Chicken Basics Guide
We have had several questions since this page has been created but Chicken Basics and Definitions have not been one of them! The questions have covered a hugh range of topics of which we have tried to faithful answer. I found it odd that no basic Chicken questions dealing with the parts and names of different types of chickens have been asked. The following is some basic information I have put together for those who may have questions and just didn’t want to ask for whatever reasons!
I will try to cover the basic parts of the chicken, nothing fancy just basics. The gender, shelter, feed, and behavior! I will also answer some basic questions in this article that we have been asked over the last several months.
- Chick: This is the small offspring of the hen. We have often called them doodles. These are baby chickens.
- Chicken: This is a fowl that has been domesticated for the purpose of food, namely eggs and meat. Over the years it has become a popular pet also and yard decor for may City and Urban dwellers.
- Cock (Rooster): A male chicken who is 1 year of age or older. Not a desirable creature in the Cities and Urban areas. Neighbors get agitated with them.
- Cockerel: This is a male chicken under 1 year old. An immature Rooster.
- Flock: This is a group of chickens numbering three or more and can be of any breed. Some Cities and Urban areas restrict your number.
- Hen: This is the female chicken at least 1 year of age. This is the egg producer.
- Pullet: This is a young hen less than a year old. The chicks become pullets when they get fully feathered.
- Sexing: This has nothing to do with mating! This is a process that people use to determine if the baby chick is a male or female.
Chicken Basics and Definitions for Physical Terms
- Bantam: This is a miniature or smaller chicken usually of a standard breed. These chickens will weigh between 2 – 4 lb. There are true Bantam breeds out there. The Japanese and Silkie are a couple of them. These have no Standard Breed equivalent for them. These Bantams are also referred to as many as Banties.
- Comb: This is the Reddish thick skinlike cap or crown on top of the chickens head.
- Dual Purpose: This is a chicken who normally lays several eggs a week and is a good meat chicken as well. Many homesteaders and farmers are partial to these as they use them for meat chickens as well.
- Shank: the part of the leg between the foot and thigh. Similar to our shin bone.
- Beak: The hard bony structure they peck with.
- Vent: The area the eggs come out and the waste comes out at.
- Wattles: The reddish fleshy comb like pieces hanging down from each side of the beak.
- Standard: These are medium sized chickens that weigh from 5 – 24 lbs. They cover a large number of breeds!
Chicken Basics and Definitions for Shelter and Health
- Chicken Coop: Sometimes referred to as a hen house. It is actually the house and chicken run combined in one structure.
- Feed: Chickens will eat about anything they can swallow but chicken feed is a mix of formulated food made specifically for chickens. Depending on the kind and age of the chicken will determine the type of food you will get it. Every company makes different food from chick food to laying mash and every kind in between. There are lots to choose from. Choose the one for the correct age of your chickens.
- Henhouse: This is the house or structure inside the coop where the hens sleep and lay the eggs.
- Nesting Box: This is a box like structure designed for the hen to lay her eggs in. Many people build them while others buy them from supply stores.
- Perch: This is for roosting purposes. This is any ledge attached to the inside of the henhouse for the chickens to sleep on. Many times it is called the roost.
- Chicken Scratch: this is a mix of grains intended for a snack to be given with your feed. This is not a substitute for food but a good snack to add when feeding.
Chicken Basics and Definitions for Behavior
- Roost: This is when the chickens go into the Chicken house for sleep or for free range chickens when they take to the trees or whatever structure they intend to sleep on.
- Preen: This is how the chicken cleans itself and rearranges it feathers by running its beak through them.
- Pecking Order: This is the social order of the flock! They establish this naturally and everyone knows their place within the flock!
- Lay: this is to produce an egg.
- Dirt Bath: This is often created by a person for the chicken to scratch in and cover their entire bodies with dirt! If one is not created the chickens will make their own. They enjoy this and it helps clean off and kill parasites.
- Broody: This is a hen who is setting on her eggs or one setting on any eggs she finds of other chickens trying to hatch them.
Now some questions about Chicken Basics and Definitions
Do I have to own a rooster in order for my chickens to lay eggs?
No, this is a myth and it is not necessary to own a rooster in order for your hens to lay! Your hens will lay regardless. There are flocks all over the cities and urban townships, that do not allow roosters because of the noise they make.
How long will my chicken live?
This depends on the feed, health and living conditions more than anything. If you take care of your chicken and keep it healthy is could live up to 18- 20 years. This is the exception! Most likely they are going to live around 8 – 10 years if they stay healthy.
How old do my hens have to be before they will start laying?
There are several breeds who start laying earlier than others. They can start anywhere from 4 – 7 months. A lot of this can depend on when the chicken was born and the weather when it starts developing. Most will slow down or stop laying in the winter.
Now that she is laying, how long will she lay?
No doubt your first two years are going to be your most productive years. They can lay for several years but each year they produce fewer and fewer eggs. I have heard of hens laying into their tenth year but only one egg a week or so.
What do I do with her when she quits laying?
This is a very hot and debated topic today! Many people buy them as pets and eggs producers only! They have no desire for them a dual purpose bird and would never kill and stew their chicken! If this is the case I would suggest you plan on keeping her for 8 – 12 years. You will need to feed her just like you other egg producing chickens. If you bought a dual purpose bird for her meat, when her egg production fall below your expectation, make a stew out of her. I know this sound hard to some of you but there are many homesteaders and farmers who still raise them for the meat also. They know what they were fed and how they were raised thus they know what they are eating. Many people prefer this to store bought meat! If you do not want to keep her or make stew out of her, please, do not drop her off at the animal shelter or on the vet or on some unsuspecting person. She deserves better than this. It would be better to put her in a stew than to drop her off! Be responsible and run an ad in your local paper. There is usually some chicken lovers who will add her to their own flock!
What can I feed my chicken?
First it may be better to list some things you do not want to feed them!
- Salt: A little salt isn’t going to hurt them, but avoid feeding them too much salt.
- Processed foods: It’s healthier for your chickens to eat leftovers from a home cooked meal than leftover pizza or scraps from a TV dinner.
- Raw potato peels: Potatoes are members of the Nightshade family (Solanaceae), and their peels, especially when they turn green from exposure to the sunlight, contain the alkaloid solanine, which is toxic.
- Sweet potatoes and sweet potato skins belong to a different plant family. They do not contain solanine and are safe to feed to your chickens.
- Garlic, onions, and other strong tasting foods: These aren’t necessarily harmful to your chickens, but they may import an undesirable taste to the eggs that your hens lay.
- Avocado skins and pits: These contain persin, a fungicidal toxin that can be fatal to chickens.
- Spoiled or rotten foods: Foods can produce toxins when they spoil.
- Soft drinks Coffee or coffee grinds Chocolate: Chocolate contains theobromine, which may be toxic to birds.
- Very greasy foods. These can be difficult for your chickens to digest.
- Raw meat: Feeding chickens raw meat can lead to cannibalism.
These were listed in another article on our Blog. “What to feed your chickens”
Now that we have looked at a list of things we should not feed our chickens lets take a look at stuff we can!
These are mainly table scraps! You can most certainly feed your chickens any food approved for them from the growers and supply stores.
- Bread: Bread, in moderation, can be fed to your chickens, but avoid moldy bread.
- Cooked meats: Meats should be cut into small pieces.
- Corn: Raw, cooked, or dried corn can be fed to your chickens.
- Fruits: Aside from a few exceptions, most fruits are fine to feed your chickens.
- Suggestions are apples, berries, and melons (watermelon rinds are one of the favorites with our chickens).
- Grains: Rice, wheat, and other grains are fine for your chickens.
- Oatmeal, Peas, Vegetables: Most cooked or raw vegetables are fine to feed your chickens.
- Suggestions include broccoli, carrots (cooked or shredded), cabbage, chard, cucumbers, kale, lettuce, pumpkins, spinach, squash, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes.
Chickens will eat a number of things outdoors! Just about anything they can catch and swallow is fair game to them! Everything from ticks and mosquitoes to mice! Chickens are scavengers of the best kind and are great at bug control!
Will my chickens stink?
This all depends on you! How well you keep your coop cleaned out and how often you clean it. We suggest once weekly for a clean odor free surrounding. If you don’t clean it regularly you will get the barnyard smell that your neighbors are sure to complain about.
Can I make a pet out of my chicken?
By all means. Some breeds make wonderful pets! There are some that are docile and can be trained to do tricks! Many people in today’s society purchase these people friendly chicken so they can make pets out of them. It is very important to those who have small children in the home.
Can I bathe my chicken?
Yes, you most certainly can and if they get parasites of mite infections you will need to! If you intend to show your pet chicken it is important to give them a bath. this is explained in this Blog Post, “Getting your Chicken ready to Show”
There are so many other questions to be addressed but I don’t have time or room for them today! Go through our other articles for more great information on chickens!
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