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A is for Albumen | Essential Chicken Keeping Terms

When you first begin raising chickens, you're bound to run into chicken keeping terms, abbreviations and phrases that might seem like a foreign language at first. There definitely is a bit of a terminology learning curve when you are just getting started.

From "albumen" to "zip", this handy glossary of 100+ common chicken keeping terms you should know that will help you get acquainted with the some of the jargon associated with backyard chickens.


Glossary of Essential Chicken Keeping Terms

Here are a few of the more common chicken keeping terms you should know, and their meanings, plus where I could, I linked to a full-length blog post on the topic if you want even more information. 

Albumen | The thick, clear, viscous liquid inside an egg, also called the egg white.

Ameraucana | Breed of purebred chicken that lays blue eggs. 

Apple Cider Vinegar (also known as ACV) | General health elixir used as an additive to chickens' water for improved respiratory health.

Bantam |  A petite,  miniature version of a standard breed chicken, usually 1/3 to 1/2 the size of a standard chicken. Biddy | Old-fashioned, mostly outdated term for a female chicken or hen of laying age.

Biosecurity | Methods and procedures in place to prevent the introduction and spread of infectious disease to a chicken flock.


Bloom/Cuticle | The natural coating on the outside of an eggshell that provides a barrier and prevents air and bacteria from passing through the pores in the shell.  Washing removes the bloom making refrigeration of washed eggs necessary.

BOSS | Black oil sunflower seeds. A favorite chicken treat full of healthy fats,  protein and nutrients like niacin.

Breed | A group of chickens sharing distinctive traits and features including size, shape and often coloring, 

Broiler | A breed of chicken raised for meat, specifically bred for fast growth. Broilers generally are processed between 7 to 12 weeks old and usually weighing 3-4 pounds. 

Brood | To take care of a clutch of baby chicks, keeping them safe and warm.

Brooder/Brooder Box | A warm box or other container that chicks are raised in for their first 6 to 8  weeks before they are old enough to be outside and which contains a heat source, feed and water.

Broody | A hormonal hen who has decided its time to sit on eggs until they hatch and then raise the chicks. Although the broody genes have been bred out of most modern breeds, many do still retain that natural urge.  

Bumblefoot |  A bacterial infection similar to a staph infection on the underside of a hen's foot that is characterized by redness, swelling and a black scab, often caused by a small cut or a hard landing off the roost. If not treated and the "kernel" of infection removed,  the bumblefoot can spread to other skin tissue and organs.

Candle/Candling | Shining a light on a fertilized egg through the shell to determine if the embryo is developing correctly. The term originated from the old practice of using an actual candle, however now flashlights or commercial candlers are used. 

Capon | Male chicken that has been castrated so he will grow larger and produce more meat.

Chick |  Newly hatched baby chicken,  either male or female.

Chick Feed/Starter Feed | The main diet of baby chicks from hatch to 8 weeks old. Contains high levels of protein needed by growing chicks.

Chook | Slang for chicken, mainly used in Australia and the UK.

Cloaca | The opening just inside the vent on the backside of a chicken where the feces and eggs come out. 

Closed Flock |  A set group of chickens that are only added to by introducing baby chicks, never older chickens.


Cluck | The sound a hen makes, often after laying an egg. Also referred to as the "egg song".

Clutch |  A collection of eggs that a hen "hoards" in order to amass enough eggs to start sitting on and ultimately hatching them. There are usually around 12 eggs in a clutch. 

Coccidia/Coccidiosis |  An extremely contagious intestinal parasite that infects mostly young chickens, causing bloody diarrhea and often death, if not treated.

Cockerel /Cock| A male chicken less than a year old.  More commonly used in the UK and Europe.

Comb | The flexible, fleshy, usually red protuberance on top of a chicken's head which in part helps them regulate their body temperature. Different breeds have different types and shapes of combs, and usually a rooster's comb will be larger than a hen's.



Coop |  Chicken house or hen house where the chickens spent the night to stay safe from predators.

Crop/Craw |  A pouch in the esophagus of a chicken that is the first stage of digestion and used as a holding area where the food the chicken eats during the day is deposited, moistened and held before continuing on to be digested by the gizzard. The crop is situated on the side of a chicken's right breast.

Cross Breed | Chick hatched from a rooster and hen of different breeds. Also sometimes referred to as a "barnyard mix".

Crow | The sound a rooster makes.

Crumble | Chicken feed pellets that have been crushed into small crumbs. Crumble contains the same nutrients as pelleted feed.


Cull | To remove a chicken from the flock by rehoming or processing.

Deep Litter Method | An old-timers method of coop litter management that allows the bedding to decompose in the coop instead of removing it, creating natural warmth in the coop in the winter.

Diatomaceous Earth (also known as DE) | All natural prehistoric ground fossil that is often added to chicken feed and dust bath area to control internal and external parasites. 

Down | Soft fluff that covers chicks. Until chicks lose their down and grow feathers, they are unable to regulate their body temperature and need to be kept under a steady heat source.

Dropping Board | Piece of wood, although sometimes a plastic or  cloth hammock is used, placed under the roost to catch the chicken manure from sleeping chickens.

Dust Bath |  Area filled with dry dirt, wood ash or sand where the chickens "bathe" to keep their feathers clean and free from parasites.

Ear Lobes | the circular patch of flesh below the ear on either side of a chicken's head. Contrary to popular belief, the color of the ear lobes do not indicate the color egg a chicken lays.

Easter Egger (also known as EE) |  Mixed breed chickens who lay a colorful array of egg colors from blue to green, pink, brown or cream.

Egg Bound/Egg Binding |  The state of a hen who is unable to lay an egg because the egg gets stuck in the reproductive tract.  Serious condition which can be life-threatening if not treated immediately.

Egg tooth |  The sharp knob at the tip of a chick's beak that it uses to crack through the eggshell in order to hatch.  The egg tooth falls off a day or so after the chick hatches.

Fairy Egg | A small, usually yolk-less egg, common in new layers.

Fertile/Fertilized | An egg that has had a bit of rooster DNA deposited in it through mating with the hen, which means that the egg will hatch into a chick if incubated for 21 days.

Flock | A chicken "family" or group of chickens living together. They can be all the same age and breed or all different ages and breeds.

Fodder | Sprouted grass or other seeds that can be fed to chickens to provide them nutrients when they can't free range.

Forage | The act of scratching in the dirt or searching in the grass for food.

Free Range | A flock of chickens that spends time outside of a pen or other enclosed area and is instead able to wander freely in a yard or pasture. Free ranging is risky due to the threat from predators.

Frizzle | A type of chicken with curled or twisted feathers. 

Gallus domesticus | The scientific Latin name for the domestic chicken.

Gizzard | A grinding organ in the stomach where grit is stored to help grind up the food the chicken eats since they don't have teeth.

Grit |  Small stones, pebbles, coarse dirt or sand that chickens eat and store in their gizzard to assist in digesting their food. 

Grower Feed | The main diet for adolescent chickens, from 8 to about 18 weeks of age.

Hackles |  A chicken's side and back neck feathers.  Rooster hackle feathers are long and pointy, while a hen's hackle feathers are shorter and rounded.

Hen | Female chicken over a year old.

Hen House | Another name for a chicken coop.

Heritage Breed | Breed of chickens defined by The Livestock Conservancy as having four characteristics 1) recognized as an American Poultry Association prior to the mid-20th century 2) naturally mating 3) can live a long and productive life outdoors and 4) have a slow growth rate, not reaching maturity until at least 16 weeks old.

Hock | Basically the chicken's knee. It's the joint between the lower leg and the drumstick and thigh.

Incubate | To warm fertile eggs to a temperature between 99.5 to 100.5 F for 21 days so they hatch into chicks.

Incubator |  An electronic device used to hatch eggs in an artificial environment instead of under a hen.

Keel | The bony ridge along the chicken breast bone to which the wing muscles attach. 

Lash egg |  A rubbery mass that usually indicates infection in the oviduct of the hen. As the pus and infected material travels through the oviduct, it takes on the shape of an egg.


Layer Feed | The main diet for adult chickens. Contains added calcium to help hens lay eggs with thick, hard shells.

Layers | Female chickens kept for the purpose of laying eggs.

Litter | Layer of bedding on the coop floor used to absorb manure and provide a cushion for the chickens when they hop off the roost. Commonly straw or pine shavings.

Marek's/Marek's disease | A highly contagious viral disease that can be fatal, especially to young chicks. One of the most common poultry diseases, a vaccination is available to protect newly hatched chicks.

Molt |  The annual process chickens go through each fall in which they lose their old feathers and grow new ones in anticipation of the cold winter weather.

Nesting box |  A wooden, metal or plastic box filled with soft material such as straw or pine shavings, usually in the coop, where hens are encouraged to lay their eggs. 

Nictating membrane | A transparent extra eyelid that a chicken can draw horizontally across their eye for added  protection from dust and debris and to moisten the eye without losing their vision. 

Oviduct | The part of the hen's reproductive tract where the egg is formed. 

Oyster shell | Source of calcium for laying hens to help them lay eggs with thick, strong shells. Should be provided free-choice to laying hens. Crushed eggshell can be used as well.  

Pecking order | The rigid social order within a flock that dictates hierarchy between each hen. Those higher in the pecking order can peck those below them and have first choice of treats, feed and a spot on the roosting bars. 

Peep | The sounds baby chicks make.


Pellets | Extruded chicken feed. Identical nutrient value as crumbled feed.

Pin Feathers | The tips of newly growing feathers  that are encased in a waxy coating. Pin feathers are living things and contain blood which dries up when the feathers are fully formed.  

Pip | The initial hole a chick breaks in the eggshell with its egg tooth as it begins to hatch so it can begin to breathe outside air on its own. 

Plumage | The feathered coat of a chicken.

Point of Lay (also known as POL) | Age at which hens begin laying eggs, usually around 20-24 weeks old. 

Preen/Preening | Stimulating the oil gland near the base of the tail to straighten and clean the feathers.  

Primary Feathers | The long flight feathers at the end of each wing.

Probiotics | Digestive aid found in yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut and fermented feed that is beneficial to chicken intestinal health.

Production Breed | Breed of chickens specifically bred for high production. Tend to lay more eggs than heritage and other breeds.

Poultry | An all-encompassing word used for the various types of domesticated avian species including not only chickens, but also ducks, geese, guinea hens,  peacocks and peahens, pheasants, pigeons, quail and  turkeys. Poultry are categorized into 4 types: landfowl, waterfowl, game fowl and other.

Pullet | A female chicken less than a year old.

Roost/Perch |  (n) The horizontal board, pole or branch in the coop where the chickens sleep; (v) the act of sleeping on the pole or branch. 

Rooster | A male chicken over a year old.

Run | Pen, yard or other fenced-in outside area where the chickens spend their days if they aren't free range, normally attached to the coop or built around the coop.

Saddle/Apron | A piece of cloth or other material that is worn over the chicken's back, usually with elastic loops that go under the wings to hold it in place.  It protects the hen's feathers and underlying skin from damage done by a rooster's spurs during mating or from pecking by other chickens.

Saddle Feathers |  A chicken's lower back feathers where the back meets the tail. 

Scratch/Scratch Grains |  A mix of whole and cracked grains, seeds and corn, either homemade or commercially mixed, fed as a cold weather treat to keep chickens warm overnight.

Sexing/Vent Sexing | Determining the sex of a newly hatched chick by examining their internal sex organs. Best left to professionals.

Sex-Link |  Sex link chicks are able to be separated into males and females at birth by their coloring; sexing is the process used to determine the sex of a newly hatched chick. 

Shank | Lower part of the chicken's leg just above the foot. The spurs grow out of the shanks.

Sickles | A rooster's tail feathers which are longer and more of a plume than a hen's tail feathers.

Spurs | Sharp talons made of hard bone and keratin located on the back of a chickens legs. While hens can also have spurs, rooster spurs are larger and more prominent and mainly used for protection against predators, defending their territory or fighting against other roosters. The spurs are also used to help the rooster hang on to the hen's back during mating.

Straight Run |  Chicks that haven't been sexed before being sold, so you will likely end up with a mix of males and females. 

Tidbitting | A hen finds food for her chicks and makes a distinctive clucking sound, repeatedly dropping the morsel on the ground in front of the chicks to teach them what's good to eat. A rooster will also do the same for his favorite hens.

Tractor | A small movable or portable pen or cage without a bottom, sometimes with wheels, that is just large enough for a few chickens that can be moved around an area to give the chickens constant access to fresh grass while keeping them contained and safe from aerial predators. Tractors also keep landscaping and gardens safe from the chickens.

Treading | The act of a rooster preparing to mate with a hen by mounting her and balancing himself on her back using his spurs and feet and holding on to the back of her head with his beak.

Vent | The rear opening in a chicken's body through which both excrement and eggs pass, although the egg travels down the oviduct to the vent, while excrement travels down the intestine.  

Wattles |  The two rubbery red, fleshy protrusions under a chicken's beak which help in part to regulate a chicken's  body temperature.  Rooster wattles tend to be larger than a hen's. 

Yolk | The yellow ball inside an egg that contains the majority of the nutrients and fat in the egg. The yolk provides all the energy and nutrients for a developing embryo. Just before the chick hatches it absorbs the remaining yolk which provides the chick all the food they need for the first 48 hours of life.

Zip | The circle a hatching chick makes with its egg tooth around the circumference of the eggshell at the blunt end of the egg so it can push itself out of the egg. 


Now that you know what these terms all mean, you should be able to talk chicken with the best of them!

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