Hen vs. Chicken: What's the Difference?

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You may not have considered the difference between a hen and a chick, but there are a number of key differences between them. All hens are chickens, but not all chickens are hens — and that's an easy way to tell them apart. Given that not all chickens lay eggs, keep this in mind when distinguishing between them. There are many more ways you can tell.

In this article, we will discuss some of the main differences between hens and chicks, including their inner uses and appearance. You'll quickly learn how to tell the two birds apart, especially considering how similar they are to each other! let's start.

Comparing Hens and Chickens

hen vs chick

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hen chicken
gender women only male or female
age Mature, over 1 year old any age, but usually an adult
lay eggs? Yes sometimes
size usually smaller than most chickens usually larger than a hen
business use for breeding and spawning for meat and eggs

Main Differences Between Hens and Chickens

hen vs chick
All hens are chickens, but not all chickens are hens.

© iStock.com/Olga Volodina

The main difference between hens and chickens is their sex. A hen is always a female, while a chicken refers to a bird of either sex. Chicken is also the general species name for hens and chickens, while the title of hen is only given to certain kinds of chickens. Once you know that all hens are chickens and not all chickens are hens, you should have a clearer picture of the two birds.

Now let's dig in and discuss these differences in more detail.

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Hens and Chickens: Sex

The main difference between hens and chickens is their sex. Hens are exclusively female while chickens are either male or female. Although most male chickens are referred to as roosters, the term "chicken" refers to the sex of a bird born in that family or genus. This might sound like a vague distinction, but it's an important one when considering the differences between these two birds.

hen vs chick
A hen is always a female, while a chicken refers to a bird of either sex.

©HollyHarry/Shutterstock.com

Hen vs. Chicken: The Age of Birds

Another difference between hens and chickens is the age of the chickens. The title "hen" is given to mature female birds, while chicken refers to birds of almost any age. The term "chicken" is much more ambiguous than "hen," but even the definition of a hen varies depending on who you talk to.

For example, some farmers believe their hens are hens after they lay their first egg. This can happen anywhere between 8 months and 2 years, depending on the breed of chicken. Some people think that a hen is mature at one year old, no matter the breed. Others believe that a hen is fully mature once her sternum hardens, although this also varies by breed.

Chicks are called chicks and hens, but "chicken" still refers to birds of any age. It all depends on who you talk to and your personal preference for accuracy!

hen vs chick
The title hen is given to a mature female bird, while chicken refers to a bird of almost any age.

© iStock.com/fotoshoota

Hens vs Chickens: Ability to Lay Eggs

If you haven't already guessed, the main difference between hens and chicks is their ability to lay eggs. Hens are specialized in laying eggs, while some chickens are not able to do so. Given that the term chicken refers to birds of either sex in the genus, there are many chickens that are physically incapable of laying eggs.

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Even some hens aren't considered hens if they don't lay eggs. For example, if a hen does not lay eggs in order to eat meat, then she cannot be called a hen. Hens are also responsible for laying fertilized eggs, which are different from the eggs we consume as humans.

Hens vs. Chickens: Size and Appearance

Another difference between hens and chickens is their size and appearance. While there are hundreds of chicken species, you may notice a slight difference in size and appearance between a hen and a chicken.

For example, hens are often smaller than chickens, especially roosters or chickens raised for meat production. However, this is no guarantee and you should not assume that every chick is a hen. Hens are also less likely to have wags or combs on the top of their heads, but some breeds of chickens do.

hen vs chick
Hens are used to breed chicks and lay eggs, while chickens are used to produce meat or eggs.

©Jennifer de Graaf/Shutterstock.com

Hens vs. Chickens: Commercial Uses of Birds

A final difference between hens and chickens is the commercial use of these two birds. For example, hens are used to breed chicks and lay eggs, while chickens are used to produce meat or lay eggs.

While you might not think about this when you visit a local farm or choose to take your chickens home, it's a key difference between the two. Given that hens and chicks reproduce differently for different reasons, it changes their overall size and shape. Chickens raised for meat are usually much larger than hens.

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about the author

august croft


I am a non-binary freelance writer working full time in Oregon. A graduate of Southern Oregon University with a BA in Theater and a major in Creative Writing, I have an interest in a variety of topics, especially the history of the Pacific Northwest. When I'm not writing personally or professionally, you can find me camping on the Oregon coast with my high school sweetheart and Chihuahua mix, or in my family's kitchen, perfecting recipes in a gleaming cast-iron skillet.

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