What Is the Difference Between a Chicken and a Hen?


We all know what a chicken is, but are we all aware of what that actually means? As it turns out, many people don’t know what the difference between a chicken and a hen is.

And while the old “What came first, the chick or the egg?” remains unsolved, chickens are not that mysterious after all. And the difference between chickens and hens is pretty straightforward.

Chickens and Hems, Aren’t They the Same?

If your guess is that chicken and hen are terms used to explain the same type of bird, you are correct.

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Photo Source: bhwt.org.uk

But where are roosters in all of this?

Many people divide this type of  birds into roosters and chickens. If you are one of them, know that you have gotten it all wrong since by saying roosters and chickens you are actually referring to the same bird, twice. Yes, a rooster is also a chicken.

To put it simply, chicken is just a generic term for the Gallus Gallus Domesticus birds – the most popular widespread domestic animals. This term explains the entire kind of this domesticated fowl.  And hens and roosters both belong to this category.

Is a chicken different from a hen?

That being said, there is no difference between a chicken and a hen. Just like there is no difference between a dog and a German shepherd. You can tell the difference between a German shepherd and a pitbull terrier, but both breeds belong to the same category – dogs.

That is also the case with hens and roosters. They are different birds, but both of them are chicken (which is the general term that explains these species as a whole).

The Different Types of Chicken

Even though the difference between them is pretty straightforward, chickens, as species, can be quite confusing. And that’s mostly because of the fact that there are many different age and sex combinations of these birds.

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Photo Source: countrysidenetwork.com

To solve your mystery, here are the types of chicken explained in short:

ChickenGeneral term that explains adult male and female birds of this type.

ChickA term that explains both male and female birds, chicks is also a generic term. The only difference is that it refers to young males and females.

Hen A hen is an adult female chicken.

Pullet A pullet is a young female chicken that has not reached adulthood and cannot lay eggs yet.

Rooster Rooster is an adult male chicken.

Cockerel A young male chicken.

The Obvious Difference Between a Rooster and a Hen

If it lays an egg, it is a hen. If it doesn’t it’s a rooster. This is probably the main difference between these two types of chicken.

But it is not the only one. Roosters and hens are different in many ways and they have a pretty specific physical look either (just like we humans do). Here is how you can always know if a chicken is male or female:

  • Hens are much smaller in size. Roosters are, on average, twice as big.
  • Hens cluck. Roosters, on the other hand, crow. You know, cock-a-diddle-do.
  • When it comes to their feathers, hens usually have monochromatic feathers, while roosters tend to be more colorful. Keep in mind that hens can also be colorful, as their color varies from breed to breed.
  • The combs on the head of the hens are much smaller. Roosters have wattles and much bigger combs than the hens.

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Photo Source: flickr.com

  • The main job of the hens is to lay eggs, then hatch the chicks, eat, and care for their little ones. The main job of the roosters, besides eating, is to fertilize the eggs, keep guard, and protect.

Here is a very informative video on how to tell roosters and hens apart:


As you can see, you can easily determine if a chicken is male or female. But what about when they are chicks?

Telling Chicks Apart

Telling pullets and cockerels apart is as tricky as telling babies apart. But since chicks do not come in blue and pink outfits, there is really no way to know.

If you buy your chicks from a local breeder, they will sell you what they call “straight run” birds. That means that the chicks are not sexed so you have a 50/50 chance of having a pullet or a cockerel.

There is really no way of knowing whether you have a pullet or a cockerel until they reach adulthood and turn into roosters or hens (which means laying or fertilizing eggs).

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Photo Source: cacklehatchery.com

But once they start growing, there are some signs that can give you a hint:

How to tell if a chick is a male or female chicken?


Look at the feathers around the neck of your chick. If the feathers are round and shorter, you probably have a female chick. If the neck feathers are pointy and much longer, your chick will probably grow to be a rooster.

Also, boys have saddle feathers. These are the feathers that grow on the back of the chicks and down the tail.

Comb and Wattle

Once their comb starts growing you can easily look for the comb and wattle for a hint. Cockerels have brighter and larger wattles and combs.


Often times, the behavior is one of the most accurate indicators. Roosters are much bolder than hens and they often tend to challenge themselves. Just keep in mind that this isn’t a rule as they can surely be bold hens and shy roosters.


Even when they are little, chicks take different postures. The cockerels stand much taller than the pullets, puffing out the chest at the same time.


As you see, chicken is the term used to describe both hens and roosters. When you say hen, you are talking about a mature female chicken.

When you say chicken, you can be referring to both, male and female chicken. Chickens, in all their ages and sexes, can be very different.

Well, I hope that this article was able to help answer your question about the difference between a chicken and a hem, and all ‘puzzling’ terms around it.

Now I’d like to help you resolve some other questions you may have already had in mind. First, have you ever wondered how many calories in a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? Here are your answers.  Also, did you know how to thaw a turkey properly and how long does it take to thaw a turkey? Let’s find out.


About Author

Hi, I’m Jennie who loves cooking and fascinated by healthy lifestyle. I set up this website to share with you all I know about cooking and making our kitchen a better place :)

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