There is a lot of new chicken jargon that gets thrown around, which can be quite confusing, especially if you’ve never owned chooks before. Some years back I was quietly corrected by an elderly visiting poultry fancier that they were not to be called chickens but were fowl. This intrigued me and got me thinking. From what I see, read and hear “chicken” is the modern ‘go to’ word to describe our feathered friends that lay eggs in our backyards.
So what exactly is a fowl?
What is a chicken?
What is poultry?
And what is a pullet?
The Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary gives the definition of fowl as "a bird that is kept for its meat and eggs, for example a chicken." Poultry is defined by the same dictionary as "chickens, ducks and geese, kept for its meat and eggs."
"Poultry" is a term used for any kind of domesticated bird, captive-raised for its utility, and traditionally the word has been used to refer to wildfowl and waterfowl but not to cage birds such as songbirds and parrots. Poultry also includes other birds that are killed for their meat, such as the young of pigeons (squabs) but does not include similar wild birds hunted for sport or food and known as game.
If you think it is becoming a little confusing read on!
Colloquially, fowl and poultry are used interchangeably. However, fowl comprises of two biological orders of birds, landfowl (eg. chicken, quail and pheasant) and waterfowl (eg. duck, goose and swan). Studies have shown that both of them are close evolutionary relatives.
Poultry, on the other hand refers to any domesticated bird raised for meat or/and eggs.
Due to this difference in actual definition, however, there is no general relation between the two. Neither are all poultry birds fowl, nor do all fowl birds fall into the category of poultry.
For example, poultry birds like chicken and turkey fall into the category of landfowl, while those like geese and duck fall into the category of waterfowl. But ostriches, sometimes domesticated for their eggs, are neither landfowl nor waterfowl; in short, ostriches aren't fowl.
When we say chicken (as we do a lot these days!) we are talking about a domestic fowl kept for its eggs or meat, especially a young one. Chicken is genderless. If we say hen then she is female, rooster is male, and chick refers to the younglings (of either sex). Cock is short for cockerel. When a cockerel is mature and part of a group of laying hens he has the privilege of being called a rooster (mature and over a year in age). So, what then is a “pullet”?
Someone with a sense of humour wrote “It’s a teenage hen, not quite adult but not quite a chick either”. The dictionary defines a pullet as a young hen, one less than one year in age. Some definitions of pullet say it is a young female up to their first moult or when they start to lay but mostly we base it on age. When a pullet turns one she becomes a hen. Happy 1st Birthday!
Some more interesting word derivations: The word "poultry" comes from the French/Norman word poule, itself derived from the Latin word pullus, which means small animal. The word "poultry" comes from the Middle English "pultrie", from Old French pouletrie, from pouletier, poultry dealer, from poulet, pullet. The word "pullet" itself comes from Middle English pulet, from Old French polet, both from Latin pullus, a young fowl, young animal or chicken. The word "fowl" is of Germanic origin (cf. Old English Fugol, German Vogel, Danish Fugl).
Now that we have cleared all that confusion we can all use the correct terminology to describe our girls. They are chooks!