How to Sex Chicks

How to Sex ChicksIt won't be long before homesteaders will be buying and raising chicks. They may get their chicks from a variety of sources: Many purchase chicks from a local feed store or from a hatchery website. Others hatch eggs in their own incubator, or they use a broody hen in their already-existing flock. But eventually, all homesteaders want to know how to sex their chicks. The internet is full of advice on how to tell baby roosters from baby hens, but unfortunately, most of that information is misleading or downright inaccurate. So here's the real-deal scoop every homesteader with chickens should know.

Vent Sexing 

By examining a chick's vent (the hole a chicken uses to expel waste and - if a hen - eggs) it's possible to see if the chick is male or female. However, vent sexing is not for those who haven't gone through proper (and rather lengthy) training; it's easy to accidentally disembowel chicks during the process. Please do not try vent sexing chicks at home. 

That said, professionals can, with a 90 percent accuracy rate, turn a chick upside down, push fecal matter out of its vent, turn the vent outward, and spot the beginnings of the male sex organ. It is common for hatcheries to vent sex their chicks.

Wing feather sexing. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Wing Feather & Color Sexing 

Sometimes chicks can also be sexed by looking at their wing feathers and how quickly they come in. (Early wing feather growth usually indicates a hen.) In addition, in some breeds, cockerels have wing feathers all the same length, whereas hens have wing feathers that alternate long and short. For instance, chicks from Leghorn roosters crossed with Orpington hens can be sexed this way. However, these methods do not work for all breeds of chickens (since not all breeds reveal differences in wings according to gender). Also, after the first few days of life, these methods are unreliable. 

A male Barred Plymouth Rock chick. Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.
Sometimes there are coloring clues to help us sex chicks. With Barred Plymouth Rocks, for instance, both male and female chicks have a white spot on top of their heads. In hens, this spot is usually narrower and smaller. With Rhode Island Red and New Hampshire chickens, cockerels will have a white spot on their wing web. However, it's only seen on the chick's down, and as feathers come in, will disappear. Once again, such sexing methods aren't entirely accurate, but they can be helpful for homesteaders raising those breeds.

Sex Link Chickens 

Because it's so difficult to accurately sex chicks, humans have refined certain breeds (through selective breeding) to make them easier to sex upon hatching. These are called sex-linked crosses. Unfortunately for homesteaders, these birds will not reproduce sex link babies.

An example of this method is to breed males with a gold gene to females with a silver gene. Upon hatching, their male offspring are silver and the females are gold. Another example is to cross non-barred Rhode Island Red cockerels with silver Barred Plymouth Rock hens. Their female offspring are born black and their male offspring are born barred. 

The pros have a 99 percent accuracy rate with the sex link method. Sex link chickens include: Black Sex Links, Black Stars, Golden Comets, ISA Browns, Lohmann Browns, Red Sex Links, and Red Starts. 

Barred Plymouth Rock rooster. Courtesy of Angel Schatz and Wikipedia Commons.

Auto Sexing 

Auto sex chickens are heritage breed birds that have easy-to-spot gender differences seen immediately upon hatching. In most cases, the females are barred, while the males are not. Happily, if you breed two auto sex chickens, they will produce auto sex babies, which is a real boon to homesteaders. Still, breeding must be selective or these traits will become less clear. 

Auto sexing has an accuracy rate of 80 to 99 percent and is the most do-able early sexing method for homesteaders. Auto sex birds include Barred Plymouth Rock, Coucou de Rennes, Delaware, Legbar, and Rhosebar. 

The Best Way to Sex Chickens 

As you can see, it isn't easy to tell the gender of chicks. If you absolutely cannot have roosters, consider buying sexed chicks from a hatchery. If you hope to do early sexing of chicks bred on your homestead, your best bet is to raise auto sex chicks. Otherwise, the best way to know if you have a cockerel or a hen is to simply watch the chick grow. Roosters will develop wattles, larger combs, and (in most breeds) tail feathers. And - eventually - they will crow.

Black Australorp hen and chicks.

Folk Myths about Sexing Chicks

* Despite the fact that Aristotle wrote about it, egg shape does not determine the gender of a chick. 

* You cannot tell whether an embryo is a cockerel or a hen by candling an egg. 

* When incubating eggs, you cannot create male or female chickens by changing the temperature of the incubator. 

* Hanging a weighted string over a chick and watching which way it turns will not determine its gender. 

* Picking up a chick by its scruff and looking to see if it hangs loosely or not will not determine the gender of the chick. 

* Hanging the chick upside down and watching to see if it "fights" also does not determine gender.

No comments