Many people who own chickens come around to this task eventually. That’s right, we’re talking about sexing a chicken. When you have fluffy little balls of yellow running around the yard, you can’t help but think what they’re going to cluck or crow once they’re mature. For some chicken keepers, you might only want a flock of ladies roaming around; or you might live somewhere with ordinances of how many roosters you can keep.
Regardless of your reasons for wanting to know if your chicks are male or female, there are a couple of techniques that teach you how to sex a chicken. Keep in mind that sexing a chicken can be challenging, especially when it’s your first time. Using a couple—or all—of the methods is bound to increase the accuracy of your guess.
How to Sex a Chicken
As mentioned, there are several ways to sex a chick to tell if its a rooster or hen:
- Looking at the wing tips
- Looking for combs and wattles
- Checking the vent
These methods are listed in order of difficulty, with vent sexing being the most complex method. Now let’s discuss these methods in more detail.
One method of checking the sex of a chick is to study the feathers. This technique is relatively simple, so even an amateur can do it with some degree of accuracy. You just need to be observant.
First, you want to look for wing feathers. An early presence of wing tips almost always indicates a female. This is most often true for chickens that were crossed with a male Mediterranean breed (such as a Leghorn, Anconas, or Buttercup) with a female Asian or American breed (like Black Jersey Giants, Rhode Island Reds, Lamonas, Brahmas, Cochins), the female offspring has a greater chance of hatching with defined wing feathers.
Furthermore, within a week, male chickens will have wing tips that are growing evenly. Female chicks alter between short and long wing feathers. You might even see the male chicks growing longer tail feathers within a week.
Here’s a video explaining exactly how it’s done:
Color of the Feathers
Many chicken keepers sex their chickens by looking at the down color, especially with crossbreed chickens. However, this works best when male chickens have bright, flamboyant coloring, while the hen is more muted. Chicks who get their coloring this way are referred to as sex link chickens.
Here’s an example: If a golden-colored rooster mates with a silver or penciled hen, the female chick will have a reddish colored down, while the male will be slate, cream, or white.
Keep in mind that this method only works if the sire is gold and the mother hen is silver or penciled. Otherwise, the characteristics won’t show up in the offspring.
Combs and Wattles
Again, this isn’t always 100% accurate. Some breeds make this easier to do, but other breeds of chicken will have androgynous rooster and mouthy hens. It all depends on the kinds of chickens you’re raising.
But if you have a breed that tends to develop pronounced combs and wattles, you can use this method to sex your chicks. Around two to three weeks old, male chicks begin developing their combs and wattles. Females take a little longer.
Some breeds are terribly difficult to sex, even with all the methods out there. Those breeds include Sebrights, Breda fowl, and Silkies. You might have others to add to the list.
Your best course of action is to observe. Now, this might take a lot of experience as a chicken keeper. Beginners should avoid this method.
But there are some behavioral differences you can learn to keep an eye out for. Female chicks tend to be a bit more shy and reserved. These are the chicks that fight when picked up and adopt a low profile stance when exploring the yard.
Male chicks are confident and adventurous. They tend to stand upright and don’t mind being handled. Another thing to watch out for with males is the stink eye, where you stare at a chicken and they look back at you, cocking their head to one side, sizing you up.
You might also notice that male chicks fight one another early on. They will bump their chests together or fly at one another before retreating. And lastly, listen for the chicks who are testing out their lungs for a crow or two.
If you want nothing but the most accurate method, go with vent sexing. Now, a caveat: most large hatcheries can check the vent, because they have experienced chicken sexers—yes, it’s a job—who come in to do this task. Checking the vent is not easy, after all. Prolonged handling from someone inexperienced can put a lot of stress on a chicken or cause injuries, which you want to avoid.
So, if you’re unsure how to do this, don’t do it. Have a professional come in or try another method.
Vent sexing involves picking up a baby chick and placing it in your hand. You secure its head with your third and fourth fingers. First, feces have to be squeezed out, which is done by pressing gently on the chick’s abdomen. Then, once the chick has voided, the professional sexer takes their thumb to lift the vent to the left while their other hand pulls the bottom of the vent to the right.
This gives them a view of the cloaca, which is present in both male and female chickens. The cloaca house the sex organs. If the professional spots a tiny protuberance emerging from the cloacal folds, they know the chick is a male.
While this is the most accurate method, some male chicks don’t have a protrusion from their cloaca until 5-6 days old. Some have unusually shaped cloaca. To complicate matters, some female chicks have sex organs that look very similar to a male’s. In fact, all chicks have a protuberance before they hatch, and that bump sometimes doesn’t go away with females. Interesting, right?
What are Some Chicken Sexing Myths?
You’ve probably heard plenty of old wives’ tales throughout the years. Some tales describe ways to sex a chicken, but that doesn’t mean they are correct. Here are some of the myths about sexing chickens that don’t work at all:
- String and Needle. Thread a needle with string and dangle it over the egg. If the string moves in a circle, it’s a girl. If it moves side to side, it’s a boy. There is no science behind this, giving you a 50/50 chance of being right.
- Candling. Another myth was that you could tell the sex of the chicken by checking for the location of the air sac in the egg. An air sac located on the blunt end of the egg indicated a male. Again, there is no proof is is correct, as some predicted males have come out as females.
- Egg shape. One myth claimed that egg shape determines the sex of the chick. Oval eggs were thought to be boys, while rounder eggs were female. Unfortunately, the likelihood of you guessing accurately is about 50/50.
Differences Between Roosters and Hens
Maybe you’re not trying to sex a chick at all, but a random adult chicken that has gone and waddled into your yard. Fortunately, sexing a full grown bird is a lot easier to do than figuring out if a young chick is male or female. Here are some characteristics that will help you tell a rooster from a hen:
Physically, the rooster is more impressive. They have a taller stance, large combs and wattles, and brighter coloring. Even their combs are a brighter red than hens. Roosters also develop hackle feathers, which cascade down their shoulders. Hens do not have these unique features.
The rooster walks more upright than the hen, and their bodies tend to be larger than the female. The most obvious body difference, however, is the size and length of a rooster’s legs. They look much more powerful and dangerous.
Hens do not have sickle feathers. What are sickle feathers? Those gorgeous tail feathers on roosters that curl over, forming a crescent shape.
As with chicks, watching behaviors is a clear indicator of roosters and hens. Even with androgynous breeds, observing behaviors is how to sex a chicken quickly. Roosters are always on a lookout, with their head on swivel, and their attention to the surroundings. They protect the flock, and they are the ones who sense danger and give the alert.
Hens, on the other hand, are far more peaceful and submissive. They tend to follow the rooster, rather than leave him.
Chickens, male or female, talk quite a bit. But only roosters crow. Hens will cluck and cackle. If you’re struggling to figure out the sex of a chicken, just listen for this tell-tale sign.
Now You’ve Got Your Chickens Sorted
If you were wondering how to sex a chicken, now you know. There are a couple of ways to do it, with vent sexing being the most accurate but also extremely complicated. If you’re new to the chicken sexing routine, it’s best to observe their behaviors, look at down color, and the wing feathers. You should get a good idea whether your chicks are male or female.
Valerie has been content writing since 2016 for websites and companies all around the world. A traveler, dancer, martial artist, Valerie loves gathering experiences and wisdom. Her travels have taken her to over 20 countries, and she hopes to see more of the world soon.