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Saturday, June 23, 2012

Cock-A-Doodle....Roo? 10 Ways to Sex your Chicks

~Pink eggs are hens, blue eggs are roosters? Unfortunately it's not that easy!~

One question we get asked fairly often on our Facebook page is 'Is this a hen or a rooster?' with an accompanying photo of a chick. Generally, that's not an easy question to answer.

Of course you can always just guess. You've got a 50/50 chance at getting it right. Hatcheries have professional chick sexers who get it right more than 90% of the time, but for us backyard enthusiasts, chick vent sexing just isn't something we can do. You can easily injure a chick if you don't know what you are doing, so that's best left to the professionals.

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 its possible to sex chicks using old-timers' methods. Here are some of the more popular ways:
1) EGG SHAPE
Some say that rounded eggs are hens and pointy, football-shaped eggs are roosters. I don't know that this has been scientifically proven, but if you have a choice and want hens, I say pick out the round eggs to hatch.
2) INCUBATOR TEMPERATURE
It is said that setting your incubator temperature half a degree lower will result in hatching hens, while setting it half a degree higher will result in more roosters.


3) WING SEXING
Wing sexing can only be done within the first 48 hours of when the chick hatches. Hens' wing feathers are two different lengths while roosters' are the same length.


4) COMB COLOR/SIZE


Fairly early on, little roosters' combs will be larger and pinker than hens'. Even at six weeks old, in both photos you can clearly see the hen's comb (on the left) is much smaller and paler than her brother's (on the right).

5) LEG THICKNESS/SPURS
Roosters' legs will begin to thicken fairly early on. Some breeds will begin to grow tiny spurs on the back of each leg to help you identify your little roosters.

6) HAT TRICK
Conventional wisdom says if you wave a hat above the chicks and then drop it, the hens will squat or run and hide while the roosters will stand alert and even look up at the sky. My results were inconclusive with this test. One future roo did approach the hat, but the test was mostly met with indifference by the rest.

7) PENNY TOSS
 It is said that if you rub a penny along the back of a chick and then toss it, if it comes up heads, that means you have a rooster, tails you have a hen. I did this test a few times on each chick and it came up randomly heads and tails, so I don't put too much stock in this method. Besides, the chicks just kept trying to eat the penny.

8) WATER TASTE TEST
I have read that if you set down two bowls, one filled with 8 ounces of plain water and one filled with 8 ounces of water and a teaspoon of white vinegar, the roosters will go for the plain water, and the pullets will choose the vinegar/water mix.  I tried this. They all went for the vinegar water.  So much for that test.

9)  GOLD RING TEST
 
I had been told by more than a few people that if you put a gold ring on a string and hold it above a chick, it will start to move on its own accord - in a circle if its a hen and in a straight line if its a roo. I do believe this works.  The ring definitely circled over some of my chicks and moved in a straight line over others.  At that point I wasn't sure which were pullet and which were roosters, but the ring definitely made its choice.

10) SADDLE FEATHERS
 
~two pullets (hens) with rounded saddle feathers~


~two roosters with long, pointed saddle feathers~

By around 8 to 10 weeks old, chicks will start getting pronounced saddle feathers (saddle feathers are where the back meets the tail). Hens' saddle feathers will be rounded while roosters' saddle feathers will be long and pointy.

And there you have it - ten ways to attempt to sex your chicks.


General behavior is also often an indicator. Roosters just seem to 'strut their stuff', even at a young age, bump chests and just 'look' more masculine. They often feather out more slowly but their feathers are more colorful. Hens are often smaller, daintier and have feminine features.

I hope these methods of trying to figure out if you've got roosters or hens will help you with your next batch of chicks. If nothing else, they're fun to try.

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51 comments:

  1. I'm trying to figure out if I have a cockerel now. What do you thunk, did I really hear my 7 week old EE attempting to crow? I can't have roosters so I'm really hoping that's not what I heard.

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  2. One to add, at least with our barnyard mutt, the pullets grow in tail feathers first. The leghorns we received recently were an exception.

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    1. That seems to vary with breed (or mix). I have some Light Brahmas where the roos have developed longer, straighter tail feathers before the pullets HAD tail feathers (13 wks), while RIRs, the pullets have longer tail feathers than the roos! I think they just like to keep us guessing!

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    2. Some hens will crow, some hens will develop spurs, and in some breeds all the birds are "hen feathered". I have never known of a cockerel that laid an egg, however, a friend's crowing hen lays eggs as often as her flock mates do. Some breeds and crosses can be sexed at hatch, depending on particular markings or other characteristics. In f1 crosses the identifying marks will NOT be reliably expressed in the F2 offspring.

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  3. Number 7 and number 9 are the absolute stupidest things I have EVER heard.

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    1. Just passing along what I've read. I do believe I mentioned that #7 didn't work at all. But I suggest you try things before completing discounting them.

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    2. #9 DOES work & my 85 YO Dad proved it last year. Don't knock it until you have tried it. I thought he was full of crap until I saw it WORKED.

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  4. Just dropping in to say hi and tell you I nominated you for The Versatile Blogger Award.... http://definitelyleopard.com/2012/06/24/the-versatile-blogger-award.aspx

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  5. Wish I had researched and found the wing sexing thing 5 days ago! A friend told me finding out what our 3 chicks are is like a "mini mystery novel"!

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  6. I will try wing sexing in the spring when I breed my Nankins. They say that in some breeds this works, and others it doesn't, but I am going to try it! So far my main ways of sexing birds is waiting for that first crow and watching the combs and wattles, but that takes a long time. I will let you know how it goes in the spring!

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  7. Wing sexing does not work on most breeds. I read that there are a few breeds in particular that it works on but not for most. I would not depend on that method. As far as some being 'stupid', you can pretty much figure out that unless there is an actual scientific reason for it working, it's not going to. Water flavor and ring circling is old wives tales' stuff...no rational basis for it. Why waste your time even trying except for the entertainment value?

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    1. Wow. That's pretty harsh. Actually alot of old wives tales ARE pretty accurate. Sorry you couldn't enjoy the post for the entertainment value. And BTW, I did wing sex three of my chicks - three different breeds even - accurately.

      Not surprised this comment was left anonymously.

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    2. I for one throughly enjoyed this post... Get lost Anonymous!

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    3. I agree Peg. I think I made it pretty clear that some of these are just pure guesses and for fun.

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    4. Some people just got to try and make things miserable. I personally enjoyed the post myself although you did leave out the one method of if the chick has tail feathers starting or not. If they do, then supposedly a roo, if not then a hen. I'm just hoping that method works since I used it in trying to get hens from the week old batch Rural King had today...Got my toes crossed. LOL!

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  8. This was fun! I enjoyed reading this...one of your best blogs! Thank you for doing each one so we can see what happens.

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    1. Thank you. I was fun researching and writing up the blog, as well as trying the different 'old wives tales'.

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  9. Thanks for the entertaining as well as informative post. It was fun to read and chuckle over.

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  10. This was great!! couldn't stop giggling!!!

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  11. Is it true about the wings, hens are even and roosters are uneven?

    Also, is it true that roosters have pointed tale feathers and hens have round?

    Or are both those 'wives' tales'?

    Thanks!

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    1. Yes the wing and saddle feathers are a good way to sex chicks and pullets.

      I found them both to be 100% accurate.

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    2. Roosters for sure have pointed saddle and hackle feathers, hens have rounded. They aren't apparent until a bit later tho. Female chicks have uneven rows of wing feathers, while roosters have even - as shown in the photo.

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  12. I love hearing 'old wives tales.' Thanks for the entertaining post! I do believe the wing feather sexing works. Thankfully, I got all hens in my recent purchase, and they were all feather sexed at the hatchery. ~Chel

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  13. Great post! I'm a little concerned about one of my young pullets.--At least I hope she's a pullet... I might have to give a few of the tips a try! Thanks for the info :)

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  14. Hahahaha! Love it, love it. Both informative and really funny. Thanks for both!!

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  15. I read this post to my 70 year old Dad who grew up on a farm. A few of the *tricks* he agreed with, a few he had never heard of, most he outright laughed at. Overall, he loved it!

    Thank you for sharing!

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  16. I loved this post. My family just inherited a baby chick (we already have about 10 hens and a rooster) and we're trying to figure out the sex. Hopefully, some of the more sensible tricks will help. I also liked your photos, not only on this post but for the others as well. If you like taking farm pictures, you should submit your photos to The Green Life's farm photo contest. Check it out, and keep writing! http://site.thegreenlifeonline.org/photocontest/.

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  17. I love reading your posts- my husband and I are thinking about trying chickens in the spring-- if Bartlett will let us- have to check it out. It has been my experience that most old wives tales have a central kernal of truth in them and should be examined for that kernal and not just laughed off. We lost when families stopeed living together. The ole gramma knew alot and was usually the only source of info for young new housewives.

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  18. We tried an entirely different one, well two actually. If you hold them by the head when they are small and they fight and wiggle they are a roo, but if they are docile its a pullet. We also heard you could do this by holding by the feet. On the two that we tried, apparently not even they knew what they were. One fought when held one direction and not the other and vice versa for the other.This may work for some, but we are not experienced enough yet in this category. We are learning though bit by bit. Just found your blog and will enjoy sharing it with my hubby - the chicken whisperer.

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  19. clarify please ~ you stated wing sexing is hens 2 different lengths and roos all even. Then agreed with a poster that said hens are all even and roos have differing lengths?

    I actually bought some chicks from an individual who wing sexed, but he stated it was the shape of the feather and could only be accurately done at 2-3 weeks. Sure would be a handy skill when raising your own or to sell.

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    1. Hens are for sure uneven - that chick in the left hand photo definitely turned into a hen! Not sure which chick that is pictured on the right, but for sure the uneven wing feathers is a hen. I missed that part of the other comment and have corrected them. Thanks for noticing.

      And actually the wing test can ONLY be done early on. Like hours after they hatch. 2-3 weeks and you won't be able to tell..then later on, weeks and weeks later, the roosters hackle and saddle feathers will start growing in pointy, while a hens will be rounded.

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    2. Great post!! I enjoyed it, and it just shows that "Ya don't know, till the rooster crows". hee hee BTW, I luv your posts and some people just have to be know it all sour pusses and try to ruin the fun. :P Keep them coming....

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    3. Great post!! I enjoyed it, and it just shows that "Ya don't know, till the rooster crows". hee hee BTW, I luv your posts and some people just have to be know it all sour pusses and try to ruin the fun. :P Keep them coming....

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  20. That was fun, wow, some people can't take much of a joke on the old wives tales.... I have 29 10-11 day old chicks in my bathroom that I hatched out... I definatly can see some traits that scream roo in a few of them already, behavior, wings, combs, and a few that are very hen like. The rest are anyone's guess!

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  21. Lisa, I loved thispost/blog. It was very informative and interesting to read. I think you clearly pointed out that you don't say that any of them are 100 % effective. Like you said it is 50/50 either way. Some people are critical and get bent out of shape over nothing! They don't have to try any of them. In fact they don't have to read them. That being said I loved it for entertainment purposes or whatever other benefit I received.
    Thanks
    Cathy Steen

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  22. The first time around we had chickens. We got day old chicks, all straight run (meaning unsexed) An old timer told me that to know if you have a pullet or a cockerel is to pick the chick up quickly by the back, if they tuck their legs, they are hens, if they hold them straight out they are roos. I don't know if it was baloney or not. We picked out 10 chickens that way and all 10 were hens!

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  23. I have also heard the egg shape theory. I went by that with the 30 eggs that I just hatched.
    Then I heard the "ring on a string" method but with a needle. I tried that on every living thing I could get my hands on, (my kids included) and it was right for everything that I definitely knew the sex of. So, I dangled the needle over all 30 of the chicks and only 2 showed up as roosters.
    Did the round egg theory work or did I just get lucky and hatch all hens? I don't know. I banded the chicks that it says are roosters so that I can watch and see what they turn out to be. If it's right, I'll only be setting round eggs from now on.

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    1. Can we ask how the ring-on-a-string method turned out for you? :)

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  25. great informative article!but i am still surprise about ur penny toss,how can u relate it for determining the sex of chick?

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  26. I got a real chuckle out of this post. Many years ago when I was pregnant, several of these methods were suggested to determine the sex of my baby. My tried and true method is simply this, if I see/hear it crow it's a rooster, if I see it laying an egg it's a hen. Now I have to go see what my roosters, Cindy Lu, Snowflake, Chicken and Lucy are crowing about.

    OK, OK, so my method isn't 100%, guess that explains why my laying flock contains 12 roosters.

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    1. Oh funny! Yeah, I ended up with nine last spring..sigh.

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  27. I knew a family that had a professional chicken business and they swore by the ring method but used it on the eggs. They said that it had to be a wedding ring that had been blessed. They also said that before you start you need to get the ring to tell you which direction it was going to use for which sex .

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  28. hi all
    interesting subject chickens, the ring method is dowsing or divining depending on what you like to call it.
    As already said you have to know which swing or spin means male or female, you have to frame and ask the question
    correctly in your mind if you want the correct answer. Its the same thing as divining for water or any thing you can't see
    nothing magical about it, its a latent skill we all have but few use.

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  29. If 50% end up being males, how do you re-home them or what do you do with all them? Seems there are too many out there already that can't be placed.

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    1. Sadly unwanted roosters are a fact of backyard chicken keeping. If you don't hatch your own but instead buy sexed chicks from a hatchery, what do you think happens to the little males? It's not pretty. Fortunately, I am focusing on rare breeds so have had no trouble selling my roosters to those wanting a rooster for breeding. The facts of life are tho that most roosters hatched are going to end up as someone's dinner and if you can ensure that they have lived a good life up until that day, you're doing the best you can do.

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  30. Loved the article! I have one more to add. A friend told me that if you lay a chick on its back, in your hand, and it draws up its legs (like a squatting posture) then its a hen; if it sticks its legs straight out, its a roo. I tried it & it was fairly accurate except for the few that couldn't decide what they were. One leg out, the other tucked up. haha

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  31. Loved the article and just got in your book Fresh Eggs Daily and love it too!

    Shelia

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  32. Thanks for your sharing
    Cock-A-Doodle....Roo? 10 Ways to Sex your Chicks
    feather jewelry

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Lisa of Fresh Eggs Daily
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