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How to sex chickens

Rooster comb and narrow feathersAlthough everybody can tell a hen from a rooster when they're fully grown, it can be difficult to disentangle your cockerels (male) from your pullets (female) if you're raising straight run (un-sexed) chicks.  Assuming that you only have space in your flock for one rooster, the sooner you identify the other males, the better.  Broilers (up to about two months old) are the tenderest and tastiest, roasters (3 to 5 months old) are good but need to be cooked slowly, and any chicken older than five months is very tough unless you stew it down or grind it into sausage.  Even if you can't handle the thought of killing and eating your own chickens, it will be much easier to find roosters a home while they are still in the broiler or roaster stage than if you wait until the fall when they're old and tough.

Long, narrow rooster tail feathersSo what kinds of clues can you use to identify your rooster at a young age?  Folk lore suggests that if you hold chicks upside-down by their feet, the males will fight harder than the females, but that sounds not only cruel but also unscientific.  A more accurate method can be achieved by mating barred females (black and white striped feathers) with non-barred males --- the offspring will have barred feathers if they're male but not if they're female.  Other types of sex-linked chickens will have other color patterns, but will be similarly distinct between the hens and the roosters.  Or you can sex your chicks the way the pros do by peering at their vents, but this is no task for an amateur.

Rooster spurThe best way to sex chickens, in my opinion, is to watch your birds mature in their second month of life.  The males will nearly always start showing a comb before the females and will already be larger --- this is much easier to tell if you have multiple chicks of the same breed and age to compare.  You can be positive your chicken is a rooster when he begins to crow, at which point he'll start to grow into his manliness and will prompt frosty morning photo shoots to capture his beauty.  Look for a comb that continues to grow much larger than a hen's and an extra-toe-like spur on the back of each foot.  His neck and tail feathers will change from rounded hen-like feathers to long, narrow, shiny feathers.  I find it useful to peer at adult roosters, where the differences are much more distinct, so that I'll be more adept at chick sexing when the next brood comes along in the spring.

Keep your flock healthy and happy with a homemade chicken waterer.


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I find the wattles to be a giveaway when sexing chickens. The cockerels' wattles definitely seem to develop quicker than the females, even if their combs are fairly similar.

And of course, it's invaluable to have a batch of chicks of the same age and breed, so you can make out very subtle distinctions. It's really hard to just look at a single cockerel/pullet and figure out which it is!

Comment by Darren (Green Change) late Wednesday afternoon, November 17th, 2010
Good call on the wattles! I'll have to keep a closer eye there next year.
Comment by anna late Sunday afternoon, November 21st, 2010






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