When referring to chickens, we often use the words chickens and hens interchangeably when talking about the same bird. Are chickens and hens completely different birds? Do chickens and hens have different attributes? What are the significant differences and similarities between these two? This is what we will be looking to address here today.
So, what are the differences between a chicken vs hen? Chicken is the broad term for the species as a whole, whereas a hen is an adult female chicken of 6 months and older (that has begun laying eggs). The term chicken is therefore all-encompassing and can include roosters, cockerels, hens, and pullets.
If there is any confusion between chickens and hens, let’s clear it up in the following sections.
What Is A Chicken?
A chicken is a species of bird. A variety of domesticated fowl (Gallus gallus domesticus) and is a subspecies of the red junglefowl (Gallus gallus).
The way to think about it is this. Chickens can be male or female, of any age.
It is often the term used interchangeably to describe hens or roosters (which we will discuss shortly).
What Is A Hen?
A hen is a mature female chicken that has laid her first egg.
In other words, this time it is gender-specific.
But when can you start using it?
Well, it all depends on her egg-laying schedule, technically.
How soon hens are ready to lay eggs depends very much on the breed of chicken and the time of year.
Some of the new breeds, like the Golden comets, are specifically to lay lots of eggs and may begin laying as early as 16 weeks.
Other breeds that lay soon are Barred Rocks, Delawares, and Rhode Island Reds – they lay at 18-20 weeks.
As previously mentioned, the time of year is another determining factor in how soon a hen can lay eggs (later for winter chicks and sooner for spring chicks).
Most hens lay eggs at around six months of age.
Some hens continue to lay eggs every day or almost every day, some every two days.
Younger hens lay eggs at larger intervals until they develop to maturity.
Backyard hens typically stop laying eggs after four years, again this depends on the individual bird and their particular breed.
You will notice that as they age, the frequency of their egg-laying will begin to decrease.
Hens can lay eggs without a rooster present; however, if a rooster is allowed to mix with hens, there is a good chance that eggs will fertilize.
This will result in chicks being born if the eggs are left to nest under the hen.
What Is A Pullet?
A pullet is a young female chicken that has not yet laid her first egg; typically this is a female chicken is under one year of age.
Now you are probably wondering. Can this term be applied to female chicks?
Technically yes, but it is not common. Usually this term is applied once a female chicken reaches the egg-laying stage (16 weeks +).
What Is A Rooster?
Male chickens over one-year-old, who are typically mating with hens, are called roosters.
Roosters often take on the role of protector; guarding the flock, helping to ensure the hens receive enough food, even minimizing conflict!
What Is A Capon?
Capons are castrated roosters.
They have gone through the surgical procedure of of ‘caponization‘ which essentially means that their testicles have been removed.
This is often done as a means of controlling flock size, or in pursuit of more tender meat.
What Is A Cockerel?
Males less than one-year-old are cockerels.
At 12-16 weeks, they start to develop their crows. You know, the squawks that roosters are known for as they age and mature.
During this time, cockerels will go through a period of claiming their position in the social hierarchy; rivalling others, play fighting and trying to asset dominance.
They are also submissive to the rooster during this time.
How Can You Tell The Difference Between A Chicken And A Hen?
Since a chicken is a broad term that includes roosters, hens, and young ones, it’s crucial to know the differences between the males and females at every stage so that no mistakes are made when you are trying to sex your birds.
It’s much easier to tell the adult male and female chickens apart:
How To Tell If A Chicken Is Male
- Roosters have more prominent combs and wattles, with rougher textures than the hens; even when they are young, the comb is larger and redder than hens of their age.
- They have pointy hackle feathers on the back of their neck.
- They have sickle feathers at the base of their tail that curve.
- They have spurs on their ankles.
- Roosters crow.
- They have thicker legs than hens.
- Males don’t lay eggs.
How to Tell If A Chicken Is Female
- The most apparent sign that a chicken is a hen is when it lays eggs.
- Hens don’t normally have spurs if they do. It is usually smaller than the roosters.
- Their comb is usually softer, smaller, and lighter in color than a male.
- The feathers are rounded at the tips.
The best way to understand the difference between a chicken and a hen is that a chicken is abroad term for the species(whether it’s male or female) whereas, a hen is an adult, egg-laying female chicken.
Hopefully, you understand the differences between chickens and hens, and you know what physical traits are unique to males and females.
Learning to distinguish between male and female chicks is tricky at the start, but it is crucial if you are looking to home many chickens or if you are looking at pursuing a poultry-based business venture.
With time and practice, you will be able to tell the difference much more readily, and it will seem like less of a daunting task.
I am an experienced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets, from traditional pets like dogs and cats, to the more exotic like reptiles and rodents. I currently own a Cockapoo (pictured) called Bailey. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site dedicated to sharing evidence-based insights and guidance, based on my vast pet ownership knowledge, experience, and extensive research.