Whether you’ve hatched them yourself or acquired them from a breeder, your new chicks are sure to enrich your life. But how can you tell the gender of your new birds?
Under normal conditions, a group of chicks generally hatch with 50-55 percent males and 50-45 percent females.
There are a few ways to try to figure out if you have male or female chicks. Old wives tales or actual fool-proof methods? You be the judge.
When it comes down to it, accuracy is often determined by the handler’s skill level, familiarity with the breed, and the breed of the chicken itself.
Feather sexing a chicken, also referred to as wing sexing, is a fairly easy and straightforward way to sex a chicken. As with venting, to use this method, you must do it when a chick is about a day old. If you wait much longer, its feathers will be well-developed, and you’ll be unable to see differences between males and females.
Unfortunately, there are no set rules in feather sexing across breeds. In some breeds, there are some notable differences between the feathers of male and female birds. The catch is that some of the differences are specific to certain genetic traits. Many breeds do not have such traits, and feathers can appear the same in pullets and cockerels.
Because of these genetic differences, feather sexing is easier in some breeds than in others. For example, male Rhode Island Reds and New Hampshire breeds are hatched with a white spot on the down over the wing web. This spot is lost as the down is replaced with feathers. There is a lot of variation in the size of the spot, so this method is not always accurate.
To check for wing feathers, gently stretch a chick’s tiny wings and look for wing feather development signs. Female chicks will have wing feathers earlier than male chicks, developing them before hatching. Males, on the other hand, start developing their wing feathers after hatching. This means that wing feathers are going to be much more visible in day-old female chicks than males.
The wing feathers of day-old male and female chicks will also look remarkably different. Female chicks have alternating feather lengths on their wings. There will be a long one, followed by a short one, then another long one, and so on and so forth. By contrast, male chicks’ wing feathers will all be the exact same size.
The odds are pretty good that if the wing feathers are present and vary in length, the chick will turn out to be a happy hen someday.
The most accurate way to determine the sex of a young chick is undoubtedly by observing the chick’s vent.
This is known as “venting” or “vent sexing.”
Vent sexing, is a highly complex process that requires years of training due to the fact that there are just so many variables that can cause a misreading. One out of every five chicks does not have an easily recognisable or “typically shaped” sex organ, as well as, the fact that 40% of day-old female chicks have similar-looking bulb-like protuberances.
While venting is one of the most accurate ways to sex chicks, this method can be just as difficult as simply eyeballing a brooder full of chicks without years of experience.
It isn’t for the faint of heart either, it involves squeezing the baby chick until the feces are expelled, and you can see their inner parts.
Once the inner parts are visible, a small bulb will be visible within the cloaca if the chick is a male. Even the most experienced may miss this small bulb, so it certainly takes years of practice to get this method down.
If you are willing to try this method, this video shows how to perform the venting (and feathering methods). Be sure to watch till the end, where you can see the bulb clearly.
Please note: Vent sexing is not easy and requires a trained eye. The training for vent sexing is lengthy and difficult; therefore, it is a practice most often only performed by large commercial hatcheries. Done improperly, vent sexing can cause disembowelment of the chick, so the process should not be attempted without professional training.
Comb Size and Colour
If you’re using this method to sex a chicken, you’ll have to watch the chick as it grows. Once chicks are a few weeks old, their combs will become much more noticeable. Fairly early on, a little rooster’s comb will be larger and pinker than a hens.
Remember that different breeds do have different size combs – the hens of some breeds actually have fairly large combs, so comparing two chicks of the same age and breed will give you the most accurate results.
The same is true of the chicks’ wattles. In male chicks, the wattle will grow faster, longer, and turn a brighter color than those of the females. So if you have a large batch of chicks, watch for those that begin to grow wattles the earliest. Those are likely males.
Note: Using a chick’s comb to determine its gender may not work as well with pea comb breeds of chicks. Only chicks with regular combs can be sexed in this way.
This picture shows a pullet on the left and a cockerel on the right.
Gold Ring Test
I had been told by more than a few people that if you put a gold ring on a string or a sewing needle on a thread and hold it above a chick, it will start to move on its own accord.
The ring will start to swing in a circle if it’s a hen and in a straight line back and forth if it’s a rooster.
Right out of the egg, some roosters will show their ability to be dominant and protect their hens by puffing up and showing who the boss is.
The males will often “ruffle” their down feathers and stand erect when looking into the eyes of another young rooster.
Young roosters are often the first to rush to the feed dish and make slight cooing sounds to alert the rest of the babes of the tasty findings.
This is a behavior that they carry with them throughout their entire lives. Roosters take their job of caring for their hens very seriously, and it is interesting to observe their instincts at such a young age.
The stink eye is another trait common to male chicks as opposed to females. This is when a chick looks you directly in the eye, often cocking its head. This is bold behavior not usually seen in females. If you have baby chicks that do this, they’re probably male.
As roosters develop and age, it becomes easier to observe the behavioral signs, but these little mannerisms are quite telling even as chicks.
By now, you’ve probably guessed that there is no simple way to determine the sex of a day-old chick.
The best tried and true method is to watch the chick grow. I personally don’t feel confident that I’ve guessed correctly until I either hear a crow (starting at around 10-12 weeks usually) or see an egg (starting at around 18+ weeks), but there are some who claim that it is possible to sex chicks using some of these old-timers’ methods. What do you think?