Before we dive into the information and tips, there are few exceptions you must be aware of. Some chicken breed’s (or autosexing breeds) gender actually can be determined upon hatching. The way of sexing these kinds of chickens is called: Color Sexing. Around 1975, commercial breeders were developed. The chicks of these breeders can be identified as males or females by the color of their plumage. Generally, the color of pullets is white while the color on cockerels is brownish. Sex-Link chickens are a great example of color sexing. The black Sex-Link female chick is completely black while the black Sex-Link males are black with a white dot on their heads. The red Sex-Link female hatches out red or buff, whereas the red Sex-Link male hatches out white. Barred Plymouth Rocks and Cuckoo Marans can often be color sexed due to the different shades in their plumage. (Males are often lighter with wider barring while females are darker and their barring is tighter together.)
Here is a helpful, quick and easy-to-understand guide to color sexing:
•Gold breed roosters (Rhode Island Reds, Minorcas, Wyandottes, Plymouth Rocks and Cochins) bred to silver/penciled hens (White, Columbian or Silver-laced Wyandottes, Columbian or Silver-penciled Plymouth Rocks, Light Sussexs, Light or Dark Brahmas) result in buff or red females and white/smoky gray males.
•Barred Rock hens bred to any black or buff roosters have male chicks that are black with a white spot on their heads. The females are solid black.
Now that there is a basic understanding of color sexing, let’s move onto the tips to sexing regular, non-specific chicks.
Tip 1: Don’t Freak Out!
Most chicks can’t be sorted by gender until they are at LEAST 5 weeks old. (If they haven’t been vent sexed prior to this.) So, I would advise you to not worry about their gender right away. Also, remember this: Appearances can sometimes fool the eyes. I have experienced countless situations where chicks who have been claimed to be one gender turn out to be the other. For example, my Speckled Sussex, Rosie, was voted to be a rooster by 9 out of 10 people. I don’t blame people for guessing rooster, as her comb was big and quite pink for being a young pullet. She also was bossy and acted somewhat like a rooster. I, myself, was freaking out thinking she was rooster. But, once she reached around 9 weeks, everyone changed their minds and said she was definitely a pullet…and then she laid an egg. All this goes to say: don’t judge the gender of your chicks TOO quickly. Just wait and see how things play out.
Tip 2: Watch the Combs and Wattles Carefully
Cockerels will develop large, pink combs and wattles at an early age. By 6 weeks old, you can generally start to sort out your males from females, (depending on breed) since your boys will have larger and more prominent combs and wattles than your girls. Again, don’t be super nervous if you see a ‘female’ chick with a larger-than-normal comb. Sometimes pullets will sprout large, pale combs and then grow into them as they mature. One helpful aspect to sexing chickens by their wattles and combs is that a cockerel’s comb will turn reddish pink much earlier than a pullet’s. A pullet’s comb won’t turn red until she is ready to lay eggs. So, DO NOT be alarmed if your pullets’ combs and wattles suddenly get huge and bright red when they reach 18 weeks or older; they are simply at their final stage of maturity.
(One white rooster with mature hens--notice the equal redness in all the combs)
Tip 3: Don’t Listen to Some of the Common Myths About Sexing
There are MANY myths concerning the best way to determine chick gender. Some of these false myths include: Egg shape, (the idea that the shape of an egg determines the gender of the chick inside) penny toss up, (the idea that a chick’s gender will be determined by the flipping of a coin) holding the chick by the scruff of the neck (some people believe that if you hold a chick this way, males pull their legs up towards them, whereas females stay dangling. While you may be lucky if the chick of that gender does that action correctly, it’s not a good method for sexing accurately) the hat trick (the idea that a hat laying near chicks attracts males and scares away females) the needle on a string (some people say if you dangle a needle on a string over the back of a chick, it will move in a circle over females and back and forth over males). All of these myths are inaccurate ways to determine gender, BUT they can still be fun to try just to be silly. One other myth that I would like to point out that many folks believe, is that only male chickens will develop spurs. Believe me, I have seen some hens grow some pretty wicked looking spurs! While males do tend to grow their spurs earlier, this is not a safe indicator of gender.
Tip 4: Observe Their Postures and Attitudes
The attitudes as well as postures of your chicks can sometimes be a great indicator of their gender. For example: cockerels are often very spunky, bossy, braver and more obnoxious than females. Girls often are more timid, cautious and laid-back. HOWEVER, there are exceptions. Sometimes you’ll end up with an outgoing, crazy pullet and a quiet, fearful cockerel. So, while this isn’t the best and most accurate way to sex chicks, it can definitely be helpful.
Cockerels will also have a posture that is more upright, straight and perky. Females are usually a little more hunched and ‘bent’. Also, if you don’t take the time to tame your birds, when you approach them, expect the males to stay put and the females to scatter. (If they are tamed, however, they will come running to you no matter what their gender!)
Tip 5: Look at the Feathers and Legs
From an early age, male chicks will often have thicker and wider legs than females. Their legs will also be longer and their feet might be bigger. (Of course, the size of chick’s legs depends solely on breed; don’t try to compare a bantam’s legs with a standard.)
If you have chicks that are no older than 3 days, you can try wing sexing them. All you have to do is hold one of their wings out to the side and observe the length of its feathers. If all the feathers are even in length, you chick is likely a cockerel. But, if they are uneven, the chick is probably female. Once your chicks are around 10 weeks old and most of their feathers have come in, you will be able to start determining their gender based on these feathers. Female’s saddle feathers (located at the base of the tail and end of the back) will be round. Their sickle (tail) and hackle (neck) feathers will also be more rounded. All of these feather areas mentioned will be long and pointy on a male’s body.
Tip 6: Don’t Try Vent Sexing Unless You KNOW What You’re Doing
Vent sexing is what the experts at hatcheries and other poultry factories will perform on newly hatched chicks in order to determine their gender. This is a hard procedure to do if you are not experienced and I recommend not trying it unless you understand all that you must do in order to not injure the chick and figure out the answers you seek.
(Remember, all of these previous tips are indicators and not always certainties of chick genders.)
Tip 7: Be Patient and Enjoy Your Chicks
So, what is the best and most accurate way to sex your chicks? It is…. to be patient. You can never be 100% sure of a chicken’s gender until it is laying eggs or crowing. And, in order to reach that point, they obviously have to do some growing up and maturing first! So, be patient and don’t worry about their gender. All chicks are enjoyable and adorable and the best way to enjoy them is to not be worrying. Make sure they are fed and watered, kept warm and cuddled every day. Chicks grow up fast so enjoy these few, precious weeks with your little fuzz balls!
Did this help you or did you find it interesting? Do you have any further questions or concerns? Feel free to comment down below or PM me. Also, don’t forget to check out BYC’s gender and breed section! https://www.backyardchickens.com/f/15/what-breed-or-gender-is-this
*Special thanks to BYC member, @dan26552 for a couple of the pics!