Chicken vs Hen vs Rooster – What is the Difference?

One of the commonly asked questions in the poultry industry is whether a bird is a chicken, rooster, or hen. It is not always easy to tell them apart significantly when younger because they almost appear similar.

Altogether learning how to differentiate your birds is vital because each requires specific care requirements for better results. For instance, a diet program meant for roosters may not be suitable for egg-laying hens. If you are a commercial poultry keeper, there are high chances of making losses because of the wrong choice of food or necessities.

Most certainly, your birds might suffer most and fail to achieve typical milestones and production levels. Today, we will guide you on distinguishing your feathered friends for a more rewarding experience for both of you.

What are Chickens?

Chickens are some of the most domesticated fowls worldwide. The term applies to female and male birds of all ages. Originally from native South Asia, they are kept for food, eggs, ornamental purposes, and pets.

Centuries ago, farmers harvested chicken meat only from birds too old for egg-laying. Years later, and after cross-breeding evolution, you can now find explicitly developed table birds, egg-laying, or dual-purpose chicken. The main difference behind these chicken varieties is that egg-laying species produce large amounts of well-sized eggs.

On the other hand, table birds or broilers lay lesser eggs but grow faster. Finally, the dual-purpose breeds perform each role fairly and are some of the most preferred options. All in all, chickens are playful and intelligent creatures. They are omnivores and prefer a diet of grains, meat, plants, and bugs. Luckily you can find different-sized chickens in almost every corner of the world.

Although most cultures have native distinct species, most have been crossbred with industrial varieties. The main reason behind this is to enhance their growth rate and egg production. Below are chicken terms often used wrongly or interchangeably to refer to one thing or another.

Pullet vs Cockerel – How to Tell the Difference?

It is the joy of every chicken keeper to find out if they have girls or boys from their incubators. Usually, most people wait for the first crow or an egg to tell their chicken apart. Remember that it can take around 12 to 30 weeks to notice these developments.

All in all, pullets are teenage female chickens, often between 12 to 16 weeks. In other terms, they are birds approaching the egg-laying stage. Akin to human adolescents, they are talkative, grumpy, and moody. In some species, they are sometimes treated as outcasts and only accepted back after their first egg.

Cockerels are youthful male chicks approaching maturity. On average, they start crowing from approximately 12 to 16 weeks. Sometimes it happens earlier with specific species. Before the voice change entirely, cockerel’s crows are often gargled or squeaky. Weeks later and after frequent practice, it may become louder and definitive.

Bear in mind that male dominance starts almost after hatching. Therefore you might notice cockerels bumping chests or staring at each other before bumping heads on. The main reason behind this activity is to ascertain hierarchy among other similar sex chickens.

What is a Hen?

Hens are mature female chickens from one year and above. They are primarily raised for eggs that start from 16 weeks or earlier in some breeds. It is worth noting that female chicks hatched around winter might delay their egg-laying than those hatched within warm months. Also, some may continue laying eggs almost daily, while others manage two or three weekly.

Immediately after graduating from pullets, the laying process may be inconsistent. However, the frequency may increase steadily as the birds grow, only to decline as they get older. In most cases, hens produce a steady supply of eggs for about four years.

They may not require a rooster for a successful process, but eggs produced without a cock won’t be fertilized. If you have plans to expand your flock, it is prudent to introduce a healthy rooster to help with the breeding process.

What is a Rooster?

Roosters are adult male birds grown for fighting, breeding, and meat. They have more strength and stamina compared to hens. Thus, they are used in various cultures in cockfighting and source of entertainment.

In addition, roosters are expected to crow early in the morning and then service several hens in a day. Therefore you should feed on a high energy and protein content to maintain endurance.

Another primary purpose of a rooster is offering security to the entire flock. Often, they keep guard and watch out for ground-dwelling and flying predators. If need be, they assemble hens and physically keep them safe from attackers.

Most roosters can portray aggressive traits, especially when provoked. Therefore you should keep them away from young children to avoid confrontations.

Hen vs Rooster – What is the Difference?

Even if roosters and hens are all considered chicken, they have different characteristics from the word go. Most importantly, they differ in their disposition and physical traits like size, comb, plumage, legs, etc.

The best time to confirm differences between hen and roosters is when they hit three months. At that time, the hens are well rounded, while roosters have long pointed feathers. Keep following as we make out other main disparities between these two chickens.

– Size

Compared to female chickens, roosters are slightly taller and more upright. Moreover, roosters have a propensity of puffing up their chests to appear more muscular and robust. During harvesting, roosters are usually heavier, with a difference of about two to four pounds.

Since roosters are meat birds, ensure that you feed them on nutrient-packed food to help them grow faster and stay stronger. Remember that hen meat is slightly fatter and tender compared to rooster’s steak.

– Legs

From the first glance, you can distinguish roosters and hens with their leg size. Males have thicker legs, with some breeds developing sharp spurs above the toes. At around six months, the spurs can measure 1/3 of an inch.

Several weeks later, they may grow to roughly an inch lengthwise. Note that apart from the thickness, the rooster’s legs are slightly longer compared to the hens.

– Feathers

Roosters have a brighter plumage compared to hens. Mainly, female chickens are well known for the pale colors on their feathers. When you look at the neck feathers or hackles, hens are shorter and rounder. Oppositely, the rooster’s feathers are slightly pointy and longer.

Roosters also have saddle feathers that grow on the rear area. These feathers become more pronounced as they get older. Finally, take a look at the tail feathers. Naturally, roosters have flowing and longer tail feathers. Sometimes you can notice a dash of bright tail feathers in green or emerald colors.

– Behavior

Indisputably, hens are more docile compared to bolder temperament in roosters. As mentioned earlier, the aggressive nature of cocks starts in their early days. You can notice elevated belligerence if there is more than one cock living in the same coop.

It is common to find your male chicken brawling for dominance and female attention. Therefore place your female and males in a practical ratio to prevent hostility within your flock.

– Comb

One of the most distinguishable factors between roosters and hen is the combs. These are crest or red flesh on the head of your birds. Unlike hens, roosters have thicker and longer combs.

The combs are also more prominent and red in male species. Additionally, roosters have more pronounced and brighter wattles than hens. Wattle is the piece of flesh that grows around the chicken’s chin.

– Sounds

Most likely, the first sound you hear at the crack of dawn is a rooster’s crow. Nonetheless, when calling out the hens, roosters produce a softer perp-perp sound. In addition, they can make a growling sound to warn off predators.

A warning noise is often followed by an attack or peck if the invader fails to take off. Female chickens also produce a growling sound, especially when nest sitting or if someone upset them while resting.

Likewise, hens give a cackling noise immediately after laying an egg. Other hens usually join for a couple of minutes. Often individuals refer to this sound as a sign of relief or a celebratory remark after the egg pops out.

Most impressive is the clucking or chucking clutter that hens and roosters make to converse. If you are more attentive, you can hear other shared chicken sounds like squawking and rebel yelling.


After reading this, it might get more confusing if you find everything labeled chicken in the local market. You should not worry much about it in such a scenario because most vendors find no need to differentiate the table birds on offer. Yet, when buying chicks from breeders, defining what you want depending on your specific needs is essential.

In general, chicken is the most commonly used term to describe various varieties mentioned above. Thankfully, with this vital information, your poultry keeping will be less strenuous and more adventurous.

avatar James
Hey, I'm James, a hardworking homesteader for more than 30 years. I enjoy the feeling of accomplishment that comes from tending my flock. I've raised chickens and ducks for eggs and meat for many years. I also have experience with other poultry too. Learn more

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