What is a hen? Have you ever had that question pop into your head? You know it's a chicken, but what's the difference between a chicken and a hen? Are they the same thing? Today, we will answer all of those questions and more!
What is a Hen?
To put it simply, a hen is a female chicken that has reached sexual maturity. Typically, they are still within the egg laying stage of development, however, an older adult female chicken that no longer lay is still considered a hen. A hen has also grown beyond the pullet stage of their development.
What is a Chicken?
The word "chicken", in chicken terminology, is used for the entire chicken family as a species. When you are discussing hens, roosters, cockerel (young male chicken), pullets (young female chicken), etc, they are all chickens. Similar to the way that human is an umbrella term for all people, male, female, etc. Female chickens are generally called hens and male chickens are generally called roosters.
Chickens are an omnivorous species. That means they will eat a variety of both plant life and animals. It is important to understand the differences between chickens, hens, roosters in order to best care for your chickens.
Due to their ability to lay eggs, the ease in which they are raised, and their common use as a high quality and inexpensive meat/protein source, they are the most prolific bird on the planet. The global chicken population is just shy of 24 billion! With just under 8 billion people, there are almost 3 chickens for every person alive!
Hen Vs Chicken: What is the difference between them?
As we mentioned, in poultry terminology, chicken is a catch all term for all chickens. Hens are female chickens over a year old.
To put it another way, all hens are chickens but not all chickens are hens. A rooster, cockerel, or pullet, as well as a hen, can all be called chicken.
What is a Pullet?
A pullet is a juvenile or young female chicken. While a hen is sexually mature female chicken and at, or past, the egg laying stage, pullets are still in their early development and are not yet ready to lay their first egg.
What is the difference between a chicken and a pullet?
Technically speaking, a pullet is a female chicken under a year old. However, due to the rise of the poultry industry, a pullet is considered any hen that has yet to start laying eggs. So once a pullet reaches the 16 to 20 week point, they are considered a hen.
Aside from laying eggs and age, there are a few behavioral changes between the stages of pullet and laying hens. For example, after 16 weeks, or after laying age, the time spent "preening and dust bathing" had a significant increase.
Pullets tend to eat the feather of their flock mates, likely in a struggle for dominance, while hens do not. However, while hens do show a decrease in feather eating, they have a marked increase on both "aggressive and non-aggressive" pecking and feather pulling.
Need some help keeping your chickens health and care taken care of? Check out the Organized Chicken Keeper for an easy to follow system.
How To Tell If You Have a Hen
If you are trying to tell which chickens in your flock are hens and which are roosters, it is not usually very hard to tell. Hens are almost always smaller than roosters; weighing, at most, around 8 pounds. A hen will also tend to have a less pronounced set of wattles and a smaller comb.
Obviously, if your chicken lays an egg, it is a hen. If you find them sitting on a nest of eggs, it is probably a broody hen.
It is definitely easier to tell if you have a hen if you have a rooster to compare it to.
What is the difference between a chicken and a rooster?
So, how do you tell if you have a hen or a roo?
In general, a rooster is going to much larger than a hen. They will typically have a much larger comb and longer wattles. Their primary feather color is usually the same as the hens but they will also have flashier hackle, saddle, and tail feathers.
A rooster is also much more aggressive and territorial than a hen. While hens will fight amongst themselves to establish a flock, or pecking, order, roosters are the flock protector. It is not uncommon for them to chase other animals, pets, kids, and even full grown adults out of their territory if they don't want you there.
Frequently Asked Questions
As you can see, there's a whole Easter basket range of egg colors. Naturally, this spurs a whole lot of questions. Here are some of the more common ones we hear.
Q1. What is difference between chicken and hen?/ What is a female chicken called?/ What is the definition of a hen?
A hen is a female chicken once it has reached sexual maturity. That means they are past the juvenile (pullet) stage and either are, or have already surpassed the egg laying stage of their development. Chicken is the overall term used to describe hens, roosters, chicks, etc; just like Human is used to describe men, women, etc.
Q2. Are chickens male or female?/ Are all chickens female?
Chicken is used to describe the species of bird and not the biological sex. They are both chickens. The difference is roosters are male chickens and hens are female chickens.
Q3. What are hen babies called?/ Is a chicken a baby hen?
A baby hen is called a chick. You will sometimes here people refer to them colloquially as peeps. Once they are a bit older, biological sex plays a role in their names. For instance, a juvenile rooster is a cockerel and a juvenile hen is a pullet.
Q4. Can a hen look like a rooster?
Generally speaking, roosters are larger and have much more ornate and colorful feathering. That is to attract a mate. On the other hand, female chickens, like many females in nature, are typically less flashy. It is believed that is to act as a bit of camouflage while they protect their offspring.
It is possible that a hen can start to display physical characteristics of a rooster. A study conducted at the University of Florida found that some hens are capable of not only developing the physical features of a rooster but can also, on rare occasions, produce sperm capable of fertilizing eggs!
Q5. Does a hen need a rooster to lay an egg?
Hens will lay eggs regardless of if there is a rooster present in their flock. Hens are born (or hatched) with all the eggs they will ever have. So they will lay them once the reach sexual maturity. A rooster is only needed to fertilize the eggs so that they can produce live chicks.
Q6. Can a hen lay more than one egg a day?
Hens typically lay their eggs on a schedule. It takes a lot of energy and time for a hen to produce an egg, shell and all. While it is certainly possible for a hen to lay more than a single egg in a day, it is very, very unlikely to happen.
Q7. Can male chickens lay eggs?
Do roosters lay eggs? Roosters, male chickens, do not possess the anatomy needed to produce eggs. Only hens can produce and lay eggs. Roosters are capable of fertilizing the eggs and hens are not.
Q8. How do hens show signs of old age?
The very first sign of an aging chicken is that they will either decrease egg production or completely stop their egg laying. If you have a large flock, there are some signs to tell if your chicken is still laying.
The next sign we usually notice when a hen is starting to get old is that they will move a little slower. They may be the last to make it to the coop at night. You will also notice that they may start to decrease in weight some too. Often times, an aging hen will decrease the amount of food they are eating, if not stop eating altogether.
The average lifespan of a chicken is around 8 years, give or take. This can vary depending on their environment, diet, and safety from predators.
Q9. Can you eat a hen?/ What kind of meat is a hen?/ Is Hen tougher than chicken?
Since hens are chicken you can definitely eat them. However, for a few reasons, hens are not typically the chicken of choice when it comes to meat birds. Most often, hens are raised for egg production which can cause their meat to be a bit tough and not great for eating once they no longer lay eggs.
Most often, roosters are used for meat. This is because they are larger and are usually only one per flock. If you hatch chickens, it is not uncommon to raise the roosters exclusively for meat birds.
Hens can be used for meat later on, depending on how they are cooked. Many people will stew them or turn them into a good chicken stock.
Q10. What food does hen eat?
Hens, like all chickens, eat a variety of insects, plants, rodents, and feed. If you want regular egg production with high quality eggs, you will want to provide regular access to a good layer feed. You can also provide a calcium supplement if your hen's eggshells are too thin.
Chickens also love a variety of snacks like:
If you need more help with taking care of your chickens, check out The Organized Chicken Keeper for a complete system for managing their health through keeping their supplies stocked and coop clean.