Chicken and Fowl – Looking at the Differences


If you own a farm or have considered adding farm-type animals to your home, this can be a great way to experience something new. Adding animals like chickens can not only be educational but can also be a great food source. Chickens can be raised for meat and you can harvest eggs as a great source of natural protein. Do you have to know much about fowl to raise chickens?

What is the key difference between a chicken and fowl? The main difference between a fowl and chicken is that fowl is a superorder of birds and chickens are domesticated fowls. Essentially, a chicken is a subcategory of fowls but not all fowls are chickens.

While the terms often get used interchangeably, “chicken” refers to a specific species of bird, whereas “fowl” can refer to a large selection of birds.

For example, chickens are domesticated birds that are kept for eggs or meat. A fowl can be any kind of bird, several domesticated or wild gallinaceous birds.

Further Defining the Term Fowl

While this may have given you a better idea of what a fowl is, further defining it can help you better understand the term when it is being used.

When you see the term fowl, you should note that it is referring to birds belonging to one of two biological orders; gamefowl or landfowl and waterfowl.

Chickens are a very specific type of domesticated landfowl.

Birds are defined as fowl because they have close evolutionary relatives, giving them similarities despite the term encompassing several species of birds.

These birds will have similar anatomical, molecular, morphological, and DNA sequence features. Some birds that are considered fowls are; pheasant, partridge, turkey, chickens, etc.

Further Defining the Term Chicken

As mentioned, chickens are a type of domesticated fowl that is scientifically Gallus gallus domesticus. The chicken is actually a subspecies of the red junglefowl. The chicken has quickly become one of the most common and widespread domestic animals available today.

The total population of chickens is constantly changing, but according to the website Statista, in 2017 it was estimated that there are over 22 billion chickens out there today.

There are more chickens in the world today than any other bird or domestic fowl. This is because humans use them as a primary food source for both meat and eggs, with some keeping them as pets.

Prior to being kept for a food source, chickens were used for cockfighting and often seen in special ceremonies. It was during the Hellenistic period that they became a farm animal and started being raised for meat and eggs.

At this point, the birds are practically everywhere, both in the wild and being domestically raised for farming purposes.

What is the Difference Between Poultry and Game?

Now that we have further discussed the differences and definitions of fowl and chickens, another commonly confused set of terms is poultry and game. These two terms can be seen together in some cases, but they are two different things. Essentially, some poultry can be considered game, but game encompasses more than just poultry alone.

For example, poultry includes all domestic birds that are usually kept for food or farming purposes. These birds can commonly be kept as pets and include all of your traditional farm birds. Some common examples of poultry are chickens, fowl, turkey, geese, ducks, and more.

On the other hand, game includes birds and animals that are used for food purposes. However, these are not domestic animals and are usually hunted in field and forest. These are all legally hunted animals including species like quail, deer, wild duck, partridges, wild turkeys, etc.

Defining the Term Poultry

Poultry and fowl are two terms that go hand in hand and pretty much mean the same thing. However, most poultry are domesticated birds that are kept by humans for their eggs, meat, feathers, etc. depending on the type of bird. They are usually members of the superorder Galloanserae or fowl, as mentioned.

Poultry can include other birds that are killed for their meat but are not necessarily domesticated. These, for example, are pigeons or squabs. However, the term poultry does not include other wild birds that are hunted for sport or for eating, which is considered game (we will further define the term game further next).

The actual term poultry comes from a French and Norman word that is poule, which is derived from the Latin word pullus. These terms mean small animal, which is fitting for the small birds that the term represents.

The Domestication of Poultry

The domestication of poultry and chickens was a very similar process and took place several thousand years ago. As mentioned, many domesticated chickens were first used for cockfighting. However, another common poultry, quail, were originally kept for their songs.

Once people begin keeping these birds for other purposes, they realized that they could be kept for food. Before long, people begin hatching and rearing young birds from the eggs that they had collected in the wild. They then begin keeping the birds permanently in their homes and yards, domesticating the birds.

Now, you can find millions of domesticated birds, whether they be chickens or other forms of poultry. These are one of our biggest sources of protein and meat today, of course, also being used for eggs. Adding poultry to your home is a great way to get fresh meat and eggs regularly without the fear of unwanted additives.

Defining the Term Game

While some poultry can be considered game, like pigeons or squab, game itself is any animal that is hunted for sport or food. Another term that you can see when referring to game is quarry. Each part of the world offers different types of game as each area has different species that are hunted.

The term game started as a medieval hunting term in the late 13th century. It is an English word derived from the Old English word gamen which means joy, amusement, sport, or merriment.

Some small game or smaller animals that are considered game are; rabbit, geese, ducks, pheasants, etc. Larger game that are hunted today are; deer, moose, bear, elk, etc.

Difference Between Game and Domesticated Meat

Those who are not familiar with hunting or are not from an area where hunting is popular, may not understand why individuals harvest wild animals. While for many this is a sporting activity and can be a very exhilarating time, it is also a great source of meat. Aside from the competitive aspect of hunting and harvesting a buck deer, wild turkey, goose, etc. these animals are also some of the most nutritious meat.

Generally, animals that are harvested as game are considered to be superior in nutrient density, have low-fat content, and a more natural diet. Unlike many domestic animals that are mass-produced for meat, these animals have no preservatives or unwanted additives. However, they do require hunters to process the meat themselves or take them to a meat processing location to be cut down for eating.

Comparative to owning your own chickens, poultry, or other fowl, the time and money it takes to procure wild game is much higher. The sport of hunting requires a lot of extra time and the money alone that goes into the gear, weapons, land, etc. used. While this meat can be very nutritious, if you do not truly enjoy the sport of hunting for wild game, it may not be worth the price it will cost.

April

April has owned and worked with domestic fowl including chickens, turkeys, geese, ducks, and guineas since 1998. She has a B.S. in Agriculture from Cal Poly in Pomona, CA where she studied genetics, nutrition and reproduction.

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