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Everything you should know about terminology in the chicken industry

We’ve set out to explain the terminology synonymous with the poultry world, that may not be part of common knowledge. So, let’s get scientific!

To start off with, we need to establish that the domestic chicken, gallus domesticus, can be bred for a number of uses. In South Africa, we focus mainly on broilers, broiler breeders and layers.


Broiler: A chicken bred specifically for its meat.

Broiler breeder: Broiler breeder farms specialise in parent stock, whose offspring are broilers. Broiler breeders themselves are not bred for their meat, but are selected for their superior characteristics,  which can be passed on to their young.

Layers: These are hens bred specifically for their egg-laying abilities, and can also be referred to as “laying hens”.


Egg terminology:

Egg tooth/Chick tooth: The sharp end of a chick’s beak that breaks open the eggshell during hatching

Clutch: A group of eggs, usually referring to a group of eggs that are being brooded over

Pipping: The manner in which chicks peck at their eggs, instrumental to their hatching process

Incubator: A heating container that simulates the perfect environment for the embryos to grow

Turn: The manner in which incubated eggs are turned, so that the fertilised embryos do not stick to the side of the eggs.

Physiological terms:

Chick: A baby chicken

Straight-run chick: A chick that has not been sexed (separated in male and female groups)

Pullet: A young female chicken under 20 weeks of age

Hen: An adult female chicken over 20 weeks of age

Broody hen: A hen that shows interest in sitting on eggs to hatch chicks

Cockerel: A young male chicken under 20 weeks of age

Cock: A male over 20 weeks of age

Rooster: An adult male chicken


Bodily terminology:

Cloaca: The opening found in both male and female birds, through which faecal and urinary excretions are emptied. This is also the opening through which reproductive process takes place

Comb: The fleshy growth that grows from the top of a chicken’s head

Down: Very fine and soft feathers

Gizzard: The internal organ that acts as a “physical stomach”, by grinding and crushing feed

Wattle: The fleshy growth that hangs from under the chicken’s beak

For more information on the poultry industry, click here.