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Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

Common Poultry Terms

There are a lot of specific terms about poultry you might not be familair with.  If you’re thinking about getting chickens, ducks, geese, or other fowl, it’s good to get used to these common terms.  Here are some of the farmyard poultry terms you might come across.

Bantam – A smaller variety of chickens and ducks.  Some chicken breeds are available in both a standard and bantam size, while others are only bantam. There are a few breeds which are “true bantams”, meaning they only occur in smaller sizes, as well as varieties that have standard size chicken equivalents.  While the exact history of bantams is up for debate, it’s said they developed through a combination of natural selection and careful breeding.  Bantams are particularly popular as pets because of their size and wide variety of fancy color and feather patterns.


Beard – The most common term for the bunch of feathers under some chicken’s chins.  Varieties that display beards include Americanas and varieties of d’Uccles.  This unique feathering gives these breeds a very distinct appearance.

Bloom - The natural coating an egg is laid with.  Not to be confused with the shell, bloom is a thin film that seals the pores on the eggshell, helping them stay fresh. Washing removes the bloom, so store bought eggs will not have this natural layer.

Broiler – Chicken breeds which are bred and raised specifically for meat production.  These breeds will gain weight faster than other chicken breeds.

Broody – The term for a bird who is trying to hatch a clutch of eggs.  A broody hen will not leave the nest, growling to protect her eggs if you try to move her.  If you wish to hatch eggs, a broody hen is an excellent way to do so, but it can be a nuisance for egg collection and a broody hen eats very little and does not lay more eggs.  Any type of female poultry can go broody, but certain breeds are more predisposed to it.

Bumblefoot - A common illness affecting all types of poultry, bumblefoot is an infection on the sole of a bird’s foot.  Commonly caused by a cut or scratch, bumblefoot presents as a large growth on the bottom of the bird’s foot, preventing them from walking comfortably.  Treated with antibiotics or minor surgery to the area, bumblefoot can be cured if noticed early enough.

Cape – The longer, narrow feathers between a chicken’s neck and back.  These are often some of the most colorful feathers on a chicken, especially on breeds like Brahmas.

Candle – A way to determine if an egg which is being incubated is viable.  Using a bright light behind the egg, you can see the details inside and verify if there is a chick growing.  There are candling kits available from poultry stores, or you can create your own DIY candling lamp

Coccidiosis - An intestinal disease that affects poultry and other mammals.  Caused by parasites in the gut, coccidiosis is best prevented with regular cleaning of your bird’s living area.  There is a vaccine for coccidiosis should it occur, and a bird with the condition should be isolated and allowed to rest.

Cockerel - The term for a young male chicken.

Comb – The fleshy red skin on the top of a chicken’s head.  Combs come in a wide variety of sizes and shapes depending on the breed of chicken, and are generally larger on roosters than on hens.

Down – The soft, fluffy “feathers” with which all fowl hatch.  Larger feathers grow over or replace down as birds age, but most retain a layer against their skin for warmth.  Down is the most prized feathering on a goose or a duck, and it is a used stuffing for pillows and comforters.

Dewlap – The fold of skin hanging under the beak of turkeys and certain varieties of geese, such as the Dewlap Toulouse.  Dewlaps also occur in other mammals.  


Drake - The term for an adult male duck.  

Egg tooth – A hard white hook at the end of a baby bird's beak, the “egg tooth” is what a chick uses to break out of its shell when hatching.  These tiny white hooks on the end of their beaks are lost as the bird ages.  

Gander - The term for an adult male goose.

Gosling - The term for a young goose of either gender. 

Grit – An essential part of any bird’s diet, grit is any type of small organic matter such as oyster shells, small pebbles, or egg shells.  Grit helps to grind feed fully in a bird’s stomach, which is necessary for digestion as they have no teeth.

Jake - The term for a young male turkey.

Jenny - The term for a young female turkey.   

Mareks Disease - A type of Herpes virus that affects chickens and turkeys, Marek’s hasn’t been reported in waterfowl.  Symptoms include paralysis and lethargy.  Because the disease is caused by a virus, it is highly contagious and can be prevented by isolating the infected bird and keeping your chicken’s coop clean.  There is a vaccine for Marek’s which hatcheries offer when you order your chicks.

Molting – The annual process by which a bird loses its feathers and replumes itself.  Molting can also happen in a distressed or sick bird.  Birds naturally molt in late summer or early fall, and the process takes about 8 weeks.  Birds in molt do not lay eggs, using all of their energy to produce new plumage for the cold winter months.

Muff - Not to be confused with a “beard”, a muff is a group of feather’s under the chicken’s beak that grow out to the sides.  Favorelles and Araucanas have muffs, and it is possible for breeds to display both the beard and muff.

NPIP - The National Poultry Improvement Plan.  A national program to improve poultry health and prevent the spread of diseases.  NPIP certifies poultry and eggs that might be sold across state or national borders.

Pasting – A common ailment in mail order chicks, pasting can also occur in home hatched chicks and adult chickens.  Fecal matter gets stuck on the bird’s vent, sealing it closed.  Left untreated, this condition is fatal. Pasting can be treated with lukewarm water and a Q-tip.

Pipping – The term for when a baby bird begins to crack through the egg in hatching.

Pullet – The term for a young female chicken.


Roosting/Roost – The place where birds of flight gather to rest and sleep at night.  Chickens, turkeys, and other flying birds greatly prefer sleeping on a “roost” in a chicken coop, which can be built with an elevated pole or other perch.  In the wild, they would sleep in trees to help avoid nighttime predators.

Saddle – The area and feathers at the end of a bird’s back, just before the tail.

Scales – The hard, overlapping plates on a chicken’s feet.

Straight Run – When ordering chicks, “straight run” refers to chicks that will arrive unsexed, a mix of both males and females.

Snood – The loose flap of skin that hangs over a turkey’s beak.

Tom - The term for an adult male turkey. 

Vent – The rear opening in birds through which both excrement and eggs pass from the bird. 

Wattles – The skin flaps under chicken’s beaks.  These are usually larger in roosters than in hens.

Kirsten Lie-Nielsen farms about 2 acres of a suburban homestead using geese for weeding and guarding purposes, raising chickens for eggs, bees for honey, and maintaining vegetable gardens for personal use. Find Kirsten online at Hostile Valley Living's site, Facebook page, and Instagram, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS blog posts here.

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