Poultry: Chicken

All the different breeds of chickens today can trace their origins back to the Red Jungle Fowl of East Asia.

Through generations of genetic selection, specialized breeds have been developed for meat (broilers) and eggs (layer). There are also dual-purpose breeds that are reasonably good in both meat and egg production, but not as good as the specialized breeds. There are also breeds developed strictly for exhibition.

  • Chicken Vocabulary:

    • Chicken is singular: chickens is plural
    • Chick: young (baby) chicken
    • Pullet: immature female chicken
    • Cockerel: immature male chicken
    • Hen: adult female chicken
    • Cock/Rooster: adult male chicken
    • Capon: castracted male chicken (requires surgery since the reproductive organs are internal)
    • Broiler/Fryer: a chicken bred for meat.
    • Tom: male turkey.
    • Flock: a number of animals of one kind, that keep or feed together or are herded together.
    • Caruncle/comb: the red-pink fleshy growth on the head and upper neck of turkeys and chickens.
    • Gizzard: a part of a bird’s stomach that contains tiny stones, which helps them grind up food for digestion.
    • Incubator: a box which maintains a constant temperature
  • Poultry Facts:

    • There are 50 billion eggs produced each year in the U.S.
    • Egg size increases with the age of the hen; young hens lay pee-wee or small eggs and eventually lay extra-large and jumbo eggs.
    • 21 days are required for chicks to hatch from eggs, 28 for ducks and turkeys.
    • At 20 weeks of age, chickens will start laying eggs.
    • 4 pounds of feed are required to produce 12 eggs (1 dozen)
    • There is no nutritional difference between white and brown shelled eggs. White shelled eggs usually come from chickens with white ear lobes. Chickens with red colored ear lobes usually produce brown eggs.
  • Indiana Grown:

    The United States is the world’s largest poultry producer and the second-largest egg producer and exporter of poultry meat in the world. U.S. poultry meat production totals over 43 billion pounds each year. Famers in all fifty states produce over 90 billion eggs each year. Over seventy-five percent of egg production is for human consumption (the table egg market). The remainder of production is for the hatching market. The top five egg-producing states are Iowa, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Texas. In 2012, Indiana was home to more than 25.5 million layer hens which is the third highest ranked state.

    #1 Duck Production #3 Egg Layers
    #4 Chicken Hatching #7 Turkey Production

    Source: Indiana Agricultural Statistics Service, NASS, Rose Acre Farms, American Egg Board.

  • Questions & Answers:

    Source: Texas Cooperative Extension

    Q: What is the average life span of a chicken?
    A: Many commercial laying hens are kept for up to 3 years. There are undocumented accounts of “yard chickens” living for more than 10 years.

    Q: From where do chickens originate?
    A: Chickens were domesticated from jungle fowl in Southeast Asia many centuries ago.

    Q: At what age do chickens begin to lay eggs?
    A: If all necessary conditions (day length, nutrition, etc.) are met, chickens should begin egg production at about 20 weeks of age.

    Q: How long will table eggs stay fresh?
    A: Fresh eggs can be stored in a refrigerator (at 40 to 45 degrees F) for 4 to 5 weeks after the packaging date on the carton.

    Source: Texas Cooperative Extension

Common Breeds

Plymouth Rock

Plymouth Rock is a breed that comes in several varieties, the most popular varieties being white and barred -- is a docile and friendly breed.

Rhode Island Red

Rhode Island Red are rust-feathered chickens and the quintessential backyard chicken breed and can be found in many hobbyists' collections.


Leghorn is one of the best chicken breeds for those raising chickens for eggs.

Jersey Giant

Jersey Giant Aptly named, this American breed can achieve an astounding weight of up to 13 pounds.


Ameracaunas is a breed easily recognized, due to the fluffy feathers around its head. Ameracaunas are perhaps most known for laying blue eggs.