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What’s the Difference Between Chicken and Hen?

There are a lot of terms when it comes to poultry that seem to be tossed around. All of these terms can become a bit confusing. Two of the more common terms used to describe poultry are hens and chickens. Let Dr. Jess set it straight – what’s the difference between a chicken and hen?

four backyard orange chickens free range in grassy field with sunset behind them

What is a Chicken?

A chicken is a type of bird used mainly in the United States as a food source and also very popularly as pets. They are located all over the world and used as food or companionship in almost every country.

Chicken is a general term for a type of domesticated bird known as Gallus gallus domesticus. Chicken is widely used for their meat and their eggs in cooking and consuming.

Chickens are omnivores, meaning that chickens eat both plant and animal materials, from vegetables, to insects – and nowadays, pelleted all-in-one feeds complete with the vitamins and minerals they need in order to be healthy and highly-productive.

Chickens come in all types of shapes, sizes, colors, and personalities.

Chickens typically live either free-range, where they are allowed to wander as they please or containment is minimalized, or are housed in a chicken coop.

A chicken coop provides extra security for the chickens, added protection form the environment, including weather and predatory animals, and typically a clean area to sleep and lay eggs.

Here’s a great article on how roosters actually fertilize chicken eggs!

Chickens reach maturity at different times depending on their breed, however, a chicken can become and adult at around 4-6 months of age.

Broiler Chickens:

Some of the more common types of chicken used for meat, which is termed as a broiler or broiler chicken, include the Cornish Cross, Rangers, Jersey Giants, and Heritage chicken breeds.

These breeds are selected for many qualities including, size, time to maturity, and quality of meat produced.

Egg-Layer Chickens:

Breeds of chicken typically used to produce eggs for human consumption include the Leghorn, Golden Comets, the Rhode Island and New Hampshire Red Breeds, and the Ameraucana breeds of chicken, just to name a few.

Some of these chickens can lay as many as 200-300 eggs per year! If these eggs are fertilized by a rooster, they may hatch and produce chicks that will turn into adult chickens in the weeks to come.

Many are great for backyard chicken owners and do well in many types of conditions.

What is a Hen?

A hen is a female gallinaceous bird.

Typically, here in the states, it is referring to an adult female chicken who is at least 1 year old.

Great – what do you do with that information? Let me explain…

A gallinaceous bird is type of ground-feeding bird like turkeys, quails, chickens, and other types of landfowl.

In this case, as we compare and contrast chickens and hens, a hen is a female chicken.

Female chickens, AKA hens, are what produces our chicken eggs that we eat.

Male chickens cannot produce or lay eggs.

Difference Between Chicken and Hen?

So what is the difference between a chicken and a hen you ask?

Well it’s kind of like the square-rectangle analogy; All squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares.

Same type of thing – all hens are chickens, but not all chickens are hens!

That’s right! Remember that a hen is a female chicken.

A chicken is just the basic term for the type of bird – a chicken can be either male or female, it’s not limited to just the female species!

How To Tell The Difference Between A Chicken and A Hen?

In order to tell if you have a chicken or a hen, you will need to tell if your chicken is male of female.

If you have a female chicken, then you have both a chicken and a hen all wrapped up into one!

Other Confusing Poultry Terms:

  • Rooster: Adult male chicken; also known as a cock
  • Cock: Adult male chicken or bird; also known as a rooster
  • Cockerel: Male chicken that is less than 1 year old
  • Capon: A neutered or castrated male chicken
  • Pullet: Female chicken that is less than 1 year old

Hen Versus Chicken Summary:

Poultry terms seem to be confusing to many people – and for good reason!

Many individuals unintentionally interchange these terms, when in fact, they mean completely different things. Don’t be one of these individuals any longer.

Now you know the difference between a chicken and a hen. Chickens can be either male or female birds, while hens are strictly female.

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