The Complete Guide to Sexing Chickens: How to Tell A Rooster from a Hen
The novelty of newly hatched chicks is hard to resist. It can be difficult to determine the sex of a chick when it is young, regardless of whether you incubated the eggs yourself in a home incubator, let mama hen do the work for you, or ordered an adorable, peeping box of fluffiness from your favorite online hatchery.
Many hatcheries offer generous refunds in case you receive a batch of incorrectly sexed chicks because it is, in fact, nearly impossible.
When dealing with adult birds, it is much simpler to learn how to distinguish between a rooster and a hen, but there are some “hacks” you can use to remove some of the uncertainty surrounding the gender of your flock.
Here are some tips for learning how to distinguish a rooster from a hen.
Recognize the Chick Development on Sexing Chickens
You need to be aware of how and when a chick grows before you can really get into the specifics of telling the difference between a rooster and a hen. You’ll know what to look for and what to anticipate more fully after reading this.
Chicks will be fluffy for the first week of their lives. However, you might notice some of the first feathers developing after the first week.
These won’t be noticeable for a while, and they probably won’t be. Within four or five weeks, those fine feathers will have replaced nearly all of the dawn.
At about the seven- or eight-week mark, your chicks will experience their first partial molt. In order to establish their position in the flock, they will then begin to develop new feathers. Your hens will feel most uncomfortable between weeks 5 and 15 of their lives.
They look like tiny velociraptors, in fact, and some people call it the “teenager” stage, while others call it the “dinosaur” stage. At this point, they’ll be a lot of fun to watch, especially as you start to see how each of them acts in its own way.
Your chickens will start to develop adult feathers around week thirteen. If you haven’t been able to tell your hens from your roosters yet, you will be able to do so by the time they are between weeks 16 and 20.
When you approach or pet your cockerels, they might begin to crow, and your pullets might begin to squat.
Naturally, there is some variation in these developmental stages, with differences depending on the specific chicken and breed. This description should, however, serve as a useful general guideline for what to watch for in terms of development.
All male chickens are referred to as cockerels before they reach one year of age. They change into roosters after a year. Before turning one year old and becoming hens, female chickens are called pullets.
Sexing Chickens: What are “Straight Run Chickens”
You can choose between sexed and straight-run chicks when you buy chicks from a hatchery.
One can have many benefits from keeping only hens or only roosters in a flock (or sexed birds, in other words).
A rooster is not going to be very helpful if you want to raise a flock of laying hens because fertilization is not necessary for a hen to lay an edible egg.
In the same way, when raising a flock of meat birds, roosters are better than hens because they grow up faster.
On the other hand, there are many advantages to buying straight-run chickens. Unsexed chickens, or “straight run” chickens, are raised in a natural environment.
The gender of the eggs is completely unknown to the hatchery staff, so your chances of receiving males or females are usually about 50/50.
Keep in mind that the success rate for the majority of sexing chicks is, at best, 90%, even though the methods are generally reliable.
This means that there is a very good chance that you will receive the wrong gender chicken for every ten chickens you order. In case this occurs, most hatcheries do have some insurance in place so that you can get some of your money back if you receive an excessive number of birds of the wrong sex.
On the other hand, buying sex-neutral straight run chickens is typically more expensive than buying sexed birds. Because sexed birds are in higher demand, and because sexing chicks is a risky business, most hatcheries would rather not perform the procedure unless absolutely necessary.
Sexing Chickens: How to Tell A Rooster from a Hen?
You can sex your chicks using a variety of methods, some of which are simple enough for you to do at home and others that are best left to the professionals.
Vent Sexing Chickens
The vent of a young chick is without a doubt the best way to tell if it is a boy or a girl.
This is called “Venting” or “vent sexing” .
Vent sexing is a very complicated process that takes years to learn because there are so many factors that can lead to a wrong reading.
One out of every five chicks doesn’t have a sex organ that is easily recognizable or “typically shaped.” Also, 40% of day-old female chicks have protrusions that look like bulbs and are the same shape.
Even though venting is one of the most accurate ways to sex chicks, it can be just as hard to do without years of experience as just looking at a brooder full of chicks.
It’s also not for the faint of heart, because you have to squeeze the baby chick until its poop comes out and you can see its insides.
Once the chick’s insides can be seen, a small bulb will be seen in the cloaca if it is a boy. Even people with a lot of experience can miss this small bulb, so it takes a lot of practice over many years to get this method down.
The process of vent sexing chickens is extremely complex. There is, in fact, a long educational process involved in becoming a competent chicken sexer.
The fact of the matter is that it can be very risky, despite what it might sound like when you read about what it actually entails.
If not done properly, vent sexing can result in serious injury or even the chicken’s death. If you’re interested in learning how to vent sex your birds, you should get the proper training.
The bird’s distinctive sexual characteristics are revealed by forcing feces out of its cloaca.
Keep in mind that despite its high degree of danger, vent sexing isn’t always reliable. When it comes to sexing your birds, even the most experienced and skilled vent sexers can get it wrong on occasion, so it may not be the best option.
Sex Link Breeding
In actuality, sex link chickens have been used for a very long time. Using the down color of the chicks to determine their sex was first described by Professor R.C. Punnet. It only works with certain breeds of rooster over hen, though.
Additionally, it only works with first-generation sex connections. A less reliable determination of gender will be the result of mating a sex link to a sex link. With breeds that share common traits and patterns, it works well.
The result of mating a solid-colored rooster with a barred female, for instance, is the production of black sex links. There will be white spots on the cockerels’ heads.
Cockatiel and barring-patterned breeds, such as Barred Rocks and Dominiques, are popular choices for this practice.
Dorsal stripes are present in chicks of some other breeds, such as Welsummers. Males lack a distinctive head patch and have less noticeable lines and blotches that resemble triangular patches than females. Autosexing breeds are what they are referred to as.
Wings and Feather Sexing Chickens
Feather sexing, sometimes called wing sexing, is a quick and painless way to determine whether or not a chicken is male or female.
Similar to venting, this technique works best when applied to a chick when it is only a day old. When its feathers are fully grown, you won’t be able to tell sexes apart.
The sexing of feathers, unfortunately, does not adhere to any universal rules. There are obvious variations between male and female plumage in some bird breeds.
However, certain variations only account for a subset of the total variation. Feathers in pullets and cockerels can look similar because many breeds lack these characteristics.
These genetic variations make feather sexing easier in some breeds than in others. A white spot on the down over the wing web, for instance, is a characteristic feature of male Rhode Island Reds and New Hampshire breeds at hatching.
As feathers replace the down, this area disappears. Because of the wide range in spot size, this technique is not always reliable.
Gently stretching a chick’s tiny wings and looking for signs of wing feather development is the best way to tell if it has any. Unlike male chicks, female chicks develop their wing feathers before they hatch.
In contrast, males begin to grow wing feathers soon after birth. This means that female chicks will have more visible wing feathers at a day old than males.
By examining a chicken’s wing feathers, you can frequently determine its sex. Not all breeds benefit from this, but in those where roosters and hens have discernible feather differences, it can be useful.
Although all chicks are born with down instead of feathers, you’ll still have to wait a few weeks.
Male and female chicks that are a day old will also have very different-looking wing feathers. On the wings of female chicks, the feathers are all different lengths.
There will be one that is long, then one that is short, then another long one, and so on. On the other hand, all of a male chick’s wing feathers will be the same size.
Alternative Ways of Sexing Chickens
We could also mention a number of common ways for sexing chickens, but these are not supported by any scientific research. But being aware of it is enjoyable.
By tying a needle to a piece of string, for instance, people used to “predict” the sex of a chick. Females were indicated by a string pulling in one direction, and males by the opposite.
The Process of Sexing Chickens
When compared to sexing chicks, the process of sexing adult birds is much simpler and more reliable. As long as you know what to look for, sexing a fully grown chicken is just a matter of observing your flock.
After all, there are some fairly obvious visual differences between roosters and hens; even people who haven’t been around chickens much can frequently tell the differences.
Because it’s a necessary part of their evolution, roosters are made to stand out. Everything about a rooster is flashy, intended to attract the attention of his hens and keep predators away from the ladies (who are much less ornately dressed).
The distinctions between roosters and hens are described below.
Sexing Chickens by Com Size and Color
If you use this method of sexing chickens, you’ll have to watch the chick as it grows. Once chicks are a few weeks old, their combs will be much more noticeable. A young rooster’s comb will be bigger and pinker than a hen’s fairly quickly.
Remember that different breeds do have different-sized combs. Hens of some breeds actually have pretty big combs, so comparing two chicks of the same age and breed will give you the most accurate results.
The same is true for the wattles on the chicks. The wattle on male chicks will grow faster, get longer, and turn a brighter color than that on female chicks.
So, if you have a lot of chicks, keep an eye on the ones that start growing wattles first. Those are likely males.
Large, well-developed, and brightly colored rooster combs are typical. To the hens, combs help showcase a rooster’s sexual maturity.
Hens tend to be drawn to roosters with large, brightly colored combs more frequently than not. It’s a measure of how healthy a rooster is.
Compared to hens, roosters typically have much redder wattles. There is a correlation between this and his desire to present a macho image to the ladies.
Often, rooster combs and wattles develop earlier than those of hens, becoming redder and more developed.
Sexing Chickens by Saddle Feathers and Hackles
Hackles are present on both hens and roosters, but you’ll probably only notice them on the females.
From the neck, hackles are a cascade of feathers that fall onto the shoulders. For hens and roosters, they are designed differently. Hackle feathers on hens are longer and rounded at the ends, while those on roosters are longer and more pointed.
Although this is much more pronounced in some breeds than in others, many people refer to the hackles on a rooster as a “mantle.”
In general, hens tend to be less colorful than roosters. Hens don’t draw as much attention from predators because of their more subdued appearance.
The saddle feathers are another important difference between roosters and hens. Saddle feathers are only found on roosters. These typically have a long, pointed shape and start in the middle of the back.
They have a tendency to cascade down around the tail, giving the animal a sleek appearance.
Sexing Chickens by Tail Feathers
The tail feathers, as opposed to the hackles or saddle feathers, are the most distinctive feature of roosters, and most people find it much easier to identify them.
While hens’ upright, rounded tails are made up of feathers that are roughly the same length, roosters’ sickle feathers have a distinctive appearance that resembles that of a sickle.
These tend to expand outwards and upwards, eventually curling over the tail to create a waterfall effect.
Sexing Chickens by Legs & Feet
The reliability of this trait decreases as your hens and roosters get older, making it difficult to notice until your chickens are quite old. Sexing with the feet and legs is only reliable for a brief period of time.
On the other hand, roosters typically have larger, stronger, and more robust feet and legs than a hen. You may be able to see buds where the spurs will later develop on these early legs, which tend to be thick.
The spurs’ evolutionary objective is to convey a sense of strength and health. The spurs on a fully grown rooster will be quite pronounced, but hens can also develop spurs, particularly as they age.
Sexing Chickens by Differences in Behaviour
Waiting for specific behavioral traits to appear is one of the simplest ways to determine whether your chickens are roosters or hens.
Of course, these aren’t completely reliable; some hens are unusually docile, and some roosters are unusually aggressive. On the whole, though, roosters tend to be more confident and outgoing than hens.
When the flock is threatened, they tend to take the lead and stand their ground. Additionally, they tend to be more inquisitive.
Roosters are more bold than hens. They tend to hunker down and be quiet if they feel threatened or startled.
You might notice these behavioral differences early on when your chickens start to feather out, but they are subtle. While hens tend to feather out more evenly, roosters tend to feather in a patchy fashion.
Again, not all breeds or even groups of chickens fall into this category. Keep in mind that if your flock consists solely of hens, one hen (or a small number of hens, depending on the size of your flock) will assume a “rooster-like” position as the flock’s authoritative member.
In the same way that a rooster would, she may serve as a leader and gather everyone together when there is a danger.
You’ll eventually notice some significant differences in sexual behaviors, of course. When you place your hand above them, hens will squat, especially when there isn’t a rooster in the flock.
Having this kind of confidence is an indication of sexual maturity. The laying of eggs and the development of broody tendencies are also sure signs that you have a hen.
When he starts to crow, you’ll know for sure that your rooster is, in fact, a rooster.
Potential Issues with Sexing Chickens
The sex of some breeds is incredibly difficult. It can take months or even longer to figure out who is who because some people just don’t like to reveal their identities in the right way.
The Breda chicken, for instance, is a rare breed of chicken that is remarkably difficult to sex. Unlike roosters, which always have combs, hens sometimes have wattles.
They develop gradually and have plenty of time to showcase any significant sexual differences.
Waiting until the saddle, sickle, and hackle feathers develop is the only reliable way for sexing a Breda fowl. That means it could take six months or more before you can tell the hens from the roosters.
In fact, many breeders can’t tell the difference between hens and roosters until the roosters begin to crow. Silkies are also thought to sex (and the females begin to lay eggs).
Some allegedly easy-to-sex chicken breeds include:
Cream Crested Legbars
Buff Plymouth Rocks
Any barred or cuckoo breeds
Sex link chickens
Sexing Chickens Summary
It’s important to know the difference between a hen and a rooster, but you shouldn’t lose any sleep trying to figure it out before the birds reach sexual maturity.
Everything will happen in its own time.
The only surefire way to determine whether your chickens are hens or roosters is to wait until you see the first crow or egg. Unfortunately, this can happen at any age between 12 and 30 weeks.
But don’t worry; some breeds reach adulthood at a younger age than others, and some people prefer to establish their identities at an early age.
If you can’t wait, at least try to take pleasure in watching your chickens grow from cute little chicks into curious young adults. Remember that they will only be little once.