Sexing Chicks: Hens or Roosters?

Are you wondering the gender of your baby chicks, or maybe even of your older birds? Sexing chicks is a tricky business. Even the professionals at the best chicken hatcheries sometimes make mistakes. But it can be important to know how to sex chicks, especially if you live in a neighborhood where roosters are not permitted.

Keep in mind that any method of sexing chicks will not work 100% of the time. You should consider what you will do with an accidental rooster before ordering chicks.

How to Sex Baby Chicks

There are three basic ways of sexing chicks.

1. Vent Sexing

Unfortunately this method, which is the earliest possible way of sexing chicks, is best left to the professionals. Chickens have a single orifice exiting their body, called the cloaca. Unlike humans, there are not just two possible variations of the cloaca; there are 15. Vent sexing can only be performed in the first day or two of life, before the chick eats its first solid meal.

Vent sexing is an art more than a science. Even the best can’t tell you exactly how to sex baby chicks, or even explain just what they are looking for. Hatcheries typically use this method of sexing chickens, but even they only have success rates of 80-95%. Keep in mind that the hatcheries selling the cheapest day old chicks generally have the lowest accuracy in vent sexing.

2. Sexing Chicks by Color

Sometimes sexing chicks is as easy as taking a look at the color of their down. This works in certain breeds, and in special sex-linked hybrids.

Breeds with Color Charactersitcs for Sexing Chicks

  • Barred Plymouth Rocks
    Most of these chicks are black with yellow or white spots. The males have yellow spots on their heads.
  • New Hampshire Chickens
    The male chicks have off-white streaks on their wings, and the females often have brown lines on their backs or dark spots on their heads.
  • Buff Orpingtons
    This popular heritage breed displays similar markings to those of New Hampshire chicks. Remember that not all chicks will display these distinguishing characteristics.

Sexing chicks that are sex-linked hybrids is easy. These chickens are the first generation offspring of two separate breeds. The males and females display different colors from hatching. Look for sex-linked chicks at a baby chicks hatchery, but be advised that these are not purebred birds and their offspring will not display the same sex-linked coloring.

How to Sex Chicks

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3.Sexing Chicks by Appearance

While this method doesn’t help in sexing chicks at a young age, most chicken owners use secondary sex characteristics to distinguish roosters from hens. There are a variety of differences you will observe as the chicks grow:

  1. Hackle Feathers
    These are the long neck feathers that develop as chickens reach sexual maturity at 4-6 months of age. On a rooster they are sharp and pointed, while on a hen they have rounded bottoms.
  2. Comb and Wattle
    Typically the male chickens develop a larger, darker comb than the females, at an earlier age.
  3. Size of Legs and Feet
    Roosters have larger, thicker, heavier feet and legs than hens.
  4. Saddle Feathers
    Only roosters grow these long, elegant feathers along their back, right where a saddle would go if he was a horse.
  5. Tail Feathers
    Roosters of most breeds develop dramatic tails. The long, curved feathers on their tails are called sickles.

The downside to sexing chicks by appearances is that the differences often don’t show up until the birds are several months old. As you get to know the breed of chicken that you are raising, you will be able tell the males and females apart at a younger age.

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Related: Raising Baby Chicks Week by Week.

Extended Reading

Baby Chicks: The Complete Guide

If sexing chicks is still mysterious, don’t worry. You’ll know if you have roosters when this starts up: