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

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

Latest Comments

  1. Darren (Green Change) November 17, 2010
  2. anna November 21, 2010

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