A New Chicken Keepers Guide to Vocabulary
Ahh it’s spring, can’t resist those little fluff balls in the feed stores? If you are a new chicken keeper, people are bound to use chicken lingo when you talk to them about the new loves of your life. And yes I do think every yard that is a Good Little Home should have a small flock in the yard. Design inspiration comes from chickens!
Like most hobbies chicken keeping has a vocabulary all it’s own. There are many chicken terms you will need to know. I don’t want you to be overwhelmed with all the new words, so let’s just touch on a few that you will need to know right away.
Let’s learn Chicken Lingo!
American Standard of Perfection
This is a book published by the American Poultry Association (APA) for judges and exhibitors to use to describe what each breed of chicken should look like and weigh. It lists things that would disqualify a bird from being shown as well for each breed.
A small chicken, often a smaller form of the standard chicken, but not always. There are some breeds that are true Bantams. These are some of my favorite birds. The eggs are smaller also but you can’t beat the sweet personalities. My favorites include Seramas, Nankins, Sebrights, and Bantam Cochins.
Bantam Standard of Perfection
This book is published by the American Bantam Association (ABA) and is a guide used by judges and exhibitors to describe each breed of Bantam chicken, acceptable weights, and things that would make a bird unable to be shown.
Slang for Bantam
Hard pointed part of a chickens mouth used for eating and picking things up. Also good for rubbing when you pick up your baby for a scratch.
Feathers that are fluffy, and found under the beak. An example is the Antwerp Belgian Bantam.
Wood shavings, sand, shredded paper used on the floor of the coop. I personally like using sand mixed with wood shavings. It’s easy to pick it clean every day. A clean barn is a happy barn. Keeping things tidy will also cut down on the annoying flies.
Slang for a hen.
A transparent covering on eggs, it is moist when the egg is first laid. The bloom is kind of natures way of covering the egg. When you collect your eggs don’t wash them until you are ready to use them, because you don’t want to wash this off.
A bird that has feathers covering its shanks (legs), and toes. This is a desired trait in some breeds. Also called Feather-legged. One of my friends when she first saw these said “Look it has little Pantaloons on” Here is an example.
Nobody is asking you to leave your loves! This means to keep a hen from sitting on eggs. Sometimes you don’t want to let a hen be broody, like if she is sitting on your breakfast. Once a hen has decided she is sitting, that’s what she is doing, and it takes huge amounts of human intervention to stop it. Take away the eggs (very carefully, she’ll peck, growl and protect her egg babies), remove her from the nest, and spray her chest and belly with cool water. That oughta do it. If not try it every day until the hen gives up.
Chickens who look alike, and bred together produce like young. They are also said to “bred true”
People who breed to the Standard of Perfection for a given breed of chicken, or chickens of mature age, that are a good representation of a breed to be used to produce baby chicks.
When chickens are bred that reliably produce a known trait in their chicks.
A group of chicks hatched out at the same time, or the act of taking care of the chicks. This is about the most adorable part of keeping chickens. I love it when the hen is keeping her babies warm a little face pops out of the hen’s feathers.
A place where chicks are raised with added heat until they are old enough to have feathers and no longer require the additional heat. These can be made quickly if you came home from the feed store with unexpected chicks, or they can be made from repurposed furniture.
A hen that is sitting on eggs to hatch chicks, sometimes hens are also broody and want to sit even without eggs to sit on. When a hen goes broody she goes into a state that looks like she is in a trance. They get off the eggs once or twice a day to poop, get some water and some food. I have had hens tag team this job. Both hens think it is their clutch, and when one gets up the other gets on the eggs. They are both in the nest most of the time.
An egg that has been held to a bright light source to see the development of the chick inside. This takes some practice to get it right. When you find an egg that isn’t developing you can take it out of the incubator. When you find one that is good it is like watching a miracle inside of the egg. You can see the tiny heart beating.
When a chicken eats another chicken’s flesh or eggs. It’s gross. Chickens will peck when they see blood, so if one is injured the others will often but not always start pecking at the injury. Do not leave an injured bird in the flock.
A newly hatched chicken, usually until the age it can be sexed. Also, the cutest thing God has ever made, except maybe for baby goats, or baby cows, or baby ducks, any way you get the idea. Baby animals are adorable.
No feathers on the shanks (legs) of the chicken. A desired trait in some breeds. Here is an example of a clean legged bird. These birds are usually better suited for a warm climate that the feather legged counterparts. All birds can suffer from heat-related stress, so having clean legged birds is not a guarantee against it.
A collection of eggs laid and hatched together. When they have all hatched Momma Hen will bring them out to meet you and her barnyard friends.
Also referred to as Cocci, is an internal parasite. It is one of the things that medicated Chick starter will help to control. When you have a chick or chicken that stops eating, looks puffed up like it is cold, or has blood in the poop, this may be the cause. For the inexperienced chicken keeper, it is time to find a good avian vet. There are many articles on how to treat it yourself, but for the first few cases, a good avian vet that can guide and teach you is best.
A male bird that is over one year old also called a rooster or roo. A rooster is really not needed to keep a flock of laying hens.
A male bird that is less than a year old. These young ones can be entertaining to watch, they have a funny little beginning crow like a teenage boy going through a voice change.
Found on the top of a chickens head, red, and fleshy. They are also a spot where my chickens like to be petted. Comb rubs must feel good. There are several different types of combs. This article from Backyard Chickens goes through them.
Building where your chicken lives. This can be a simple structure or an elaborate one. I have seen pictures where people have put chandeliers in the coop, and cute little curtains for the hens to have privacy while laying. Chickens are about the dustiest of animals. Cobwebs will abound. I always laugh to myself when I see these pictures and think the chickens must have not moved in yet, cause there is no dust anywhere. It needs to provide the chickens with a safe spot to sleep at night, shelter from the elements, and a place to lay eggs.
An egg that isn’t developing. These should be thrown away. They can be like a stinky bomb waiting to blow up and ruin your whole hatch in an incubator.
When a chicken throws dirt into its feathers. I love to watch my girls take dust baths and lay in the sun. This is God’s plan for mite and bug control.
A bird that has feathers covering its shanks (legs), and toes. This is a desired trait in some breeds. Also called Booted. These girls will have a harder time with heat, but as long as you can keep them cool will be ok in warm areas. Here is an example.
Can produce a chick. For the girls means they are laying good eggs, and for the roosters that they have good sperm, that can penetrate an egg.
An egg that has sperm, and is capable of becoming a chick. Some people think that there is a difference in the taste of fertile eggs. My husband will not eat them at all. He just wants eggs in his eggs.
A feather that curls away from the body, it is a feather type. Many breeds of chickens have a frizzle feather type. This is my favorite feather type on my hens. They’re just so darn cute. (She says in her baby talk voice.) Frizzle feathered birds can’t fly, and need help to stay warm, but since I live in the desert that’s not a problem here.
Any type of sand or rock that aids in the digestion of grain or plants in the chicken’s gizzard. You can buy it at most feed stores. They don’t got any teeth! Think of this as tiny gizzard teeth.
Chicks that came out of their shells together are a hatch, and also called a clutch. In case you missed it before another name for this should be incredible cuteness.
A female chicken that is over a year old. By this point in their lives, they know the lay of the land, and where they stand in the flock or sit in my lap.
The time it takes for an egg to go from egg to chick, usually 21 days. Sometimes this is also the exact amount of time you thought a hen was lost or taken by a predator before she comes marching back to show off her chicks.
A machine that holds a steady temperature for hatching eggs. I have a love-hate relationship with this machine. I like to turn my eggs by hand instead of using the turners that come with the machine. Greg thinks this is a bonding phase where I am waiting for the babies to hatch.
Mites or Lice
I am only going to mention these here because they can do so much harm to your chickens, they can even kill them if a chicken has a bad infestation. They are really small parasitic bugs that feed on chickens. Yes, they will climb on you too. The best treatment for these little critters is good control. I use lots of Diatomaceous Earth in my coop. I also bathe my birds several times a year, with Adams Flea and Tick shampoo. Try not to bring these critters home when you get birds. They are also on wild birds, so even a clean coop can end up with birds that have mites.
When your chicken sheds out old feathers and grows new ones. It’s the time of year when you check, double check, and then triple check to see if your birds have mites or lice because there are feathers everywhere and a bunch of half-naked chickens running around.
Like a beard, but on the side of the chicken’s face. Usually on either side of a beard. These make the face look like the bird is literally wearing a little muff around those little chicken cheeks.
Something that lives on or in another animal (called the host), that does harm to the host. These are just gross, Mites, Lice, and Worms fall into this category. Prevention is the best medicine when it comes to parasites.
Brooded chicks will sometimes get a loose stool stuck on their bottom. This is called Pasty Butt, or maybe more politely Pasting. Be very careful when you remove this dried on mess. Get it wet first and just GENTLY work it off the bird. If you just rip you may pull off skin with the poop. I like to trim the butt feathers when one has this. Chances are it will get it again. Some people also apply a dab of Vaseline or oil. Take care of this as soon as you see it. If not removed, it blocks the chick so it can’t poop, and the chick will die.
Flocks have top and bottom chickens, otherwise known as a pecking order. Hens, as well as roosters, will battle to be the top of the flock, but only one can be number one. The top hen if there is a rooster present will usually be his favorite hen. If there is no rooster the girls will have to fight it out on their own.
The place where chickens go to sleep. Also a roost. Just a note on this: it’s not always the p[lace you have set up for them. I have hung roosts in my barn and set up some ramps for the older gals to get to them, but where do they sleep? Mostly in the barn rafters, They will seek out the highest ground away from predators.
New feathers, usually wrapped in a waxy substance. Don’t mess with these, they are itchy, and ouchy when you touch them.
The hole in a shell made by a chick when it is trying to escape the shell. Also, the moment when your heart beats faster and you announce to the whole house THEY’RE PIPPING!! Do not open the incubator!!!
The act of getting out of the shell. See Pip above in case you don’t know what to do now.
The feathers. Chickens have many beautiful feather patterns, too many to mention here.
A female chicken that is under a year old. Some breeds of chickens will already be laying eggs as pullets.
Place where a chicken sleeps at night. Just scroll right on back up and read perch.
A male chicken, also see Cock. He is the protector of the flock and fertilizer of the eggs and a giant annoyance to the hens. They can be entertaining to keep around with their crazy antics to impress the hens. Too many roosters per hen are bound to lead to fighting among them.
The enclosed portion outside of the coop. The chickens will spend most of their life in the run taking dust baths, chasing down bugs, and destroying and plants in there you may have thought about landscaping with. Make it safe from predators that can dig under stuff or swoop in from above. Chicken wire is not sturdy enough to keep out most predators.
Scaly Leg Mites
Mites that live under the scales on a chicken’s legs. Makes the legs rough in appearance. This is a good photo of what a leg with these critters looks like. They make your chickens unhappy. The article with the photo also outlines some common ways to deal with Scaly Leg Mites.
When you have put eggs into an incubator, or a hen is on the eggs. The first part of the longest 21 days of your life.
Chicks that have a distinct color that tells you at hatch if they are males or females. This is the only way to have a 100% accurate way to tell at hatch.
Chicks that have been determined to be Cockerels or Pullets. Sooo on this one, there are many ways that people say they can sex chicks. None of them are 100% accurate. The only way to know for sure that your buying hens ais to get a breed that has a different chick down as males and females. Hatcheries look at the vent to sex chicks, but again not always correct. Somehow I always end up with the one that is a rooster in a batch of feed store chicks that were supposed to be all hens.
A breed of chicken, but also a feather type that lacks barbs or quills and makes them soft to the touch. As a breed, they make great pets.
When a hen is on eggs. Caution, she looks like she is in a trance but don’t cross this hen to take the eggs unless you want to be pecked and growled at as if you were dealing wi
A hen that is almost at or at the end of her laying. Usually an older hen. These are always the ones you have become most attached to, so hey how much more could it really cost to feed just this one more hen?
Sharp pointed “claw” on a roosters shank (leg). If you have ever had a rooster attack you, or seen roosters fight, you have seen these in action. They do need to be periodically trimmed or removed.
Older pullets that are almost ready to begin laying. They are more expensive than chicks, but you don’t have to brood them, so they are ready to be added to the flock.
Feed that is used for newly hatched chicks. There are commercially available chick feeds, both medicated to help prevent coccidiosis, (scroll back up to it if you need more info) and non medicated. I like to make my own starter with these as a base. Which kind of Starter is right for you will take some research. It is another one of those sort of controversial topics to use medicated or not.
Chicks that have not been sexed. These are usually cheaper than sexed chicks. They are supposed to be as hatched, but I have a sneaking suspicion that this is where some of the extra roosters end up.
A substance used to stimulate antibodies and suppress disease. Many chicken vaccines are controversial since they introduce the disease causing organism to the bird and flock. Do your research and decide before you order chicks what’s best for you.
Small red flaps of skin under the beak. This is a really favorite spot for hens to rubbed. We call it wattlies at our house. even the most hard to convince that pets are good will eventually give in to wattlies.
There are many more chicken terms you will want to know as you continue your journey into keeping chickens. For now you should be able to “Flock Talk” with your chicken keeping keeping friends, and be able to make some choices about keeping chickens. The most important thing is to enjoy them.