Backyard Chicken Glossary

For those new to keeping backyard chickens, learning the terminology is part of the fun.
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©2012, Know Your Chickens, Fox Chapel Publishing

Photo By: Image courtesy of Blackberry Farm ©2013, HGTV/Scripps Networks, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

©2012, Know Your Chickens, Fox Chapel Publishing

Frizzle

Feathers that curl instead of lying flat on a chicken are known as frizzle. The term also refers to a breed of chicken that displays such plumage.

Bloom

A nearly invisible coating found on newly hatched eggs is known as bloom. The antibacterial coating wards off disease and is often left intact for egg storage. Once the bloom has been washed from an egg, it must be refrigerated to prevent spoilage.

Broody

Most breeds of chickens have a natural, cyclical instinct to sit on eggs to encourage hatching. A broody chicken will sit on her eggs for days, leaving the nest only for short periods to eat or drink.

Chicken Tractor

A tractor is a moveable chicken coop. These floorless, mobile coops can be repositioned to access fresh vegetation, naturally fertilize the soil and reduce foraging damage in small yards.

Chicken Run

A chicken run is a fenced area usually attached to a coop. In situations where free-ranging isn't an option, a run is a safe and secure way to give a backyard flock regular access to fresh air, sunlight and soil.

Wattle

The wattle refers to the fleshy skin beneath the chin of a chicken. Wattles are most commonly red, but the color varies by breed.

Clutch

A collection of eggs found in a nesting box or other laying location is called a clutch. Hens within a flock will not distinguish between their own eggs and those laid by other hens when brooding to encourage hatches.

Crossbreed

Also called hybrid, a chicken hatched from parents of differing breeds is called a crossbreed. Most backyard coops maintain no more than one rooster and crossbreeding is common.

Coop

A chicken coop is any enclosed structure intended to house chickens. Coops come is a wide variety of sizes and styles, but all should be kept clean and secure and provide the housed flock adequate space and defined locations to roost and nest.

Comb

A comb is the (usually) red, fleshy crown on top of a chicken's head. Color and shape varies between breeds. A comb that appears mottled or droops may be an indicator of health issues.

Down

The soft, fluffy coat on newborn chicks is called down. As chicks develop, in a matter of weeks it will be replaced by adult feathers.

Dust Bath

Chickens are inclined to roll in loose earth to clean feathers and discourage mites. Dust baths are instinctive and chickens will often scratch a depression in loose soil in which to roll.

Free Range

Chickens given consistent access to pastures or open fields are known as free range. Free ranging allows chickens to forage for grubs, insects or other small creatures. Access to natural proteins help keep chickens healthy and thriving.

Incubate

To keep fertile eggs warm and protected though brooding or artificial means, incubation is required for embryos to develop and chicks to hatch. Although hens have a natural instinct to brood, most eggs are now hatched though artificial incubators that reliably regulate temperature and humidity levels.

Molt

During times of rejuvenation or when cold weather lies ahead, a molt is the process in which a chicken will shed some or all of its feathers to grow a new coat. Although it can appear unpleasant, molting is important for the health of the chicken.

Nesting Box

Built to provide a safe, secure location for hens to lay eggs, nesting boxes may be shared by multiple chickens. Nesting boxes should be kept clean, dry and relatively dark to encourage laying. 

Plumage

The feathered coat of chickens is called plumage. Feather patterns, shape and color vary widely between types of chickens and are usually the primary indicator of breed.

Predator

A predator is any animal that hunts another for food or sport. Predators that pose a risk to chickens are many, including raccoons, foxes and hawks.

Roost

A roost is a slender bar or branch on which chickens perch to sleep. As a verb, it is the act of perching. Outside of a coop, chickens often seek branches on which to roost to avoid predators.

Bantam

Bantam refers to a breed of chicken in which the adult bird is significantly smaller than standard chickens. Bantam breeds range from one quarter to one half the size of typical chickens and are popular with some backyard keepers for their reduced food and space requirements.