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Common Chicken Terms

Common Chicken Terms

There is a definite learning curve when it comes to keeping chickens. When first starting out, it is easy to become overwhelmed with all the new terminology. I’ll bet you’ve come across a new term and googled “What is a …” or “What does … mean?”. Heck, that may even be how you ended up here! Wonder no more, as the most common poultry terms are listed below

Albumen– the egg white only, separate of the yolk

Bantam– a smaller breed of chicken. For example, brahmas are available in a standard (larger) size or bantam (smaller) size

Blastoderm– the “bullseye” of a fertilized egg. This will become the chick if allowed to develop.

Blastodisc– The unfertilized yolk spot that carries the hens genetic material. When fertilized by a rooster it becomes a blastoderm. 

Blood feather– or pin feather, is a newly emerged feather. Feather is encased in a delicate keratin wrapper and can easily bleed if damaged.

Bloom– protective layer on the outside of an egg, sealing it off to bacteria and retaining moisture

Broiler– Chickens raised specifically for meat production

Brooder– Pen or container used to raise chicks until old enough to go outside/elsewhere without heat

Broody Hen– Female chicken that creates a nest and sits on eggs in an attempt to incubate them. She is often very protective of her eggs and will not allow them to be collected

Bumblefoot– Staph infection in the pad of the birds foot. Consists of a “kernel” of infection, surrounded by pus. Must be treated promptly as these infections are fatal.

Chalaza– Twisted membranes that are attached to each end of the egg yolk. Connects yolk to shell

Chorion– Sac that holds the developing chick embryo and yolk (essentially a placenta)

Cloaca– also known as a vent, the cloaca is the opening for reproduction, waste elimination, and egg laying

Cockerel– or cock, is a male chicken less than 1 year old. More commonly used in place of “rooster” in Europe

Comb– A chickens comb is the fleshy protrusion on the top of their head. There are several comb styles and vary based on breed and genetics.

Crop– Pouch at the base of the neck that holds food, water and grit. This is the first stage in digestion. From the crop food travels into the gizzard where it is broken down and digested.

Crumbles– a form of poultry food where the food has been broken down from a pellet into smaller pieces. Most feed comes in either a pellet or crumble. If the option is given, this refers only to the physical particle size, and they are nutritionally identical.

Cull– to kill or slaughter. Whereas butchering is a planned killing to eat a mature bird, culling is done at any age when a bird is sick, injured, or otherwise genetically incorrect.  

Deep Litter (method)– A method in which the litter inside the coop is allowed to decompose into compost instead of removing and replacing it. Practitioners state that this technique eliminates smell, and releases heat to keep birds warm in the winter. 

Dry Bulb– a measure of temperature. When one measures the air temperature with a thermometer, by default this is a dry bulb measurement. Incubators use dry bulb settings. 

Dual Purpose– A classification of chicken breeds that are used both for egg and meat production

Easter egger- a crossbreed of chicken that lays blue, pink or green eggs.

Fermented Feed– a technique of soaking feed (crumbles, pellets, seeds or grains) until it begins to ferment, with the purpose of creating a probiotic rich food source for chickens

Fodder– seeds (like these) that are sprouted or grown, making them more nutritious for chickens

Gizzard– a birds “stomach”. The gizzard is a hollow, muscular organ that holds grit and grinds food. Ground food can then pass to the intestines to be digested and absorbed. 

Hackles– or saddle feathers, the long, pointy feathers on a male chickens neck

Hen– Mature, egg laying female chicken

Keel- the breastbone (which can be felt in the center of a birds chest)

Lash egg– an egg shaped rubbery mass that is the result of inflammation and/or infection of the oviduct. As the pus, infection and other material travels through the oviduct, it takes the shape on an egg.

Layer (chicken)- a chicken raised for the purposes of egg production

Molting– the annual shedding of feathers. Male and female birds of all species start molting in their second year. In the United States, birds molt in the fall. Since feathers get lost or damaged throughout the year, the molt allows a bird to enter winter with a new set of feathers to protect it from the cold temperatures. 

Nares– another term for nostrils 

NPIP– National Poultry Improvement Plan. NPIP is a voluntary annual test for breeders and hatcheries. Some of the diseases tested for include salmonella, pullorum-typhoid, avian influenza, Mycoplasma synoviae, and Mycoplasma gallisepticum. NPIP website.

Olive Egger– A crossbreed of chicken that lays green or olive colored eggs, the result of breeding a Black Copper Marans hen with an Easter Egger rooster. 

Oviduct- the tube that connects the ovary to vent, through which an egg travels

Pasty Butt– or pasted vent. This condition is seen in chicks when a layer of poop gets stuck to their down, blocking their vent and preventing any further deification. This can quickly become fatal and requires immediate attention.

Pellets– a form of poultry food where the food has been pressed into a pellet. Most feed comes in either a pellet or crumble. If the option is given, this refers only to the physical particle size, and they are nutritionally identical.

Pin feather– or blood feather, is a newly emerged feather. Feather is encased in a delicate keratin wrapper and can easily bleed if damaged.

Point of lay (or POL)– Point of lay is the term used for a pullet that is nearing the age when she should start to lay eggs. For most chickens, this is 16-24 weeks old.

Primaries (feathers)– the 10 large flight feathers at the end of the wing

Pullet– a young female chicken

Roost– a perch or object that the birds use to sleep on. 

Rooster- a male chicken over 1 year old, however the term is often used for a male chicken of any age. It is also regularly shortened to “roo”. Referred to as a “cockerel” in Europe.

Saddle Feathers– also known as hackles- the long, pointy feathers on a male chickens neck

Sour Crop– a yeast infection of the crop. Characterized by a large, swollen crop that feel like a water balloon, and a sour smell emanating from the bird’s mouth. Don’t confuse sour crop with a crop that is full from a recent meal. A normal crop may be large, but will be solid and disappear by the next day.

Straight Run– a group of chicks that are not sexed and will consist of males and females

Vent– also known as a cloaca, the vent is the opening for reproduction, waste elimination, and egg laying

Waddle– The flaps of skin that hang below the bird’s beak

Wet Bulb– a measure of temperature not often used. Simplified, it measures temperature using a thermometer wrapped in a muslin cloth. If you are looking up incubation temperatures and only find wet bulb numbers, keep looking until you find the dry bulb set your incubator.  

Yolk– yellow part of the egg. This provides nourishment to a developing embryo

I hope this list helped to clear up any confusion you may have had. If you have any suggestions for additions, please comment below and I’ll get them added.

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