizes evaporation of moisture from within the egg. Also called cuticle.

Break up
To discourage a hen from being broody so she will continue to lay eggs.

Breast blister
A blister resulting from excess pressure on a chicken’s breastbone, often occurring in heavy-breed males and in broilers.

Breed club
An organization that promotes a specific breed of poultry.

Broiler
Usually some form of Cornish Cross that has the best feed conversion for its age and weight, and typically butchered at 4 to 7 weeks of age.

Brooder
A artificial substitute for a mother hen, consisting of protective surroundings, feed, water, and a source of heat.

Brood patch
A bare area on a broody hen’s breast where she has removed the feathers so body warmth and moisture will be closer to the eggs.

Broody
The tendency for a hen to incubate a nestful of eggs until they hatch.

Bumblefoot
An abscess on the bottom of a chicken’s foot that may cause the chicken to limp and to sit on its hocks while resting.

– C –

Cage free
Not confined to a cage, but may be confined within housing.

Candle
To shine a bright light through an egg’s shell to examine the contents and determine its interior quality for eating or embryo development for hatching.

Candler
A device used for candling eggs.

Cannibalism
A chicken’s unpleasant habit of eating another chicken’s flesh or feathers.

Chicken tractor
A portable or moveable chicken house or coop or pen that is easily movable to new ground, grass, or dirt on a regular basis. The process of regularly moving chicken tractor provides a clean area for chickens to eat grass/dirt/bugs/minerals while leaving their manure to fertilize the ground for future vegetation growth.

Chicken forum
An internet discussion site where people hold conversations in the form of posted messages about chickens.

Chicken blog
An internet journal, or web log, describing experiences, observations, and opinions of chicken topics and often having images and links to related websites.

Chicken wire
Wire mesh fencing made from thin wire twisted and woven together into a honeycomb pattern. Although chicken wire will confine chickens, it is not predator resistant because it tears easily.

Class
A group of breeds for exhibition purposes. For example, The American Poultry Association groups large breeds according to their place of origin: American, Asiatic, Continental (European, not including England), English, and Mediterranean. A catchall class — All Other Standard Breeds (AOSB) — includes any that don’t fit into any another class.

Clean-legged
Description of a chicken that has no feathers growing on the legs or feet.

Cloaca
The opening just inside a bird’s vent where the digestive, excretory, and reproductive tracts expel their respective products.

Clutch
All the eggs a hen produces during one laying cycle. Also a group of eggs that hatch together.

Coccidiosis
An intestinal disease of chickens and other poultry, caused by coccidia, resulting in the interfere of nutrient absorption.

Cockerel
A male chicken that’s less than one year of age.

Condition
The state of health and cleanliness of a chicken or other type of poultry.

Conformation
The body shape of a chicken, or other poultry, that is characteristic of its breed.

Coop training
Exposing a chicken, or other type of poultry, to conditions it will encounter during a poultry show. By minimizing stress, coop training increases the ability of the bird to achieve a higher placing at the show.

Crop
A pouch at the base of a chicken’s neck, on the left side, that bulges with feed after the bird has eaten.

Crop Impaction
A crop jammed with feed to the point that none can pass through to be digested.

Crossed Beak
A beak with the upper and lower halves growing in opposite directions. Also called scissor beak.

Crumbles
A form of feed consisting of pellets that have been crushed into smaller pieces.

Cuckoo
Coarse, irregular barring such as occurs in the plumage of a Dominique.

Cull
To remove a chicken from a flock because of undesirable appearance or behavior.

Cuticle
The thin, moist protective coating on a freshly laid egg that prevents bacteria from entering the egg and minimizes evaporation of moisture from within the egg. Also called bloom.

– D –

Defect
A characteristic that makes a chicken less than perfect, compared to the standard description for the breed or variety.

Depopulate
To destroy an entire flock, typically to prevent the spread of a serious disease.

Deworm
To treat a chicken with a medication to control internal parasitic worms.

Diatomaceous Earth
An abrasive powder, created by grinding up diatom fossils, used as an insecticide.

Disqualification
A characteristic that renders a chicken ineligible for receiving a show award.

Double Yolker
An egg containing two yolks.

Droopy Wing
A loosely carried wing, characteristic of some breeds including Japanese and Serama.

Dual Purpose Breed
A breed that is used for both meat and eggs. These breeds usually do not lay as well as those bred for laying and do not grow as well as those for meat production, but are a good compromise as farmstead chickens.

Dust Bath
A container of soft soil, loose sand, or deep bedding that chickens toss over themselves to condition their feathers and rid themselves of external parasites.

– E –

Ear Tuft
A clump of feathers sprouting from a tiny finger-like appendage protruding from the side of the neck just below the ear, as is characteristic of Araucanas.

Egg Basket
A container for collecting and transporting eggs.

Egg Bound
A condition where an egg gets stuck just inside the vent, often because the egg is too large or the hen is too fat or otherwise unhealthy.

Egg Carton
A rectangular box used for selling or storing eggs.

Egg Eating
A form of cannibalism in which chickens eat their own eggs (or those of other chickens).

Egg Tooth
A small, sharp cap at the tip of a newly hatched chick’s upper beak, used to help the chick break out of the egg before falling off after the hatch.

Egg Tray
A tray made of plastic or paper pulp, usually designed to hold 30 eggs. Also called a flat.

Egg Turner
A mechanical device that automatically rotates eggs during incubation.

Electrolytes
A powdered mixture of natural salts and other minerals that help regulate body processes and maintain hydration.

Enteritis
Inflammation of a chicken’s small intestine resulting in diarrhea.

– F –

Feather Out
The process in which a baby chick grows its first full set of plumage.

Feather Picking
A form of cannibalism most common when chicks are starting to feather out and pick each other’s newly emerging feathers.

Fertile Eggs
Eggs from hens that have been exposed to a rooster and are therefore capable of producing chicks if incubated under appropriate conditions.

Flighty
Description of chickens that are excitable.

Floor Eggs
Eggs laid on the coop floor, not in provided nests.

Fomite
Any object — such as a cage, feed sack, or shoe soles — that may carry and transmit infectious organisms from one flock to another.

Forced molt
A process of restricting the water and feed intake of chickens (usually in Sept) to force the timing of the natural process of molting. Generally this will stop the egg production and allow the chicken to molt off significant feathering. After 3-5 weeks of restricted water and feed, then put chickens back on full feed and water to rebuild feathering. We have good luck using a chick grower feed for this rebuilding of feather process (4-6 weeks) and then change over to egg crumbles. Molting allows time for rest of egg production and allows nutrients to be used for new feathers.

Fowl Pox
A viral disease, spread by blood-sucking insects or through injuries, that causes scabby skin, fever, and loss of appetite. It has nothing to do with chicken pox in humans.

Free Choice
Water, feed, or supplements available to chickens at all times, so they can eat or drinkn as much as they need.

Free Range
Managing a flock by allowing it to roam around a large outdoor area.

Frostbite
Frozen body tissues, typically the comb, wattles, and/or toes.

– G –

Genetic Diversity
Degree of variation at the gene level. The greater a flock’s diversity, the more robust it is and able to resist stresses, including disease.

Gizzard
A chicken’s mechanical stomach, where feed is ground up prior to digestion.

Grandma’s Chickens
Heritage chicken breeds, typically Rhode Island Red or Plymouth Rock, that may be either pure or crossed with other heritage breeds.

Grand Master Exhibitor
A designation by the American Poultry Association for a member who accumulates 100 points by winning a sufficient number of class championships in a single variety of a single breed.

Grit
Small, hard objects, such as pebbles or coarse sand, eaten by a chicken to help the gizzard break down tough foods for digestion.

– H –

Hackles
A chicken’s neck plumage.

Hatchability
The ability of fertile eggs to hatch when incubated.

Hatchery
A business — such as Cackle Hatchery® — that hatches poultry eggs and sells the chicks, usually of several different breeds and species.

Hatching Eggs
Eggs that are intended for incubation, rather than for eating. The main difference is are that table eggs aren’t necessarily fertile, while hatching eggs must be fertile.

Heavy Breed
A chicken breed that’s more round than slender, and generally weighs at least 6 pounds (hens) or 8 pounds (roosters).

Hen Feathered
A chicken breed in which the sex feathers and color markings are the same for both the hen and rooster, a characteristic of Sebrights.

Heritability
The ability of a characteristic to be genetically transmitted from a chicken to its offspring.

Heritage chickens
Sometimes referred to as traditional breeds or old-time breeds, heritage chickens have these characteristics: natural mating, good foragers, good broody hens and good mothers, disease resistance, good fertility, longevity, alert for good natural flight or fight responses, domesticated qualities for human care, and usually a good sustainable dual meat and egg producer.

Hock
The joint between a chicken’s thigh and shank, corresponding to the human ankle.

Hybrid
The offspring of a rooster and a hen of two different breeds, one or both of which might also be hybrid.

– I –

Impaction
A blocked body passage, such as the crop (occurring when a chicken eats something it can’t digest) or the cloaca (a result of a stuck egg).

Incubator
A mechanical device designed for hatching fertile eggs.

– J –

Jungle Fowl
Chickens originating in the jungles and forests of southern Asian that are the ancestors of all domestic chickens.

– K –

Keel
The bony ridge along the center of a chicken’s breast, which resembles a boat’s keel.

– L –

Laced
Description of plumage in which a narrow edge of contrasting color surrounds each feather.

Lash Egg
Coagulated bits of egg particles, laid as an egg, that result from infection within a hen’s oviduct. It is technically known as caseous exudate — in other words cheesy discharge.

Leg Band
A plastic or aluminum ring that wraps around a chicken’s leg for the purpose of identification.

Lethal Gene
One of more than 50 different genes that result in a a chicken’s death, typically as an embryo during incubation. One such gene is associated with the Araucana chicken’s tufted trait.

Lice
Small, wingless, parasitic insects that live on chickens and irritate them by chewing their skin.

Light Breed
A large chicken breed (not a bantam) that is more slender than round, and in which hens usually weigh 4.5 pounds or less and roosters weigh 6 pounds or less.

Litter
Loose material (such as wood shavings) scattered on the floor of a chicken coop to absorb moisture and droppings, cushion the birds’ feet, and provide insulation.

Long Crower
One of several chicken breeds, such as Denizli, that are bred specifically for the tone and duration of the rooster’s crow.

Long Tail
One of several chicken breeds — including Yokohama and Phoenix — that are prized for having particularly long tail feathers.

– M –

Mail-Order Chicks
Chicks that are shipped by mail immediately after they hatch, while they are still absorbing residual yolk as nourishment until they reach their destination.

Marek’s Disease
A viral infection that affects mainly the nerves of growing chickens, causing paralysis and and sometimes death.

Marek’s Vaccine
A vaccine that prevents paralysis caused by Marek’s disease, but does not prevent chickens from getting the disease and shedding the virus.

Mating Ratio
The optimal number of hens available for each rooster in the flock to ensure good fertility.

Meat Breed
A chicken breed or hybrid developed for rapid growth and heavy muscling.

Mite
A tiny spiderlike body parasite, related to the tick, that survive by eating a chicken’s skin, feathers, or blood.

Molt
The annual shedding and renewal of plumage that typically occurs in the fall, before the arrival of cold weather.

Morbidity
A measure of the number of chickens in a given flock that come down with a particular disease.

Mortality
A measure of the number of chickens in a given flock that die from a particular disease.

– N –

Nest Egg
A fake egg placed in a nest to encourage hens to lay their eggs where you can find them.

– P –

Pasting
A fairly common condition in newly hatched chicks is having loose poop stuck to the vent area. Pasting can be caused by stress due to chilling or overheating or by feeding improper diet. Soft droppings that stick to the vent will harden and seal the vent and eventually cause death. It should be carefully removed by softening in warm water and very gently removed.

Pastured management for chickens
A process of using a movable chicken fence, pen, coop or house to new grass or ground on a regular basis. The purpose is to provide a clean area for eating grass/dirt/bugs/minerals and clean an area for manure droppings.

– R –

Rare Breed
A breed that is not commonly used in modern agriculture but once may have been. The organizations that strive to preserve these breeds include American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, Rare Breeds Canada, and the Society for the Preservation of Poultry Antiquities.

– S –

Scaly Leg
An unhealthy condition that affects the toes and legs of chickens and is caused by the scaly leg mites.

Self Sufficient Breeds
Breeds that are aggressive foragers tend to be more low maintenance than other breeds.

Splayed Leg
A condition in newly hatched chicks whereby one or both legs slide out to the side so the chick cannot properly stand and walk. Most generally caused by using a slick or smooth brooder floor causing its legs to slide.

Straight Run
Cockerels and pullets that have not been sorted as to gender and remain in the ratio that they were hatched from a setting of eggs.

– T –

True Bantam
A small breed of chicken that lacks a larger counterpart. True bantams include American Game, Bearded d’Anvers, Bearded d’Uccle, Booted, Dutch, Japanese, Nankin, Pyncheon, Rosecomb, Sebright and Serama.

– V –

Vent Sexing
A traditional Japanese method of determining a hatchling’s gender by checking for minor differences in the tiny cloaca which is inside a chick’s vent.