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Learning how to sex a chicken is a valuable skill to have as a chicken farmer. We have all battled the straight run battle. You either buy chicks straight run (unsexed) or hatch your own chicks and aren’t sure if they are males or females.
You may live in an area where you can only have hens, or perhaps you already have too many roosters. Whatever your reasons, you will probably want to know the sex of your chickens as soon as possible.
How to Sex a Chicken
There are several accurate ways to learn how to sex a chicken. You can use vent sexing, wing sexing, behavior, looks and colors, and even DNA testing to accurately tell if you have a male or female chicken. The success rate of each of these methods of determining chicken sex depends on the age, breed and your own skill level.
One of the most common questions we get is from people wanting to know if they have male or female chicks. The fact is, there are a variety of different methods that can be used to determine this, however, not all methods work on all chicken breeds or at all ages.
Crowing or Egg Laying
OK, this is really a no brainer, but is one of the most obvious and clear ways to tell for sure what sex your chicken is so we felt it was important to include.
When your chicken gets old enough (this varies by breed, but on average between 4 -5 months), it will either crow or lay an egg.
Hens lay eggs; Roosters crow. This is a pretty straight forward way to tell if your chicken is a hen or roo.
Obviously, laying eggs and crowing are not good ways of sexing chicks. Neither male chicks nor female chicks exhibit those behaviors at such an early age. Laying eggs can happen as early as 16 weeks in some breeds, but other breeds take longer. Crowing usually happens around the same timeframe as egg laying will.
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Now, if you don’t want to wait so long to tell by waiting to see who crows and who lays eggs, there are several other visual and non visual methods to use.
There are four main, non-visual methods that can be used to determine the sex of your chickens. These are vent sexing, DNA testing, wing sexing and Autosexing breeds.
Vent sexing is done by most hatcheries and should only be done by a trained expert otherwise you can injure your chick. It is the process of checking a baby chicks vent to see if they have male or female parts.
Essentially, vent sexing will have a trained sexer squeeze the vent area until they can either see the male chicks’ or female chicks’ reproductive parts inside. While it is not always 100% accurate, the accuracy is usually well over 90%.
Again, vent sexing can be dangerous and seriously injure your baby chicks if not done correctly. A much safer alternative is checking your baby chicks wing feathers or buying baby chicks that are autosexing or feather sexing.
Wing sexing only works on certain breeds where male chicks feathers grow more slowly than the female chicks wing feathers. However, this is only true for the first 1 – 3 days after hatch and only in certain breeds.
You may wonder why this is included in the non-visual methods section. That is because, while you are visually looking at wing feathers, the feather growth is related to sex linked genes. So, this rate of growth is actually a genetic trait.
Auto sexing Breeds (Feather sexing)
Another example of sexlink chicks is auto sexing breeds. This characteristic, similar to wing growth rate, is linked to sex linked genes and is only applicable to certain auto sexing breeds. In some breeds, like the Sapphire Gem, they may have male chicks that hatch only in one color and female chicks in another color or they may have male chicks that hatch with a lighter colored dot on their head. These traits will also stay the same whether they have standard feathering or frizzle feathering.
If you’re willing to put out a little money and you either really want or need to know if you have males or females, then DNA testing may be the way to go. This can be done at virtually any age, so you don’t have to wait long.
Animal genetics offers DNA Testing on blood, eggshell and feathers. You can choose any of the three to send in a sample of and figure out what your baby chicks sex is.
Although some breeds take WAY longer to be able to sex visually (for us, Silkies are still a guess until they are about 6 months old), you can make some educated guesses if you arm yourself with a little knowledge.
Most chicken breeds, especially those with single combs have signs that can help you tell if you have a hen or rooster by about 8 weeks of age.
One way to tell if you have a hen or a roo is by looking at your chickens comb and wattles.
Roosters will develop larger comb and wattles. Roosters comb and wattles will also develop sooner and become darker red color faster than female chicks.
In most breeds that are single combed, you can start to tell if you have a hen or rooster by looking at their comb and wattles as early as 8 weeks of age.
It becomes pretty easy if you are familiar with the breed and/or if you have several at the same age – those roosters combs and wattles will really stand out compared to the girls!
In breeds that are not single combed, it can be much more difficult to tell at a young age. For example, Silkies have Walnut combs and though when they are fully matured, it is clear the difference between a hen and a rooster, sometimes that can be hard to see until they are several months old.
Saddle feathers are the feathers that lay on the chickens back/rear area (the place you might put a saddle). Roosters will develop brightly colored, long and pointy saddle feathers.
Hens will have duller colored, short, round saddle feathers. Female chicks will not have these right away.
This can be helpful in breeds, like Easter Eggers, who don’t have a single comb (but rather a pea comb) and it is much more difficult to tell which is a hen or rooster by their comb.
Typically, before the combs are totally obvious, the roosters will start looking much prettier and flashier than the girls.
Roosters will usually have thicker, stockier looking legs than hens. This is always one of the signs that is hard, at least for me.
However, if you have both male chicks and female chicks of the same age and they are several weeks old, often times the male chicks will have legs that look a lot bigger than the female chicks.
In crested breeds (like Silkies & Polish) Roosters Crests tend to be “crazier” due to having streamers in them while hens will take a more “tame” and rounded appearance.
If you take some time to watch your chicks, you may notice that some of them behave differently than others. This isn’t 100% accurate, but roosters do tend to be a bit more dominant and aggressive than hens.
So, if certain chicks tend to do more picking on others or always push their way into the food and water first the aggressors may be male chicks while their targets are likely female chicks.