Rachel Hurd Anger
“Is this a hen or a rooster?”
It’s an honest and frequently asked question that often accompanies a photo of an unsexed chick. Obviously the person is asking whether a chick is female or male, but a chick cannot be a hen or a rooster based on the definition of the words, so I have to hold back from replying, “Neither.” Determining the sex of a chick who is many months from reaching maturity is a skill that one has to learn, but it’s also a skill that’s never 100-percent accurate, especially from a photo taken at the top end.
Centuries ago when people raised Gallus gallus domesticus (aka, the chicken), they called the birds fowl. Females were known as hens, but males were called chickens. As humans began eating chickens for meat instead of just eggs and we learned how to raise them in larger numbers, we developed the need to categorize them further in order to easily identify and communicate their purpose.
Today, we have vocabulary to express the nuanced differences between chickens, labeling them according to sex, age and related purpose. Instead of explaining, for example, that Henrietta is younger than 1 year old and is new to laying eggs, we’d just call her a pullet. The label communicates what I need you to know about the chicken without unnecessary beak flappin’.
This week, our pullets turn 1 year old, and they will now be known as hens. They won’t know the difference, but I can give you a lot of information about my entire flock by calling them hens.
Rachel Hurd Anger
Whether you’re a current or future urban chicken keeper, here is the modern chicken terminology you need to know:
A miniature version of a standard breed. Owners will sometimes refer to them as banties or a single banty.
A pullet or hen with the temporary instinct to sit on eggs to hatch, with or without the presence of a rooster in the flock.
A young male under 1 year old.
A newly hatched chick that can survive shipment through the mail. A day-old chick sustains itself with nutrition from its yolk sac until it reaches its destination.
A female chicken older than 1 year old.
A female chicken kept for the production of eggs.
A young female who’s about to begin laying.
A young female layer younger than 1 year old.
A male chicken older than 1 year old.
The male or female identification of a chick.
A random mix of unsexed chicks consisting of both pullets and cockerels.
If you’d like to raise meat chickens or you’re just a chicken consumer, these terms will also interest you:
A meat chicken between 6 and 9 months old of either sex.
A meat cockerel between 8 and 12 weeks old, weighing 2 to 3 pounds.
A meat chicken of either sex between 12 and 14 weeks old, weighing 3 to 4 pounds.
A meat chicken of either sex between 12 and 14 weeks old, weighing 4 to 6 pounds.
If you ever have questions about your flock (or your food), knowing these terms will help you find the advice you need from experienced sources.