Chickens are covered in feathers, not hair. They do have some fine hair-like feathers, however, as you may have noticed when preparing fresh chicken with the skin on. These ‘hairs’ are called filaments and play a small part in regulating a chicken’s temperature.
Do Chickens Have Hair or Feathers?
Chickens have feathers not hair, it’s not hard to see that by looking at them. What you can’t easily see, however, is that chickens also have hundreds, even thousands of small hair-like feathers, too.
Chickens actually have several types of feathers on their bodies. Each type of feather provides a different function and in combination helps keep them nice and warm, aids flight, and provides protection.
The main feather types are defined as:
These are the ‘fuzzy’ thin feathers that you first see developing on chicks and young chickens. In adult chickens they form a thin and loose layer, mostly around their stomachs, and help insulate them.
A chicken’s contour feathers are their outer feathers that you can see. They differ from breed to breed in shape, color, and appearance, and lock together to create that smooth feel.
Semiplume feathers are essentially a cross between down and contour feathers. They look and feel very soft and also add an extra layer of insulation.
Filoplume feathers are hair-like feathers that may be the ones you’re confusing for actual hair. It’s believed they provide either a sensory or decorative function for chickens, scientists can’t quite make their minds up!
All of these feathers cover various areas of a chicken in different ways. There are also some other names for feathers on a chicken such as bristle, saddle, hackle, and sickle feathers.
As you can see, what at first just looks like a simple plumage is actually quite a complex multi-layer network of carefully interlinked feathers!
What Is Chicken Hair Called?
I’ve seen what looks like chicken hair being referred to as filament before. According to Encyclopedia.com, a filament is described as:
a slender threadlike object or fiber, esp. one found in animal or plant structures
So, that does describe small hairs on a chicken.
However, those little hairs you may have seen on a chicken wing are likely small underdeveloped feathers or parts of very small down or filoplume feathers.
They’re not hairs in the true sense of the word. It’s really hard to differentiate between hairs and hair-like feathers. Honestly, if you want to refer to them as hairs, that’s perfectly fine.
When talking about a chicken and how their plumage is made up, you can’t technically refer to them as having any hairs though.
Is It OK to Eat Chicken Hair on Chicken Wings?
I see the topic of chicken hair coming up most often at the dinner table. When you’re about to take a bite of a chicken wing and see some little hairs sticking out, it’s not the most appetizing.
The good news is that those little hairs on chicken wings are perfectly safe to eat. Which makes sense, otherwise you wouldn’t see them that often.
Most are singed off or plucked during preparation. But with some 4,000-5,000 feathers in total, some small ones often get missed and find their way to the table.
Feathers on the other hand, like the large contour feathers on a chicken should not be eaten. Feathers are made from a protein called keratin, which is the same substance as our fingernails and hair is made of.
Our bodies can’t digest this compound. If you were to eat feathers, a stomach ache would be the least of your worries in the long run.
What Kind of Chickens Have Afros?
Talking about hair, I thought it would be interesting and cool to explain why some chickens have ‘afros’.
First of all, those afros are called crests. Some chicken breeds have fluffy crowns of crested feathers on their heads, which compared to the stereotypical chickens we’re used to seeing is very unique looking.
Some of the most notable chicken breeds that have crests or afros as a lot of people call them, are:
- Appenzeller Spitzhauben
.. to name just a few.
Crested chickens are usually ornamental, and they actually have slightly different skull structures.
It can cause some vision impairment and requires a little extra maintenance, but there’s not much else different about breeds with crests than non-crested chickens.
Chickens With ‘Hairy’ (Feathered) Legs and Feet
Some breeds of chicken also have what is sometimes referred to as hairy legs and/or feet. But this is essentially just feathered legs and feet.
Cochin, Brahma, Faverolles, and Silkies are some of the more well-known breeds that have feathered legs and feet.
Again, due to not being the most practical, chickens with feathered legs are ornamental birds for the most part.
This extra hair does cause some additional problems. It gets muddy and sometimes requires you to help clean the mud off, it can increase the risk of frostbite when damp, and also makes chickens more susceptible to scaly leg mites.
Related – You can find out more about Silkie chickens here if you want an awesome ornamental backyard chicken.
There you go, the answer wasn’t quite as straight forward or as simple as ‘no’, chickens have feathers not hair.
Chickens have several types of feathers, and some are very small and hair-like. The important thing to note is that it’s safe to eat their tiny hairs, so don’t worry if you see some on your chicken legs, thighs, wings, and so on.
Image credits – Photo by Samuel Bryngelsson on Unsplash